LONDON A controversial British plan to cull thousands of wild badgers to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis is a "costly distraction" that risks increasing incidences of the disease, wildlife experts said on Saturday.
The mass killing of the furry black and white nocturnal creatures, which have been found to help spread tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, has raised the threat of action by militant animal rights activists.
The move also is opposed by celebrities including Queen guitarist Brian May and veteran nature show presenter David Attenborough.
"We believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it," Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London, said in a letter to Britain's Observer newspaper signed by 30 other wildlife experts.
"Even if such increases do not materialize, the government predicts only limited benefits ... We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control," Bateson said.
The disease in England has cost the taxpayer some 500 million pounds ($804 million) in the past decade, and the government says 1 billion pounds will be needed in the next decade to control the disease if no action is taken now.
Britain's forestry commission says there are about 250,000 adult badgers in the United Kingdom. Their plan calls for culling only in certain areas of England - the counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset - to reduce the badger population there by 70 percent.
Marksmen are set to start the cull soon but details are being kept secret for fear of clashes between farmers determined to protect their livestock and animal rights activists.
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Bill Trott)