Police fear badger cull protests will pose a clear risk to public safety
Confrontations between badger cull protesters and armed farmers and landowners has "clear potential for harm to public safety", senior police officers have warned.
A trial cull in Gloucestershire has already been given the go-ahead by Government agency Natural England, with a second area in West Somerset waiting in the wings.
The six-week "pilot" schemes are designed to test the methodology of shooting free-running badgers and, if successful, would pave the way for expanded culls to tackle the blight of bovine TB which affects scores of farmers, and thousands of cattle, in the Westcountry every year.
There has been concerted opposition to the cull, with several court cases, and now a last-minute bid to have the issue raised again in Parliament, via an online petition.
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Police have also made plain their concerns about clashes between hard-line protesters trying to disrupt the pilot and those licensed to carry out the "controlled shooting" of badgers.
Papers detailing discussions between the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have now been released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway, ACPO's coordinator for domestic extremism, warned: "Farmers and landowners culling badgers with firearms (of any description) has potential to place armed farm workers in the near vicinity of protesters and activists, typically during the night-time; we regard this as a scenario with clear potential for harm to public safety."
He also warned there were likely to be "incidents of lawful protest and lobbying as well as some potential for unlawful direct action, disorder and criminality".
Meanwhile, Peter Charleston, staff officer to former Chief Constable Richard Crompton, who had ACPO responsibility for wildlife crime, warned his boss the pilot could lead to the widespread illegal killing of badgers under the cover of the cull.
Policing potential clashes between animal welfare campaigners and those licensed to shoot badgers will fall to Avon and Somerset Police.
A force spokesman said: "We are aware of the planned badger cull and the potential for protest against this action.
"We respect people's right to protest and will engage with protesters to facilitate safe, peaceful and lawful protests.
"We have been aware of the planned cull for some time and our role is to uphold the law by responding to any reports of criminality or public disorder.
"Plans are in place to respond to any problems but for obvious reasons it is not appropriate to discuss them in detail."