Badgers, Power & Protest

| 16th October 2013

The initial reason given for the culls was that they were designed to see if culling by shooting would help lower the incidence of TB in cattle.


In the second of a three part analysis of the ongoing UK badger cull Lesley Docksey takes a look at the activism that has been stirred up by the controversial cull......
There was embarrassment all round and the protesters were “de-arrested"

Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans, and dies.

John Clare - The Badger

The lanes of Somerset and Gloucestershire are being haunted by people from all walks of life but they all have one thing in common – they want to halt the killing of badgers. It takes dedication to turn out, night after night, being stopped and questioned by police and, on occasion harassed by those carrying out the highly unpopular badger cull. People in other parts of Britain are preparing to do the same if culls take place in their area for, as I wrote in the first part of this article about the badger culls, the government seems determined to kill badgers on any grounds – or none. 

When Defra first proposed setting up two “pilot” badger culls there were howls of protest from wildlife and conservation bodies, people who loved badgers and not a few who knew the science behind the proposal was more than selective. A e-petition asking for the culls to be stopped, put on the government website by former Queen guitarist and animal advocate Brian May, got more signatures than any other petition on the site. 

The initial reason given for the culls was that they were designed to see if culling by shooting would help lower the incidence of TB in cattle. And here the government wilfully ignored or misquoted the results from the Kreb study and others in order to justify the killing. The Kreb 10-year study concluded that culling badgers would at the very best lower the increase of incidences of TB among cattle by 25%, would also spread the disease to unaffected areas yet still, at the very best, leave farmers with the remaining 75% and more of the problem. 

There was embarrassment all round and the protesters were “de-arrested"

nder the current regime the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is both pro-business and pro-landowners of the large estate variety - and the environment keeps losing out. The Tories, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, are still the party of the rich and landed gentry it seems. They like trashing our wildlife and their planned culls have the unswerving support of the NFU. 

Brian May claims the NFU does not represent the average farmer because only 18% of farmers are actually members. I have failed to verify that figure, but as George Monbiot has written, they certainly act as a lobby group for the large land owners. Before the culls started the NFU tried to get an injunction that would prevent all protest activity while culling was taking place. The High Court refused that but did allow an injunction against some of the possible actions protesters might try to take (most of which actions are already against the law).  Pity no one took out an injunction against the hired guns to control their behaviour.  

The cull started in Somerset on August 27th and in Gloucestershire on September 3rd. It soon became apparent that, despite Defra’s publicity, the culls were not intended to help prevent the spread of TB. For a start, not one of the culled badgers will be tested to see if they were carrying the disease.  Why not?  Surely good science would seize this opportunity to discover whether, in two ‘hot-spots’ for TB in cattle, there is also a high incidence of TB in the badger population?  But, as Somerset County Councillor Mike Rigby discovered after persistent questioning, Defra has no interest at all in that.  Indeed, he thinks Defra is frightened of finding out how little TB there might be in the local badgers. 

Now they say the culls are just to test whether free-running badgers could be killed “humanely” by shooting. But what is humane? On 14 September we learnt that the government’s Chief Vet had admitted that “There are, however, no definitive criteria for determining humaneness in this context.” If they can’t tell if a badger has been killed humanely, then the stated aim of these culls is obviously rubbish. 

Two weeks into the cull in Somerset things started to 'go wrong'.  To satisfy the criteria of the cull, over 2000 Somerset badgers had to be shot within the 6-week period. There were reports that marksmen were struggling to meet their target - fewer than 100 badgers had apparently been killed in the first ten days, when they should by then have killed 500. 

Then a “wounded badger patrol”, having earlier seen marksmen searching for a body, found a badger which had died from a single high-velocity shot – the inference being that it had not been dispatched instantly but managed to crawl away, horribly wounded, to die. Defra was “confident" that the animal had not been killed as part of the cull becauseAll badgers killed as part of the pilot culls have been shot cleanly and killed instantly.”  Huh? 

