Back on the ground protecting badgers

Back in the field, back on the ground.

Now that the badger cull pilots have resumed for their second year, I was itching to leave the office in London and go back out in the field to join the people who help protect badgers on the ground and to witness their dedicated work.

Last year I joined the Gloucestershire Wounded Badger Patrols for a couple of days, so this year was the turn of West Somerset, the second pilot cull area.

Last Saturday a colleague and I travelled to Williton car park which is the daily meeting point of the Somerset  Badger Patrol (the county’s equivalent of Gloucestershire’s ‘Wounded Badger Patrol’), not just to participate in one of their night patrols, but to make a short video to highlight their work and encourage others to join them, as I did last year.

I knew I would find well organised dedicated people from all walks of life, wearing high visibility tabards, carrying torches and maps, peacefully and law-abidingly patrolling the countryside at night through the roads and footpaths, just in case an injured, shot badger comes across their way.

I knew that what I would find was measured, polite, and conscientious people leaving the comfort of their homes to go out every evening in order to ensure badgers are not left ‘without friends’ in these difficult times. If they do not come across any badgers or incidents, at least they are present so the badger’s fate is not ignored, and neither is the people’s opposition to this irrational and unnecessarily cull.

These patrols will now happen every day for at least five weeks (unless the Government extends the culling period like they did last year), but of course each patroller does it when they can, as they are all volunteers and some come from long distances away to help.

We first met at the car park at 7 pm where the organisers began choosing the day’s routes based on the number of people that had turned up, all watched from the distance by the local police that are always informed about what is going on.

Then we all split into groups, drove to the designated spots in the cull area, put the high visibility jackets on, picked up the maps, video cameras and night vision equipment, turned the torches on, and started walking.

The whole evening was quite peaceful and relaxed, and because the weather was fine and there was a pretty moon in the sky, it made me realise how much we miss out on in London where we often cannot even see stars anymore.

However, despite the fact that it was quiet and without significant incidents, you could definitely feel the tension in the air. Every time a vehicle or a flashlight was seen, everyone stopped and assessed who it might be.

We came across five vehicles during that evening, one ‘friend’, one ‘foe’, and three police cars. We also came across a couple of hounds who seemed lost, and we helped return them to their owners.

They seemed very friendly and totally oblivious of what was going on, which for a moment made me envious of their ignorance. Perhaps they wanted to join us, I thought. They could definitely be good patrollers, with their powerful sense of smell.

Those like myself who have been working to stop hunting and enforcing the Hunting Act know that is never the fault of the hounds. We also know that is never the fault of cattle if they are infecting each other with Bovine TB, and perhaps also the wildlife around them. It is definitely not the fault of the badgers or any other wildlife if there is currently a ‘man-made’ epidemic ripping the countryside apart.

And yet, all these animals are paying the ultimate price, while people who decide their fate are comfortably sitting in their living rooms far removed from the real solutions that would make a difference in the real world. Solutions such as badger and cattle vaccination, better biosecurity, bTB annual testing and more control on cattle movements.

I am glad I did leave the comfort of my home that evening and went out to be close to the badgers. I hope more people will do the same, because both the Somerset Badger Patrols and the Gloucestershire Wounded Badger Patrols need help (not only going on patrols, but also helping from home or with donations for much-needed equipment).

I am glad I went back out in the field. I feel closer to the badgers now.

--JC

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