A LEADING wildlife campaigner has called for an end to the persecution of badgers in the region.

Dr Elaine King, executive officer of the National Federation of Badger Groups, told a meeting at Houghton-le-Spring, on Wearside, that snares and illegal badger baiters were taking an awful toll on the animals.

Addressing Durham Badger Group at Rainton Meadows, the headquarters of Durham Wildlife Trust, she called for snares to be banned.

Gamekeepers and landowners believe that snares, if used properly, are a legitimate way of controlling predators such as weasels and stoats, and say they are regularly checked in accordance with the law to limit suffering.

But Dr King said: “We want a ban on the use of all snares. Badgers are caught in snares frequently and this region is one of the hotspots for their use.

“All snares are indiscriminate and trap other wildlife, including badgers, domestic pets and livestock. Badgers sustain terrible injuries.”

The federation presented a 60,000-signature petition to the Government last month and Dr King said that increasing numbers of MPs were supporting the campaign to ban the devices.

She also condemned badger baiters, who dig out the animals to fight dogs.

“Although badgers are protected in law, they are still persecuted quite severely and the North-East is one of the worst areas,” she said.

Dr King said she was also concerned badgers could be blamed if tuberculosis (TB) spreads into the region’s cattle herds.

Farmers say badgers infect cattle with TB, a claim that has led to thousands of badgers being culled over recent years and which the Government is investigating.

The federation agrees that TB is increasing in cattle – 173 new outbreaks in 1990 and 1,039 in 2000 – but says it is largely restricted to the South-West and is not transmitted by badgers.

Dr King said she was worried the Government was allowing North-East farmers to restock after foot-and-mouth, using cattle from the South-West.

She said: “It is likely TB will be introduced into the North-East by farmers restocking from the West Country and buying in infected cattle. But, of course, the badgers will be blamed.”