WEST Somerset farmers are backing a call for a widespread cull of badgers in a bid to stamp out TB among cattle and safeguard livelihoods.

Government chief scientist Sir David King said on Monday a cull could make a "significant contribution" towards controlling the disease in hard-hit areas such as Somerset.

His report followed a previous study by the Independent Scientific Group that said culling badgers would be ineffective, causing badgers to flee to other farms.

Sir David said: "It is clear badgers are a continuing source of infection for cattle and could account for 40% of cattle breakdowns in some areas."

West Somerset landowners are backing the cull and, following recent reports of Shropshire farmers allegedly killing badgers to protect their livestock, believe more farmers may take the law into their own hands.

"I think it's a must because unless we get rid of them we won't get rid of the problem," said Colin Hutchings, of Kingsbrompton Farm, Brompton Regis.

"It's alright for the public to say it's cruel but badgers need to be culled to a certain level."

"We need to follow restrictions legally, and we don't want to go out our back door to do it the other way, but I can see that's what's going to happen if needs must because it's our livelihoods at stake."

Diana Rusher, of Higher Burrow Farm, Timberscombe, whose farm was affected by an outbreak in 2004, said: "I think farmers are forced into a corner and they will do what they can to resolve the situation.

"I've had problems and closed three years ago. A fence surrounds our farm, and cattle have no contact with other herds, so it must be wild animal related.

"Badgers seen for 30 years were no longer around and TB was the probable cause."

Andy Fewings, of Lower March Farm, Dunster, said he was not surprised farmers may be killing badgers.

"I don't know anyone doing it but it doesn't surprise me that this is happening," he said. "Obviously it's a criminal offence but I think the law needs to be decriminalised because badgers are a pest just like foxes."

About 2,500 cattle a year get bovine tuberculosis, and some 30,000 stock are killed every year because of the disease, according to the National Farmers' Union.