Gloucestershire police chief criticises badger cull operators
FARMERS supporting the badger cull have defended their position after Gloucestershire's police chief criticised the marksmen and people managing the operation.
Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl said yesterday the behaviour of the cull operators "fell short" of what "reasonable people" had expected.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) insisted the cull has to continue, and that all steps have been taken to ensure it is done safely.
A spokesman for the NFU said: "Throughout this operation the health and safety of the public has always been paramount and remains so.
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"There is absolutely no intention to scare or intimidate members of the public.
"The company carrying out the cull has gone to great lengths to ensure this has been a safe and peaceful operation and continues to do so." The cull in Gloucestershire started three weeks ago and has drawn widespread ire from wildlife conservationists.
Anti-cull campaigners carrying out wounded badger patrols said they had been "shot at" by cull operators in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after loud bangs in the Tibberton area.
Police officers had initially thought the 'shots' were fireworks, but later found crow scarers were the cause of the disturbance.
The campaigners said they would formally put in complaints, insisting police investigate the matter further.
Mr Surl said that, although the cull operators who attempted to ward off the protesters did not use projectiles, their behaviour was "unacceptable". Mr Surl said: "We know that the badger cull is an emotive issue which has the ability to divide communities across Gloucestershire.
"If crow scarers were used as part of a diversionary tactic in an effort to frighten or confuse people either on the wounded badger patrol or protesting peacefully, it is unhelpful and unacceptable.
"The police shouldn't have to spend their time responding to such irresponsible behaviour.
"Before the cull started, Gloucestershire Constabulary was clear about its role, that it would be operationally independent, impartial and fair to everyone, whatever their views, interest or involvement in the pilot scheme.
"Public safety is a priority for the police and for me. However, it is clear that not everyone has such a sensible and responsible approach."
Police officers confirmed there was no shooting in Tibberton at the time of the incidents, but that crow scarers had been set off by cull operators.
The cull is a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) policy carried out by private companies under licence by Natural England.
Nicky Berry, spokesman for Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting, which carries out the wounded badger patrols, said its members will always act within the law.
Everyone who signs up to the group, which has more than 200 members, has to sign a form which asks them to wear high visibility vests, stay on public highways and footpaths, and not intimidate land owners.
Mr Berry said: "We welcome the statement from Mr Surl. As far as it goes, we are looking for the police to take further action to stop this sort of behaviour."
Mr Surl urged the protestors to carry out their campaign lawfully.