‘Best practice’ for badger cull announced

Posted on the 20th June 2013

Defra and Natural England – the coalition government’s delivery agency for the badger cull – have issued an impossible dream sheet for the guidance of marksmen licensed to kill badgers in the ill-conceived bovine TB culling scheme.

In 21 pages of unachievable ambition, the Best Practice Guidance for the ‘controlled shooting of badgers in the field’ attempts to appease an angry public and makes it very clear that Defra accepts no responsibility for malpractice outside of this code.

The Best Practice Guidance covers everything from the type of weapons permitted to the ranges at which a shot should be attempted. It bends the rules about the Protection of Badgers Act and the use of dogs and vehicles at night in hunting.

It requires a marksman to aim only at a stationary broadside view of a badger, when the animal’s foreleg elbow is forward. (If the leg is back, it obscures the vital organs being aimed at.) Head shots and neck shots are prohibited. Although lights may be used to illuminate and transfix badgers in the dark, ‘eye-shine shots’ – those where the marksman sees eyes but not the rest of the animal – are not permitted. Nor is any killing within 30 metres of a sett. The Guidance insists that no marksman should feel rushed into making a hurried shot.

Culling is not permitted to eradicate a local badger population but must kill ‘at least’ 70 per cent of it. It is not at all clear how this can be judged or achieved.

It is impossible for marksmen to adhere to the Guidance, and yet non-adherence might result in imprisonment for six months.

There is a ridiculous anomaly in this new Defra code. It insists that marksmen are trained, competent and qualified to ensure ‘humaneness’. Yet Defra allows the ‘sport’ shooting of game birds, deer and boar without any training or qualification at all. The difference is that the public is resolutely opposed to the unnecessary badger cull but the government does not sense that the public is aware of, or is as resolutely opposed to, the cruelty of ‘sport’ shooting.

Strict adherence with this code of ‘Best Practice’ and the culling of 70 per cent of badgers in selected areas are mutually exclusive ambitions. Defra should get real and admit that culling badgers is an ill-developed strategy that will culminate in tragedy and disaster.

In Brief

The government’s Best Practice Guidance for shooting badgers says:

  • Operators must never feel rushed into taking a shot
  • Marksmen must have a Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1 qualification
  • Anyone shooting badgers must demonstrate ‘an appropriate level of marksmanship, through appropriate training and must have received Defra approved training’
  • The local badger population must be reduced in the first year by at least 70 per cent during a six-week period
  • There should be no shooting in high vegetation
  • There should be no shooting within 30m of a badger sett
  • The shooter must be close to the badger
  • The badger must be broadside
  • Marksmen must not take the shot if the animal’s foreleg is in the backward position, as this obstructs the heart and lungs target
  • The badger must be stationary
  • Head shots are not allowed
  • Neck shots are not allowed
  • Shooting at lactating sow badgers is not permitted. It will result in cubs starving underground. It is not made clear how a lactating sow may be identified at night!
  • The shooters should not identify the species by eye-shine
  • The shooters must not pursue badgers with a vehicle
  • Shooters must have thorough knowledge of the terrain
  • Bait points must be away from dense cover so that, if a wounded badger flees, a second shot can be taken
  • Shooters must be certain of a safe backstop, so if the bullet misses, passes through the badger or ricochets, no person or farmed animal is hurt
  • Permitted firearms are a minimum of .22 centre-fire calibre rifle, and a 12 bore shotgun, with full, three quarter or half choke, using a cartridge loaded with AAA shot or BB shot
  • Shotguns are only permitted at very close range (10 metres or less)
  • Dogs cannot be used to hunt uninjured badgers, although a dog can be used to trail an injured animal on a leash (use of a muzzle ‘should be considered’)
  • Dogs must not be used to flush badgers from setts
  • Setts must not be obstructed
  • There should be no searching underground for wounded badgers without first obtaining a licence from Natural England [Badger shooting takes place at night; the Natural England office opens at 8.30am.]
  • A minimum of two people should be involved in night shooting
  • They should inform the police when they are going to be shooting badgers
  • Shooting is prohibited between 1 February and 31 May

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