British farm union officials said Tuesday a cull of badgers has begun in a bid to halt the spread of cattle tuberculosis.
The badgers are blamed for spreading the disease to cattle, but opponents say killing badgers is not a sound scientific solution to the problem.
National Farmers' Union President Peter Kendall told farmers in a letter that a "pilot" badger cull had begun in two areas.
"I hope now you will feel that something is finally being done to stem the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers," he told farmers. "We cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every year because of TB while knowing the disease exists in wildlife uncontrolled."
Plans call for about 5,000 badgers to be killed during the six-week program.
Government officials say the cull is needed because of the rapid spread of cattle tuberculosis.
Demonstrators have tried to block the cull. They argue that a vaccine is being developed that would be more effective and humane than killing badgers.
Opponents gathered at "Camp Badger" for a candlelight vigil near one of the cull sites in Somerset, west of London, to call for an end to the cull.
Protester Carla Kidd said opponents are determined to stop the cull before it spreads nationwide.
"We are just normal peaceful people who are outraged," she said.