Badger culling could double this year despite news that it would be phased out and replaced with a cattle vaccine, according to campaigners who say they have seen a leaked document.
In March, Defra announced vaccine trials in a bid to tackle bovine TB.
Last year, about 35,000 badgers were killed but the Badger Trust said a leaked document showed plans to cull up to about 64,500 this year.
Defra said it had not granted any cull licences this year.
The chief executive of the Badger Trust, Dominic Dyer, said the leaked document, which the BBC has seen, was “definitely accurate, definitely authentic – I have seen these types of documents before”.
It mentions Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire, Cumbria, Avon, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, with authorisation dates set from 1 September.
Defra said it did not comment on leaked documents and has not yet responded to a BBC request about whether it was currently considering any cull licences.
Farmers believe culling is necessary to control the disease that devastates the beef and dairy industries, but opponents say it is inhumane and ineffective.
“Culling is meant to be a control policy, it’s increasingly looking like an eradication policy,” said Mr Dyer.
“It’s a massive increase in the number of animals being killed.”
He added it was also a “significant shift in government policy”.
A proposed badger cull in Derbyshire was rejected by the government last September.
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In April, the High Court heard the decision came after Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds met Mr Dyer in Downing Street.
In July, Defra said trials of cattle vaccines were under way in England and Wales and would be held over the next five years.
It added it also had plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease in a bid to eradicate it by 2038.
Badger vaccinations are already being trialled by wildlife charities in areas including Derbyshire and Oxfordshire.
Julia Hammett, chair of Oxfordshire Badger Group, said the “no-kill alternative” was offered free by the group to landowners.
“If the government were to invest in our programme instead of investing millions of pounds in culling we could expand this service to more landowners who have expressed an interest in vaccinating badgers on their land,” she said.
An update on the government’s vaccine strategy is expected to be published in the autumn.
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