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Now to a battle in Britain that has pitted dairy farmers against badger lovers. This month, the British government issued licenses allowing farmers in southwest England to shoot badgers. The reason: Many scientists say the animals pose a health threat to cattle.

But as Vicki Barker reports, the striped furry creatures have plenty of allies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: A badger sow gathers bluebells as fresh beddings for the family's sleeping quarters.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: A stalwart of BBC nature programs, the badger is one of Britain's most beloved animals and a protected species here.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADGERS)

BARKER: To many English dairy farmers, though, this timid omnivore with the black and white stripes is a mobile biological weapon, exposing their cows to bovine tuberculosis through its urine and saliva. And they've persuaded the U.K. government to sanction extreme measures.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

BARKER: One of the trained marksmen recruited to wipe out 70 percent of the badger populations in two pilot areas. Feelings are running so high that when the BBC's "Countryfile" program interviewed the marksman, his face wasn't shown and an actor re-voiced his words.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: The quality of the training was, I thought, very good. It was a mixture of theory and practical sessions, and I had to complete an exam at the end of it.

BARKER: The marksman's desire for anonymity may not be misplaced. Last month, a website posted the names, addresses and telephone numbers of some of the farmers involved in the cull. British police fear hard-line animal rights extremists, with a history of bombings and sabotage, may be trying to hijack the movement.

Nonviolent badger lovers, though, continue to wage their campaign of persuasion.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM)

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: In 1971, a dead badger was found that was infected with bovine TB.

BARKER: TV naturalist David Attenborough is among those lending his voice to the cause, citing past recommendations of the government's own scientists.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM)

ATTENBOROUGH: Culling is not a viable policy option.

BARKER: British rock star turned animal welfare campaigner, Brian May, argues that vaccination not eradication is the answer.

BRIAN MAY: Farmers have been killing badgers for many, many years now. And effectively, we're in a cull situation already and TB is rampant.

BARKER: But conservative British lawmaker Simon Hart says thousands of badgers must die to save thousands of cows and the family farms that depend on them.

SIMON HART: Nobody wants to do this. There's no sense of glee here. We've explored every option, taken veterinary advice, and reluctantly come to the view that this, with other things, is the only way we can nail this disease once and for all.

BARKER: Permits have been granted in the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire. But the government will not reveal more precisely where the killings will begin or when: just sometime this fall and after dark, of course, because badgers are nocturnal.

That's already affected country life in those areas. Gordon McGlone runs the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

GORDON MCGLONE: We have staff who are very devoted and work very hard on our nature reserves. And they do lots of things that perhaps one wouldn't expect; bat walks, walks in dusk and dawn. We've stopped that because we don't want to put them at risk,

BARKER: Their legal bid to stop the cull defeated, some animal welfare groups are now considering protests and consumer boycotts. Britain's RSPCA is urging shoppers to refuse to buy, in its words, milk from farms soaked in badgers' blood.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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