It matters who speaks for you.

The arrival of badger exclusion gates on Merrow Downs and the Urnfield has generated significant public interest and concern on the Nextdoor social media site. It started when one local resident posted photos of the heavy metal gates and mesh carpet that has to be laid over a large area of ground around sett entrance holes in order to deter badgers from digging around the gates.

A flurry of responses came, voicing concerns for wildlife, wondering if these works were legal, and if so, how come? Badgers seem to generate high levels of emotion, for reasons we have written about in previous blogs.

One voice seems to be on top of all of these worried residents’ questions. For five days they defended the works, advising local objectors that this is all part of a proper process and needn’t be questioned. They have ignored at least two queries on any Tormead connection. Their numerous posts have included much “mansplaining” about badger behaviour and sett classification, and have graduated over the days from measured to manic.

This Nextdoor user shares a name – and the same, detailed interest in the Urnfield – with an Instagram user who deleted their profile having commented on a previous savemerrowdowns blog post.

Clearly the shared name and interests might be a bizarre coincidence. But the choice of an Instagram profile picture that was so clearly lifted straight from the internet (type in “elderly smiling woman with backpack” and it will pop up immediately as an istock image) inevitably raises questions about the motives and authenticity of the user.

Taken alongside a range of other interventions by various aliases and on several social media platforms, observers might be forgiven for seeing these contributions as Tormead acting by proxy.

The official line from the school is that it doesn’t comment on the Urnfield on social media platforms. We pointed to potential “unofficial” activity in a letter (sent in April) to Tormead’s Chair of Governors, having alerted him to the fraudulent use of a resident’s home address in an email to the savemerrowdowns website. We asked him to ask the wider Tormead community to refrain from using aliases and fake IDs on social media to defend the school’s project. To play their part in trying to keep the internet safe.

Maybe he did. We don’t know because he hasn’t replied. And the posts continue.

This slew of activity was raised as a concern in public at a full Council meeting in May and in a subsequent private meeting with the Head of Planning. It’s not a great look for Tormead School. Neither is the lack of a response from the Governors to a legitimate request by a local resident concerned about internet trolling. What does that say about Tormead’s values as a school, and as a member of the local community? You can judge.

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