REEL NEWS has spent the past six weeks periodically filming the opposition to the badger cull in Gloucestershire. It is not hard to see why it is becoming an expensive PR disaster for the Government. The science behind the murder of 5,300 of our most popular wild animals is bitterly contested, with a growing numbers of scientists and agricultural experts now arguing that it could well make the spread of Bovine TB (for which badgers are blamed) much worse.
Meanwhile, an increasingly popular campaign of civil disobedience and lawful disruption of the cull has been maintained and expanded. Hundreds of people have flooded into the cull zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire, many of them first time protestors, to save as many animals as possible. The Wounded Badger Patrols have ensured that their presence on public footpaths in the killing fields have kept the badgers away from the shooter’s crosshairs.
The creatures are notoriously shy and will stay out of sight when humans are in the area. As there is no law to prevent people from walking public footpaths at anytime of the day or night, there is nothing that supporters of the cull can do about it. Away from the footpaths, many local people have taken to adopting setts and guarding them overnight throughout the culling period.
The Hunt Saboteurs are unsurprisingly taking a more direct approach and have been covering vast areas of the cull zones with activists causing as much disruption as possible. Shooters are being chased out of fields and cage traps are being removed and destroyed in large numbers.
The work of all these groups has forced the government to massively reduce its targets for slaughter and extend the cull by 3 weeks in Somerset and a staggering 8 weeks in Gloucestershire. Many farmers and landowners who had previously signed up to the massacre have pulled out in the face of militant opposition and growing public disgust.
Many local people believe that the real reasons behind the slaughter is the thousands of votes that the Countryside Alliance can deliver for the Tories in marginal rural areas. The Hunting and Shooting set have long been in favour of the cull. Not least because of the threat that badgers pose to pheasants being reared in pens. REEL NEWS discovered during our visits that many of the setts being targeted were miles from any cattle but close to shoots. This supports the claim that this cull is really about protecting the profits of people who charge city gents up to £3,000 a day to blow overfed game birds from the sky.
The identity of those being commissioned by DEFRA and The NFU to do the killing remains shrouded in secrecy. We witnessed them being escorted into the cull zone by police, driving large pick up trucks and wearing balaclavas.
On one occasion activists discovered a clip of live ammunition left in a field. A lone shooter then appeared (they are supposed to work in pairs) and a badger was then seen bolting into the bushes nearby a few seconds later. Campaigners were left wondering if the animal had been trapped in a cage and was being kept in a bag for other purposes, only being released when they arrived unexpectedly.
One very serious concern for animal welfare campaigners is the approved practice of cage trapping. Aside from the sheer distress caused by confining the animal for hours on end prior to its execution, many activists and organisations worry that the practice is open to serious abuse. With very little monitoring of the cull, how can the government be sure that the shooters will collect the £10.00 on offer for a dead badger, when the criminal gangs who organise the utterly repulsive and illegal practice of badger baiting will pay up to £2,000 for a live one?
On another occasion REEL NEWS was present when a distress call was received from activists monitoring the cull. They had returned to their vehicle from a public footpath to find the master of the Ledbury Hunt and three of his minions lying in wait for them. The men gleefully pointed out that their car was not road worthy as both rear view mirrors had been broken off. The activists were then attacked and a man and a woman were assaulted.
The police were nearby and quickly arrived in large numbers. Demonstrating their trademark impartiality, their evidence gathering team proceeded to intrusively film the victims of the attack while ignoring their assailants whom the police were heard describing as cull “contractors.” REEL NEWS then filmed one of the men apparently on the phone to some kind of police liaison for the shooters. He was later arrested for an alleged assault on one of the activists. Around 15 police were standing around doing nothing and expressing no interest in searching the adjoining field for the missing mirrors, which would have surely contained the fingerprints of whoever damaged the car. Would such apathy have been employed if a hunt vehicle had been damaged in this way?
Numerous accusations of bias have been made against the police from a number of different forces whom have been drafted into the cull zones. Complaints range from misuse of the road traffic act and stop and search powers, to passing the details of activists onto the NFU, as well as the imposition of draconian bail conditions. The Ledbury Hunt Master told one local activist that she was breaking her recently lifted bail conditions by being in the area. As her name had not been reported in the media, how exactly did he know about her personal legal information if not from the police?
DEFRA and the NFU have gone to considerable lengths to claim that the shooters are “professional marksmen” operating within strict guidelines, though the selection process, and identity of the shooters remains classified. Members of the Ledbury Hunt are presently being prosecuted by the RSPCA for breaking the 2004 Hunting with Dogs act. The hunt has a violent reputation among animal welfare campaigners with the breaking of vehicle rear view mirrors being a long complained about tactic. Yet DEFRA seem happy to employ people who go out to illegally kill wild animals twice a week for fun as “contractors!”
Despite such hostility from cull supporters and the police the activists who are opposing the cull have continued to organise a highly effective presence. Months of research and planning have ensured a well organised and inclusive campaign of opposition executed with military precision. During our visits REEL NEWS encountered people from a wide range of backgrounds working together in an effective and democratic way.
The different strands of the anti cull movement are accommodating a broad range of people and facilitating their desire to take action. From experienced animals rights activists whom are prepared to risk arrest, to those whom insist on operating within the law.
It is also not just the badgers that have benefited from so many campaigners being in the zones. The Vale Wildlife Hospital has seen a massive increase in injured animals being admitted in a range of different circumstances. Many believe that as well as humiliating the Government, opposition to the badger cull will ultimately result in the raising of awareness and appreciation of the value of nature and wildlife in England and Wales.
In Gloucestershire the cull has been extended until December the 18th. This means that pregnant badgers will now be targeted. Money and volunteers are needed to ensure that the shooters continue to fail to meet their targets. Accommodation is available for people traveling from outside the area. Individuals or organisations wishing to donate or get involved can find out more from the local Wounded Badger Patrol and Hunt Sab groups.
Photos, words & video by Guy Smallman
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