CAMPAIGNERS are organising night-time patrols in the Avoncliff Valley and other parts of west Wiltshire in a bid to stop more than 4,000 badgers being culled.

They are going out in groups in west Wiltshire and north east Somerset trying to disrupt marksmen targeting the animals, which are blamed for the spread of bovine TB.

The night-time patrollers are hoping to disrupt the culling of badgers or to prevent them being trapped in cages and shot the following morning.

Earlier this month, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs authorised the culling of more than 64,000 badgers nationwide.

And according to campaigners opposed to the cull, up to 4,141 badgers are to be shot in the west Wiltshire and north east Somerset zone in a 6-8 week period which began on September 14, although the sites have not been revealed.

Cllr Dom Newton, leader of Bradford on Avon Town Council, which recently acquired Becky Addy Wood above the Avoncliff Valley to preserve a wildlife haven for the local community, said: “This is the first I’ve heard of it.

“We would have expected to have received notice of the cull but I don’t think that we have been asked. From a town council perspective, we know nothing about it.”

A spokesman for Wiltshire Council said: “We have not been approached for permission for a badger cull to take place on any land which falls within our ownership in the Avoncliff Valley.

"The land the council owns in the valley comprises Barton Farm Country Park to which the public have 24-hour daily access, so while we haven’t been approached, it would be unlikely that we would give permission for a badger cull on this land.”

The Wiltshire zone is one of 54 areas in England – and the sixth in the county – where marksmen have been given permission to shoot badgers as part of efforts to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

The exact locations remains a secret, as does information about the trained riflemen licensed to take part.

A spokesman for the Wiltshire Badger Group today condemned the move.

He said: “Farmers claim that bovine TB will be eradicated by the cull, however science disputes this claim.

“From 1995 to 2002 badgers were shot as part of the randomised badger culling trial. Those shot badgers were tested and a scientific report produced.

“The outcome was that science proved that culling badgers does not work because they are not the reservoir of the disease – it is in cattle and passed cow to cow. In this current cull, badgers are slaughtered and no testing is being done so there is no science behind this massacre.”

A spokeswoman for the Somerset Against Badger Cull group, who did not wish to be named, said it was difficult to obtain information about the culling.

She said: “Our patrols will be going out all through the night. No-one knows what is going on or where, not even local parish councils who have no idea whether culls are happening.”

Earlier this month, Natural England published details of a further 11 licences to be issued for badger culling, in addition to reauthorising licences for 33 existing areas.

The new licences permit badgers to be trapped and shot until November 30, while “controlled shooting” of the animals is allowed until January 31.

In July, the government said it would be trialling a TB vaccine for cattle.

Defra says Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat that England faces today, with more than 30,000 cattle slaughtered each year due to infection.