Second badger cull 'has begun in Gloucestershire'
More than 100 anti badger-cull protesters spent the night in west Gloucestershire aiming to witness or disrupt the government pilot scheme.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) refused to confirm the cull had started in the county.
But BBC West of England correspondent Jon Kay said all the indications were that the shooting of badgers had begun.
Gloucestershire Police said its operation to keep the peace was under way.
About 5,000 badgers are to be shot over six weeks in a bid to curb bovine TB.
The pilot cull got under way in Somerset last week, but no-one involved will say how many badgers have been shot or killed.
England's badger cull
- Badgers are being shot by marksmen in the west of England as part of measures to protect cattle from bovine tuberculosis (TB)
- The marksmen will shoot the badgers at night after putting food such as peanuts outside their setts. This method has not been formally tested before
- Badgers are thought to pass on the disease to cattle through their urine, faeces or through droplet infection, in farmyards or in pastures
- However, the extent of their role in the spread of bovine TB is not clear since the cows can also pass on the disease
- According to one newspaper report, cage-trapping badgers for vaccination (or shooting) costs about £2,500 per hectare, whereas shooting them as they run freely costs about £200
The culls aim to assess if culling can be done effectively, safely and humanely, with plans to roll out the scheme more widely in areas which are hotspots for TB in cattle.
Charles Mann, chairman of the NFU in Gloucestershire, said tackling TB in wildlife made sense.
"We're not exterminating badgers, just reducing their numbers so we have healthy cattle and badgers," said Mr Mann.
Anti-cull protesters have vowed to disrupt the shootings.
They want the emphasis to be on vaccines and tighter on-farm and cattle movement measures.
Tony Dean, chairman of the Gloucestershire Badger Group, said: "They've started in Somerset, and [the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs] say they are having 'good results', but no-one is coming out with any figures."
The UK director of the Humane Society International, Mark Jones, said: "What we hear from the ground in Somerset is talk of chaos, confusion and carnage.
"I have no doubt that many thousands of badgers are now set to suffer in the county I call home, for the sake of a policy that has no scientific basis, will at best make a marginal difference to TB in cattle, and which could very well make things worse."
Drew Pratten, of the Stop the Cull protest group, said it was confident it could prevent the cull taking place, adding: "We're as ready as we will ever be to stop it by getting between the setts and the pre-baiters."
Farming minister David Heath said it was not good for the badger population to have an endemic disease spreading across the country.'Even-handed'
He said: "We're taking out the hotspots of infection, coupled with other measures set out in our comprehensive strategy which includes vaccination and better bio-security on farms. But vaccination alone does not cure a sick badger."
The RSPCA has issued a statement saying it is "appalled after learning that hundreds of badgers are now being shot in parts of Gloucestershire as well as Somerset as part of the pilot badger culls".
"We are paying very close attention to the way the cull is being conducted and will investigate any reports of breaches of the licence where badgers suffer," said RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant.
"We also fear that some may take the law into their own hands by killing badgers under the cover of the cull.
"This is a criminal offence and we will work with the police to bring such individuals to justice."
A Gloucestershire Police spokesman said: "Our role will be operationally independent, impartial, even-handed and fair to everyone whatever their views, interest or involvement in the pilot scheme."
Initially the pilot will not examine how successful culling has been in reducing the spread of TB to livestock.
Campaigners have fought the plans since the test areas were revealed last year. They argue a cull is unnecessary, inhumane and ineffective in controlling the disease.