Badger Lives Matter

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Opposing The Badger Cull in the West of England.
Opposition to the badger cull has become one of the largest grass-roots animal rights campaigns of recent years. Under an umbrella of various organisations and actions, thousands of people have mobilised to hinder and frustrate the government’s systematic persecution of wildlife, directly defending the lives of badgers. Whilst the government uses the auspices of science to justify the cull, claiming it is an effort to reduce bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in those animals enslaved by the dairy industry, the blatant reality is that its just another privilege thrown to the farming lobby to placate its passion for abusing animals.
This is not the first time that the badger has been a scapegoat for a problem that stems from the recklessness of animal husbandry within the farming community. Between 1998 and 2008 the Labour administration conducted the ‘Randomised Badger Culling Trial’ (RBC Trial.)1 This initial cull not only took the lives of 11,000 badgers2 and cost approximately £50 million of taxpayers money,3 but found that only a tenth of badgers killed carried TB.4 The body formed to review the cull concluded that “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”5 and in fact might make the problem worse due to the “’perturbation’ effects of disease spread when badger populations are disturbed.”6 Instead of persecuting badgers, the farming community was encouraged to take some responsibility and raise its cattle-control, conditions and standards. This was considered “essential to control the problem”7 of bTB.
With the coming of the new Conservative administration in 2010 and its manifesto commitment to repeal wildlife protection laws,8 2012 saw the announcement of a new badger cull. This time the killing would be more sustained; moving from the twelve days a year of the RBC Trial to six weeks, and being successively rolled out across the country. It was intended that a larger number of badgers would be slaughtered. As a response, activists from across the country united and promised a campaign of protest and sabotage to this unfathomable declaration. With the Olympic Games taking place that year in London and a concern that the Police were “blatantly undermanned”9 and unable to commit enough resources to both events, the cull was postponed. Killing started in 2013 in the counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset, continuing in 2014 before spreading to north Dorset in 2015. Estimates say just under 4,000 badgers were murdered in these sprees.10 This year the cull zones grew to incorporate the further areas of west Dorset, Devon and Herefordshire; a total of ten zones of killing across six counties. Activists were present in each area doing what they could to oppose this barbaric and futile slaughter.
Activists on the ground have been joined in support by a diverse section of interested parties:
Many within the scientific community with expertise in relevant fields condemn the cull as they believed murdering badgers had no beneficial effect on bTB. This includes some of those that were involved in the initial RBC Trial.11 Writing to the Observer newspaper, thirty-one eminent academics condemned the cull, claiming it was “very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication”12 and suggesting because of “the complexities of TB transmission… licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.”13 Lord Krebs, the architect of the previous ten year cull claimed that culling was not an effective way of dealing with bTB and accused the government of “cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.”14 This scientific condemnation has been joined by opposition on ethical grounds from veterinarians, welfare organisations and some of Britain’s most well-loved naturalists like Chris Packham and Bill Odie. Their position is well-founded as, after the first year of killing, the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) which was appointed by the government to “evaluate the effectiveness, humanness and safety of the pilot culls, judged them to be both ineffective and inhumane”15 and “raised serious concerns about the poor training and lack of monitoring of the cull contractors which led to an estimated 18% of badgers taking longer than 5 minutes to die after being shot.”16 The opinions of science and ethics are supported by popular sentiment against the massacre, with demonstrations taking place in towns and villages across the country and opinion polls consistently showing “that over 80% of the public are against the badger culls.17 More than 300,000 people signed a Parliament hosted petition calling for a stop to the killing.18
Despite this indisputable democratic mandate opposing the cull, the Government and its allies within the farming lobby insist on continuing their persecution of the badger. Such ignorance of national sentiment lays bare the arrogance of the Government and appears like a roll back to the dark ages. When faced with the consensuses of the opinion of science, the concern of ethics and the popular demands of the people, the Government choose to ignore all and do as it pleases, appeasing its chums of the propertied class and those whose seemingly only concern is protecting their private property. Such a reality not only necessitates the need for activists to take matters into their own hands and utilise direct action, but also provides the justification to do so. If they will not listen to such an overwhelming argument and respect such social concerns – then we will not listen to them and do as we please!
