A British Government plan to slaughter thousands of the country's best-loved wild animals was always going to be controversial. But the long-awaited badger cull, aimed at stopping the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, now looks set to provoke a campaign of direct action by animal rights activists not seen since the heyday of the fox hunt saboteurs.
Yesterday it emerged that activists working for an organisation called the Coalition of Badger Action Groups, have publicised the names, addresses and telephone numbers of farmers involved in organising a trial of the cull due to begin in the West Country this northern autumn. Followers of the group were urged to contact the farmers to "let them know" their views on the cull.
Although activists said their intention was not to "harass" the people targeted, farmers say they have been "intimidated and frightened" by the move. One of the addresses belonged to a bed and breakfast managed by the wife of a farmer involved.
The action, which has been condemned by the National Farmers Union, raises the stakes in a debate that has already pitched the Government and farmers against animal welfare campaigners. Mainstream bodies such as the RSPCA have opposed the cull while fringe groups have voiced their intention to take direct action to disrupt shooting parties.