A pilot scheme to selectively cull badgers testing positive for tuberculosis risks spreading the disease further, Sheffield University scientists are warning.
The new bovine TB control strategy to be piloted in Northern Ireland will carry out live tests on badgers with the aim of vaccinating healthy animals and culling infected ones, as part of efforts to reduce the disease in livestock.
Badgers can spread TB to cattle, and in England the Government has gone ahead with controversial pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset for large-scale culling.
But the benefit of culling large numbers of badgers was undermined by the remaining animals moving around more, infecting more cattle with the disease, the trial showed.
New Sheffield University research warns the small-scale selective culling approach being piloted in Northern Ireland could have a similar effect.
The findings are likely to be a blow to those trying to find an alternative to large scale culling of badgers to tackle TB.
The number of badgers killed in the new approach is likely to be low, as there are limits to the numbers that will be trapped and found to be infected, and only around half test positive for the disease.