Our response to the news that badger culling will be ‘phased out’ (March 2020)

On 5th March 2020 the news reported that the government would be ‘phasing out’ badger culling in favour of vaccines and other (mainly cattle-based) measures. This news, while obviously welcomed by anti-cull campaigners, was not quite as it sounded at first and caused some confusion as to what would actually be happening, with some people believing that culling had ceased entirely.

We have written the following brief article in collaboration with the rest of the team at Gloucestershire Badger Office.

What is the government’s plan?

The government have stated that they will begin to ‘phase out’ badger culling over the next few years with a view to gradually increasing vaccination and putting other restrictions on cattle movements and so on. The ‘phasing out’ in different areas would take place after the 4-year initial cull periods finish in those zones. The government will ‘reserve the right’ to cull badgers in certain areas where there is evidence that badgers are responsible for the spread of bTB (but we all know how little evidence has been needed thus far for them to have gone ahead with the mass killing of over 100,000 badgers already…).

“It will be one less thing for badgers to have to deal with”. What are our thoughts on the matter?

In relation to lawful, government-led badger culling we’re still expecting the killing of badgers to carry on for the next few years – as of early March 2020 it is not yet clear whether new cull zones will be started this year or not, though ‘expressions of interest’ have been received from areas not yet actively culling badgers. It is obviously very welcome news that the government have decided to focus much more on cattle-based measures as opposed to blindly blaming wildlife, but this does not mean that there is not work to be done yet.

Additionally, as one of our team stated on BBC Hereford and Worcester after the press released the news, badgers are not only targeted and killed by lawful means – over the years we have dealt with badger baiting, illegal interference with badger setts (blocking and digging-out by foxhunts, blocking by landowners, the setting of fires on top of entrances, diesel and other substances poured into sett entrances, digging into setts by badger diggers, etc.) and snares being set upon active badger runs. Whether or not the cull goes ahead in future, and to what extent it continues, badgers will not necessarily be safe.

Business-as-usual.

This is not intended to be a ‘doom and gloom’ post however… it is more a ‘what we’ve been saying for a while now’ confirmation. We have been encouraging people over the years (and particularly when the culls rolled out to a much larger extent across the country) to try to incorporate local anti-wildlife-crime activities into their everyday lives as far as possible.

In the first few years of the cull it made sense to throw all of our energy, time and resources into the few existing cull zones where there was a huge amount of noticeable activity going on, shooters being brought in from other areas and a lot of movement on the roads and in the fields. As more cull zones were brought into play across a wider area of the country and more local landowners became their own ‘cull operatives’ we had to act on intel’ received about where and when cull activity might take place and through finding bait points, etc. on our daily checks of badger setts (which happens in the cull zones regularly due to sett-blocking by fox hunts and others, regardless of the status of the cull).

It became very clear that the cull would spread further and activity would become less noticeable (non-local shooters acting as operatives for numerous farmers trying to hit a high kill target in 6 weeks are more noticeable than a few farmers heading out of the house for a couple of hours before Coronation Street starts whenever they feel like it because there’s a smaller kill target to reach between June and January…). Therefore it made sense to act on a local level to a large extent, as opposed to traveling for miles and taking days off work to head into and camp out in a new area. It made sense to start to check your local setts for cages / bait points / illegal interference whilst, for example, walking your dogs or going for your morning jog or a walk at the weekend. Whilst doing so you can also look out for other wildlife crime (because the threats to badgers from various sources are not the only things going on in the countryside unfortunately and we must have a wider focus than just fighting the badger cull itself if we are to have an impact on it).

For more information on what you can do and advice on badger- and other wildlife-related crimes you can send us a private message or, especially in an emergency, call us on 07709 624903 (Gloucestershire Badger Office tip-off / advice / info hotline).

11th March ’20 – Heythrop / North Cotswold / Thurlow Hunts JOINT MEET

* 3 hunt joint meet marks sabs’ 102nd meet of the season
* terriermen apprehended with terrier at artificial earth
* hunt members stand on badger sett to prevent fox escaping into it

We thought it was likely that the Heythrop Hunt would be holding their final (local) meet of the season today and so we headed out along with some independent monitors to attend the meet. It soon became obvious that the meet was also attended by North Cotswold Hunt staff and supporters and we noticed that the pack was being hunted by Nigel Peel (ex-huntsman of the North Cotswold Hunt and current huntsman of the Thurlow). It is believed that Peel is now retiring from hunt service which may be why such a big deal was being made today… and why other Thurlow members were also present!

