Kill target: 228 – 642
North Cotswold area kill target: 1844 – 2503
Huge changes were afoot this year, including the introduction of new zones nearby. A new area in Gloucestershire (referred to as the North Cots zone by our side and ‘Area 9’ by the pro-cullers, the original zone being ‘Area 1’) and a zone in Herefordshire (‘Area 10’) were brought into play alongside the original Glos cull zone which was now moving into its fourth year.
We put much more emphasis on building up new local groups (countrywide) to combat wider wildlife persecution – the cull will soon be too big to coordinate resistance to in the same way as we had been doing. Resistance needs to be more locally-led and focus less on the 6-week period of the cull and more on sustainable ‘everyday’ resistance to wildlife persecution on a larger scale.
More on that another time…
Before the cull…
As usual, there was a huge amount of preparation which needed to be done in the run up to the cull – sett surveying (including the North Cotswold area of the Glos cull) taking up the majority of time and energy, planning camp and getting the phoneline set up properly, new maps and so on… and, of course, trying to raise awareness at a number of events.
Two local hunt sabs spoke at a march in Cheltenham – a good location for a march considering that the ‘North Cotswold’ part of Gloucestershire would be coming into play for this year’s cull.
They spoke of plans for the future and what had already been achieved and were joined by other speakers from United Active Badger Army, The Badger Trust, GABS…
Having held a small demo outside the Royal Three Counties Show in Malvern, a couple of Three Counties Sabs went into the show to find out information about hunts, check out the stalls and, naturally, go to have a chat with the NFU. To their delight they spotted Matthew Price, of the South Herefordshire Hunt, but he swiftly moved himself to the beer tent to avoid conversation, leaving them with farmer David Barton and the South West Policy Manager of the NFU, Alex, for company.
In the run-up to the cull, questions started to be asked about the legality of the licence in Gloucestershire as the licence allowed for 4 years of culling but was supposed to begin a year before it actually did, in 2012.
Just a week before the cull kicked off in Gloucestershire, a sab from the Three Counties group, along with her friend, caught a group of badgers baiters digging into a sett which had been heavily targeted during the culls.
The hole dug into the sett was deep (approx. 5ft) but they hadn’t been able to get to any of the resident badgers yet and ran away upon discovery. Police response was fast, knowing that there were people with guns in the area breaking the law. Sniffer dogs were brought out and there were even reports of a helicopter going up in the area. Malcolm Stallard, who rents the land from ‘M L Whiting’ (or vice versa!) turned up, seemingly more angry at the fact that anti-cull people were on the land than the badger baiters themselves. When questioned by police he decided that the sabs must have been the ones who dug the hole… Check out our information on wider badger persecution for our views on activities like badger baiting and bTB.
During the cull…
As the cull began and we started to see how things would work this year, we noticed that the police were spending much less time in the zone and far fewer officers were about. Even when we called in incidents of aggression and violence.
Our police liaison and Outpaced worked well together and were able to figure out ways to try to combat this. More ‘administrative’ messages were sent out and published online this year! This made reporting incidents, and keeping track of them, much easier, as well as chasing them up.
An incident later on in the cull changed police behaviour in general (something which we got an apology for as the cull drew to a close as some behaviour from the police had been inappropriate, regardless of what had happened).
Even being given notices (again) that anti-cull people were going to be followed around by the police, regardless of whether there was any suspicion that they, as individuals, were up to no good or not, did not stop those out in the fields. After 4 years, various contractors and landowners seemed to have got fed up of slashing tyres and trying to intimidate people and were now ignoring us. Others were their usual angry selves…
In the North Cotswold area, we started to spot more and more terriermen and supporters from local hunts running around with guns or as spotters or drivers for cull contractors. Many contractors tried time and time again to get to the same setts… it was a new area and their energy and excitement was high. So were emotions and a couple of anti-cull people were attacked, unprovoked, one night, having their phone stolen. Just an hour or so later and someone who had turned up to check on them then had several eggs thrown at her, her passenger and her car.
