Guilty party? – Meles meles, the common badger
Fieldsports Channel has been sent a disc and a statement. It says we should all be shooting badgers – and it shows a badger being shot.
It is postmarked Essex, well outside the test cull area planned for autumn 2012. It doesn’t mention cattle. It doesn’t mention bovine TB. It talks instead about the damage that badgers do to wildlife on the ground from hedgehogs, to harvest mice and ground nesting birds from oystercatchers to English partridge.
Badger shooting is still illegal except under licence or if you are destroying a sick or injured animal. However, this film shows the strength of feeling in the countryside about badgers which, protected by law, are wiping our countryside clean at night.
The over-population means the animals are turning up in surprising places. We find a badger sett on a road. It is lucky that this government calls it a badger problem. Some governments would call this a housing problem.
Whatever you think of people shooting badgers willy-nilly, as the badger cull arguments go back and forward, the debate is bogged down between farmers and badgerhuggers. This disc and its film widen the debate.
Watch the film
The farmers have a lot more to lose than the people behind the disc. Stars such as Brian May might say he deplores it, but some of his animal rights activist gang have threatened to burn down barns and superglue supermarket cashpoint machines in protest against the cull. They have already spraypainted an office of the National Farmers’ Union’s insurance arm, NFU Mutual, in Gloucestershire. They have threatened farmers and their families in the cull areas and say they will wait out at night on roads and around setts armed with walkie talkies in order to sabotage the cull.
Filmmaker Chris Chapman who has spent years recording the effect on farmers of government mishandling of first BSE, then Foot & Mouth and now Bovine TB has strong views about where responsibility for looking after badgers should lie.
“I have written to Brian,” says Chris. “I have written to him in the past. He is a very intelligent man, but he is missing the point. It has become too emotive and emotion tends to override common sense.
“Common sense tells us there is a big problem in the countryside. It isn’t like foot and mouth because the public can’t see it. This is a hidden disease. They understood foot and mouth of 2001, because when they sat down at night and watched the television they could see all these cattle on burning pyres. So that was brought into their living room night after night. This is a hidden disease. How do you show the public this disease. Very, very difficult, but it is there. You can’t deny that it is there.”
A typical badger sett in the West Country that extends to 100 yards – more a badger city
Chris lives on Dartmoor in Devon. Despite Fieldsports Channel’s good links with the farming community across the South-West, we could not find a single farmer in the cull area in Somerset prepared to go on camera. All of them tell me they do not want to become a target. Despite what Mr May would like you to believe, our furry friends do not die in their bed surrounded by their grand children.
“You can see the extended claws,” says badger specialist, Richard Gard, showing off the latest badger carcase he has found. “This animal has had a very difficult end to its life. It has been unable to dig properly, to forage for its food. This is fairly typical of the situation we see. The sett had been impregnated by rats, they have been feeding on the carcass. On the other side of this carcass is quite badly eaten and it is possible that this one was dragged out by a fox. It has been nibbled all over the place. This situation with the unhealthy badgers is really important to be aware of. They don’t have a simple existence from life right through to death.”
Farmers, shooters, country people – we’re all after a healthy population of badgers – but you don’t get that without management. Celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright wants healthy badgers because she likes eating them.
“When I was young, badger was still very much eaten in country districts, quite legally – it would solve the badger crisis wouldn’t it? – because pubs in the west country used to have a badger ham on the bar,” she says. “Like a jamon iberica – very good it was too. It had that rich depth of flavour about it. If you think what a badger eats it is very much on a par with a pig.
Badger-eater: Clarissa Dickson-Wright
So, what number of badgers to have? As shooters know, wildlife management is not an exact science. In the fieldsports community, we know there are a lot of foxes but we can’t say how many, we know there are not enough hedgehogs, and we are sure there are too many badgers.
Scientists discovered the link between badgers and bovine TB in the 1970s. The explosion in the badger population since then has meant an explosion in bovine TB. These maps show how fast it has spread.
This disc we were sent, Clarissa on cooking, and the destruction of the British cattle herd – it’s all about the same thing. It is about putting the management of wildlife in the countryside back into the hands of country people, and taking it away from the urban whingers, who don’t understand it.