THE slaughter of thousands of badgers in Hampshire is being planned for the first time as part of a controversial extension of the cull to curb the spread of TB in cattle.

The news has enraged animal campaigners and the highly emotive issue is set to divide communities.

Among the high-profile critics of the cull are Brian May, guitarist of the rock band Queen, and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, who lives in the New Forest.

In other parts of the country policing and private security bills have been high to protect farmers and the people doing the culling.

Natural England is conducting a public consultation after receiving applications for Badger Cull Licences in eight additional counties including Hampshire, a move which opponents of the cull say could see 50,000 badgers killed.

The licenses give farmers the right to cull badgers to stop the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis, a deadly disease which can be passed onto humans via unpasteurised milk.

The Hampshire branch of the National Farmers Union (NFU), which backs the measures, said it did not have details of who had applied for the licenses.

An NFU spokesman said: “Bovine TB is a devastating disease for beef and dairy farmers in large parts of the country, with more than 30,000 cattle slaughtered because of the disease in England in the first 11 months of last year.

“Natural England is consulting with local people in potential additional areas to get an understanding of any local concerns about the possible impact of culling operations on their livelihoods or daily activities. Control of the disease in wildlife remains a key part of the Government’s TB eradication strategy and, following last year’s culls, the then Chief Vet said that proactive badger culling remains the best evidenced available option of achieving this.”

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust opposes the plans and have said it will not permit culling on its land, and claims the cull is not an effective means to reduce bovine TB.

A trust spokesperson said: “We’re very disappointed to see that Defra is continuing the roll out of badger culling across the country, and that we might soon see culling in Hampshire for the first time.

“The scientific evidence demonstrates that culling is likely to be ineffective in fighting the disease and. Worse still, it risks exacerbating the problem by disturbing badgers’ setts and causing them to roam further, potentially spreading the disease more quickly.”

Last year some 19,000 badgers were killed across eight counties: Dorset, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire, Somerset and Wiltshire.

The new licenses would extend the cull to Avon, Berkshire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire.

Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer said: “The government could kill every badger in Britain but bovine TB will remain in cattle herds due to inaccurate TB testing systems, poor cattle movement controls and inadequate bio security measures”

“Michael Gove is claiming to be a green champion, but he will be remembered as the Environment Secretary who pushed the badger to local extinction in parts of the country where it has lived since the Ice Age.”

Animals rights activists had been heartened last month when Environment Secretary Michael Gove refused to commit to continuing with the cull as a way of controlling bovine tuberculosis in cattle.