Whistle-blowing monitor reveals: how not to run a badger cull

At least this badger at the British Wildlife Centre is safe from culling. Photo: Helen Haden via Flickr.
At least this badger at the British Wildlife Centre is safe from culling. Photo: Helen Haden via Flickr.
New revelations show that the rifle-wielding badger cullers were often acting criminally, writes Lesley Docksey - pursuing badgers with loaded weapons on both private and public land outside licenced areas, with impunity, while the IEP was apparently kept in the dark. Strict controls are essential - or just an end to the cull.
Whichever way one looks at it, the culls were criminal, and it is not surprising that both Owen Paterson and now Liz Truss want to dispense with independent monitoring.

Natural England is responsible for the granting of licences for badger culling on those properties within the culling area whose owners have given consent for culling to take place.

I hope that's clear enough, because for some time Gloucester Against Badger Shooting (GABS) has been corresponding with Natural England about the trespassing of culling contractors onto land where landowners have not given consent for culling to take place.

It is now quite clear that there are no breaches of the Licence conditions when contractors stray off permitted areas, carrying loaded weapons and with intent to kill a protected species (killing a badger is only allowed in specified areas within the cull zone).

Instead, any contractors operating outside the permitted areas (and there were many instances recorded by protesters) were committing a crime and should have been dealt with by the police.

Police ignoring 'dangerous shooting practices'

As GABS says in its latest letter to Natural England:

"Our impression is that they defer to you in all wildlife matters. This creates a difficulty with your role in granting cull licences, in that the police do not think to question the conduct of the culling company and believe that, by granting the licence, you endorse all their activity ...

"This has created tremendous problems on the ground when dangerous shooting practices and licence breaches are experienced by us, but no notice or action is taken by the police."

It seems Defra takes no notice or action either - even when alerted by an Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratory Agency (AHVLA) employee monitoring culling contractors at work. And, it turns out, at play.

"Dangerous shooting practices" and public safety during last year's culls is an issue that the national media has totally ignored. There have been many reports of protesters being arrested but hardly a peep about the illegal and criminal behaviour of the culling contractors.

Until now, that is - just a few days before rumours say this year's culls are due to begin.

Trigger-happy contractors

On 10 August the Sunday Times published a short article about this whistle-blowing monitor and some of the things he had witnessed.

At one point, he said, he had found himself following a contractor onto a golf course in pursuit of a badger. On two occasions he had to stop contractors from shooting, once near some houses when residents were seen to be in their gardens; on the other when protesters were present.

On this second occasion the contractor leapt out of his vehicle to chase one of the protesters leaving, against all safety rules and in breach of his gun licence, his loaded gun unsecured in the vehicle.

Whichever way one looks at it, the culls were criminal, and it is not surprising that both Owen Paterson and now Liz Truss want to dispense with independent monitoring.

Protester Madeline Buckler took the gun out in an attempt to demonstrate to the police how unsafely the contractors were behaving. She was arrested and charged with "stealing" the weapon, but it never came to court as the contractor withdrew his statement.

The monitor witnessed trespass on unauthorised property by a contractor carrying a loaded gun (a crime) with the intent to kill a badger (a crime). He had to prevent contractors from shooting when public safety was compromised, something that should have been monitored by the police.

He also observed contractors working alone, totally against Best Practice Guidance. And he reported contractors falsifying evidence and enjoying 'trysts' in hotel rooms funded by the taxpayer.

Don't rock the boat!

The police were ignorant of the Best Practice Guidance that the contractors were not complying with. But even the AHVLA monitors, who were aware of the rules, didn't question the non-compliance with the Guidance.

When he queried this with his employers, the whistle blower was told that he was only there to monitor the actual killing of badgers. Anything else was outside his remit.

But he was seriously worried by the 'trigger-happy' behaviour of the contractors. Being ex-military and familiar with guns, he knew how unsafe it all was.

In January he sent a report to Defra detailing his worries. He had one discussion with them about its contents, but no further action was taken.

