BRIDGWATER and West Somerset's MP has said in no uncertain terms he does not believe livestock and wildlife should be given the same legal protection as pets.

Rarely one to mince his words Ian Liddell-Grainger has hit out at Michael Gove, saying his new animal welfare legislation will lead to a 'tidal wave of legal action' as animal rights activists 'have a field day'.

Writing an opinion piece for the Somerset County Gazette and Bridgwater Mercury, Mr Liddell-Grainger said he welcomed Mr Gove's proposals to increase the maximum punishment for animal cruelty from six months to five years, saying this would act as a deterrent.

"But where Michael and I – and indeed the majority of MPs - start to diverge is over other provisions of his proposed new animal welfare legislation, specifically the section requiring ministers to ‘have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings and weigh it against the public interest’. Essentially it would extend the protection currently offered to pets to wildlife and livestock," Mr Liddell-Grainger said.

He said this would be opening the door to 'tidal wave' of legal action as government measures would be dragged through the courts for judicial review.

"The animal rights extremists would have a field day, whipping up cash from their misguided and ill-informed supporters for time-wasting, spurious challenges which would run up eye-wateringly huge legal bills for the country to pay," Mr Liddell-Grainger said.

"The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Michael has been nobbled pretty effectively by once or other of the fringe welfare groups – and I may be mistaken but I think I detect a whiff of badger about the whole thing," he added.

The Conservative MP for Bridgwater was also critical of 'those whispering in Michael's ear' about how the best thing for Exmoor uplands would be to 'sweep away the sheep and let them 're-wild', and idea promoted by environmental journalist George Monbiot.

Mr Liddell-Grainger continued: "An interesting proposition because no-one drawing breath today has the faintest idea what the hills looked like before they were tamed for farming. My guess is not half as attractive as they do today.

"So it’s back to the drawing board for Michael. And if our Defra Secretary decides he should get out a bit more, inspect life in the countryside for himself and talk to those who work and live there rather than confining himself to listening to the opinions of desk-bound academics and animal right fanatics then I, for one, would be entirely happy to act as his guide."