Badger cull could come to South Hams next if pilot project is a success
The second phase of badger culling could be held in Devon's South Hams if pilot projects prove to be successful, a senior police officer has indicated.
Natural England has already granted a licence for a cull in Gloucestershire, with permission expected to follow shortly for a site in West Somerset.
The pilots are designed to test the methodology of shooting free-running badgers. If successful, the policy could be rolled out in a bid to tackle the scourge of bovine TB which sees thousands of cattle slaughtered every year.
Devon and Cornwall Police have been closely involved in planning the policing response with the cull expected in neighbouring Avon and Somerset.
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At Friday's meeting of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton was asked when any cull might come to the force area.
"At the moment the guidance is that it will depend on the success of the two pilot schemes," Mr Netherton said. "They will then make a decision on how far they roll it out.
"The next proposed culls will be in the South Hams, and other bits of Devon, but we have to see how successful these culls are."
Mr Netherton also said the force had "contingency plans" in place if the local offices of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the National Farmers' Union were targeted by protesters.
He added: "We hope that those are not needed."
Subject to the success of the pilot projects, it was always likely that the second phase of culling would take place in Devon and Cornwall given the prevalence of bovine TB in the region. Any proposed cull zone requires the support of 70% of landowners in the area.
The potential problems of policing the cull, and likely protests, were made plain in documents released by the Association of Police Officers (ACPO).
Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway, ACPO's coordinator for domestic extremism, warned: "Farmers and landowners culling badgers with firearms (of any description) has potential to place armed farm workers in the near vicinity of protesters and activists, typically during the night-time; we regard this as a scenario with clear potential for harm to public safety."
He also said there were likely to be "incidents of lawful protest and lobbying as well as some potential for unlawful direct action, disorder and criminality".
Major disruption of the cull in the Westcountry, the policing of which falls to Avon and Somerset Police, could seriously undermine its results.
"We respect people's right to protest and will engage with protesters to facilitate safe, peaceful and lawful protests," the force has said. "We have been aware of the planned cull for some time and our role is to uphold the law by responding to any reports of criminality or public disorder.
"Plans are in place to respond to any problems, but for obvious reasons it is not appropriate to discuss them in detail."