The new bloodsport:
The badger has been a protected species under law since 1992, making it a criminal offence to kill a badger or interfere with its sett.19 In order for the cull to be legal, a temporary licence is issued by Natural England, an agency of the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. This licence acts as an exemption from the law, allowing those that take pleasure in violence against wildlife, for six weeks of the year, to legally kill another species. Though the cull is claimed to be an effort in controlling disease it is not scientists or veterinarians who are issued with these licences, but farmers, landowners and their employees. Naturally, this bypass of the law has encouraged a culture of cruelty extending beyond the cull as the “relentless vilification of the badger by the Government, the Countryside Alliance and the National Farmers Union in order to justify the badger cull”20 has led to a rise in “[r]eports of badgers being shot, snared, poisoned and gassed.”21 Despite the veneer of government licensed contractors engaged in a scientific study, the cullers are one and the same as the brutalist thugs who attend illegal fox hunts and blast defenceless birds out of the sky.
There are two ways in which these scum kill; free-shooting and cage-trapping. Free shooting starts when dusk occurs and the nocturnal badger leaves their sett in search of food. A pair of killers, using a rifle with night or thermal scope will plot up in a known badger area and wait until an animal comes into their sights. Depending on their success the killers will move to multiple locations of a night. Cage-trapping involves the use of an approximately 3 foot by 1 foot welded metal box-trap which captures the badger alive. The trap is triggered by the internal placing of a heavy object that is connected by cord to the door flap. Once entering the badger will displace the object insuring the closure of the door. Cage trappers will bait an area known to be frequented by badgers by creating a small hole and filling it with peanuts and/or processed maize. This is done to encourage the badger to return to that spot, and after a period of days a box-trap will be placed at the same location. Depending on time constraints, the culler may leave the box-trap wired open for the first few nights to encourage the badgers total entry. Once a badger is caught it would be imprisoned until the morning when the killer returns to blast it in the head from point-blank range with a shotgun. In the early days of the cull, these box-traps were left out in the open, along the sides of fields, but as a growing number were decommissioned or disappeared by activists, cullers having increasingly sort to camouflage their traps, or secrete them within brambles, hedgerows and other sources of cover.
To give an idea of how prolific these killers are, the cull is designed to exterminate 70% of the badger population in each zone.22 Every year idealised minimum and maximum target numbers are addressed to each zone which the killers must fall between. Even though they have fallen way behind their target numbers in the past, between 2013 and 2015 they still managed to kill “nearly 4000”23 badgers. This year, across the ten cull zones, a minimum target of 9,841 dead badgers was set with a maximum target of 14,213.24 Whether they realised either of these targets or not remains to be seen. In 2014, an average of 311 traps were set everyday in Somerset and Gloucestershire. In 2015, with the addition of the county of Dorset, an average of 319 traps were set everyday in the three counties.25 A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that across the ten zones there were 1,451 individuals with licences to kill badgers either through free-shooting, cage-trapping or both.26
When activists make the rare discovery of a caged badger awaiting the return of the culler, they see directly how perverse this cull is on an individual level. Being nocturnal the animal is bewildered and its imprisonment in a cage which it has spent many hours in vain trying to escape from leaves the animal tired and highly stressed. The approach of the activists, a possible predator in the eyes of the badger, makes the animal terrified. Luckily for those badgers, the activists are able to quickly release them before the culler returns. Unlike the activists who act out of compassion and kindness, it takes a particularly heartless person to return to an animal in that state, as it moves back and forth in wild panic, and witness it bashing itself against the side of the cage in a desperate and vain attempt to escape, before blasting it in the head.
“We are stopping the cull with the direct action, not tea and biscuits”27
What follows is an overview of the operation of one particular group of sabs active in one cull zone. It is important to remember that different activists in different areas will employ different tactics in their attempts to disrupt the cull. One of the most remarkable aspects of being on the ground within the cull zones is the privilege of gaining knew skills. Under the tutelage of one knowledgeable person skilled in the art of tracking wildlife, an amateur activist can become a highly effective saboteur. Other important skills such as map reading are easy to pick up; grab an Ordinance Survey (OS) map, orientate the map to the direction you are facing, observe land marks such as rivers, roads and buildings and relate this to what is on the map and follow the outlines of hedgerows and fences. The OS maps are pretty accurate down to footpaths and fields, and with a bit of patience and logic its easy to navigate yourself.
