Protest camps similar to the infamous sites set up to fight the Newbury bypass could be established on a Crown-owned West Country estate as animal activists fight the badger cull.
And they say they may imitate the animals they are trying to save by digging tunnels to remain on the land.
A spokesman for Stop the Cull, which is organising direct action said yesterday a protest camp would be set up on the 3,800-acre Dunster Estate on Exmoor, which attracts thousands of country lovers to its tranquil wide open spaces.
It follows news that Natural England has issued a licence for farmers to shoot badgers in West Somerset on land thought to include the estate. It has already issued a licence to farmers to shoot badgers in a 100 square mile area of West Gloucestershire. The West Somerset acreage is understood to be smaller.
The Stop the Cull spokesman said the plan is to target a “large corporation” rather than singling out “small dairy farmers”. “As soon as the cull starts we are going to set up protest camp on the Crown Estate. They can come and evict us but it will be very costly. It will be like Newbury Bypass protests,” he said. The 1996 Newbury Bypass protests against the A30 in Devon lasted for several weeks and made protester Daniel Hooper, known as Swampy, a household name.
The Crown Estate manages the Queen’s property portfolio but revenues go to the Treasury.
A spokesman said farmers have been given the go ahead to take part in the cull. “At the moment we are keeping the situation under review.”
’direct action’ animal rights groups say they will make noise around setts where culls are being carried out to warn the badgers to stay underground and even carry out “citizens arrests”.
Police have cancelled leave in order to keep an eye on the cull, that has to take place over six weeks before the beginning of February.
Natural England said the new licence will allow farmers to kill 70 per cent of badgers in the area of West Somerset over four years.
A survey will be carried out first, so that farmers can be given a head count of the number of badgers they are allowed to kill.
“Under the terms of the licence, and in accordance with the criteria specified in the bTB control policy, licensees will be authorised to reduce badger populations in the pilot area by at least 70 per cent and maximum numbers will be specified to prevent the risk of local extinction,” said a spokesman.
Once the surveys are complete, thought to be by the end of October at the latest, the culling can go ahead in both areas.
Farmers claim that badgers spread the cattle disease and want to kill off the disease in wildlife.
However the RSPCA insists that the killing of thousands of badgers will not stop the spread of the disease.