FARMERS are backing calls for a national badger cull in an attempt to curb tuberculosis in cattle.

The government chief scientist Sir David King says that the need to manage and control badger populations is imperative to controlling the disease, which farmers believe has crippled the cattle industry for many years.

The badger cull has been backed by farmers in the Bromsgrove and Droitwich Spa area.

Salwarpe farmer Michael Davies, who has 200 head of cattle at his farm just outside Droitwich Spa, said: "I would support a selective badger cull because there are too many of them at the moment. I think there are three times as many as 20 years ago because of the maze that is grown now, which keeps them going throughout the winter.

"It is widely known that they carry the disease and many live very close together and have no natural predators.

"Even though we have no cases at all here, we still have to be tested on a regular basis. I think it would be good news for all farmers."

However, animal welfare groups have hit out at claims that badger populations are the sole cause and believe blame should lie with farmers themselves.

Director of Animal Aid, Andrew Tyler, said: "Once again, a reckless and greedy farming industry is holding the government hostage. It blames everyone except itself for a range of devastating disease outbreaks now afflicting farmed animals. They include bird flu, salmonella, campylobacter, BSE, foot and mouth, swine fever and bovine TB itself.

"The government should force farmers to recognise that, when animals are treated as reproducible and disposable objects, large-scale disease will follow."

Animal Aid says there are other ways in which bovine TB can be spread including the often filthy, crowded and poorly ventilated conditions in which cows are kept, and by the increasingly intensive regimes to which the animals are subjected.