We’ve frequently posted articles and podcasts about the ever-increasing killing of badgers to protect the dairy industry (see – Badger Cull). What we haven’t been able to cover (as we don’t have direct experience) is the mental and physical toll that witnessing the suffering of a much loved native mammal has on monitors and saboteurs. We can now partially make up for that with this remarkably powerful and searingly honest Guest Post. The author, who we’ve known for many years, has asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons, and we of course respect that (as detailed under Anonymity on our ‘About‘ page).
Below the post are links to a small number of pro-wildlife/anti-cull monitoring organisations if readers would like to respond to this post with a donation so that the work can continue next year or by joining monitors in the field to help bring this slaughter of a protected species to an end.
And if you’d like to send a message to the author, a few kind words left in the Comments below the post would, we’re sure, be gratefully received.
Badger Cull Monitor: ‘I am exhausted’
I am exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. For two months of our lives each year (or more, for some), fellow compassionate souls and I try to save as many badger lives as possible, and each year we reach breaking point, pushing ourselves to the edges of our limits, retreating into a deep hibernation once it’s all over. This year, I broke before the end of the cull, and I spent two weeks in bed, unable to think, unable to work, barely able to get out of bed to go to the toilet let alone to make something to eat. It’s been over two months since then and emotionally, I am still struggling. The global pandemic situation doesn’t help, of course; we are weakened by living in constant fear and feeling separated from our communities and our support networks. And so it doesn’t take much to send me into a spiral of depression, to take away each glimmer of motivation I had began to feel, to drop a grey cloud over the happiness that had begun to bloom. There are many, many moments that steal away my joy, deplete my emotional energy, leave me gasping for air and pleading for a world without cruelty.
Today, it was the revelation that someone I know, someone who is known within the conservation scene locally and who runs local wildlife projects, owns one of the farms I visited during the cull, one of the farms that had agreed to lay out cages for badgers to be trapped in and shot. Badgers can be trapped in cages for hours at a time, with no shelter, no water, no food other than the peanut bait that they snacked on day after day, until one day this tasty treat was not free and they paid for it with their life. Those out in the field trying to save lives have found badgers trapped in cages in six inches of water. They’ve found them in cages with the previous occupants’ blood still smeared across the bars. They’ve found them trapped in below-freezing conditions, and for as long as nineteen hours in hot weather without shade.
Free shooting is not any better. To kill a badger with one shot depends on the skill of the shooter and the weather conditions. A minimum of 5% of all badgers shot via free shooting take longer than five minutes to die. There are many more shots fired than badgers killed, which implies first that the first shot often doesn’t kill a badger, and secondly that some badgers are shot so close to their setts that they manage to escape down them if they are shot without being immediately killed. And so, many badgers die through blood loss, through suffocation as blood fills their lungs. Those that manage to drag themselves to die in their setts never have their bodies recovered and so their death is not added to the cull tally, and thus their death is utterly pointless, a huge waste of a life.
And this person, this person that I know, who runs wildlife projects, who local wildlife lovers look up to, has agreed to let this utter cruelty happen on their land. It beggars belief. How can there be so little compassion from someone who claims to support wildlife? I’m sure I need not emphasise to the reader what little sense this makes.
Some days what breaks me is the videos I see on social media of badgers that people have caught on camera. Innocent, playful, social souls who groom each other, chase each other around the entrances to the sett, wiggle their bums and pounce on each other. Family and friends who curl up together underground when day breaks, cosy and warm, content. It’s the knowledge that tens of thousands of these innocent souls – now well over one hundred thousand badgers – have been cruelly and brutally murdered to satisfy some strange bloodlust for the animal which is currently the UK’s top predator, seeing as humans have made all previous top predators – bears, wolves, lynx – extinct. Because this cull serves no purpose. It is a pretence that badgers are culled because they carry bovine tuberculosis. It has been proven time and time again that culling badgers does nothing to prevent the spread of bTB. In fact, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial demonstrated that culling can ONLY be effective if very strict criteria are met; and needless to say, these are rarely if ever met by actual culling activities. When these criteria are not met, the perturbation effect – the movement of surviving badgers to other areas – increases the proportion of badgers and cattle with bTB.
Just to put it into perspective, if badgers were completely eradicated from the UK, the incidence of bTB in cattle, which is currently at 0.5%, would decrease to 0.4%. Yes, you have read that right. The total eradication of our beautiful stripey friends would mean a 0.1% decrease in the incidence of bTB in cattle. That’s what our wildlife is being brutally murdered for, apparently. And yet, implementing stricter cattle control measures and improving biosecurity on cattle farms would completely reverse the increasing trend of bTB. Bovine tuberculosis is NOT a badger disease; it is a cattle disease, and tackling it in cattle is the ONLY way that this disease is going to be controlled. Furthermore; bTB is only an issue because people continue to believe that it isn’t in any way weird to drink the milk of a different species, that is isn’t in any way wrong to make a cow pregnant and then prevent her baby from drinking her milk so that instead humans can drink this milk, that it isn’t in any way cruel to continue to kill innocent animals so that we can eat their flesh and consume their secretions, whilst there are over 20,000 edible plants in the world and humans thrive on a plant-based diet.
