Animal rights activists who came to the Westcountry to disrupt the badger cull are now threatening Exmoor pheasant shoots.
Saboteurs who set up camp in the badger cull zone in West Somerset in late August have, in some cases, turned their attention to shooting estates, solicitor Jamie Foster told a seminar on shooting sports this week.
He said in the past the shooting community had been spared what he called "some of the excesses" of the animal rights movement, which had been directed at fox hunting and stag hunting.
But he went on: "The badger cull has drawn some undesirable people down to Somerset and when they can't find the marksmen lawfully culling badgers some of them are deciding to make a nuisance of themselves on shooting estates."
Mr Foster said estates that found their activities disrupted by the antis should respond in a way that matched the level of disruption or obstruction. He said: "Shooting is a lawful activity. Anyone trying to prevent you undertaking a lawful activity on your land will be committing aggravated trespass.
"It is very important to realise, in relation to the antis, that aggravated trespass is a crime. You can use reasonable force to remove anyone from your land if you have asked them to leave and they have refused." He said if the police were present they should take steps to remove trespassers.
But Mr Foster, a solicitor with Taunton-based Clarke Willmott, who specialise in rural issues and country sports, warned that police might also revoke an individual's shotgun licence if in ejecting trespassers they were thought to be behaving "intemperately". He recommended taking legal advice if anyone found themselves being threatened by police with the revocation of their shotgun licence in such circumstances. "I have acted in a number of cases recently and suggested to the police officer that they should not revoke an individual's licence and that has been enough to prevent it being revoked," he said.
Exmoor is one of England's most important areas for shooting sports, specialising in high bird pheasant shoots – seen as the most challenging and most desirable by guns, who pay significant sums for a day's shooting. With the pheasant season, from October 1, now in full swing any disruption of commercial shoots could be damaging.
The most recent figures available show that game shooting on Exmmor was worth £22 million a year to the local economy in 2006. Updated figures are expected to show those earnings have grown significantly.
Last year, when the League Against Cruel Sports called on the Exmoor National Park Authority to restrict pheasant shooting on the moor, national park leaders rejected the suggested out of hand and pointed out some 1,600 jobs on Exmoor depended directly on game shooting. The Somerset badger cull, which officially ended on October 6, has been extended to cull more badgers.