For the sabs, the days were long – often spending between thirteen and fifteen hours working. The sabs would set off mid morning and spend the day-light checking on setts. This meant many miles of cross-country walking every day. A lot of work had been done ‘sett surveying’ pre-cull; accumulating on knowledge from previous years, the footpaths and bridal ways of a particular area were transversed and the coordinates of any sett encountered recorded. This means that during the cull, there was already a knowledge of where setts are and therefore an idea of where killing would take place. Despite misconceptions, a huge amount of the countryside is accessible cross-country through such public access paths, and a few cheeky detours across open-fields or through woodlands can give access to setts not near public paths. These acts of sett surveying are remarkable in that they are part of a mass collective effort that has been taking place these last few years. Thousands of ordinary people have taken responsibility for locating and informally documenting thousands of setts with the sole motivation of protecting wildlife.
Once the sabs were in the habitat of the badger, a lot of their work became forensic – looking for signs of badger activity such as:
Runs; the distinctive paths left in soft ground and grass by badger movements.
Latrines; the small toilet hole dug in the ground and filled with distinctive badger poo.
Snuffling marks; small holes which the badger has dug in search of subterranean food sources.
Cow faeces which has been ‘shredded’ by badgers in search of food.
Fresh soil or soil disturbance by the entrance to badger setts.
Likewise, signs of human activity in the environ were also looked for; such as vehicle tracks or irregular disturbance of shrubs and foliage. The more familiar someone becomes with an area the more they will notice things such as gates left unlocked which were previously chained shut. Its remarkable how quickly your senses become attuned to noticing such slight differences. Most of the activities involved in killing such as baiting and setting of cages takes place near or on setts, runs and latrines, so it is always good to keep a constant vigilance on such locations. Areas where it is suspected a cage will be set are repeatedly visited, sometimes on a daily basis.
Interestingly, by becoming familiar with the locations of badger activity within the killing zones, you see how much of this persecution corresponds to land used to exploit other types of animals. Badgers and their setts are being eradicated in the interest of diary farms and the perversely named ‘game-bird’ shooting estates. The badger cull is a prime example of the twisted nature of people who massacre one species of animal in order to perpetuate the enslavement of two more.
As soon as it got dark the sabs would change from a foot-based roll to more of a vehicle orientation and try to intercept shooters vehicles. If there was no luck, then they would tour known and suitable shooting areas using night-vision and thermal imaging equipment to seek the killers. Guidelines imposed by the government supervisors of the cull state that if shooters are in the presence of members of the public then they must break their guns.
The camaraderie can not be beaten:
Whilst the cull is at times hard for activists, physically exhausting them and putting them under great strains of pressure, many positives have been realised by those involved in opposing the cull. First of all there is unity across the movement and a plurality of tactics and efforts. If being in the field with the Hunt Saboteurs Association is too much for someone, then they can join up with the Wounded Badger Patrol who walk the footpaths at night. If someone cannot visit the killing zones, then they can take part in demonstrations in their local area or raise money or supplies for the activists in the field. Writers and performers can use their voices whilst technicians can secure the best type of night-vision or thermal imaging equipment. Protestors can take to the streets to oppose this bloody slaughter, enhanced by experts speaking out in their relevant forums. Everyone has their part to play and no part is too small. Though different activists are aligned to different organisations and utilise different approaches, they all realise that they are together in working for the best interests of wildlife.
With this in mind there is a great sense of camaraderie amongst the activists as they come together knowing they are the only hope the badgers have against the diabolical forces of the Government and the powerful farming lobby. Such dedication is unsurpassable, from those who spend weeks on end in the cull zone to those who only have the weekend free from work and travel many miles for a night or two in the hope that their presence might save a life. One particular image that stays in my mind is of an elderly lady who must have been well into her seventies, diminutive in stature and tightly gripping a wooden walking stick. She braved the cold and darkness of the late Autumn nights to walk the footpaths of the cull zones in an effort to protect the badgers. And despite the horrors that bring you to the cull zones you do experience plenty of moments of natural beauty; from newly born calves rising to their feet to the first time, to young deer bolting across open fields. This is alongside seeing plenty of signs that some of our last species of large wild mammals are thriving despite their persecution. In fact, the very uniqueness of this animal rights campaign is that so much time and effort is given in defending an animal that, due to its nocturnal temperament, you have no interaction with, and you only ever see, if you are lucky, as an orange glow shuffling along in the distance from your thermal imaging equipment.
