The sight of some freshly dug earth and pebbles in my local woodland made me feel exceptionally pleased.
It proved that for now, my local badgers – in the middle of the Gloucestershire badger cull zone – are still alive and well.
There have been nights over the past month where I couldn’t sleep easy in my bed without checking on the badgers. I’ve kept an eye on them for a long long time… close on 30 years.
The ordering of the badger cull was not a huge surprise. The Tories needed to please its NFU voters and what better futile gesture towards eradication of TB in cattle than the unscientific slaughter of Britain’s best loved protected indigenous mammal?
Deer carry and spread bovine TB and deer are everywhere in the countryside, way beyond control so why pick on badgers? Deer would probably be much harder to eradicate. It must be tricky explaining to foreign conservationists visiting GB at the moment why the animal that’s the emblem of the Britain’s best-known wildlife conservation charity, the Wildlife Trusts, is being shot by order of the Government.
Badgers have quietly gone about their existence, breeding , socialising, building setts, digging up earthworms for snacks without disturbing anyone. They’ve been baited for sport – deliberately crippled and dogs set on them – and hunted but broadly speaking they are a successful species. Family groups like the one in the local wood have existed for centuries. During 30 years, the badgers have gradually moved their set about 20 metres, creating a series of tumps and dips that small children use for mountainbiking practice.
Even though you rarely see a badger – perhaps a rufous striped rump vanishing into the undergrowth in the dusk – the badger community is part of the scenery where I live. A freshly-dug tunnel might appear overnight. If it’s been wet, you might see multiple diggings where they have had a midnight snack of worms. Dried grass bedding might have been dragged out of the tunnel into the light to air. Or if there’s been snow, you can trace their tracks all the way from the sett through the wood, through two fields to their latrine near the stream.
In the face of this ridiculous and barbaric cull, I felt I should help to protect badgers without breaking the many injunctions in place to stop anti-cull activists getting in the way.
Badger haters jumping on the anti-badger bandwagon had already begun to try and block up the badger tunnels with branches and bricks, so it was a question of removing those.
I visited the wood one day to find all the covering elder bushes had been almost completely destroyed by people who had used the branches and foliage to block up the badger sett. It was jaw-dropping to see the what efforts very stupid people will make. I cleared some – other people cleared the rest.
Rubbish taken out.
After the sett entrance was unblocked.
Various websites were set up to co-ordinate those who were against the cull and wanted to go on night patrols to attempt, within legal bounds, to disrupt operations. The police were heavily in evidence, questioning the public who had the temerity to try and walk a footpath anywhere near where culling might take place. I decided to stay local.
The first evening of the cull, as dark enveloped the wood I met another couple of locals who chatted about how awful it was and said they were checking on the sett twice a day.
The next couple of nights, it got more exciting. Approaching the wood at nearly midnight, there were rustlings, dark movements and flashing torches. They couldn’t have been marksmen or the place would have been thick with police – these were proper anti-badger cull protesters.
“I feel like saying ‘Who goes there? Friend or foe’” I whispered to a group of three people – two women and a bloke, who, it transpired, had driven a 70 mile round trip to come and keep an eye on my local badgers.
“I’ve got to take the kids to school for 8.15” said one. But she intended to stay for an hour anyway. I liked her spirit. I didn’t see the point in hanging around when we had enough people for a party. As I walked home, people were getting out of three cars parked nearby and making their way over to the wood – more anti-cull protesters. It was heartening that so many strangers felt strongly about our local badgers.
Since that first week of culling and now more than half way into the badger-killing period, there have been no statistics released on how many badgers have been killed – only that it’s far less than anticipated, indicating that it’s all been a complete farce. Oh and this totally unscientific cull will be extended for another few weeks in order for the shooters to try to get the numbers up…
Protesters are still out and active. Occasionally the police will take people in for questioning, to remove them from the site and let them go without charge later – loss of liberty at it’s most strategic and convenient.
The killers are probably attempting to hit their numbers by trapping and shooting badgers in the middle of the very large estates – like the shooting estate at Forthampton – where no public footpaths intersect the land to spoil the fun.
Not long ago I had some good news from an authoritative source which indicated that the shooting isn’t taking place anywhere near public footpaths, so setts like my local sett – although adjacent to agricultural land – will be left alone. It’s cheering, but by no means certain.
The fresh soil was evidence that they are still alive and digging – at least in my neck of the woods. The rest is still a mystery for now.
RSPCA latest here:
|Badger cull is becoming even more farcical, says RSPCA|
Thursday 17 October 2013
The RSPCA is horrified at new figures which reveal the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire is even more of a farce than the one in Somerset.
It has been confirmed that the number of badgers shot during the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire is only 30% of the target they were set. This is less than half the minimum 70% target set by the Government itself to make sure bovine TB in cattle is not spread further.
The Government have now said they want to extend this cull for a further eight weeks, more than double the original trial period.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “The situation was a farce before – but these new revelations about how off-target in Gloucestershire cull has been are even worse.
“The Government is making a mockery of scientific opinion and their own targets by continuing with this cull – it is a complete shambles. Badgers are dying in their hundreds and it is likely that bovine TB in cattle in these areas is being made worse not better.
“The six-week trials were intended as a way of testing the effectiveness and humaneness of shooting badgers as a means of controlling bovine TB in cattle and this has clearly failed.
“An immediate stop must be put to this fiasco before more animal lives are lost and the spread of this devastating disease made worse.”
The trial in Gloucestershire killed 708 out of a planned 1,650 badgers in the cull area.
Last week Defra revealed 850 badgers out of a planned 1,020 had been shot in Somerset, which works out at around 58% rather than the 70% target. This pilot cull was subsequently extended for a further three weeks.
Extending both culls means they will be longer than the period recommended to Defra by a group of scientific experts based on the original Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT).
It was using these recommendations that the current cull methods were developed, so any extension would go against these recommendations and could potentially make the situation worse.
The RSPCA was appalled when the first shots were fired against badgers at the end of August. The charity cares about cattle and badgers equally but does not think a cull is the answer to bovine TB in cattle. We remain committed to persuading the Government to put a stop to what we believe is a misguided, unethical and unscientific attempt to control bovine TB in cattle, which will not help solve the problems caused by this devastating disease or benefit cattle, badgers or dairy farmers and rural communities.