The start of trial badger culling in our area has generated a lot of emotion on both sides of the argument. Keynsham based Ric Davidson had an opportunity last week to see for himself at a secret location in Gloucestershire
“Whatever the right and wrongs of the badger and TB association, many people simply do not like the thought of indigenous wild animals being shot. The alternative solution of inoculation is being used with some success in Ireland is too expensive, according to the Government.
But, prompted by reports on local television last week, I spent a night with the wounded badger patrols at the pilot culling area in Gloucestershire.
A couple of emails produced an invitation to meet with others in a market town car park at 7pm. With the emails came a patrol ‘protocol’, instructions and the telephone numbers of solicitors ready to act on behalf of any protesters arrested. It quickly became clear how necessary these numbers might prove to be – and that the recent programme with the police on local TV didn’t quite tell the whole story.
As the volunteers assembled in the car park three large police vehicles surrounded us and began taking our car details, filming us, and making absurdly polite conversation. Throughout the night a relationship with the police was established that was in reality as fragile as thin ice. The patrollers were more than ready: all policemen were photographed in return, their numbers asked for and recorded, and their vehicle details audibly phoned in to ‘patrol control.’ During the night I met policemen from three different forces and the cost of their deployment must be astronomic.
I was invited to join a car group with a doctor and her husband from Cheltenham, an NHS worker from Lancashire and a housewife from Stroud. We were given large-scale maps and asked to check footpaths at certain points of the cull area. The average age of the patrollers was quite high and made me feel young, which I am not. At one point in the evening, while traversing a footpath adjacent to a large badger sett, a Yorkshireman in his 70s suddenly appeared from his secreted hide-out where he told me he had been living for eight days – always on site should any culling activity be attempted – oddly it hadn’t.
The idea is that with so many members of the public walking the footpaths it is impossible, and illegal, for the cullers to shoot – even if any badgers appeared.
The wounded badger patrol groups are the legal and respectable side of the protest, but there are others who are more militant in trying to prevent any culling taking place. An injunction is in place to prevent this happening which brands walking any public footpath more than once in an evening an “aggravated trespass”.
We were stopped and searched three times during the evening – the police looking for the smallest excuse to file a charge for an illegal tyre or non-functioning light. At one point we stopped to observe and record details when another car was being questioned and searched, mimicking the police at their own job.
Later we were trailed by a police minibus for miles before we returned to the town and parking in a small cul-de-sac. Another ‘friendly’ encounter ensued with an officer trying to hand us a copy of the injunction, which, since injunctions are civil matters, he was not empowered to do. On pointing this out the officer actually replied: “We are policemen we can do anything.”
We had drawn this van miles from any culling scene and wasted a considerable amount of police time. One can only ask what they think they are achieving other than futile intimidation. But these were West Mercia men, well out of their area in the middle of the night, and on the day when the West Mercia force had announced drastic wage bill reductions by the end of the year.
The cull concludes next week. The less publicised, and sometimes denied, pilot in West Somerset finishes this week. Statistics of their success will be eagerly awaited and contested. I guess that the work of the badger patrols have made things very difficult for the shooters. I am told that there is evidence of cullers taking badgers killed on the roads, shooting them, and adding them to their kill (and bonus!) list. This sounds like a desperate measure. As is the attempt to bait badgers out in to the open with peanuts and the introduction of badger traps into the cull.
Not desperate in any way were the intentions, skill and common sense of the protesters I met – people of highly respectable backgrounds, with passionate beliefs that there really are better ways of co-existing with nature.”