Fears are growing that hard-line animal welfare protesters could cause major disruption to the pilot badger cull in the Westcountry amid police warnings that clashes between campaigners and shooters posed a clear risk to "public safety".
Opposition to the cull, which has also been sanctioned in Gloucestershire and is expected to be confirmed in West Somerset imminently, has united some of the country's biggest wildlife and animal welfare groups with direct action being promised by others.
Significant sabotage of the cull, which is to take place over six weeks, could seriously undermine its results and delay expanding the programme designed to tackle the crippling effects of bovine TB which results in around 26,000 infected cattle being slaughtered each year.
Warnings of the risks of potential night-time clashes between protesters and licensed marksmen during the cull were raised by the Association of Chief Police Officers during discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police, which faces policing the potential flashpoints, said the force had been planning for the cull for some time. He added: "We will do all we can to facilitate peaceful protest but we will be active in tackling anyone who becomes involved in crime and disorder."
Meanwhile the RSPCA has called for holidaymakers to shun the cull zones and for consumers to boycott dairy products from the areas.