Interview: Lynn Sawyer | On the ground in the Gloucestershire Badger Cull Zones

Lynn Sawyer has been an animal rights activist for decades, first as a hunt saboteur but more lately working full-time to tackle the badger cull. She was part of the group that set up the Gloucestershire Badger Office (GBO), a collective that provides logistical and practical information on the Gloucestershire badger cullzones. The Gloucester Badger Office is happy to advise/support nationally but do not coordinate nationally, preferring to pass individuals on to other groups. They aim to encourage local groups to grow autonomously and organically without a hierarchy.

Lynn has spent many evenings in the past out in the field defending badgers, but now is up and out early to help prevent foxhunts from cubhunting (see our post Cubbing | An autumn sickness for an explanation of this particularly sick form of illegal animal abuse).

An inspirational, deeply committed activist and organiser, we were grateful to speak with Lynn in early October 2020 to find out more about her work.

 


 

Lynn, the ‘officlal’ badger cull started in 2013, but you’d been preparing for it before that…

  • For me the badger cull started in the 1990s with the ‘Krebs trials’, two-week-long culls using trapping. [Krebs, the government adviser responsible for the scientific review in the 1990s concluded that culling was “not an effective policy” and would be a mistake]. We would check around known badger setts, remove cages and release badgers found in them. By 2012 two culls were due to start – one in Gloucestershire, one in Somerset. A small number of people had surveyed the area and found hair traps (barbed-wire strung over badger runs, used by cullers for population studies). It didn’t go ahead, so we prepared for 2013 instead.

 

You’d became fully organised by 2012, right?

  • Yes. My friend visited during preparation and took on an organisational role. Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs had been formed with others in 2012 and we all created Gloucestershire Badger Office as a resource for those on the ground. We had an overview of setts, cull activity and badger protector activity across the zone and provided back-up, information and received tip-offs we responded to.

 

And you’ve been tackling the cull ever since?

  • Yes, Culling was rolled out widely and we became more thinly spread, dealing with culls and hunting and recording / reporting blocked / damaged setts etc. After four years of culls in West Gloucestershire a supplementary licence was issued for another five, also allowing them to cull from June 1st – January 31st (so no longer limited to six weeks). Some other zones we cover have just become supplementary areas. We fight culling for 8 months a year and run 24/7!

 

Knowing where setts are located is the priority?

  • Yes, our first task is always to sett-survey and map setts so we can protect them. Monitoring areas are chosen and split up between the groups that can cover them. We map setts, latrines and runs so we can work out where cages and bait points may be put.

 

It’s not just the cullers that have been targeting badger setts?

  • Foxes can live in setts and many are blocked to stop them sheltering during hunts. Some setts are dug-out to kill a fox or badger, some bulldozed, gassed, targeted by badger baiters. None of this is considered when deciding kill figures for the cull.

 

 

You mentioned ‘bait points’. That’s where the now well-known use of peanuts comes in

  • That’s right. Badgers will instinctively avoid anything new in their environment, but cullers need to attract badgers to the cages. Peanuts are adored by badgers so they’re the preferred bait for leading them into cages or locations for shooting. Some bait points are incredibly deep, and badgers are shot whilst focused on feeding. We remove the bait and monitor / guard the sett.

 

When are the shooters active?

  • It varies. Shooters may arrive before dusk or during the night. We spend a lot of time looking for them because they can’t shoot if we’re close by, they’d risk losing their gun licence if they did.

 

Badgers can be trapped for several hours overnight (and, legally, up until midday). Being trapped in a cage for so long must be incredibly stressful for a wild animal. Do you think welfare considerations are taken into account by cullers?

  • No. Throughout the culls we’ve found traps set in torrential rain, gale-force winds, heatwaves, crop fields with packs of hounds hunting through the area…and, yes, badgers can be trapped for hours in those conditions. There are no welfare considerations at all.

 

There’s plenty still to do?

  • There’s plenty that still needs doing, yes. As long as the cull is taking place we’ll be out there!

 

And when the culls are finally shut down?

  • Even when the culls are over we’ve no doubt that the illegal persecution of badgers will continue, so we will keep building on our experience gained during the cull to continue protecting them. We’ll never stop…

 

Lynn, finally, do you have any thoughts on how someone reading this could help tackle the cull?

  • We encourage people to work locally and to bring wildlife protection into their everyday lives, checking setts whilst walking dogs, for example, or looking for traps while running or cycling. It is the only sustainable way to tackle persecution.
  • On a practical level, learn to map read and sett survey. Once you find setts you can monitor them for cull and hunt activity, badger baiters, threats from development, etc. Be careful not to put information like the location of setts out publicly though.
  • Report persecution to the Badger Trust: https://www.badgertrust.org.uk/report.
  • You can also contact local hunt sab or badger groups, help in existing zones, go out alone, create local autonomous groups. But do communicate with others to avoid duplication, and call our national line for advice and info: 07709 624903.
  • And, lastly, not everyone can go out into the field but we can all help enable others to protect wildlife – provide a campsite, dog-sit, fundraise, research, lobby, that sort of thing…any way that you can help will be appreciated.

 


 

The majority of people who are working to protect our wildlife are volunteers. Fuel and running costs etc are expensive. If you can please donate to Gloucestershire Badger Office and the Three Counties Hunt Sabs here paypal.com/paypalme/threecountiessabs

network23.org/3CHuntSabs – protecting wildlife in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire & Herefordshire & working in solidarity with campaigns across the UK

For more information on the cull in Gloucestershire please go to network23.org/GlosBadgerOffice – a page for logistical and practical information on the Gloucestershire badger cullzones.