MORE than 10 per cent of Welsh livestock farmers may have illegally killed badgers.

According to a research study carried out at Bangor University, around one in 10 of the 14,000 farmers in Wales had killed badgers, and for cattle farmers the figure is higher, at 14.5%.

The data was gathered from 428 farmers at agricultural shows and livestock markets in Wales between June and September 2011.

A method known as randomised response technique (RRT) was used to compile the study. A dice is rolled to allow respondents protection for answering sensitive questions truthfully.

The report was published on the peer-reviewed journal website, PLOS ONE.

Paul Cross, of Bangor University’s school of environment, natural resources and geography, said policymakers should consider the results of the study in the wider debate on bovine TB.

“Intensive badger culling is one approach being considered by policy makers, in an attempt to control the spread of tuberculosis in cattle,”

said Dr Cross.

“However, studies investigating the effects of badger culling on TB outbreaks in cattle have not factored in the prevalence of illegal badger killing, and its potential to spread disease.”

Nick Fenwick, the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ (FUW) director of policy, said the union did not accept the figures.

“The only reliable data we have on the illegal killing of badgers comes from post-mortems carried out by vets on around 600 badgers, which showed that 98.5% had died naturally or from collisions with cars,” he said.

“Only 1.5% showed suspicious injuries, and none of these were linked to farmers.

“That figure is based upon a solid scientific result gained by actually studying dead badgers and what killed them, whereas the figures published by Bangor University and others are based upon getting a bunch of people to roll dice and change their answers based on the number the dice comes up with.”

Dr Fenwick said the vast majority of farmers were law-abiding citizens.

“About 20% of the UK badger population is killed each year by traffic, so if anything can be blamed for spreading TB by causing disturbance to social groups it is our traffic,”

he added.

In response to the report, a Welsh Government spokesman said there was ‘no quick fix’ to tackling the disease.

“It demands a sustainable and long term approach and the application of a comprehensive range of measures including strict biosecurity, cattle testing and movement controls,”

said the spokesman.

“Last year we vaccinated over 1,400 badgers against TB and will resume vaccination later this year.

“Badgers are protected animals in the UK and the issue of illegally killing them is therefore a matter for the police.”