With independent monitors driving around the area, one of our sabs got inland at Eyford Park (hunt supporters actually calling her to try to find out where she was…). The hunt headed over from there towards Upper Swell and hounds drew blank in a disused quarry before picking up elsewhere and hunting towards the A424, hounds running across a road and scaring a couple of donkeys in the garden of a large house whilst hunt members nearby stood on a badger sett (which is done to prevent foxes from going to ground).

Sab rated the hounds back, hunt supporters inadvertently helping by yelling at her in the same tone of voice you use to rate the pack… Whilst filming from a nearby covert another sab (who had been staking out the area*) heard quads arrive to her location and 5 men with spades on quads and a terrier in hand headed for an artificial earth – sab made her presence known and the men did a runner. We recognise some from a previous incident with a terrier and a badger sett with the Heythrop and we will be asking if anyone recognises the others in due course.

*as we get stalked at these hunts once spotted, we get inland early to strategic positions

The hunt ran towards Longborough before turning back and going to the covert with the artificial earth – sab went back inland in an attempt to move the hunt on and was manhandled out by several hunt members – hunt moved through the land quickly and headed elsewhere. Job done.

A taxi was forced to reverse on to a busy B-road by huge numbers of hunt supporters just down the road while a police officer took hunt members’ details for future reference re assault and illegal hunting. One supporter, paying more attention to yelling at a sab than the road itself, decided that it was the fault of the sab that the road was in chaos rather than the huge number of vehicles driving about after the hunt. Meanwhile several non-road-legal quadbikes drove about the area, many overloaded with extra passengers (including one of our hunt stalkers, Lizzie).

Over to the B4077 at rush hour and stalker Archie danced by the road playing music (loudly) and singing (badly) to prevent any foxes running towards sabs then lost his sh*t and started screeching at a sab when she rated hounds and got ready to stop them coming on to the B-road if necessary. A local slowed to ask which pack it was hunting and Lizzie (Heythrop Hunt member) told the guy that it was the North Cotswold! The hunt packed up soon after, in the dark, near to Swell.

Huge thank you to the locals who worked hard today, those driving round noticed and those quietly checking setts in the area. If you like what we do, support us by liking and sharing our page and posts and, if you can afford to, send us a couple of quid via PayPal.me/threecountiessabs

This was the last (local) meet of the season for our regular packs but we shall be supporting other local groups (such as the awesome Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch) for the next couple of weeks at other hunt meets and may be travelling to meets out of the area if our regular packs have away days elsewhere…

7th March ’20 – NCH

The North Cotswold Hunt killed today…

Despite having around 8 stalkers (some of whom were masked up) following our sab driver, playing loud music and jumping in the way of her filming, she was still able to film hunt staff, hounds and terriermen at the site of the kill and also evidenced hounds on the line of another fox later in the day who went to ground in a badger sett.

It is only due to hard work put in by our group against badger sett blocking that far fewer setts are blocked by our hunts these days and why foxes like that one are able to escape into them. We always check on the setts after, sometimes putting up trail cams and checking on them again the following day to ensure no dig out has taken place – we have just checked and the sett is untampered with and looking fantastic. Locals are keeping an eye on it and others nearby.

6th March ’20 – Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt

“Paul said there were a lot of foxes today”

* 100th meet attended this season
* sab stops hounds going on to railway where hounds were killed a few weeks ago
* hunt supporter breathes heavily in sab’s face and jokes she has coronavirus
* hounds trespass in gardens
* hunt pack up after dark

Another long old day with members of the amazing Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch (thanks for the invite down!) at the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt. We turned up after work, just as one of CIHW had almost been headbutted by a hunt supporter (who was bundled off into a car and disappeared for the remainder of the day).

We got inland and soon had company from some unfit landowners obsessed with Barbados (though trying to figure out if they were inviting us on holiday with them or telling us all the foxes had gone on holiday there was difficult) and thus began a day of landowners lying about where footpaths run… guys, if we’re going to get shouted at for trespass when we’re on footpaths and bridleways then there’s really no point in sticking to them if actual trespass would get us into better positions.

A member of CIHW stopped the pack from chasing a fox across a railway line where hounds were killed just a few weeks ago and the hunt staff caught up with the pack and re-cast them, picking up on another scent when hunt supporters used a whistle* to alert huntsman of a fox sighting.

