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September 4, 2013

A Night with the Wounded Badger Patrol

Humane Society International/UK

  • The badger cull has begun in the pilot areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire. Chris Crafter/iStock

by Mark Jones

As the second of the two pilot culls began in my home county of Gloucestershire last night, I joined one of the Wounded Badger Patrols.

Set up by local residents opposed to the cull and deeply concerned about the welfare of the animals, the patrols aim to bear witness to this ill-founded government policy. Walking near the cull area, the patrollers are on the lookout for wounded badgers, ready to alert local wildlife rescue organisations to any they come across.

So, as darkness fell, I met near a church in a rural area with a group of around 40 other volunteers.

The group has had tremendous support, allowing a number of patrols to take place at the same time. This is vital since the areas covered by the cull zones are huge—around the size of the Isle of Wight.

Committed volunteers

I was encouraged by the compassion shown and the deep hurt felt by many who had campaigned against this cull for so long. It was good to meet with people from all walks of life, including current and retired teachers, people in marketing and advertising, parents and grandparents, all committed to volunteering their time to help protect our country’s badgers. We were also joined by several TV camera crews from local BBC and ITV networks, and reporters from local papers.

The patrol coordinators provided a very good briefing about the evening’s activities, and gave clear instructions for what to do should we find an injured badger. Participants sign a statement committing them to remain on public roads and footpaths, to act wholly within the law, to follow any instructions given by the police, and to record and report any signs of culling activity or threats made against them by those supportive of the cull. Several recent patrols have have experienced intimidation from cull proponents, something that cannot be tolerated.

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We moved off, looking and listening for signs and sounds of the cull, and examining the entrances to several badger setts for signs of activity or pre-baiting. After several hours of traversing the area, keeping in contact with other patrols and relaying information, we returned to base.

Although our group did not directly witness any shooting, there were several sightings of vehicles and lights being used in the proximity of known badger setts, and both the Gloucestershire and West Mercia police were out in force.

Concerns about suffering

As a vet and animal welfare professional, I have deep concerns about the suffering the badgers that will be targeted by these culls are likely to endure. Killing them cleanly with a rifle or shot gun in the pitch dark will be is extremely difficult and the chance of inflicting non-lethal injuries is high. Badgers could very well sustain excruciatingly painful bullet wounds, and those who retreat underground will die a slow and agonising death.

Their suffering is made all the more unpalatable by the fact that this cull is going ahead despite having no scientific credibility and contributing little to reducing cattle TB in this country. Indeed, many leading scientists in the field of wildlife ecology and disease control fear it could actually make the situation with TB in cattle worse.

It is a travesty that this slaughter is happening, but the dedication of these volunteers shows once more that they, and we, will do all we can to campaign peacefully and within the law to bear witness to the badgers' fate.

Learn about the Wounded Badger Patrols in Gloucestershire.

Find out more about our campaign to protect badgers.

Mark Jones is executive director of HSI/UK.

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