The planned badger cull could see populations decline by more than 70% and in some areas none may survive, according to the RSPCA.
The Government is due to issue the first badger cull licence today in Gloucestershire today. It says killing badgers will help combat bovine TB.
Landowners will be licences to shoot badgers with high-velocity rifles.
The RSPCA said culling cannot be selective so many perfectly healthy badgers will be slaughtered as ‘collateral damage'.
Ministers have approved pilot badger culls in districts of West Somerset/Taunton Deane and in the Forest of Dean/Tewkesbury area.
Opponents of the cull said scientific studies have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing the disease, and could actually make things worse in some areas.
After 10 years work the Independent Scientific Group concluded in 2007 that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.’
The proposals are part of a package of measures aimed at controlling bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle.
The RSPCA said that vaccination, increased levels of testing and improved biosecurity are more effective ways of dealing with the problem in the long term and eradicating bovine TB in cattle for good.
Carl Padgett, President of the British Veterinary Association, commented:
“The BVA believes that targeted, managed and humane badger culling is necessary in carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the persistent presence of bovine TB and we support the Government’s application of science-based policy through the implementation of these pilot exercises.
“Nobody relishes the thought of culling badgers: it is a difficult decision to have to take, but it is in the long term benefit of eradicating bovine TB. A lot of work is being undertaken in these pilots to ensure that any removal is as humane, effective and safe as possible. The outcomes of the pilots will provide essential information regarding the value of a badger culling policy delivered in this way, which will then feed into the knowledge base for future policy. Badger culling is only one aspect of bovine TB control that is required and should be seen as part of a comprehensive eradication programme including cattle control measures.”