Badgers have been hunted, baited, mistreated, exploited, and treated appallingly by humans for centuries. Dominic Dyer described the history of our contemptible interactions with this intelligent and family-oriented animal in his book (and in a podcast with us) ‘Badgered to Death‘. If we had the capacity as a ‘community’ to be ashamed, then we should all be ashamed of the suffering and cruelty we humans have inflicted on badgers.
Of course there is no single ‘community’. While most of would no more harm a badger than harm our own children, spend hours in the field desperately trying to protect badgers (often at great emotional cost – see Guest Post | Badger Cull Monitor: ‘I am exhausted’) there are individuals that simply enjoy tormenting wild animals, that see badgers as nothing more than ‘sport’, and others that simply see them as a ‘pest’.
It’s been going on for years of course. Badger baiting was once an organised ‘sport’ and has been around for centuries. Fox hunts have been blocking setts (to stop foxes escaping into them) since landowners began hunting. Gamekeepers have been routinely snaring and shooting badgers (to stop them taking poults or eggs) since shooting estates were set up. Farmers have routinely gassed whole badger families. But until recently much of the war waged on badgers took place out of sight. There was no need for it to be overt. Contrary to popular opinion corpses weren’t being dumped on roads to look like traffic collisions: why bother, a badger chucked under a hedge on a farm or a shooting estate would never be found anyway.
But that does seem to have changed now, and the tweet below from Derbyshire Rural Crime Team exemplifies that well. Three badgers (two males and a female), shot, left in the open, next to public footpaths. Whoever killed these animals is openly demonstrating an absolute contempt for both the badgers and (less importantly, but still relevant) the feelings of the people who might find them.
What has changed though? While studies and data might be lacking, many activists and campaigners have been saying for years that the rolling government sanction of the slaughter of badgers to prop up the dairy industry (140,991 deaths overall since 2013 and a situation which led to the Badger Trust saying in September 2020 that the government had moved from “badger control to badger annihilation”) was going to unleash a brutality and ignorance that had been kept somewhat in check by legislation. The so-called ‘cull’ (not a word we like to use for reasons we explain here) was predicted to greenlight a massacre in which participants felt justified to behave pretty much any way they wanted…
That might be extrapolating too much from one tweet, but Derbyshire – after supreme efforts to vaccinate its badgers against Bovine TB – only saw the ‘cull’ started there last year. And now this. Besides, there are numerous reports online of badgers being dumped just like these animals. Photographs of dead badgers piled up in plastic bags before incineration were published by the Badger Trust in October 2019 and in this October 2020 post via Derbyshire Against the Cull. The unrestrained hostility towards badgers spat out in some social media posts is shocking and truly frightening.
An individual’s decision-making led to this specific photograph above, but the boldness it portrays is the result of government prompting, years of ignoring data, the dogmatic belief of ministers that the requirements of industry must always trumps the survival of what’s left of our wildlife. If the government takes no notice of the legislation that protects badgers, why should individuals who were only constrained in any sense by the implications of being caught and convicted of committing a crime take any notice of it either?
How can we help stop this? We can protest, we can march, write, and email our MPs, but in reality there is no obvious way forward. We can butt heads with cheerleaders of government policy like the NFU and pro-cull vets, but while they might support this chaos in the countryside they don’t actually have the power to implement it or halt it. It is the government that are the enablers of savagery towards badgers on a national scale, and it seems to us that the solution – unfortunately – can only come from the government. And right now the government doesn’t seem to be changing track.
Proof of that comes from many sources. For example, Tim Birch of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust wrote a blog for Wildlife and Countryside Link’s ‘Stand Up for Badgers’ campaign last month:
If you were to have read several of the newspaper reports following the announcement by the Secretary of State, George Eustice, around the badger cull earlier this year, you may be forgiven for thinking that the future for badgers is bright and the end of culling is near.Tim Birch, Excerpt from We can’t let half the UK badger population be eradicated, March 2021
This sadly isn’t true.
The announcement included the launch of a Government consultation on a proposed exit strategy from intensive badger culling, which includes a transition to badger vaccination; the deployment of a cattle vaccine (in five years); and other cattle disease control measures.
It all sounds promising, until you focus on the dates.
The Government is proposing to stop issuing cull licences at the end of 2022. With each licence lasting four years, this means culling won’t end until 2026 and could lead to the death of another 130,000 badgers. The total number of badgers culled since the legal shooting began in 2013, is already around 140,000 badgers. The overall badger population in England and Wales is estimated at somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 (the most accurate figure puts the number at around 485,000 badgers). So, by the time the cull is finished over 50% of the badger population may well have been killed.
Voters have many concerns of course, and how badgers are treated may not be one of them. However, the so-called ‘cull’ is symptomatic of a much wider government-based attitude towards wildlife. It is the same attitude that has led to the wilful blindness of raptor persecution, the proliferation of shooting estates, the lie of so-called ‘trail hunting‘, the destruction of ancient woodlands for a railway, attempts to deploy banned pesticides, developers putting nets on hedges to stop birds nesting, and so on and so on.
Our government is actively putting in place a culture where wildlife is an inconvenience precisely at a time when more and more of us are realising just how vital our connection with nature is and we are becoming more and more aware of just how little of that Nature we have left.
Maybe the next time we come to put our cross in the little box, we should bear that in mind…if, of course, we can actually find a candidate from any party that share our concerns.