Advice on dealing with farm incursions by protestors

In recent weeks, there have been several incursions and protests by vegan extremists on farms in Northern Ireland.

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 8:51 am

Such events cause great distress and concern for all farmers. Many members have been in contact with the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) to gain advice about the best way to handle any such events.

From our experience to date, typically these extremists will survey potential targets for weeks or months in advance of an incursion. Once they have gathered enough information, they arrange a mass incursion. In years gone by, activists travel from all over the world to carry out the protest although the pandemic has limited recent incursions to a more locally based group of individuals.

Typically, some of these people, tend to be ‘social media influencers’ and will have access to an account with several hundred thousand people following and funding their activities. As such, they can by-pass traditional media outlets and stream their footage live to an unlimited audience around the world instantly.

Given the intent of the individuals involved, the most obvious first step is making sure your own farm is in order. It is impossible to defend the indefensible and as such farmers need to ensure they are complying with all legal and industry standards.

During the incursion, activists tend to selectively film sick or injured animals and fallen stock as this generates the most emotive content with an aim of furthering their cause - to turn consumers away from consuming meat. I would encourage farmers to carefully consider the image of any sick or injured animals on your farm. Such animals should be housed in a well bedded/matted hospital pen.

With regard to fallen stock, it’s advised that any deceased stock are moved immediately to a locked bin or house until they can be collected. It’s also advisable to mark fallen stock with a spray marker before placing in the locked storage area. Marking animals removes the ability for an activist to recover the deceased animal from a storage area and present the fallen stock from within the house as if it had been left there for some time.

One of the aspects of these break-ins troubling farmers the most is the biosecurity risk and sense of violation caused by strangers descending on their property. To mitigate this, each farmer should review their site security and consider if it is sufficient to their needs or should it be tighter.

Several members have also asked us to clarify the legalities surrounding these break-ins. Typically, break-ins of this nature are treated as trespass which is a civil tort. If forcible entry has been used by the activists to gain access, prosecution will be easier achieved. With that in mind, farmers are encouraged to lock buildings and remove keys at night. Where protestors have entered your property and are intentionally preventing you from carrying out your daily routine of feeding and caring for animals, this trespass can be elevated to aggravated trespass which is a criminal offence. In these instances, police officers can order individuals to leave the premises and if they refuse or return this is an additional offence.

The UFU continue to engage with PSNI and lobby the appropriate political representatives with the aim of strengthening of the law as a further deterrent.

If you do come across these extremists on your farm or have suspicions that they may have been on farm:

- Be aware they may be live streaming the encounter and any interactions that you have with them,

- Calmly and politely ask them to leave,

- Call the police and alert them of their presence or log the incident if they have left,

- Inform the UFU, your processor, and quality assurance scheme (they may wish to organise a spot visit of the site),

- Gather your own photo or video evidence of faces, car registrations, and any damage caused (this will be useful if you wish to attempt to prosecute them and for industry intelligence),

- Check the site and other sites for hidden cameras,

- Consider suspending social media accounts if picked up by the press,

- Do not speak to the press or permit access to the press (additional publicity is what these individuals crave).

- Do not permit any intruders to take livestock with them upon leaving