The Welsh badger cull

Cull Watch Introduction
Despite mounting public protest and an imminent legal challenge from the Badger Trust, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) has refused to halt preparations for a brutal badger cull in nearly 300 square kilometres of North Pembrokeshire. The killing is scheduled to begin this spring and last for five years. Assembly officials have stated that their aim is to reduce the badger population ‘as far as we can’. Thousands of badgers will be trapped overnight in cages near their homes, then later transferred to an execution cage and shot in the head.

Cull preparations in the area are clandestine and disturbing. WAG will not release an authoritative map of the area, and contractors are identified only by a numbered photocard. In their sett survey visits to landowners in the area, they have begun turning up unannounced. Badger baiters and burglars could pose easily as government officials.

WAG is making strenuous attempts to conceal the details of the killing from local residents, tourists and the British public. They know this programme is unpopular and are worried about the damage it could do to tourism, and the image of Welsh farming. Politicians who have organised the cull could find votes in short supply at next year’s Assembly elections.

Public outrage and the legal system may yet stop the cull – but we will be prepared if this turns out not to be the case.

The Killing Fields

Whilst the precise boundaries are still emerging, we do know certain facts about this 288 km2 cull area:

  • It is limited by the coastal towns of Cardigan to the east and Newport to the west.
  • The inland western boundary is likely to run from Newport to Cilgwyn, cutting off the eastern neck of the Gwaun Valley below Carn Ingli. It then heads south to the Preseli Hills, which form part of the southern boundary.
  • The River Teifi, which defines the county border, is the north-eastern boundary of the cull area. 1

View a map of the culling area.

The Killing Method

WAG say the killing will be largely based on methods used during the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) in England. Badgers will be trapped at night near their setts or on nearby runs, and shot ‘as near as possible’ to dawn the following day. A WAG document reveals, however, that the checking could in reality be ‘no later than 12 noon’ 2, meaning trapped badgers could spend many hours waiting for their execution.

The trapping cage dimensions are to be 86cm x 36cm x 36cm, with 2.5cm x 2.5cm mesh. They will have a trap door at one end, and are likely to be painted black, dark green or brown. Contractors will make attempts at hiding the cages in undergrowth, or by covering them with cut vegetation and camouflage. Traps have to be ‘dug in’, making them secure and less likely to be avoided by badgers.

Traps will be deployed at active badger setts and along badger runs. Badgers will be encouraged into the traps using peanuts. In England, coloured plastic pellets were mixed with the peanuts so any untrapped badgers could be tracked via their latrines. Traps are baited and set as late in the day as possible. During the RBCT, traps were set for a continuous period of 11 nights for initial culls and up to 8 nights for follow up culls.

Live badgers will be bundled into a movement-restricting execution cage, with a ‘shooting hole on its top side’ and ‘a removable base, which could include an absorbent disinfected mat (for safe removal of body fluids)’.3

The Killing Teams

WAG will not name the contractors hired to trap and kill badgers, for security reasons 4. However, Cull Watch has learnt that a local man was offered £150,000 per annum for 3-5 years work shooting and disposing of badgers in Pembrokeshire. He was told that the work was highly sensitive and he may have to move out of the area. To his credit, he turned the job down. But there will be others who will not refuse such luxuriant blood money. If the numbers of workers employed by DEFRA for the RBCT are any guide, the cost to the taxpayer just for the badger killers will run into millions of pounds.

Preparations for Killing and Sett Surveys

Killing is imminent, although it will not begin before the closed season, which runs between January/February and April/May. This minimises, but does not prevent, a number of badger cubs dying of starvation or dehydration when their mothers are killed. Although the majority of cubs are weaned by mid-May, 8 per cent of weaning events may occur after this time. In the RBCT, between 1996-1998, 4.3 per cent of culled females were found to be lactating. If WAG kills, for example, 2000 badgers, this will mean more than a hundred cubs will starve to death.

Field survey work is necessary prior to killing, in order to identify and map badger setts, boundary runs and latrines. WAG wants to target badger social groups5 – in other words, wipe out whole families. The surveying began in earnest in the North Pembrokeshire area in March, and will probably take around a month.

Following the sett surveys comes ‘prebaiting’. Traps are left open for a number of days prior to setting for capture to get the badgers used to the traps. Peanuts are usually the bait used. For an initial trapping operation, prebaiting usually occurs for a consecutive period of 5-10 days until bait uptake has levelled off.6

The Welsh Assembly’s Draconian Law

Welsh Assembly Members, in October 2009, voted for a piece of legislation that outlaws any kind of interference with the killing, and even criminalises the act of saying that people should interfere7. The Tuberculosis Eradication (Wales) Order 2009 also allows:

  • The right of forced entry onto premises (except for a dwelling house) to destroy or vaccinate badgers. Officers can take whoever they think is ‘necessary’ to help them.
  • The forced obligation of landowners – or even people who appear to the officer to be ‘under their direction’ – to help with vaccinating badgers.
  • The right for officers to enter unoccupied land.

Offences against the Act are:

  • to take into captivity, harbour, conceal or otherwise protect wild members of the badger species with intent to prevent their destruction or their being treated with vaccine;
  • in any other way to obstruct or interfere with anything which has been, is being or is to be done or used in connection with that destruction or their being treated with vaccine;
  • to aid, abet, counsel or procure another person to commit such an act.

The position of Cull Watch is not to ‘obstruct or interfere’ with the killing.

References

  1.  ‘Welsh chief vet reveals more details on badger cull’, Farmers Weekly, 12 March 2010 http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2010/03/12/120304/Welsh-chief-vet-reveals-more-detail-on-badger-cull.htm
  2.  ‘Badger control in the IAPA project. Decision paper on the identification of agents capable of delivering a badger cull’, Welsh Assembly Government, p.6 http://wales.gov.uk/docs/drah/research/090916annex13en.pdf
  3.  Tender: Cardiff: agricultural supplies, 17 Oct 2009, Section 4.2 http://www.publictenders.net/tenders/archive/98727
  4.  ‘Q&A – Intensive Action Pilot Area’, Welsh Assembly Government, p. 2 http://wales.gov.uk/docs/drah/publications/100113tbqapilotareaen.doc
  5.  ‘Badger control in the IAPA project. Decision paper on the identification of agents capable of delivering a badger cull’, Welsh Assembly Government, p. 5 http://wales.gov.uk/docs/drah/research/090916annex13en.pdf
  6.  ‘Badger control in the IAPA project. Decision paper on the identification of agents capable of delivering a badger cull’, Welsh Assembly Government, p.6 http://wales.gov.uk/docs/drah/research/090916annex13en.pdf
  7.  The Tuberculosis Eradication (Wales) Order 2009, Section 6http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/wales/wsi2009/wsi_20092614_en_1