Direct action by farmers could backfire and accelerate the spread of a devastating cattle disease, a Government expert warned.

The warning was given at a public meeting at which Tanis Brough, a veterinary advisor for the Animal Plant and Health Agency, told concerned farmers that trying to kill badgers themselves would be illegal and counterproductive.

She told around 200 farmers at the Stoneybeck Inn near Penrith, that any interference in the local badger population would see the animals move out into other areas. "We don't want anyone interfering with badgers. Do not be tempted to do anything to them in any way. We do not want badgers moving," said Ms Brough.

The Government agency had called the meeting on Thursday evening after it was discovered that bovineTB had been found in "roadkill" badgers in an a 250km area from the south of Shap to junction 40 of the M6 at Penrith.

APHA has been investigating outbreaks of the disease among cattle on 20 farms in the affected area for the past two years.

Dez Delahay (CORR), a scientist at the National Wildlife Management Centre, said culling would only cause extra movement in the badgers in that area. "Infected badgers can live for many years and reproduce successfully. That is the big problem controlling the disease."

Earlier in the meeting, Government experts told farmers that the strain of TB in the Cumbrian herds had not been seen in any other part of the UK.

Ms Brough said they believed that this particular strain came from Northern Ireland in an animal imported prior to autumn 2014. "How this strain M.bovis 17Z came to be in the Cumbrian herds remains unclear. We do not know if this original animal is alive. It is probably dead."

Farmers were told that more testing needed to be done, but at the moment they believed that the disease was spread from cattle to badgers. Defra vets have said culling was one option they would look at, vaccination could be another.

But in the meantime farmers are encouraged to use fences to keep their cattle away from badger areas, and seal buildings with food.

Eden Valley farmer, David Raine, who is National Farmers Union Cumbrian chairman, said after the meeting that the aim was to avoid the spread of the disease into the wildlife. "This needs to be dealt with speedily to resolve it. Badger culling is one option we may need to look at," he said.