Murdering badgers to try to eradicate a bovine disease from animals whose flesh and milk need not be consumed is senseless, stupid, pointless. And yet, it continues. Innocent creatures continue to have their lives stolen from them. Humans continue to exert their bloodthirsty dominance over all of nature.
Other days, what destroys me is the setts I discover when I’m out and about walking and enjoying the countryside. It’s the beautiful, gorgeous, ancient setts which I know will soon enough be left barren by the cull. It’s the setts which were once active, that I have known for years, that I have visited and at which I have found pawprints and hairs and freshly dug holes; that are now dead, all inhabitants shot in cold blood. It’s the setts that have been blocked by the hunt, spade marks all around the entrances, knowing that innocent animals have been trapped underground to suffocate to death.
It’s the pyjamas I have that have a badger face on them and the words ‘cold days make for cosy nights’ that make me think of families of badgers torn apart, missing some of their loved ones as they curl up together, that little bit colder for the loss of half of their family that year, the cubs wondering where their mama disappeared to and why she never came back.
It’s the badger pawprint I see in the mud along the river near the town centre that makes me grateful – actually GRATEFUL – for the smudges on the earth that are our towns and cities because badgers aren’t culled here and so here, within an industrialised landscape, deep amongst brick and mortar and fumes and vomit and litter and sewage, HERE they are safe; but in the woods and the copses and the hedges and the meadows and the hills, they are not.
It has taken me at least fifteen months to write this article. For a year, it was all I could do to have on my to-do list ‘write article on badger cull’. Every time I looked at it, it made me feel sick. I wondered how I could begin to write this. Should I keep the article purely factual, free of personal experience, remove myself from the equation? But, how could I, when the cull is such a huge part of my life and has such a huge emotional and mental impact on me?
When I’m out in the field, I can do something. I can save lives. I can concentrate on the task at hand, I can engage myself with map-reading, and strategising, and hiding in hedgerows when a quad bike sounds in the distance, and crawling through ditches when voices can be heard just the other side of a hedge, and begging that the cows don’t start following me and give me away, and watching that tractor disappear into the next field as I hide in a wood ready to run across the field to a different wood. I can feel supported by like-minded people, I can feel strong alongside those who are also giving their time and their energy and potentially their freedom to save innocent lives. I can feel happy in the knowledge that there ARE good souls in the world.
But when I’m at home. When I’m sitting there, looking at that ‘write article on badger cull’ on my to-do list. When I stare at those words and instead of feeling able to begin typing I am immobilised by the blood I can see in my mind, the blood that clings to cages and to the mud beneath the cages. When I don’t know how to start and so instead my mind displays those videos of badgers playing and grooming together and I see a target on their heads and their hearts. When I think of the sheer numbers of innocents that have had their lives taken away from them for no good reason whatsoever, and I start to shake, and it’s all I can do to try to stop myself from crying because I can’t save them all, I can’t stop their pain, I can’t ease their confusion as they fight this metal box that encases them or see their family drop dead in front of them, I can’t comfort them and I can’t tell them that I am sorry, I am so, so sorry for the way my species is treating them, for the way my species, an apparently intelligent and compassionate species, is slaughtering them and slicing off their ears and stuffing them into plastic bags and throwing them into plastic buckets and tossing them into an incinerator.
When I write this, as I write this, I can only take solace in knowing that lives can be saved by those who read this. You, the reader, can take direct action. You can join local badger protectors, you can get out there and find gorgeous active badger setts that need protecting, you can go out in the field during the cull and you can stop lives from being taken, you can save badgers from being shot. You, an individual, can save lives every day of the cull.
In 2020, those of us out in the field in my county saved approximately six hundred lives. And yet, if I had spent almost two months out in the field, if I had suffered the emotional pain that I have suffered, if I had given myself the PTSD that I have given myself and if I had been absolutely broken and ill for those two weeks post-cull all for just ONE life; it would still be absolutely worth it. I would do it again, and I will; because there is no end in sight. The cull will continue next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. The government tells us that after that, they will halt culling and swap to vaccinating. But we all know how full of lies the government is. Who knows if that will happen. Will culling end before our stripey friends are completely eradicated from the country?
I can’t tell you the answer to that, and it breaks my heart into a thousand pieces to think that we may soon see a country barren of badgers. In fact, we are already seeing areas of counties where culling has been going on for a long long time, now completely devoid of badgers. In the absence of badgers, fox populations increase, and in response to this ‘pest’ control is called out to slaughter foxes. Every species that humans remove upsets the natural balance further, and yet there are always more calls for more and more killing as the answer to all the problems of the countryside, blind to the fact that humans cause every single one of these problems.
If you, the reader, would like to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, if you would like to be responsible for saving lives rather than contributing to taking them, please please get in touch with your local ‘against the cull’ group and find out what help is needed where you live. There are now 54 cull zones and though more innocent badgers are slaughtered every year, more badger protectors also join the resistance each year and every single person is invaluable to the cause.
You have the potential within you to save a life. Our stripey friends desperately need you. This article may have reached its end, but our fight – and now your fight, too – has not.
If you would like to offer support or find more information:
- For more information please go to Innocent Badger
- To find a local badger group please go to Badger Action Network