Policing the badger cull cost Dorset more than half a million pounds – in a season which saw almost 5,000 animals killed.

Dorset Police has published figures showing that the cost of policing the cull in 2017 cost the force £555,426.

Information published by Defra reveals that 4,873 badgers were culled across three licensed areas in Dorset.

It comes as Natural England renews licences for the three areas (Area 3, Area 8, and Area 16) culling is permitted in Dorset for this winter. The dates the cull will begin have not been made public however those who have applied for the cull have been told that a minimum of 109 badgers and a maximum of 329 should be culled in Area 3, along with 617 to 1,826 in Area 8 and 1,733 to 3,363 in Area 16.

The badger cull first began in Dorset in 2015, although culling did not take place in all three areas in the first year.

Policing costs worked out at £918 per badger killed in the first year. With the cull area widened and more animals killed, the cost per animal killed in 2017 stood at just under £114.

Farmers emphasise the need for the badger cull as one of several methods to control the spread of bovine TB.

Farming minister George Eustice has announced this week that cases in bovine TB have dropped in Gloucestershire and Somerset, following the completion of a four-year cull in these area.

He said: “These figures showing reductions in TB cases in Somerset and Gloucestershire are evidence that our strategy for dealing with this slow moving, insidious disease is delivering results.

“Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK. There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer which is why we are committed to pursuing a wide range of interventions to protect the future of our dairy and beef industries and eradicate the disease within 20 years.

“No one wants to be culling badgers forever so the progress reported is encouraging.”

But not everyone is convinced that culling is the best way to tackle bovine TB. Dorset Wildlife Trust has spoken out over the issue, previously backing a petition calling on the government to end the cull, and rolling out a programme to vaccinate badgers on the charity's reserves.

The government's Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme is open for expressions of interest, with grant funding available to cover 50 per cent of the costs.