Nor, it appears, did the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) - who were finalising their report on the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the culls - see a copy of the report, although they were very aware of safety concerns from various protesters.

By January Defra already knew the Panel was going to fail them on the effectiveness and the humaneness of the trial culls. So, to quote the IEP report (Appendices 12.5):

"January 2014 When the IEP report was at an advanced stage, Defra became aware of our conclusion that more than 5% of badgers may have experienced marked pain.

"At that point, Defra requested AHVLA to perform new analyses of times to death and the proportion of badgers that may have survived longer than 5 min after being shot, using different assumptions to those originally used in the AHVLA Humaneness Report ...

"We consider the new treatments of animals in Category C to be inappropriate and not in accordance with best scientific practice. We cannot endorse a method that excludes data, or makes assumptions that will bias a result in a particular direction, without good scientific justification"

Why would Defra withold the monitor's report from the IEP?

Simple answer: for Defra to let the IEP see the monitor's report would have really sunk the credibility of the culls, forcing the IEP to fail it on all three counts.

The IEP report recommended better training for those doing the shooting. Yet it wasn't just poor marksmanship and field-craft that needed addressing. It was the whole cavalier attitude of the contractors, the culling companies and the NFU that was at fault.

The IEP also recommended proper independent monitoring of this year's culls. But more than one AHVLA monitor recorded what the whistle blower has made public - that being monitored made no difference to the casual, illegal and dangerous behaviour of those carrying the guns.

Would the IEP have recommended that none of last years contractors were allowed back? Would they have recommended that both police and contractors had to prove themselves fully informed of the rules and when the breaching of those rules became crimes?

Would they have recommended that the police were made properly aware what land had the owner's permission to shoot over (which they did not know), and where the cull area boundaries were (which they did not know), rather than relying on the NFU and contractors to tell them?

As both the guns and the police were drafted in from outside the cull areas (hence the 'love-nest' hotel rooms), and were therefore both largely unfamiliar with the areas they were operating in, how could any culling be both legally and safely carried out?

Even more bad practice by contractors and monitors

Stop the Cull, who have a copy of the monitor's report to Defra, have posted an article based on an interview with this man. I do not believe that it shows "corruption among ministers".

It does, however, demonstrate an utter incompetence from Owen Paterson, panicked by the low numbers of dead badgers, right down to those wielding the guns, and an overwhelming arrogance on the part of the NFU and the culling companies that they could order things as they please.

  • It shows that the contractors dispensed with 'buddies' and used the monitors as their lackeys, saying this was as per instructions.
  • It shows that the monitors working for the AHVLA were not only incompetent and far too few on the ground, but extremely weak-kneed in not making the contractors comply with the Best Practice Guidance.
  • And it shows one other thing - the culling companies were not providing enough boots on the ground to ensure that each gun had a 'buddy'. Or perhaps the costs wouldn't bear it so they, and presumably the NFU, relied on the monitors being bullied into playing that part.

Whichever way one looks at it, the culls were criminal, and it is not surprising that both Owen Paterson and now Liz Truss want to dispense with independent monitoring.

But without it - and no matter how much Defra tries to convince us that the whole thing has been redesigned - we know that with the same people running the show, and the same pool of gunmen out in the field, it will be as bad as last year. Or possibly even worse.

How much independent monitoring would be needed?

Every contractor would have to have a buddy and a totally independent monitor with him at all times. Every move and every shot would have to be filmed. All logs would have to be filled in by the monitor, not the contractor.

Any evidence collected and badger carcase gathered should be done by the monitor, and all badger carcasses should be independently examined, not sent straight off to the incinerator.

And I for one would insist that each team of contractor, buddy and monitor also had with it a well-informed, upright, big and burly, rural policeman to arrest the contractor every time he stepped a yard out of line. If nothing else, it would ensure that very few of the poor innocent badgers got shot.

Alternatively they could cancel the culls altogether. Because, considering the 'near misses' that the police reported last year, I really don't want, this year, to see the cullers get away with murder.


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