Opponents of the badger cull have enlisted the help of members of the squatter and Traveller communities, threatening to occupy farm buildings and set up camps on private land where badgers will be shot.
The threat, from a newly-formed protest group called Squat the Cull, has further escalated tension in the rural areas earmarked for trials of the Government’s controversial culling policy, with local police forces preparing for clashes between farmers and animal rights activists.
Badgers can be shot legally by licensed marksmen in two cull zones in the West Country from 1 June. Natural England has issued licences for the killing of 70 per cent of badgers in both areas in order to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis to cattle.
“We think we have around 30 serious people willing to spend time on this and live on site with another 50 or so who can come for a day and will help resist eviction,” Dave Peel, a member of the group, told The Independent.
“We will work with other animal rights activists and hunt saboteurs and try physically to stop the cull by standing in front of the guns.”
He added: “Live-in vehicles of all descriptions are being talked about [...] We are also interested in squatting barns and any other out buildings.”
Mr Peel, 35, a forklift driver from south London, said that his group would contact members of the Occupy movement, who sustained a protest camp outside St Paul’s for several months, to seek their involvement or advice.
The cull is expected to attract one of the largest mobilisations of animal rights activists in recent times. Veteran hunt saboteurs and activists who took part in the campaign against animal testing at Huntingdon Life Sciences have joined local opponents of the cull to help with the mapping of cull zones.
The main protest group, Stop the Cull, has pledged that its members will shadow shooting parties with megaphones and vuvuzelas to scare badgers back into their setts.
Jay Tiernan, a leader of Stop the Cull, said activists associated with the group would act within the law but that it would “not condemn” harassment of farmers involved in the cull or damage to private property. Mr Peel said that the group would be accompanied by “plain-clothed legal monitors” of the kind that attended the Dale Farm evictions. “If they get heavy-handed and break the law by illegally arresting us or attacking us we will be better placed to sue them,” Mr Peel said.
Police in Gloucestershire have said they will ensure that peaceful protest is permitted while “dealing with any incidents of crime or disorder”. Assistant Chief Constable Richard Berry said that any additional policing costs would be met by the Home Office. The shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh has said that policing the cull would cost £4m.
The badger cull, which has the strong backing of the National Farmers Union, is opposed by a broad coalition of animal welfare groups including the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPB – all of which have dissociated themselves from the kind of direct action advocated by more radical groups such as Stop the Cull and Squat the Cull.