A protester was arrested Sunday morning after attempting to break into a field trial of genetically modified wheat at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research station in Harpenden, U.K. The attack damaged fences and some of the “buffer zone” crops surrounding the experimental wheat, but damaged “less than 0.1%” of the test crop, says Darren Hughes, head of communications at Rothamsted. He says the fence surrounding the experiment, the security guards at the site, and the rapid response by police prevented serious damage to the plot.
Take the Flour Back, a group of activists that has invited the public to a day of protest at the site on Sunday, has said it has no connection to yesterday’s incident. According to an e-mailed statement, the group’s Eleanor Baylis says: "We have no information about this incident, but are relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced.” Their protest plans for next weekend include destroying the experimental plot. Scientists involved in the trial have issued a public plea to the protesters to allow the trial to proceed. Both sides debated the issue last week on a leading BBC news program. Today’s statement from the group says they “are going ahead with their mass action next Sunday 27th May.”
A nearby experiment that has been running for more than 150 years was not damaged in yesterday’s attack, Hughes says. That experiment, called Park Grass, looks at the evolution of species on former farmland as it is allowed to go wild. Researchers are still concerned that Sunday’s protest might damage the site, Hughes says. However, he says, the site “is clearly marked, so anyone who damaged it would be doing so deliberately.” Take the Flour Back has information on Park Grass and another historical experiment on its Web site, urging protestors not to damage those sites.
Hughes says there are no further plans for a public debate before Sunday. Rothamsted researchers had offered to meet the protesters tomorrow evening for a public discussion. Take the Flour Back, however, declined that invitation.