An investigation has been launched after an animal rights website published the contact details of three farmers involved in the forthcoming badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis.
The website names the three farmers, alongside details of their businesses, addresses and mobile phone numbers, describing them as the organisers of syndicates that will be responsible for culling badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
The NFU is investigating how details of the farmers became public. NFU policy director Martin Haworth said: "We are very disappointed this has happened and we are doing everything we can to support and protect those individuals that have been named."
The NFU said the three farmers were committed to delivering a policy to help solve the problem of bovine TB. It was providing the farmers with legal advice, helping ensure their IT systems were secure, providing media training and advising them on farm security.
A group calling itself the Coalition of Badger Action Groups claims to be behind the website. It said its intention was to watch the farms involved in the cull, to make sure they were following correct biosecurity and animal welfare laws.
Animal rights campaigners have urged their supporters to get in touch with the farmers and "let them know your views" on the badger cull planned for this autumn. "Basically, if you're a farmer and involved in this cull, expect to be under a microscope," the website says.
The group said it obtained details of those involved in the syndicates from Companies House. But it remains unclear how they knew which companies to search for. Mr Haworth said: "We will do everything we can to find out how this information came to be released."
The website warns that the farmers can expect to be targeted by anti-cull campaigners. "These people are the ones who will organise the cull and employ the shooters and take the money from the farmers for doing it - they are ultimately responsible for killing our badgers," it says.
"Please keep it polite, we are planning protests outside their business's [sic] please email in if you would like to be involved." Maps of the culling zones are also on the website. Farmers Weekly has taken the decision not to publish the named farmers' details.
The NFU said it was a legal requirement for the directors of the badger cull syndicates to be named on company documents. But the syndicates had been formed in such a way that they still offered the best protection for farmers who allowed culling to take place on their land.
More on this topic
Badger cull and bovine TB dedicated pages
Badger cull forum