24/09/2012 17:02 BST

Badger Campaigners Could Force Parliamentary Debate On Cull

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition against a cull of badgers to tackle tuberculosis in cattle, in a bid to prompt a parliamentary debate on it.

The e-petition was launched by Queen guitarist and campaigner Brian May last week as part of the "team badger" campaign, after the first licence to kill the protected wild animal was issued for a pilot cull in Gloucestershire.

Reaching the 100,000 signatures milestone means the issue could be debated in Parliament, although this is not automatic.

Campaigners are angry over the government's decision to push ahead with a cull of badgers, which they claim will not have a significant effect in reducing the disease in livestock, and want the focus to be shifted on to vaccination.

But supporters of the cull say the move is necessary to tackle TB in cattle because the wild animal spreads the disease to livestock, costing farmers and the taxpayer millions of pounds a year.

A long-term study found that culling over a number of years on a large scale could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle herds by 16%.

Farmers will be licensed to shoot up to 70% of the badgers in a 300 square kilometre area in Gloucestershire. A second licence for a pilot cull in Somerset is still being considered.

Responding to the news that more than 100,000 people had signed the petition against the cull, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "There is widespread concern about the government's decision to press ahead with a badger cull despite their own official advice that it will cost more than it saves and will spread bovine TB in the short term as badgers are disturbed by the shooting.

"Ministers should listen to the scientists and can this cull which is bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife."

Responding to the petition passing the 100,000 signatures mark, May said he was "absolutely delighted" at the news and astonished so many people had signed up so quickly.

"It really is a huge groundswell of support, more than I expected.

"I'm thrilled that so many people have gone to the trouble to have their voices heard."

He said the Team Badger campaign would not stop at 100,000 signatures, and raised the possibility a million people could sign up to oppose the cull. He also said he did not think it was too late to stop the cull.

"I certainly hope we will bring a debate in the House in the next few weeks, but more importantly there is a palpable change in public consciousness, people are not prepared to sit and let someone ride roughshod over their beliefs.

"There has to come a point when David Cameron has to give this some serious thought. I believe people of this country are speaking and saying they want to be heard and don't want this bloodshed in the countryside."

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said the campaign against the cull was gathering momentum, and it could end up being the biggest e-petition ever.

"The speed of this growth shows the scale of public interest in this issue - the UK government must now listen to what the public are saying and give this matter some parliamentary time.

"It needs to look at this science and reverse this short-sighted decision immediately to one of vaccination - let's cure and not kill."

Agriculture minister David Heath said: "If the Backbench Business Committee decides to allow the debate I would be more than delighted to participate.

"This is such an important issue for both the farming industry and wildlife campaigners that I'm not surprised there's a lot of demand for another parliamentary debate. It's an opportunity to put right a lot of the misleading information I've seen recently from opponents of the cull.

"They say culling will make the situation worse, and that vaccination is a viable alternative. The science says they're wrong on both counts, and I'll be able to explain it in much greater detail during a debate."