Back in the original area of Glos the same faces were popping up as in previous years, such as the gamekeeper at Marsh Court in Eldersfield, driving around with a loaded rifle on his quadbike to take photos of anti-cull people checking on setts nearby…
Meanwhile, in other areas, new faces kept on popping up in the same places over and over and were becoming more well-known to us in those areas. The pre-baiter pictured here was filmed while he was out with his peanuts, kicking one of the terriers that was with him.
This was one of the busiest areas of the zone for quite some time, with sack-loads of peanuts being found and a huge amount of maize being harvested about halfway through the cull, meaning that fields would still be appealing to badgers (who like the corn) but shooting free-running badgers would be more likely than cage-trapping. In previous years setts in the vicinity have been blocked by the local Ledbury Hunt, and one sett had diesel poured down many of its entrances. Just a couple of days later, despite being monitored by locals, the remainder of the entrances were blocked and more diesel was found upon investigation.
The same man who was spotted kicking his terrier in September of this year, was caught in the same area just days later, this time with young child in tow. As people on the ground said it’s “such as shame that he wasted his time” going out to pre-bait the area.
The local farmer, at least, was in pretty decent spirits when he ran into people foraging… despite telling them that he wouldn’t be able to afford a holiday this year on what he’s earned killing badgers!
We knew that some shooters would be likely to cross cull boundaries and act as contractors in more than one of the zones in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. Rumours, however, were spread that this was not the case. An FOI request revealed that it was indeed the case that some shooters were licensed to kill in different areas. Luckily we had already been sharing info with a number of people in the neighbouring areas and were aware of many of these.
Documents were leaked to us part way through the cull which stated that there was to be a new zone down in Dorset (to the West of the current ‘West Dorset’ zone). We liaised with locals, started researching with them, then handed all of the information over to those that would be carrying on. The documents spoke of ‘lessons learned’ from other cull zones and, in brief, stated that:
1. Cage-trapping is recommended due to being discrete and effective
2. Landowners will now be doing their own sett surveys and will be given a ~2hr training session prior to doing so
3. Landowners will now be encouraged to do their own shooting / trapping, or to nominate someone else as a Contractor for them*
* this would mean that more then one landowner (possibly in different cull zones) could nominate the same Contractor
Reports started to come in to us from those in the field and from concerned locals with regards to unsafe locations used for pre-baiting. For example peanuts were found in one area where a shot would have to be taken towards a road. Our police liaisons were straight on the case and police officers contacted GlosCon to ensure that shooting at this spot was suspended temporarily. It also ensured that future reports were then taken more seriously and investigated.
Outpaced were equally fantastic when it came to asking questions about unsafe shooting. A GBO collective member was out and about near Newent one evening when they and their friend heard a loud shot. Running to the location they saw the infamous Mason Burgess driving quickly out of a field. A nearby, floodlit, football match was going on on the school pitch only a few hundred metres away. Burgess had also caused other issues this year as there were already at least two separate incidents of him accelerating / swerving towards anti-cull people in fields and on tracks. Police had advised us to be careful around him.
The following day, after monitoring a local hunt, the same GBO member scoured the field for evidence of the dead badger but did not find any (perhaps the shot was missed?) The bullet casing, however, was spotted amongst the cut stems of wheat. Upon further investigation it appears that the shot must have been taken towards a footpath and the football match… the bullet used was the equivalent of the ammunition used in AK47s, powerful, with the ability to legally travel a couple of miles.
Meanwhile others were tracking down the usual suspects, such as ‘M80 CJD’ who is well-known in the Glos zone for dangerous driving, trying to act as a decoy to draw people away from shooting areas and, on one occasion at least, following two older ladies in their vehicle, calling the police to say that they were harassing him, then as the police arrived, overtaking and swerving in front of them so it looked like they had been tailing him. When they thought that people might be trying to photograph their faces, they were quite willing to shine extremely bright torches in the faces of drivers, whilst moving on 40/50mph roads, ‘just in case’…
Autonomous groups had been working in a number of areas for almost all of the 4 years of the cull. You would have thought that local gamekeepers would know that the cull was on. Mid-way through the night, sleep-deprived cull-sabs jumped into action when they spotted a 4×4 driving into a field near to the setts they were checking on. They caught up with the vehicle, feeling much more awake and were told that the guy was just trying to find some privacy with a girl…
One of the most prolific shooters we know of drive a vehicle with a registration number ending with ‘PVC’, so we refer to him as such. He was caught on a few occasions in different parts of the cull zone (and over the ‘border’ into the North Cotswold cull area). Despite claiming to have found a tracking device on the vehicle and disabled it, cull-sabs were still finding him out and about.
