Gamekeeper’s personal details posted on animal rights website in campaign of harassment and intimidation.
Protesters used the badger cull as an excuse to target game shooting on the Forthampton Estate, near Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire. But Stop The Cull’s protest on 14 October, billed as “our first big action”, turned out to be a damp squib, with only a handful of antis turning up and no damage caused. Farms, shoots and police in the cull areas remained on high alert, however, as involved parties threatened to return to disrupt shoot days throughout the season.
Stop The Cull’s website, which is hosted overseas so it cannot be shut down by the British authorities, posted on 12 October: “We have confirmation that the Forthampton Estate are fully paid up for the badger cull.” It went on to list the full names, addresses and telephone numbers of individuals involved in running the shoot, including those of the estate owners and shoot manager as well as the gamekeeper, claiming to “expose” him and another colleague as “badger shooters”.
Anti-cull websites have been posting details of farmers, civil servants, MPs and companies involved in the cull, suggesting that activists harass them with incessant emails and phone calls playing the cult song ‘Badger badger’. Following expert advice, the estate went into communications blackout. Emails and telephone calls went unanswered, while the shoot’s website briefly went off-line. The antis were able to view Google’s cache of the web pages, however, and full details were soon being cut-and-pasted onto the group’s website, as well as being passed on via a Stop The Cull group on Facebook.
They advertised a day of action under the heading “We will rock you,” a reference to the song performed by celebrity animal rights campaigner Brian May, former guitarist with the rock band Queen. The advertisement called for “all of you who care about badgers to put on your waterproofs, grab your maps and head to the forthamton [sic] estate.”
Supporters of the direct action campaign were encouraged to bring hi-visibility jackets and vuvuzelas, on the pretext of surveying badger setts and “mapping out every pheasant pen, partridge enclosure and duck pond… from 9am until midnight.”
Direct action group the Hunt Saboteurs Association jumped on the bandwagon and claimed to be sending a contingent, but even with their involvement the highest claimed total turnout on the day was 80, with the true figure of attendance being considerably lower.
Police maintained a firm but low-key presence, with officers patrolling the streets of the village and a police helicopter circling overhead for part of the day. Less visible police surveillance was also said to have been deployed. Estate staff were on high alert throughout the day, and private security contractors kept an eye on farm buildings. Protesters claimed to have been followed by “concerned, and occasionally aggressive, estate staff.”
Gloucestershire Constabulary said that the protests passed off without any problems and no arrests were made. Local resident Fred Remmer told the Daily Telegraph that the area had remained relatively quiet. He said “We didn’t see a lot of campaigners around here, although the police were all out in the streets,” the paper reported. “There are some people who are a little concerned by it, but in the main most of us are just taking it as it comes. The protesters didn’t cause any damage.”
The Hunt Saboteurs Association tried to talk up the success of the protest. They issued a press release quoting their spokesman Lee Moon as saying: “Today was an exercise in showing the cost of being involved in the cull. No one broke the law or went anywhere they weren’t allowed yet Forthampton estate felt the need to bring all their staff in on a Sunday and even employ extra security while the police were out in force to watch people strolling around the countryside.”
Shooting interests were relieved that such a high-profile campaign by animal rights groups failed to produce an effective protest. But concerns remain that shoots in the badger cull areas could potentially become the targets of an ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation.
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, said there are growing fears that country sports in the cull area will be targeted. This is because activists are unable to find out exactly where night time badger shooting will take place, but they can track down where game shoots and other types of legitimate sporting activity are happening.
Bonner said the cull is dragging extremists into one small part of the country: “Events like this tend to draw extreme animal rights activists. There are concerns in rural communities that it is bringing a lot of nasty individuals into the area.” He remained confident that shoots would survive, however. “I have no doubt activists will be making noise and shouting but when it starts raining they will go home and people can get on with their jobs,” he said.
Keepers in the cull areas will be hoping the activists do just that – but meanwhile, the Stop The Cull website is exhorting its viewers to disrupt shooting on the Forthampton Estate. In a post entitled ‘Shoot to kill’ the website threatens “Should the cull go ahead we will be at every single one of these shoots.” It goes on to list the full calendar of Monday and Wednesday game shoots planned for the season, including several 250-bird pheasant and partridge days at £1,099.20 per gun including VAT.
The planned tactics are to use the footpaths that criss-cross the estate to interrupt drives in progress. The website’s advice is that, “If anyone walks along the footpaths during a shoot they have to break their guns and wait for you to go,” adding that “Some people can take a very long time to walk a very short distance, it can be frustrating for those doing the waiting especially at these prices!”
Game shoots will never be able to hide their details completely from animal rights activists, since they need to advertise for business. Individual gamekeepers, however, are advised to think carefully about what information they post publicly on websites and social media networks. This case has proved that once such information comes to the attention of antis, it quickly proliferates around the activist network and cannot be taken out of the public domain.