OPPONENTS of badger culling won the debate on the subject when it was aired at Devizes town hall last Thursday evening.

The very fact that both sides had come together to debate the matter was perhaps more important than the outcome of the vote, according to the organisers Mark and Samantha Fletcher.

Mrs Fletcher said: "We were so delighted by the response. Before the event we had only sold 60 tickets and so we had no idea how many were going to turn up."

As it turned out, all 160 seats were filled by the time the debate began at 7.30pm.

The motion was: "This house believes it is becoming increasingly necessary and right to put the management of disease and needs of food production above the rights of wildlife."

Proposing the motion was Meurig Raymond, deputy chairman of the National Farmers' Union, who had come all the way from Cardiff for the debate.

He said that global warming and the rise in the world population had made food production critical.

He said: "We need to increase food production by three per cent to feed nine billion people by 2050, and currently the increase is only one per cent."

Bovine tuberculosis was the most serious of the many diseases affecting cattle in this country and that determined action had to be taken immediately to solve the problem.

He said: "In 1972 TB was nearly eradicated in cattle in this country, yet here we are in 2008 with 30,000 cattle being slaughtered in the last year."

Opposing the motion, Malcolm Clark of the Wiltshire Badger Group said that, according to Professor John Bourne, 88 per cent of infection cases were spread by cattle to cattle.

He said: "The large percentage of badgers are healthy and, if they are a problem, keep them out of your farmyard.

"You don't achieve the defeat of bovine TB by going around culling."

Supporting the motion, organic farmer Peter Gantlett said that the decision to cull badgers was a difficult one to take.

He said: "We don't want to kill badgers, we have to. There is a dearth of public knowledge of what goes on on farms. All the habitat in the country is man-made. There is a hardly a natural piece of land left in Britain and we manage it very carefully.

"We need to have some measure of control. No one seems to mind us controlling mice, rats, pigeons or rooks. Why are badgers a special case?"

Ecologist Dr Warren Cresswell seconded Mr Clark in opposing the motion. He said: "Farming needs to work with the grain of nature.

"Vaccines against bovine TB will be ready in the next two to three years. We should try to manage the problem until then. Culling wildlife is not an appropriate aspiration."

The motion was defeated by 65 votes to 50 with 30 abstentions, but the most significant discussions went on after the debate.

Mrs Fletcher said: "People stayed for ages and it was great seeing farmers talking to conservationists. They all have the welfare of the countryside in common."