*traditionally holloas (high pitched yells) are used to indicate fox sightings but whistles can be used in their place

A long ride between Luckington and Alderton, south across the railway then back to Alderton followed, then a long hack over to Badminton before a fox was chased from Badminton Park back towards Luckington. The pack were hunted around Alderton again before coming back to Badminton. A couple of foxes made their escape from the hounds in these areas and some landowners in Alderton weren’t best pleased with hounds in their gardens… car drivers weren’t best pleased with horses being ridden straight out on to roads either without warning. Some hunt riders weren’t best pleased with other supporters talking about foxes and not realising sabs were nearby filling.

A number of areas had hunt supporters attempting to stop sabs from getting near to the hunt, this artificial earth was found blocked in a wood and several holloas were heard indicating the sighting of other foxes. Screeching banshee Hayley (who works in Badminton Estate) not only thinks that it’s acceptable to stand in the way of sab vehicles trying to safely get out of the way of horse boxes but also screech at the driver when they’re trying to execute difficult manoeuvres at a 45 degree angle on a verge. And apparently thinks the coronavirus is a funny thing to joke about.

You’d have thought that such a prestigious hunt might have more class…

We’re only just getting home as we write, the hunt having still been hunting in the dark and packing up finally at 6.30pm. After a day spent alongside hunt riders who, rather pathetically, can’t even admit that they’re fox hunting (the rest of us are proud of our hobbies and sports but they have to pretend to themselves and others that they’re doing something different) several cups of tea are in order…

22nd February ’20 – NCH

It was one of those mornings where many things happen and it is difficult to just focus on one thing. From dropping off merchandise and campaign materials to Those Vegan Pizza Guys who raised funds and awareness for us at a vegan fair in Cheltenham to heading to a meet which was then cancelled due to waterlogged ground, going to help our mates in Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch who were out at the Cotswold Hunt but getting sidetracked by a couple of injured animals in need of rescue, including this beautiful pheasant who had been clipped by a car and was sitting by the side of the road with vehicles speeding by within inches of his face (thanks to those who stopped when they saw our sab going to pick him up) and then getting a tip-off that the NCH had been spotted out and about…

We headed to where the hunt had been seen, watching an overloaded horsebox (passengers sitting on each others’ laps) heading down an A-road and found angry homeowners wanting to speak to the hunt about terrified family dogs in their gardens (hounds… and horses… had been in and out of people’s properties). As sab ran inland hounds picked up on a fresh scent and hunt staff seemed pleased for the excuse to ride off without apologising to anyone.

Stalker Malcolm barely caught up with sab before she got away and found the hunt chasing a fox through a root field – a couple of holloas lifted hounds’ heads and alerted the hunt of her presence and they pulled back the lead hounds off the fox, giving them valuable seconds to get further away. They then tried to pick up on their scent again. We were followed, on foot and in car, as we watched the hunt draw blank in Sedgecombe Wood then pack up at Hangman’s Hall… nearby badger setts were checked before dark and our other stalkers gave up following us just before we got to a supermarket in Evesham. Nothing better to do?

14th February ’20 – Ledbury Hunt

A somewhat muddy day today, several badger setts checked (3 blocked, 4 not blocked… but these have all been tampered with in the past and it’s due to our work that they tend to be left alone now!) and a few foxes seen to safety.

We caught up with the hunt as a huge(!) dog fox ran from the pack. Believing he was likely to be part of a brace (a couple) one sab covered his line with citronella while the other headed towards the pack and sure enough another fox crossed the road further up – a supporter told Mark the huntsman where the fox had run and he encouraged the pack on – sab rated them (told them off) as best she could right next to the huntsman who was encouraging them on (so hounds are less likely to pay attention to anyone else) then sabs got round to where the hunt were drawing right next to a busy road.

Inland soon after and then up towards Hillend where another brace ran and the fox pictured was able to jink around and confuse the hounds for some time by going in different directions and circling round, holding them up… then foot sab was able to rate the pack and hold them up again before hunt staff arrived and moved them off – they picked up on another scent nearby which we believe was lost at Hillend itself.

On soon to Queenshill and then Longdon while another sab in the area checked badger setts nearby which had been freshly blocked and the hunt drew blank through several root fields. With limited land available to them due to yet more flooding they packed up earlier than we expected.

