Street art (since destroyed) by Beastie, Gloucester.
I experienced a life-time first recently. A couple of Saturdays ago, I exercised my democratic right to protest peacefully about an issue in a public place.
It didn’t seem very radical in the beginning, strolling to Gloucester Park on a Spring day to stand among fellow badger cull protesters and listen to a woman singing badger-themed protest songs.
I was five minutes early and, to be honest, there weren’t nearly as many people there as I’d hoped. I was thinking thousands… around me were no more than a couple of hundred.
As if the original badger cull wasn’t enough (it wasn’t – it was an expensive, destructive, waste of time), Cameron’s Government are planning a second cull in Gloucestershire, thus ignoring the findings of the Independent Commission into the first cull, which revealed badger cruelty and a complete lack of new data on badgers and bovine TB
I signed a petition, had a chat to a couple of people handing out flyers for badger-related events and observed my fellow badger-lovers – people who feel strongly that badgers should be allowed to live without state-sponsored persecution for spurious reasons.
There were hunt saboteurs, who provided the backbone and a lot of the organization of the badger patrols whose aim, in the cull last year, was to peacefully disrupt shooting activities. There were scores of members of the Gloucestershire badger patrol group, Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting, wildlife conservation groups and there were individuals like me, people who don’t want to see family groups of badgers who have lived in some setts for 50 years or more, destroyed or terrified for no solid scientific reason.
Among the people I met – several of them from other counties – one woman had come to Gloucester on the train from Swansea to join the protests. She had joined her local Wildlife Trust because they successfully campaigned for a scheme where badgers were caught and vaccinated against TB – not shot.
I looked around for Tony Dean, a former policeman who in retirement, became the chief badger advocate in Gloucestershire. He was the man you phoned if you saw a dead badger at the roadside. He’d arrange for it to be collected and taken off for testing.
He also introduced members of the public to his own particular badger colony. Over the years, with his quiet patience and the wife’s home-made fruitcake, he gained the trust of a colony near Stroud and would take small groups to sit quietly on the hillside in the evening as the badgers and the cubs came out to play. Those were magical times watching the natural behavior of these shy persecuted creatures at first hand.
Dominic Dyer, the new chairman of the Badger Trust, was eloquent and lucid in his criticism of the Government action as one more chapter in the long persecution of the badger. The Badger Trust needed all the support it could get, he said, because it is about to mount a High Court legal challenge to the cull.
International conservationist Ian Redmond, who lives in Gloucester and is noted for his work with gorillas, was straightforward and pithy in his condemnation of Government-sponsored endangerment of a species.
Then it was off out of the park with the assembled, amiable masses – about 500-600 of us, by then. I wore a badger T shirt but quite honestly, as someone about to lose my ‘democratic protest’ virginity, I didn’t have any materials to hand for making a placard. A spatula and a piece of A4 just wouldn’t have cut any mustard!
People were waving flags, holding placards aloft, clutching banners. They had cute badgers in rucksacks, children brought their own toy badgers, there were badger hand-puppets and one chap – who turned out to be a Welsh farmer – was wearing a very furry and heaving looking badger head-dress!
I felt mildly guilty that I hadn’t daubed a piece of cardboard but I would definitely have bought one – so there’s a marketing idea for the Badger Trust at these events!
It took a while for me to get going and join in the march chorus of “Stop The Cull!” I mumbled like a reluctant singer in church but as the column of people made its way through busier streets, it seemed more sensible to announce what we were all about. The chorus – me included – got louder and more assertive.
The reaction from the public was interesting. Police held up traffic without a single grimace from drivers. Some museum staff came to stand and watch the march passing by – so did some shoppers. Some of them applauded and shouted support.
One of the most moving sights, for me, was to break out of the march and look back up Westgate Street, Gloucester to see the entire street to the Cross and beyond, filled with hundreds of people – all out on the streets because they don’t want to see badgers killed.
My over-riding thought was ‘This proves it’s not just me.” When I talk to friends and colleagues about the slaughter of badgers, they don’t approve of it but equally they don’t take any action to broadcast that face or do anything to stop it.
It was good to think that if and when the cull is re-started in Gloucestershire, most of those people filling the entire street – and hopefully more besides – are the ones who will be resuming the night badger patrols – trying to save badgers by peacefully walking public footpaths and looking out for any badgers wounded during this senseless Government-led persecution.