A council has been ridiculed after its newly-announced wildlife policy, intended to create a haven for threatened species, was declared a threat to public health.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of lobbying group the Countryside Alliance labelled the policy agreed by Bradford on Avon’s environment and planning committee dangerous because it would mean pest controllers having to catch rats and then release them.

The policy says the town council would deny access to those engaged in the culling or hunting and other types of animal destruction on town council owned land, as far as the law will allow.

Pest controllers claimed the town could be overrun if they weren’t allowed to use lethal methods like traps and poison.

But the council said the intent of the declaration had been blown out of all proportion.

Deputy mayor Alex Kay said: “The intent is to protect wildlife where we can. That does not mean to have wildlife causing any kind of harm or problem.

“We want to try and encourage people not to use slug pellets and kill thrushes and hedgehogs.

“I think the policy has been misinterpreted and obviously we have a duty of care to ensure public spaces and town council owned spaces are managed properly, which would include making sure there’s no infestation.

“But it also means we want to make sure we’re not using chemicals which are harmful to us and wildlife, where there is no need to use such things.

“We aren’t creating an infestation; we’re just saying we don’t want to use chemicals and inhumane methods of killing creatures where we have the opportunity otherwise,” she explained.

The policy, agreed last week, pledged to reduce the use of poisons, due to the impact those chemicals have on the ecosystem.

According to the declaration, in the last decade 40 per cent of its indicator species have declined.

In a clarification issued on Wednesday, the town council said it would “seek to employ non-lethal methods of rodent control” while adhering to the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949, which sets out the authority’s legal obligation to monitor rodents on its land.

This includes a duty to destroy infestations before they plague Bradford’s historic streets. The statement added that pests have rarely been an issue.

Responding to the clarification Mr Bonner told the Wiltshire Times the council’s position was increasingly illogical.

He said: “It is now accepting that it has a legal duty to control rats but says it will only allow the killing of rats when there is an infestation.

“I am sure that Bradford on Avon residents will be thrilled that the council will only sanction lethal control when rats are running across their doorsteps.

“All sensible pest control is focused on ensuring that rat populations do not reach the level of infestations when they are bound to become a threat to human health.”

Cllr Kay added that town council was trying to be balanced, but on the balance of trying to improve biodiversity.

“People have generally responded on social media and at our meeting, very positively to the measures we’re trying to do to improve, in our little patch, the biodiversity,” she said.

“Hopefully that influences other people both in the town and beyond to do likewise.”