Farmers taking part in the badger cull are at risk of being targeted by violent animal rights activists because of a new ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The ICO has told the Government it must publish information about the impact the badger cull is having on local ecosystems within 35 days or end up in the High Court.
For three years, Natural England had refused to reveal the analysis because it feared the information could be used to identify participating farmers, leaving them vulnerable to intimidation.
It has been suggested that culling badgers could increase numbers of other predators such as foxes, stoats and weasels, which in turn could have an impact on ground-nesting birds.
Tom Rabbetts, head of TB delivery at the NFU, said: “The NFU is extremely concerned by the ICO’s decision that they feel intimidation, harassment and illegal activities are not good reasons for withholding information, particularly in light of the fact there continue to be interruptions to the culls.
“Releasing this information could lead to an increase in this sort of disruptive behaviour, which will make achieving TB eradication even harder.”
Activists have previously put pressure on Marks & Spencer, claiming the retailer’s sole supplier of asparagus, Cobrey Farms, was participating in the cull.
One website published the home address of former chief executive Mark Bolland, saying M&S’ asparagus was ‘covered in badger blood’ and suggested it would only take ‘one small farmer to pull out to make the Gloucestershire licence invalid.’
Anti-badger cull group Stop the Cull also published details of farmers they claimed were taking part in the Devon cull, a move which the NFU and CLA branded ‘hugely irresponsible.’
Jay Tiernan, the leader of the group, was given a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years in 2015 for his role in disrupting the culls.
After his conviction, NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “Tiernan has publicly said he does not care if farmers or people living in the cull areas are frightened by the actions of activists if it meant people pulled out of the cull or did not sign up for it.
“He has endorsed the use of military-style tactics to disrupt operations, and treated the High Court injunction, which was granted to stop exactly this kind of behaviour, with utter contempt.”