Animal rights campaigners have warned badger marksmen to expect a “hostile reception” if they arrive in Sussex.

The government-backed badger cull, which began in Gloucestershire and Somerset yesterday, could be rolled out to parts of the county in the next few years.

However, activists have told The Argus that marksmen will “face strong opposition” from an “animal and environment-loving county”.

The six week pilot cull is set to take place in two 100 square mile areas. It is expected up to 5,000 badgers could be killed in an attempt to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) to cattle.

Government scientists believe that the disease-carrying mammals are responsible for spreading the deadly virus to cows.

Sue Baumgardt, from Brighton Animal Action, described the theory as “nonsense”. She said: “I think this is just government trying to appease the farmers – it goes against all evidence.

“If they deem this pilot to have been successful then where will they take it? Will they destroy every badger in the country? It’s said deer also carry the disease, will they shoot all the deer?”

The perceived success of the pilot will dictate whether marksmen move into Sussex, which has been earmarked as an area with a large badger population.

The planned cull will see trained riflemen out in the early hours of this morning with night vision goggles.

Protesters have indicated that they will attempt to “overrun” killing sights and in an attempt to disrupt the cull.

Ms Baumgardt said: “They surely can’t go ahead with this, it will be too dangerous. People will go out in the line of fire – that’s how strongly they feel about the matter.

“I think they will be worried about bringing the cull into Sussex because they know what we’re like. We are an animal and environment loving county.

“You only have to look at Balcombe to see the kind of reception they will get it. It will certainly be hostile.

“They are much loved animals and people are not going to put up with this. If they decide to come here then we will be ready for them.”