As always it wasn’t just badger persecution that came to our attention during the cull. While surveying an area in the North Cotswold part of the Glos cull zone a sab from Three Counties Sabs found what turned out to be a ‘raptor trap’ by a pheasant pen. A woman was caught on camera a couple of days later coming to check on it. Police and RSPB were informed.
Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch also found a dead kestrel in a Larsen trap. The use of Larsen traps is usually legal in order to catch corvids and, in short, the way that they work is that a person will put a ‘decoy’ bird in – a magpie or some kind of crow – to lure other birds down. There may also be food, fake eggs (or golf balls) or carrion put into the trap to look like food. When the decoy bird calls other birds down, they fall through a trapdoor in the top of the trap and are caught. This bird may then be used as a decoy and the original decoy killed, or killed. The traps should be checked regularly and birds of prey, being protected species, should not be getting killed, or being left to die, if they get caught in the trap.
In 2015 an old Larsen trap was found with the skeletons of two birds inside it. It was no longer in use, but the trapdoor was still set so that any animal could have fallen in and become trapped without anyone knowing about it. The farm it was on claimed that one of the skeletons was a rabbit (… with a beak?) and that the bird had been shot humanely when no longer needed – the police did have a word with the farmer but it could not go further than this. Strange that there was no bullet damage to the bird’s skeleton… We’ve been keeping an eye on the area ever since, especially as they’re signed up to the cull. Regardless of views on ‘controlling’ numbers of a species, no animal should be trapped and then left to die.
Oh, look… it’s ‘PVC’ again…
The cull came to an end in the original Gloucestershire area and there was a week left of the cull in the North Cotswold area of the zone, so we headed over to help out there as that area is twice as large as the original zone. In future years, GBO will be coordinating resistance in both the original zone, the North Cots area and the remainder of Gloucestershire to the south – a huge project!
End-of-cull kill figure: 252
North Cotswold area: 1858
Despite the extent of the work we were doing and the extent of the persecution we were finding we kept our spirits up and, once again, kept the numbers of badgers killed low – including the kill figure from this year, they’ve only just surpassed the kill figure from the first year! The original (well, revised) figure for the contractors to reach in 2013 was 1650 (although it ‘should’ have been 1920) and, after 4 years (roughly 30 weeks in total) they’ve killed 1879 badgers.
It’s been an incredible 4 years in Gloucestershire with people forming strong bonds, with each other as well as to the wildlife and their habitats that we’ve been trying to protect. We’ve all learned a lot and will take those skills and experiences on to fight in the future. It may well carry on in this part of Gloucestershire and we’ll still be here to oppose it.
Walking up the hill
As night glorifies the beauty of an owl,
the hoots and creeks of soft wind glowing sweet
a few fireflies hover, panicking over the hearing of rifles
That soft wind of air stops still for a moment
– it falls heavy in the savage footprint of a shooter
A gulp from the chorus of animals peeking,
The shooter looks, listens, for any movement,
for anything it will blast, but the animals look, listen back,
they understand but see no sense
How does the shooter sing so cruel?
The firing of the bullets as heavy as prison pendants,
Killing badgers and any other creature that decides to break free
from the farce of legal and illegal practices
when in daytime they remember how the snare snatches their hare friend
and cages warn them to beware of the prison on the land they were once free to roam without worry
Sadly, the shooter has out-shone the fireflies
their once-looking beauty of constellation in mid air,
now beaten chaotic with bullets, firing
– death becomes the new glare
and the animals fall to black
waiting backstage in hiding places of bark and ground,
as they close their eyes on their unsung faces
and wait for the morning to follow
But they know this scene will be repeated, every night
We walk the hill and see the fireflies milling about peacefully,
we can see what’s coming – how the light turns corrupt
as the wind falls again to curse a candle which was burning in beauty
we sing this script and have rehearsed it well
The tracks of the shooter have been made too comfortable,
he has become sloppy in his trait,
his footprints forever made and marked in the ploughed soil
and we are ready, and willing, to be his marksmen,
to be skilled in shooting and hunting,
using his skills against him,
knowing everything about him and everything he plans,
where he chooses to sit, and bait, and when he gives up the wait
That’s what happens when humans think they own the land
They make it their property, and always leave traces
because he thinks nothing can hunt him
because he thinks he sets the bait.
