Hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ pounds have been spent on equipping badger cull marksmen with radios that link them directly to police, the Guardian has learned.
Police have advised the government to invest in the same communications system they use to make it easier for officers to get to conflicts with cull saboteurs in remote areas where the mobile phone signal is poor.
However, anti-cull activists plan to turn the tables on the marksmen by investing in devices that trace the signals produced by the radios, meaning they can pinpoint their position and disrupt shooting.
Another hi-tech tactic protesters are planning to use is deploying infra-red night vision on drones to hunt for marksmen and badgers caught in traps.
The government is expected to announce imminently that the cull will be expanded into new areas this autumn.
Almost 15,000 badgers have been killed since the first culling took place in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2013. This year, protesters believe the cull will extend east to Wiltshire and north to Cheshire and a further 20,000 badgers killed.
Since the cull began, there has been tension between police and protesters over whether officers help keep shooters a step ahead of activists. The police insist they do not take sides but treat both even-handedly.
However, figures published by the government have revealed that in 2016 and this year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) paid almost £500,000 to Airwave, the company that provides the police and other emergency services with communications equipment.
Defra confirmed the equipment was provided to those taking part in cull operations. A spokesperson said: “We take the safety of the public and those undertaking badger control operations very seriously. That is why, on the advice of local police forces, radio equipment has been hired by Defra for licence holders to provide a reliable means of communication should any incident arise.”
Airwave equipment is considered by police to be the most effective network because mobile reception can be unreliable in the sort of remote areas where much of the culling takes place.
Jay Tiernan, of Stop the Cull, whose members take direct action against the cull, said it would invest in detectors that pick up Airwave signals. This would allow protesters to pinpoint marksmen and disrupt them.
“It’s going to lead to many late night chases across cull zones and safety will be a major issue now that police forces are so badly stretched in many areas.”
In another development, Natural England, the government’s conservation watchdog, has blocked the release of data showing the impact of the badger cull on other species.
Evidence from previous culls has shown that fox populations increase when badgers are culled, which could reduce the numbers of rare ground-nesting birds.
After a three-year battle, the Information Commissioner’s Office last month ordered Natural England to provide the analysis, but the conservation body has appealed against the ruling, preventing the information from being made public before the new round of culling.
Natural England claims the data will enable activists to better identify the cull zones and potentially harass the marksmen and farmers conducting the cull.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 25 Aug 2017.
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