Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 18:47 GMT
Police say the badgers were deliberately killed
Police are investigating the deaths of 15 badgers, killed when their 400-year-old sett in Essex was gassed.
The dead animals were found after farmworkers noticed that the entrace to the sett at Fairstead Hall Farm, near Whitham, was blocked.
The first police wildlife liaison officer to arrive at the scene was treated for the effects of breathing in the fumes.
RSPCA officers are searching for more dead animals on the farm, which is part of a large agricultural business owned by Lord Rayleigh.
An RSPCA spokeswoman said a number of badgers had been killed in Essex recently - although this was the most serious incident.
"This doesn't sound like badger baiting," said the spokeswoman. "When badgers are baited they are usually dug out and then chased by dogs.
"This sounds like someone deliberately trying to wipe out badgers because they are being a nuisance."
Local badger expert Don Hunford said: "They have been known to carry bovine tuberculosis but a survey in Essex has shown that badgers in this part of the world are not carriers.
"The Ministry (of Agriculture) now prefer to trap and shoot badgers because gassing is not always effective and it can lead to the animals suffering a lingering and agonising death."
Police said staff on the estate were "horrified" by the incident and were co-operating with the investigation.
The public have been warned not to touch any tins or tubes which may have contained the poison, which could have been discarded in the area.
Sodium cyanide is normally used to control rabbits. It needs expert handling by users wearing protective clothing and masks.
The killing of badgers is illegal under the Protection of Badgers Act of 1992.
Culling is only being carried out in specially-selected "hotspots" by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to establish whether there is a link between badgers and tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.