The Department of Agriculture is seeking contractors to carry out a cull of up to 12,000 badgers over 2 years in an ongoing effort to tackle tuberculosis levels in cattle.

The contract will be worth in the region of €2m and will involve the capture and shooting of the animals.

Badger culling has been used as a way of reducing the levels of the disease for decades, with 6,000 badgers per year culled in recent years.

Contractors will be tasked with setting snares near known badger setts and shooting any animals they catch.

The carcasses will then be tagged and delivered to a central collection point.

However animal welfare groups are hotly disputing the need for any more culling, with the Irish Wildlife Trust claiming many studies show badger culling is ineffective at stopping TB outbreaks in cattle.

The IWT also point out that years of culling in this country has not got eradicated bovine TB.

Farmers argue the latest cull is necessary and say there is ample evidence linking infected badger populations to the spread of TB to disease free cattle, something that can have a devastating impact for farm families..

In a Department statement it was pointed out badger removal is undertaken "only in areas where badgers are the likely source of infection."

The statement added that the incidence of bovine TB in herds has fallen greatly in recent years due in great part  to the strategic removal of diseased badger social groups. 

The new badger removal contract will also involve an element of badger vaccination aimed at reducing badger TB levels without culling.

Vaccine field trials involving several hundred badgers are already taking place but the Department says it will be some years before badgers culling is abandoned.

Meanwhile, Irish Farmers Association President Eddie Downey has said that levels of TB remain unacceptably high in Wicklow, despite significant progress towards the eradication of the disease nationwide.