ANTI-HUNTING campaigners have cited new government figures as evidence that hounds may have helped create a spike in bovine TB infections across six English counties.

The League Against Cruel Sports has highlighted an outbreak of bTB at the Kimblewick Hunt kennels in Buckinghamshire in December 2016, which resulted in the hounds being put down. Official figures show that there have been 55 new bTB cattle herd breakdowns within the hunt's range in the first four months of this year, more than doubling the area's previous infection rate.

LACS vet Dr Iain McGill, a former MAFF scientist, has called for all hunting to be suspended until an independent inquiry has taken place to discover if hunting hounds are spreading the disease.

“Because of TB, cattle are being slaughtered, badgers are being culled and now hunt hounds are being euthanized – we have a responsibility to examine every possible explanation for the spread of the disease, and that isn’t happening," said Dr McGill.

LACS chief executive Eduardo Goncalves added: “Mapping of hunting areas and bTB outbreak zones reveal concerning trends. There are hunts present in every area in which bTB has spread in cattle. The sudden leap in new outbreaks in the Kimblewick hunt area – 55 in the four months since the hounds were diagnosed compared with under half that pre-dating their infection – cannot be written off as a coincidence without evidence.

“I think the UK’s farmers would prefer a PR disaster for hunts rather than further devastation of their herds,” he added.