ALMOST half a million pounds was spent on policing last year’s badger cull in Wiltshire, campaigners said.

The Wiltshire Badger Group claims official figures show the cull cost Wiltshire Police £474,727. Almost £20,000 of this was spent on 4x4s officers were not even allowed to take off-road.

However, the National Farmers Union claims the costs were higher because of the presence of anti-cull protesters. The culls, which saw 4,517 badgers killed over a 42-day period last winter, were part of a government-backed programme to tackle bovine tuberculosis.

Malcolm Clark of the Wiltshire Badger Group, which obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request, said: “The police operation is necessary because the farming community is running round the countryside after dark shooting at every badger that moves.

“Last year some farmers also tried closing footpaths so that badger patrols could not lawfully walk the footpaths. In one instance tractors and trailers were parked over an entrance and a group claiming to be farmers said the path was closed.”

Mr Clark claimed there was little scientific evidence of the cull having a positive impact in reducing TB.

He added: “What I find amazing is the number of arable farmers who want badgers killed. They have no cattle, so they are not suffering from TB yet they want the badgers on their land shot. Do farmers really want to resolve the problem using scientific advice, or do they want a scapegoat? It is interesting that more farmers are getting involved now the government has increased the bounty to £50 per dead badger. Next thing we know is we will have farmers collecting dead badgers from the roadside that have been killed by cars and trying to claim the £50.”

But the NFU said the culls were backed by ministers. A spokesman for the farmers’ group said: “The badger cull in Wiltshire is part of the government’s 25 year programme to eradicate bTB. It includes many other measures, including a rigorous testing programme and the culling of thousands of cattle.

“Farmers themselves pay for the direct costs of culling. Indirect costs like policing are a matter for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I would point out that they are only incurred because of the activities of a small group of protestors who are determined to disrupt a lawful, licensed activity.”

A licence to cull badgers in three areas in the county lasts until 2021. Cage trapping of badgers is licensed from June to November. Shooting is licensed between June and February.

Wiltshire Police was approached for a comment.