GERMANY has relaxed its tough laws on the culling of wolves, following concern over the species' growing appetite for livestock.

Previously, it was only permitted to cull wolves that could be shown to pose a direct threat to human safety, but the relaxation means that licensed hunters can now be called in to shoot wolves where there have been clear attacks on livestock.

The new regulations come in response to the wolf’s dramatic comeback in Germany, from local extinction 20 years ago, to an estimated population of more than 30 packs roaming the heavily afforested country.

In 2015, a wolf pack was photographed just 30 miles from Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, and wolves have been spotted wandering into villages and built-up areas in search of food. Official government figures put the number of wolves at around 400 – but farmers' representatives reckon there are more than 1000 prowling the country.

The new regulations were approved by Angela Merkel’s government this week, after the environment minister. Svenja Schulze, dropped a demand that the particular wolf responsible for a livestock attack be identified. Instead, any wolf in the area of a serious attack could now face culling.

“I am glad the environment ministry has moved on this,” said agri-minister Julia Klöckner. “It’s not possible to explain to normal-minded people that rampaging wolves can only be shot after DNA tests.”

But the new regulations have faced criticism from conservationists: “The call for hunting rights and upper limits is populist grandstanding. Hunting wolves does nothing to resolve conflicts.”

Officials stressed that there will be no 'open season' on wolves. Hunting is strictly controlled in Germany, and only licensed hunters will be allowed to shoot the animals.