Bearing witness for badgers on the ground
Proximity does matter. When you work in an international animal welfare organisation, you spend a lot of time in long distance communication, processing information that comes from all four corners of the planet, and campaigning on issues that are happening miles away from where you are. However, every now and then, it is important to go out there and travel where the news originates, where the animals actually are, where the problems are live and in your face. This also happens when you are dealing with national issues too, since you will hardly ever find the animal you are trying to protect right there at your office’s doorstep.
Since the UK Government decided that they wanted to cull up to 70% of the badgers in some parts of England to tackle the problem of Bovine TB, and since it became clear that all animal protection organisations opposed it (which is why the coalition Team badger is one of the biggest animal protection organisations ever created in the British Isles), but also most independent scientist and wildlife experts opposed it, the International Fund for Animal Welfare has been campaigning against this irrational, unpopular and misguided cull. We supported national marches, we asked people to sign petitions (and records were even broken in the process), we used all our online resources to make a point, but we did all that from a respectful distance. Since despite all this the Government insists in wanting to exterminate the badgers in two pilot areas in the west of England, we felt it was time to remove this distance and travel to the area where it could all begin any day from now.
IFAW always operates within the law in a respectful and non-confrontational way, so we were pleased to learn that some initiatives have already been developed “on the ground” inthe badger cull pilot areas following the same approach. One of them is called “Wounded Badger Patrols” (WBP), and are organised by “Gloucester Against Badger Shooting” (GABS).
We, like most people, did not know much about what WBP consisted of, except that it was a peaceful way to help injured badgers who had fallen victims of the badger cull shooters, who have been licensed to free shoot moving badgers, so are likely to injure rather than kill some of them.
The best way to learn more about WBP was to take a train and join one of these patrols as anybody else would do. Although there are several organised in different areas, I decided to join the one covering the Gloucestershire area number 1.
I’ll be honest. Although the primary purpose of my visit was to find out about these events and see whether IFAW can support them, very quickly the whole experience become very personal to me. Not only there was something deeply moving about seeing a group of decent people travelling from afar to spend an evening peacefully walking wearing high visibility tabards, without breaking any law nor interfering in any way, just to “be there” for the badgers in case any need any help, but I actually felt quite emotional by being in the actual countryside where such unwelcome violence is likely to be forced upon defenceless animals by some misguided politicians.
I felt a noticeable “tension” in the air literally “ruining” the peaceful harmony of the land. I felt very close to the badgers and the cattle all around me that would be victim of this cull if we cannot stop it in time. I felt the eyes and ears of the badgers underground perceiving that something ugly is afoot, but at the same time perhaps understanding that we were friends and not foes, people that would help them it we could, or at the very least will bear witness of what will happen to them.
I felt close to the badgers. I felt that besides signing petitions, writing letters and going to protests, I could do something else. Something legal, peaceful and safe, but yet not remote or distant.
Something for everyone who deeply cares.