OPPONENTS of the controversial badger cull underway in parts of West Somerset say tensions are rising amid claims of clashes in the countryside.

More than ten days into the six-week trial, there have been a number of unconfirmed reports that people both for and against the cull are trying to intimidate the ‘other side’.

Adrian Coward, chairman of Somerset Badger Group, said: “There are a whole range of people fighting the cull – there are people like us who are trying to make lawful and peaceful protests and people who will do whatever it takes at the other end of the scale. I don’t think anyone knows how many people are out there.

“There are all sorts of rumours and stories going around but I have heard firsthand experiences of intimidation. Reputable people I know have had their vehicles rammed and others have been pursued, by cars and tractors. It’s not very pretty out there.

“One of the worst things is that within communities in the heartland of the cull there are significant divisions – there are people living next door to each other who are completely opposed. It’s terrible. God forbid anyone gets hurt.”

Mr Coward added: “What really worries me is that thereis reports of the cull not being carried out humanely, including dogs off the lead being involved – they have been heard barking excitedly. Dogs are only supposed to be used to track injured animals and must be wearing a muzzle.

“The overriding problem is that there is no trust. We have tried but there is a lot of misinformation about. The whole situation is a disaster.”

West Somerset MP Ian LiddellGrainger has warned against any dangerous or illegal activity in the cull zone.

He said: “There’s no way around this – we have got to do something about bovine TB. Whatever we do is going to be wrong in some people’s eyes.

“What I resent is people who come here from outside the area to kick up a fuss. They don’t care about the animals – they are just here to cause trouble.

“My constituents have been very good – they are great, very open. Some opposed to the cull have written to me but I have replied, explaining the situation.

“I have made it very clear to my constituents that they must not do anything illegal – they just need to get on with the job and report any incidents to the police. I have warned everyone not to take it into their own hands.”

No arrests have been made so far and the police are only aware of one claim of a driving incident in the cull zone, but it has not been substantiated.

Regarding rumours about the use of dogs, a police spokesman said: “This would constitute a breach of a number of animal and wildlife protection laws but we do not have anything to suggest this is happening in connection with the cull.

“We know anecdotally there are reports circulating about this but at this stage we believe these are just rumours. If anyone has evidence that criminal offences have taken place they should contact our non-emergency number on 101.”

o A PEACEFUL protest for members of the public to show their opposition to the cull takes place on Saturday through Taunton town centre, from Goodland Gardens between 11am and 12noon, and finishing at Vivary Park.