But we set the tracks
We become his marksmen
We take the glow back
– – “M/S”
After the cull…
After the cull came to an end, many groups carried on their anti-hunt activities, raising awareness again of the huge numbers of setts tampered with outside of the culls. Additionally, ‘North Cotswolds Against the Cull’ pulled out of coordination roles at the same time as we began to survey and prepare for potential culling in south Gloucestershire, meaning that GBO really now covers the entire county! But we’re ready to deal with it
This is also a good chance to look back over the last 4 years and to learn lessons for the future as well as think of new tactics… helping to set up more local groups is definitely a priority as there is an unbelievable amount of wildlife crime going on across the UK and by just focusing on resisting the cull as a single-issue campaign would be unsustainable for many, alongside being pointless in many areas where badgers are being killed illegally outside of the cull periods. Especially if culling continues in areas for more than a 6-week period, the cull areas extend to much larger parts of the country, or if the Protection of Badgers Act is somehow repealed, it will be much harder to intensely focus on stopping the cull as we have been. The government is intent on rolling it out. Meanwhile snares and traps are being set, legally and illegally, badger baiting continues, sett-blocking by hunts and so on. Many activities affect more animals than just badgers, but many people do not realise that they can have a big effect on wider wildlife persecution, closer to home than the nearest cull zone, and without being young and fit and wealthy!
Early in 2017, the Kimblewick Hunt had to kill a number of its hounds due to them contracting bTB, thought to be from a carcass taken from a farm. Finally more people and the media started to pay attention to the fact that hunts could be a major spreader of disease in the countryside. We’d already been asking for years how licenses were being approved for culling in areas where the badgers are repeatedly disturbed, increasing the risk of perturbation and possibly being given bTB by hunts who have traipsed around farmland and then tampered with setts. We’ll have to see how this pans out…
Meanwhile we’ll also be keeping an eye on farms in the area, those we know to be in the cull as a priority, as well as those who are not signed up. Blackford Mill Farm (who are owned by the owners of the field in which the badger baiters were caught) are one such farm who keep cows in appalling conditions and yet like to blame wildlife for the spread of diseases. Again, for more information regarding wildlife persecution and bTB (our thoughts on the situation) see our information here.
Speaking of potentially spreading diseases and yet not wanting to curtail your own behaviour…
… it came as no surprise, given our experiences in the field over the years both with the cull and hunting, that setts which were being targeted by cull contractors were also found tampered with by foxhunts and landowners after the cull had ended. These same setts are being targeted year-upon-year by different groups of people, sometimes in order to disrupt or kill the resident badgers, other times because their setts get in the way of a good day’s hunting of foxes (setts can be very complex and include hundreds of metres of tunnels underground – if a fox goes to ground in one during a chase, it is a lot harder (but not impossible) to find them and dig them out).
Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs have written a number of articles on wildlife persecution, including one called ‘Hunts vs Badgers’ in which they talk about incidents of sett-blocking and dig-outs by local hunts in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire (and therefore within the three areas that the cull takes place in around here). They also have an article relating to Terrierwork.
At the end of the day, those in the field have ways of saying it best…
Not long after the end of the cull, we said goodbye to a wonderful woman who had lived a life many of us (even the adventurous and ambitious ones) can only dream of. Having worked as a midwife, a nurse, having met Ghandi then joined the NSPCC, worked past retirement age by lying about her birthday and joined others on a Sea Shepherd mission in her 80’s, she arrived in the Gloucestershire cull zone to do her bit and continue to inspire many. Joan will always be greatly missed and never forgotten!
Just over a month later, we said goodbye to close friend and badger-ally Tracey whose red van had become known in both the cull zone and various hunt countries over the years. We held a well-attended memorial for her in an area she protected during the culls…