With less than 2 weeks remaining to comment on new badger culling license applications in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset we repeat some of a post we published last month regarding hunts and the cull zones. How can culling continue to be licensed when there are so many biosecurity breaches in current and future cull areas, when badgers are being disturbed and increased perturbation risked, when people, hunt hounds and vehicles are traipsing around the countryside from farm to farm, badger sett to farmyards, back to setts, through fields of animals and back to farms?
The interactive map commissioned by DEFRA and the Welsh Government shows areas where bTB has been found in cattle. Roger Warner’s beef farm in Tirley is a meet for the Ledbury Hunt… at the end of season meet two years ago a fox was marked to ground in a badger sett by the hounds – the sett was then blocked by terriermen and supporters. This was the last bit of the day before the hunt packed up at Townstreet Farm, supporters heading back there for drinks and a social.
The pictures shared here are of the map… we have only chosen a few examples of areas. We are not saying that the hunts are responsible for the spread of bTB to these areas, but are questioning how they are still being welcomed into these areas, especially when they are blocking setts and running foxes to ground in them on a regular basis.
This first picture is of the Gloucestershire cull zone and its surroundings. The Cotswold Vale Farmers’ Hunt, the Ledbury Hunt and the Ross Harriers all operate within large parts of it. Each of them has been caught marking foxes to ground in setts, digging them out or blocking them (the CVFH do not seem to block setts, but the terriermen were caught by a sab at a sett on Boxing Day).
The second picture shows an area in Hartpury where Hartpury College is marked with a blue dot, indicating an outbreak of bTB within the last few years. We have marked Tweenhills Farm and Stud on the map nearby which is owned by David Redvers, a Master of the Ledbury Hunt and is used as a meet for the hunt throughout the hunting season. Within this same area there are 5 separate badger setts which have been blocked time and time again. Within the Gloucestershire zone sett blocking has decreased somewhat over the last few years due to the higher number of people checking setts and the awareness raised in the area of these activities. However sett-blocking does still occur and a back-filled dig-out site has also been found in onoe area which we believe is from earlier this season. One of the 5 setts was almost destroyed earlier this season too and struggled to recover.
The third picture is of the Malvern Hills. Within the radius drawn on to the map around the blue bTB dot is a badger sett which was dug out by the hunt during cubbing this season and which has been repeatedly blocked by the hunt presumably over the years as well as this season – it will be monitored more regularly now that we know of its presence. The owner of the land also hosts hunt meets on his estate nearby. Just as worrying are the reports that we receive about Eastnor Castle and the behaviour of gamekeepers there… even the huntsman of the Ledbury Hunt (whose kennels are to the south of this part of the map) has told us that all of the badgers have been killed or moved on from around the Castle.
Picture number four shows an area near to Stow-on-the-Wold where we visited the Heythrop Hunt last month and where we found 9 blocked setts which had either been blocked the night before or on the morning of the hunt meet. This was the day we filmed a fox being chased with hounds just a few seconds behind him. The map shows 2 blue dots indicating bTB presence.
Lastly, a picture of the Cold Aston / Hazelton / Turkdean area which we have been in on numerous occasions. The Heythrop Hunt and the Cotswold both hunt in this area and on one occasion in December of this season both hunts blocked the same setts just a week apart from each other. On another occasion the Heythrop Hunt, the Cotswold Hunt and the Dummer Beagles all hunted this srea within the same week, within the same 5-day period. The Heythrop and Cotswold both blocked badger setts during that week.
These last 2 pictures show areas within the North Cotswolds part of the Gloucestershire cull zones.
Additionally, hounds are fed fallen stock and slaughterhouse by-products, none of which is tested for bTB and which is suspected to be the cause of the outbreak of bTB in the Kimblewick Hunt hounds in February. Hounds “empty” themselves where and when they want and no one really cleans it up. They also run directly over farmland and through herds of cattle and sheep, through fields spread with slurry and have even been rescued from slurry pits before running on. Horses and quads can turn fields into quagmires when there are wet conditions and potentially carry infection from one farm to another.
If you live in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset or Dorset or spend significant amounts of time in those areas, you can comment here