Organisations like the RSPCA and RSPB have been hijacked by former animal rights campaigners who have swapped their balaclavas for smart suits and abandoned their beards to convince people of their respectability, according to Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance.

Speaking in a debate on the future of animal rights at today’s Game Fair, Mr Hart said:

“Animal rights as a movement has become less fashionable. We’re seeing less of the really vile, semi-terrorist activity of the Animal Liberation Front but more of the legitimate welfare organisations – the so-called reputable ones like the RSPCA and RSPB.

“The animal rights agenda is being played out by people who have shaved off their beards and bought a smart suit and are saying the same thing as before but in another coded language. They are the original architects of the lunatics in balaclavas but they are delivering the message in a sinister and subtle manner. It’s very dangerous.”

Solicitor Jamie Foster, who runs the CA’s legal helpline, agreed that animal rights activists were getting smarter and working hard to “look uncontroversial”. He queried the charity status of the RSPCA when it has £100m worth of capital and about £50m worth of income. 

RSPCA inspectors have no right to enter anyone’s home without a police officer, he warned, and they are only prosecuting extensively because the publicity fuels more public donations.

Another panellist, author and TV personality Clarissa Dickson-Wright, claimed that she had been number three on the ALF’s death list. She said her media career was destroyed by activists appealing to the BBC governors not to use her after her hugely successful Two Fat Ladies cookery series.

“The BBC was hijacked by activists, “ she said.  “All the Countryfile presenters were told that if they went to the Great Countryside March in London they would never work for the BBC again. That’s worthy of Hitler’s Germany.”

On the government’s decision not to cull TB infected badgers, she said:  “I have the answer on the badger cull. Badgers are delicious.”

Simon Hart described the Government’s move not to cull as “principles abandoned because of political expediency”.

He reminded the audience that politicians were terrified of a public backlash on animal health issues and therefore were unable to have a meaningful debate and do the right thing. He called for better use of the media to get across simple, positive messages about the countryside and to convince the public that the government meddles too much.