IN 1995, Brightlingsea was thrust into the national spotlight in a row over live animal exports.

The town became the scene of continuous clashes between animal rights campaigners and police when exporters wanted to use Brightlingsea port to ferry live sheep and calves to Europe.

Exporters turned to smaller ports after the UK's main ferry operators banned live cargo.

Animal rights campaigners believed the exports were cruel and baying crowds turned out in force to confront the lorry drivers carrying cattle through the streets.

Protestors and police clashed almost daily for ten months.

Richard Otley, who at the time was Britain's best known exporter of sheep, had his Range Rover mobbed by protestors during the first riots in January 1995.

Animal rights campaigners set up a campaign group called BALE - Brightlingsea Against Live Exports - which was led by Maria Wilby (below), from Brightlingsea. The protests divided the town and hundreds of demonstrators were arrested.


Pictures captured by the then Evening Gazette show protestors weeping at a 'funeral' for the animals, waving banners, shouting at passing lorry drivers and physically clashing with police, who were in full riot gear.

At the time, the press referred to the long series of clashes as The Battle of Brightlingsea.

On October 30 1995, exporters announced they would no longer transport animals through the town because of the extra cost and chaos.

Elsewhere in the UK, live exports continued until February 1996 when the European Union banned them over fears of mad cow disease.

  • Scroll through the gallery above to see some of the pictures from the riots in January 1995. If you have any pictures or memories you would like to share, email