MADAM - Much has been said and put into print concerning the controversial badger cull which is now underway in parts of the south west, but we must remember one important fact in the overall coverage of this Government decision to eliminate 70 per cent of the badger population.

That is, whoever you sympathise with in this volatile and highly emotive action, the farmers, whose livelihood in many cases could be at stake, or one of our oldest and best known species of British wildlife, (meles meles) the badger, bovine tuberculosis primarily a debilitating condition effecting cattle (bovids), and is more often than not contracted by other cloven hoofed animals in the vicinity, ie deer, especially fallow which often graze along the edges of woods adjoining cattle pastures.

Bovine TB is bovine TB, it is not badger TB.

Deer have been greatly overlooked in this culling exercise, and as there are now over three million wild deer spread across the UK I believe they are prime suspects in spreading and transmitting this truly horrible disease.

I have spoken to wildlife wardens in the Cotswolds who have assured me that large numbers of wild deer are riddled with bovine TB.

Badgers are thought to contract this form of TB in areas where the disease is endemic in cattle and then, it is claimed, subsequently re-infect cattle.

Until the carcass of a badger is examined there is no way to tell if the animal had the disease or not.

Badgers are common throughout much of the UK, especially in the southern counties, and the mortality rate on the roads is high.

It was estimated in 2002 that 50,000 were killed annually, that amounts to one being killed every five minutes.

Since then the amount of traffic has increased considerably, and the badger death toll as well.

With this amount of badgers to deal with the least expensive course of action is being taken by Defra to rid our countryside of this peaceable and charming creature, by shooting with high velocity rifles, at night.

This whole operation by the Government seems to be rather retrograde considering the scientific evidence available stating that there is no proven 100 per cent link that badgers are the main culprits in harbouring this contagious disease.

If the powers that be persist in pursuing flawed evidence, surely immunisation of badgers and cattle would placate both the farmers and the wildlife groups. Badgers are caught and inoculated in Wales, and that's just over the border from Gloucestershire.

Badgers are clean-living animals, living in social groups, maintaining their setts in pristine order, removing any old bedding and depositing their droppings in specially dug pits sited at some distance from their underground home.

Some setts are immense feats of natural architecture which remain in use for generations as badgers are always extending their homes.

One of the largest ever recorded had 180 entrances, 1.3 km of tunnels and 50 sleeping chambers.

Many large gardens have a badger sett, often to the delight of the home owners who can induce them to feed close to the house with a nightly feast of nuts and raisins.

Also some honey or treacle smeared on a log/bottom of a tree will prove irresistible to them.

Badgers give delight to many people, myself included, as like all members of the weasel family (they are our largest native mustelid), they are very playful, and their activities, especially within a family of 'brocks' is a joy to behold.

Appreciation of wildlife is a tonic to us all, so we should cherish and manage our remaining species to the best of our abilities, otherwise like the supermarket 'special offers' say: 'when it's gone, it's gone'.

So let's work it out before we wipe it out.

Frank Tunbridge Local naturalist Podsmead Place Gloucester