As reported by local media:

ACTIVISTS DAMAGE THOUSANDS OF TRAPS

Animal rights activists have caused £400,000 worth of damage to controversial Government trials designed to establish the role of badgers in spreading the devastating cattle disease bovine TB.

Government figures show the so-called Krebs trials have faced widespread disruption from activists since they were set up in 1998.

The trials are designed to establish what role badgers play in the spread of bovine TB. Although badgers are a protected species the trials allow for limited culls to be carried out in trial areas, half of which are in the Westcountry, the region worst hit by the disease. The trials, which cost £6.5 million a year to administer, have involved the slaughter of more than 5,600 badgers - half of them in the Westcountry.

Many farmers believe badgers, which can carry bovine TB, have played a major role in spreading the disease. But animal welfare groups say the badger has been made the scapegoat for the disease, which they claim is spread mainly as a result of poor animal husbandry.

New figures suggest that those opposed to the trials have been active on a massive scale. In five years more than 15,600 badger traps have been sited. But of these almost 9,000 have been interfered with and a further 1,827 have been stolen.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a total of 7,882 traps had to be repaired or replaced as a result of animal rights activity, at a total cost of £394,000.

But he insisted that the interference had caused only minimal disruption to the trials because traps were typically left down for 17-30 nights and were replaced as soon as they were damaged. And he said the Independent Scientific Group overseeing the trials was aware of the level of interference and remained confident the experiment had sufficient "statistical power" to produce valid results.

But news of the scale of interference will add to concern about the value of the trials, which have already been disrupted as a result of the 2001 foot and mouth crisis. Animal welfare groups claim some farmers may also have damaged trial results by illegally killing badgers outside culling areas.

Elaine King, chief executive of the National Federation of Badger Groups, said that while she did not condone interfering with the trials, the level of disruption suggested that the public would never accept a widespread cull.

She added: "It shows the futility of culling badgers to control TB, because in the real world it is not going to be possible. Local people will not put up with it."