Policing of the cull in Somerset seemed to be fairly quiet. Not so in Gloucestershire, with several arrests reported. In one incident, after being held for 20 hours, having their homes broken into by the police and in one case even being strip searched, computers, phones and cameras taken to “gather evidence”, four protesters arrested for “aggravated trespass” had their charges dropped. This has apparently made them more determined to protect badgers than ever, one of them managing to get back to the cull area just 20 minutes after being released. 

Others were detained on suspicion of aggravated trespass and were recorded being held by police at the roadside until “someone from the NFU can come to deliver an official warning”. The man doing the recording pointed out that the NFU had no legal right to issue an official warning. Were the police acting for the NFU rather than simply policing, he asked. He was then escorted further down the road by a police Inspector, who said he might cause an ‘incident’. When questioned further by the still-recording man, it turned out the inspector was not from the Gloucestershire constabulary. Embarrassment all round and the protesters were “de-arrested”. 

Other activists complained they were being shot at. The police at first said it was fireworks and then that the “shots” were coming from a crow scarer.  It turned out the crow scarer was being used by the cull operators solely to frighten the protestors. 

Gloucester’s PCC Martin Surl criticised the operators’ behaviour, saying it “fell short” of what people expected.  It fell even shorter when a woman was assaulted and her car vandalised while monitoring the badger cull. One of her companions was also attacked. The Master of the Ledbury Hunt was alleged to have been among the men doing the assaulting. What a surprise. Hunting deer, foxes and hares with hounds is now illegal but the Hunts still carry on and the Tories have vowed to repeal the law should they ever have a majority in Parliament. In preparation for that happy future of wildlife-trashing, Eton College is teaching its young charges how to hunt hares with its own beagle pack. “We are,” as Old Etonian David Cameron is so very fond of saying, “all in it together.” 

Just to demonstrate to everyone the power and influence of the NFU, it was reported that a woman who worked as a government farm inspector and with a professional background in conservation, was sacked because she had tweeted that she didn’t think the cull was an effective way of dealing with bovine TB. The NFU complained to Defra and that was the end of 22 years service in government farming agencies. It is outrageous that the NFU can be allowed to pull strings like that. 

Nearing the end of this awful exercise, news finally came of the first arrest under the terms of the NFU injunction. They spend all that money going to the High Court to get their injunction, and this is all they achieve - with the cull in Somerset finished, and one more week in Gloucester, where anti-cull activists had been reporting little or no shooting.  Doubtless they will have as few dead badgers after 6 weeks as in Somerset. 

And then comes the moment of deafening silence while we all wait for Defra not to release the results of their pilot culls.  Although the plans were to kill a total of more than 5000 badgers, in order to see whether these poor harried animals can be shot ‘humanely’, Defra is arranging that only about 250 carcasses will actually be examined for ‘cleanness of kill’.  According to Councillor Rigby, the Somerset badgers will be examined by the people who shot them – how unbiased is that?

But when I spoke to Drew Pratten of the Stop the Cull group he said that the Gloucester badgers “will be examined by an independent panel selected by Defra”.  “Hardly independent then?” I said.  “No,” was the reply. 

This whole thing has been an ill conceived, badly managed and pointless waste of money, not to mention a waste of badgers’ lives. But Environment Minister Owen Paterson is determined to carry on.  Regardless of the results he insists  he will roll out 10 culls per year across the country. “One of the things I can promise you is, as long as I am around, we will pursue methods to remove TB from our diseased badgers,” he said.  By killing them all, of course. And my MP Oliver Letwin is looking forward to having a cull in my home patch - in which case I’ll be out at night, haunting the lanes and footpaths of Dorset. Mike Rigby sees it differently: 

“The cull has been so badly organised and the case for it is so flimsy, I am left wondering whether Defra has deliberately set it up to fail. This would give them the opportunity to say to the NFU “Look we tried. We set up the legal framework for you to cull badgers and you made a hash of it. So it won’t be rolled out elsewhere.” I wonder this because this shambles cannot possibly be the result of the best efforts of a major Government Department in one of the world’s biggest economies.” 

Sorry Mike, but I disagree.  Our current government has been very good indeed at producing shambles, ‘shambles’ being the correct word here. It is the old word for slaughterhouse. 

Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer and contributes articles to websites with international reach on issues of war, peace, politics and the environment.

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