LEAVE our badgers alone.

That was the message from Hampshire councillors who overwhelmingly backed a motion to ban badger culling on county-owned land.

It comes after pilot culls have been launched to destroy 5,000 badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire to curb the spread of Bovine TB in cattle.

Lib Dem councillor Rupert Kyrle put forward the motion at a full council meeting in Winchester.

His motion argued that culling was not a proven solution to the TB problem and that more research was needed for vaccinations.

After the vote, Cllr Kyrle, who represents Botley and Hedge End, said: “This is a great day for badgers in Hampshire. We all want to see a real solution to prevent the spread of bovine TB across our countryside, but it is not right that badgers should be singled out in this way.

“We must protect our countryside, and that includes the species that make it their home.”

The number of recorded cases of TB in cows is steadily increasing, with seven cases in 2009, 12 in 2010, 19 in 2011, 21 in 2012 and 33 as of June 2013. No trace has been found in Hampshire badgers.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) does not know how many badgers there are in Hampshire, but it is thought there are 250,000 nationwide.

But Sandra Nichols, county adviser for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the problem was not serious enough yet to warrant a cull.

She said: “It’s highly unlikely we will see badger culling in Hampshire, because the numbers are not high enough and herd restriction controls will help to keep incidents low.

“If the worst comes to the worst we would support a cull, because we have to get a handle on this disease.”

Susannah Mannerings, who runs Attwoods Drove dairy farm in Compton, near Winchester, slammed the council’s decision.

She said: “It’s a cowardly way out and a waste of time, because no one is even thinking of a cull in this area yet.

If badgers did have TB they have to be culled.”

Meanwhile, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is trying to raise £45,000 for badger vaccinations on 40 setts across 16 nature reserves by 2014.

Hampshire wildlife expert Chris Packham has also criticised culling as “shameful”.