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'Cull protester' held at Defra site

A man, reported to be an anti-badger cull protester, has been arrested at a site belonging to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The suspect was held at Aston Down in Stroud by Gloucestershire Police on suspicion of aggravated trespass at the site.

Campaigners against the cull have said they are gearing up to protest against the "inhumane" measure.

Activists from campaign group Stop The Cull have already gathered in Gloucestershire, where one of two pilot schemes will take place, to form a "wounded badger patrol". They claim the cull is expected to start on Tuesday and they are on "amber alert", according to the group's website. Defra said the authorised cull companies will decide when the badger cull will begin.

The culls are taking place in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset to combat the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB), which the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said led to the slaughter of 38,000 cattle last year. The cull was due to begin last autumn but was postponed while research continued into the population numbers in both areas.

The Government said west Somerset had approximately 4,300 badgers, with west Gloucesteshire's population put at 3,600. The aim is to kill 70% of the animals, with west Somerset being set a minimum target of 2,081 and a maximum of 2,162. West Gloucestershire was set a minimum of 2,856 and a maximum of 2,932.

The culls, which will be carried out annually for four years, last six weeks and are allowed to take place between June 1 and January 31. If they are successful in stopping the spread of bovine TB, they could be rolled out, saving millions in compensation to farmers.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: "I completely understand the distress that the continuing problem of TB in cattle is causing to farmers. But wanting to do something should not be pushing this Government to make the terrible decision to go ahead with this cull, which could actually magnify the TB problem."

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said via Twitter that the cull is "bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife".

A Defra spokesman said: "Bovine TB is spreading across England and devastating our cattle and dairy industries. In TB hotspots such as Gloucestershire and Somerset we need to deal with the infection in badgers if we're to get a grip on TB there. No country has dealt with the disease without tackling infection in both wildlife and cattle. We are working on new cattle and oral badger vaccines but they are years away from being ready and we cannot wait while this terrible disease spreads."

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