8th February ’20 – Worcestershire Hunt

* hunt annoy local landowners, trespassing in a garden and not informing anyone that they’d be nearby *

* hunt staff spend most of the day trying to find loose hounds *

* huntsman asks sab if “there is a way out of here” while in an area they’ve apparently laid a trail *

The hunt met in Inkberrow and as soon as we got the tip-off we headed over to the area and caught up with the pack not far from Stock Green. A fox made his escape from the pack through a wildlife reserve whilst the field (mounted riders) trampled up and down a driveway and various hounds ended up on someone’s lawn…

The pack went off after another scent, slowed down by a sab rating them (telling them off) and a supporter jeered at sabs that they were ‘miles behind’ – gut feeling paid off and the pack were soon back in the same area, sabs being able to spray foxes’ lines and rate the pack. Hounds were gathered once hunt staff caught up and they moved on.

A landowner with alpacas informed hunt riders on the road nearby that his alpacas were a bit nervous around dogs after one had been attacked (he hadn’t been given prior notice of the meet) and asked them to be respectful of that – hunt rider said they would be but made no attempt to contact hunt staff to let them know. A large fox escaped through his field, loose hounds straying all over nearby fields and another hunt rider was able to inform the huntsman by phone of the foxes’ location… priorities. A sab headed inland and was able to rate the pack when they picked up the scent… huntsman arrived a few minutes later and asked the sab if there was a way out of the area (just at the bottom of the alpaca guy’s garden). He was pointed in the direction of the road and told of the location of a few hounds close to the road… they moved on.

Half of the pack picked up on another scent in a field nearby, a sab on a footpath told off for trespassing, hounds struggling through a thick hedge on to a road on a scent (clearly not a false trail) and then lost the scent. Hunt staff arrived some time later and moved the pack on (minus several stray hounds who were vaguely gathered by a single rider and who then ran in front of cars and all over the roads).

We checked a local artificial earth (inhabited by badgers) and put up a camera in case of later hunt tampering, picked up the pack (minus several more stray hounds) near the church and followed them on foot back to Little Hollowfields Farm where they had an early pack up (after waiting for a guy in a white van to drop off 4 or 5 hounds he’d picked up for them – we suggest just keeping the pack together in future or not going out if you can’t control them).

Not a bad day, we stayed with the pack through most of it and saw a couple of foxes to safety.

7th February ’20 – Ledbury Hunt

* hunt trespass at Ashleworth nature reserve *
* blocked sett found near hunt meet *
* brace of foxes seen to safety by sabs *
* several foxes seen running from the pack *

We received a tip-off this morning to say that the hunt had met at Hill Farm in Hasfield so we headed over, checking on a badger sett en route which is always freshly blocked on days when the hunt meet nearby (and not on other days… hmm…). The sett was blocked, so we unblocked some entrances and reported it to the police and Badger Trust.

We could hear hounds in the distance and caught up with them after a local non-hunt (but clearly pro-hunt) rider rode down the middle of a one-lane road in front of us. Many people are not patient road users (we know… we’re cyclists) especially when someone is deliberately causing issues and he needs to spend less time on his phone and more time paying attention to his horses’ body language – since we posted this report his friends have kindly identified him for us and we have realised that he is a young lad with clear issues, someone we blocked a few months ago from our page because he was leaving attention-seeking comments, referring to our sabs as “babe” and clearly wanting us to give him attention that we were uncomfortable with, then lying about things we had said to him despite our comments also being public. For this reason we have taken down his photo and the video of his actions will be going to the police alongside other footage from the day.

At Tweenhills Stud (hunt master David Redvers’ place) a brace (two foxes) ran from the hounds, one escaping through a local farmyard and the other being chased around Catsbury Hill, towards Limbury Hill but then the pack turned north… hounds checked at a bonfire, the smoke interfering with the scent and the hounds were all over the place with no hunt staff present to keep control (even hunt followers were commenting on their absence). Once hunt staff caught up they spent a long time casting the hounds but were unable to pick up the line again. Some blatant attempts at illegal hunting ensued before the hunt moved off, angering a local landowner who was fed up of the hunt turning up on his driveway with no prior notice every week… and then on to the Speedway track where another brace ran from the hunt, escaping the pack when hounds were rated back from their lines by our sabs and huntsman took the pack on in a different direction soon afterwards.

Towards Corse Grove and Corse Hill and then inland, another brace ran with one making his way towards a sett checked on by a sab and the other being chased for some time, into Ashleworth (including through a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at dusk) and we believe the fox went to ground nearby. The hunt packed up at 17.30 in the dark.