Police are investigating after a list apparently showing farmers who have signed up for the next phase of the badger cull was leaked to animal rights groups.
One group that advocates direct action, Stop the Cull, has said it intends to publish the list of farmers in south Devon – one of the new areas where culling may take place later this year – once it has verified it.
Another group, the Badger Trust, which represents a range of local badger groups, has handed the list it received to Devon and Cornwall police and suggested the leak could make a cull in the area unviable.
Devon and Cornwall police has confirmed it is investigating. It said: “We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the release of information that has been brought to our attention by the Badger Trust. At this stage it is too early to confirm the full circumstances and we will continue to review the situation.”
On its Facebook page, the Stop the Cull group said it had the list. It added: “We’ve received a list of farmers who have signed up for the Devon badger cull … The source of the information is from within the farming industry, seems the badgers have friends everywhere. When we have confirmed that the information is 100% correct, we’ll publish it.”
The more moderate Badger Trust said it was advising anybody who had the list to contact the police.
But Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “The leak of this information would indicate there is far from universal support for the badger cull policy within the farming community. We have advised the police to make the farmers listed in the document aware that their names and locations of their farms are being openly shared online.”
Dyer said the leak could make it impossible for a cull to go ahead in south Devon. Those taking part in culls – and the precise areas covered – are not officially released for security reasons.
He added: “The Badger Trust is deeply opposed to the badger cull on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds. We will continue to do all we can within the law to campaign and lobby for an end to the badger cull policy.”
Last month the government announced that Natural England had received 29 applications or expressions of interest from farmers’ groups wanting a badger cull in their area.
Natural England said the areas ranged from a total of 52 sq miles to up to 252 sq miles. The areas were in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Cheshire. There has been no decision on the number of cull areas for 2016.
The government argues that badger culling will help tackle bovine tuberculosis.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) suggested the list was not an official one but was based on speculation.
An NFU spokesman said: “As far as we are aware, the list that has been leaked appears to have been compiled by a third party based on speculation and assumption. Circulating or threatening to publish a list like this is hugely irresponsible and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We would question the motives of anyone considering publishing this information, as doing so can only have one possible purpose – to encourage the harassment of farmers and their families, like we’ve seen previously.
“Badger culls are being carried out legally and lawfully in specific areas where bovine TB is endemic as part of government policy to control and eradicate this terrible disease, which saw more than 28,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year.
“We understand not everyone agrees with the policy. But leaking information which could lead to farming families being targeted is reprehensible. If any information is leaked and is used to harass or intimidate any farmers we would expect the Badger Trust and all bodies opposed to the cull to condemn such actions in the strongest possible terms and actively discourage anyone from sharing this information.”
This article was first published by The Guardian on 22 Mar 2016.
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