Anti-badger cull protesters are pinning their hopes on health and safety rules to thwart the marksmen, who are due to start shooting in the early hours of tomorrow.
According to online comments from groups opposed to the pilot culls – approved in West Somerset and Gloucestershire – putting people into the cull zones will make it difficult for the marksmen to safely carry out the cull. On the "Stop the Cull" website a recent news post reads: "We would suggest that the cull will start around the 27th of August. The badgers only have one last line of defence between themselves and the gunmen. YOU."
Another report last night said up to 300 people would be patrolling in the two cull zones, where protesters claim platforms have been set up and sett entrances baited.
Up to 5,000 badgers could be shot in the two areas over a six-week period from the start of the cull. The policy, approved by Defra as a means of reducing the incidence of bovine TB in cattle, will be extended to other cull zones if it proves to be workable and efficient.
The cull teams, which have undergone Defra approved training, will be using rifles with telescopic sights and can shoot badgers from up to 70 metres away. It is understood the early hours of the morning will be the favoured time for culling, when badgers emerge to feed. Spotlights or night sights may be used.
Farmers' groups – and the Government – are anxious to avoid any possibility of anyone being injured or killed by a stray bullet.
A group calling itself Somerset Badger Patrol has already carried out a number of nocturnal patrols in and around the Somerset cull zone and is planning a candlelight vigil in Minehead tonight.
Michelle Gunn, who set up the group with two other women, told the Western Morning News at the weekend that groups of up to 60 people have been out already. She said police were informed about where the groups were patrolling in the hope that officers would direct the cull teams away to reduce the risk of conflict.