THE Government should fund research into levels of TB among Exmoor's wild red deer, according to Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Granger.

Warning of a "potentially huge risk" to cattle farms, Mr Liddell-Grainger says ministers need to launch a study as a matter of urgency.

Exmoor is home to around 3,000 red deer, the largest herd in southern England, with the animals ranging freely across open moorland and farmland.

Concerns were raised during the early stages of the badger cull as to how many were infected with TB and the matter was discussed again recently at a special meeting of farmers and landowners.

But Mr Liddell-Grainger, whose constituency includes two-thirds of Exmoor National Park, said no-one was any nearer to knowing what the true levels of infection are.

He added: "Given that we could be looking at a potentially huge risk to farmed animals, I believe we need to start finding out as a matter of urgency."

He will be submitting his request for a study to both Defra Secretary George Eustice and to the Prime Minister, who grew up on an Exmoor farm.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said an initial step would be to carry out thorough veterinary checks on all deer carcasses found on farmland.

“At the moment farmers are reluctant to report any they find because they have to bear the £100 cost of having them taken away,” he said.

“We need to remove that charge and extend the free collections that currently apply to badger carcasses to deer as well.

“No-one knows the scale of the problem we are facing or, indeed, whether it is physically within our powers to do anything about it.

"But it would be tragic, not to mention an enormous waste of public money, to have achieved so much success in reducing the incidences of bovine TB on Exmoor if we do nothing about another species which also acts as a reservoir of TB infectivity.

“This is an issue which cannot simply be left on the back burner.

"The NFU, the National Park Authority and particularly the National Trust, as a significant landowner, must get together and start working out what initial action to take.”