Unfortunately, we cannot stop the cull in its entirety. All we can do is frustrate and sabotage it in the short term and in the long term cause dissension on the national level to the point where the cull is too unpopular and workable to be continued. That is why all efforts must be included to end this barbaric and brutal slaughter of wildlife and a wide strategy of undermining the business efforts of those involved enacted upon. A mass boycott must be utilised bringing pressure directly not only on the farms involved in the cull, but on the businesses who supply and profit from them. But, most importantly we need more people in the field. The more that can be active in the field throughout the cull the more effective the sabotage can be. It is simple; with more people on the ground each day a larger area can be surveyed, the greater the chance of discovering badger killing activity and the bigger likelihood of uncovering shooters. The animals have no one but you, make sure you stand with them.
1Otherwise known as the ‘Krebs Trial’ after the author of a report into bTB.
2Carrington, Damian, ‘Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis’, The Guardian online, 27 May 2013 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis accessed 16/10/16)
3‘Can The Cull’, Badgers Trust online (http://www.badger.org.uk/can-the-cull accessed 15/10/16)
4Ibid.
5Ares, Dr. Elena, & Hawkins, Oliver, Badger Culling: TB Control Policy, (London: House of Commons Library, 2014)
6‘Can The Cull’
7‘The Badger Cull’, Badger Action Network online (http://badgeractionnetwork.org.uk/the-badger-cull/ accessed 15/10/16)
8Hope, Christopher, ‘Tories to legalise fox hunting if they win 2015 general election’, The Telegraph online, 26 December 2014 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11307715/Tories-to-legalise-fox-hunting-if-they-win-2015-general-election.html accessed 24/10/16)
9Innocent Cookbook (Great Britain: Innocent Badger Books, 2015) Innocent Cookbook is a collection of writings and recipes published in order to raise funds for activists groups. To order your copy please contact: stopthebadgercull@gmail.com
10‘Can The Cull’
11Carrington, Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis’
12Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS et al., ‘Culling badger could increase the problem of TB in cattle’, The Observer, 14 October 2012, The Guardian online, 14 October 2012 (https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2012/oct/14/letters-observer accessed 15/10/16)
13Ibid.
14Carrington, Damian & Doward, Jamie, ‘Badger cull ‘mindless’, say scientists’, The Guardian online, 13 October 2012 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/oct/13/badger-cull-mindless accessed 25/10/16)
15‘Can The Cull’
16Ibid.
17‘The Badger Cull’
18‘Stop The Badger Cull’ petition, UK Government and Parliament online (https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/38257 accessed 16/10/2016)
19Protection of Badgers Act 1992
20‘Badger Persecution’, Badger Action Network online (http://badgeractionnetwork.org.uk/badger-persecution/ accessed 15/10/2016)
21Ibid.
22‘Can The Cull’
23‘Can They Kill 9,841 This Year?’ Innocent Badger: Stop The Cull Online, 30 August 2016 (http://innocentbadger.com/2016/08/30/can-they-kill-9841-badgers-this-year/ accessed 25/10/16)
24Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Bovine TB: Setting the minimum and maximum numbers in licensed badger control areas in 2016 : Advice to Natural England, August 2016, PB 14442
25‘Save Lives Now Before The Cull’, Innocent Badger: Stop The Cull online, 28 August 2016 (http://innocentbadger.com/2016/08/28/save-lives-now-before-the-cull/ accessed 16/10/16)
26Bovine TB Licencing Unit, Natural England to Isobel Mountford, Access to Information – Request Number RFI 3588, 27 September 2016 (https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/357164/response/873632/attach/html/3/RFI%203588%20Response%20to%20Customer%20270916.pdf.html accessed 25/10/2016)
27Stop The Cull spokesperson, quoted in Carrington, ‘Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis’
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