Farmers in Sussex have welcomed the prospect of mass badger culls to try to save cattle from disease.

The area between the Ouse and Cuckmere rivers is one of the South East's hot-spots for bovine tuberculosis (TB).

Badgers, a protected species, are blamed for spreading bovine TB around the countryside.

The Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, has called for badger culling in affected areas to halt the spread of the disease.

About 70 per cent of badgers have been killed in areas where trial culls have been carried out.

In 2006 ten new herds were infected and 25 herds were placed under restrictions in East Sussex - five more than were restricted the year before - according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

West Sussex fared better, with just one new herd infected and three under restrictions in 2006 - the same as in 2005.

Farms where infected cattle are found are not allowed to move any animals except for slaughter for at least four months.

Testing for the disease costs farms about £1,000 a time, on top of the cost of not being able to take cattle to market.

Jeff Trunkfield, the chairman of East Sussex National Farmers Union, said he would welcome culls between Eastbourne and Brighton, where Sussex farms are worst hit.

He said: "It is a crisis everywhere in the country.

"We have now got blue tongue and foot and mouth.

"If we're not careful there isn't going to be a lot of food for anybody to eat."

Mr Trunkfield said badgers are no longer a rare sight in the countryside and are spreading TB because they no longer keep only to woodland areas.

The disease causes lesions in affected animals' lungs and chests. In the 1930s 2,500 people a year in Britain died from TB they had caught from drinking raw, infected milk.

Ed Gribble's 300-head dairy and beef herd at Cobbe Place Farm near Beddingham is under restrictions after a cow was found with a suspected infection two weeks ago.

His farm was closed for six months in the 1990s the last time his herd was infected.

Mr Gribble said: "It is a serious cost to our business. The situation is getting worse.

"The cattle are being infected by badgers. To do nothing is not the answer."

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has backed culling by pumping gas into badger setts, but opposes snaring.

Jeff Hayden, of Badger Trust Sussex, told The Argus changing farming techniques could help stop the spread of the disease more effectively than badger culling.

He said: "We are working with other badger groups in the county to do our utmost to combat a possible cull of badgers in East Sussex.

"Whilst we are uncertain of the precise area in which a licence to cull will be applied for, we do know that it will be in the area of the South Downs and it does seem a nonsense that on the one hand, there is talk of a new national park and on the other, a protected mammal is likely to be killed."

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