SHOTGUNS will again be used in the badger cull in Somerset, despite opposition from vets and animal welfare groups.

Rifles were used in last year’s trials, however, due to the lack of evidence, the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), which was set up to oversee the culls, was unable to make a judgement on their efficacy.

The IEP won’t be overseeing this year’s culls.

The monitoring will instead be done by Natural England, the licensing authority which has said the use of shotguns will continue.

This is despite a report by the IEP stating that shotguns should not be included in any roll-out unless monitoring shows that controlled shooting is humane and safe.

The Humane Society International believes that Natural England’s monitoring “in no way guarantees animal welfare”.

HSI’s executive director Mark Jones said: “I’m appalled that Defra is arrogantly ignoring the clear advice of the British Veterinary Association on the basis of the IEP’s findings, by allowing badgers to be killed with shotguns this summer despite the fact that there is no evidence at all to show this is humane.”

The Government also faced a backlash following the release of figures which show new tuberculosis outbreaks in cattle are at their lowest rate for ten years.

Statistics show the monthly incidence rate – the proportion of new outbreaks of bovine TB in England – was around 3.25% in March 2014, the lowest since 2004. Local figures also show a drop in the number of cattle slaughtered because of the disease.

In Somerset, there was a 50% drop with 375 cattle slaughtered from January to March this year, compared to 725 slaughtered in the same period last year.

Ministers said the statistics show that controls as part of the strategy to eradicate TB are beginning to make a difference.

Farming minister George Eustice said: “We cannot become complacent. “The impact of bovine TB on our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated.

“That is why must do everything we can to reach our aim of making the whole of England TB free.”

Animal welfare campaigners said the figures show there was no justification for the badger cull.

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: “There is no way that the badger culls from last year could have influenced these numbers at all so the drop is purely because of the tighter farming controls that have come in over the last couple of years.

“The Government unfortunately would rather keep quiet about this because these figures don’t justify a badger cull.”