Wildlife campaigners have been warned that they face prosecution if they attempt to disrupt marksmen conducting the country’s first badger cull.
By James Kirkup and Louise Gray
18 Sep 2012
Natural England issued the first licence for a pilot cull yesterday, the start of a controversial attempt to tackle tuberculosis in cattle by shooting thousands of badgers, which are blamed for spreading the disease.
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, said he hoped that the four-year pilot in Gloucestershire would lead to a nationwide cull. Animal rights groups promised “direct action” to block the cull. Opponents, who include celebrities such as Brian May, the rock guitarist from Queen, say it is cruel and unlikely to address the TB problem.
Mr Paterson is a long-standing advocate of culling, arguing that, as well as sparing cattle, killing can also save badgers from suffering the effects of TB. The minister, appointed earlier this month, kept two badgers, Bessie and Baz, as pets when he was a child.
He said that in the absence of a viable TB vaccine, culling was the best way to contain the disease. “Until we get a vaccine — and we would all love to have a vaccine — we should use the measures used in other countries very effectively to bear down on the disease in wildlife and in cattle,” he said.
Ministers say culling could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16 per cent, but some critics dispute that figure. Others argue that the benefit does not justify the cost.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association said protesters were confident that they could stop the cull in Gloucester.
“We have had feedback from a lot of our local groups that they are definitely planning to get involved,” said a spokesman. “They will be in the cull zones during the planned killing taking peaceful direct action at night. They will be in high-vis jackets making noise, doing everything they can to disrupt the shooters. I’d be surprised if this sort of thing does not end in arrest. Lots of people feel strongly about this and are willing to take that risk.”
The Coalition of Badger Action Groups has promised “direct action” to disrupt any cull. On its website, the organisation said: “We will be out in the fields before and during the cull, stopping and making citizen’s arrests on marksmen/women when we can, filming, rescuing injured badgers and neutralising bait points when we find them.”
Gloucestershire Constabulary has said that it will allow lawful protests against the culls, but warned protesters that they could face prosecution under several different laws
“If persons enter on to private land as trespassers with the intention of preventing any lawful activity taking place there, they may be guilty of aggravated trespass,” said a spokesman. “There are also potentially offences of harassment and intimidation of those conducting a lawful activity, a host of wildlife crimes ranging from disturbing badgers to damaging Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as well as a number of more common public order offences.”
The Gloucester pilot will take place on 300 farms over four years, with as many as 3,000 badgers likely to be killed.
The cost of the culling operation will be as much as £360,000, which will be met by farmers in the affected area.