Just like last year, we were involved in helping to sabotage the badger cull this year, for its duration, and with a focus on the Somerset cull. We had sabs in Gloucestershire on a number of occasions, helping Nottingham Hunt Sabs and others, had a continuous presence in Somerset and took our minibus down to Camp Badger towards the end, to help ferry activists around, working closely with Dorset Hunt Sabs. From the get go it was clear that everyone was more prepared this year than last, but sadly the killers were as well. We stayed in the zone this year, to save fuel costs and time; we mainly used cars, which are cheaper to run than our sab van; we had expensive thermal imaging equipment to assist us, and we already knew the area.
The cull appeared to get off to a very quiet start, with very little gunshots being heard, and little shooter activity on the roads. Throughout the cull there did seem to be less uptake in culling than last year, but as time went on we realised that some of the shooters were being extra covert – using suppressed rifles, thermal imaging and driving off road for large distances with their lights off to get from A to B. We also observed lots of pre-baiting with peanuts under rocks for trapping, rather than pre-baited traps being put out, which really would have backfired for culling as the badgers wouldn’t have gotten used to seeing the traps. We realised early on that a lot of trapping and shooting was being done in obscure places, fields away from badger setts, in the hope it would never be found. Because of this, we set about to search our groups’ allotted patch in Somerset, one field and wood at a time, and by this process found a number of trapping areas and areas baited for free shooting.
We sabbed our first shoot 3 days after the cull started, near Monksilver, and from then on had the area guarded almost continuously each night by incredible sett watchers. This process was repeated by our group and others, and without the invaluable help of people guarding particular setts and areas, the kill count would have been much higher. This shooter was stopped in this area a further 3 times, and on his second visit was directly confronted in the fields by a sizable group of activists, as was what appeared to be a Natural England monitor with him. As the cull progressed we identified Huish Barton Farm as being a key player in the badger cull and began a process of sabbing their shooter – Geoff Langdon – every time he went out, until he went home. We also sabbed shoots at Leigh Barton Farm, had some contact with Sterling Babbage, a shooter for the Withycombe area, assisted some hardcore sett sitters at a heavily targeted sett in the Kingsbridge area and had success sabbing culler activity in Gloucestershire.
Our six weeks in Somerset was not without drama of course. We had our car turned over by the police fruitlessly, multiple times, without good cause and had multiple run-ins with over excited teenagers from a couple of culling farms. Things got stupid when they smashed the windscreen on one of our cars with a bird scarer explosive and deliberately rammed it with a tractor on a main road. We’d like to thank South Wales Sabs, Bristol Sabs and Sabs from Somerset among others for lending their support when required – lighting up shooter Geoff Langdon with 13 bright torches, after other nights of just 2-3 torches on him will always be a fond memory. We were also always delighted to see the Somerset Badger Patrols marching the footpaths, or staking out shooting areas, and were pleased to have witnessed shooters quietly leaving shooting grounds as they approached.
The thermal imaging equipment made available to us this year proved itself invaluable to us time and time again. Watching pickup tucks driving around distant fields in the dark with their lights off is something which we were unable to do last year, and which lead to us finding sneaking and hiding shooters frequently.
While we are saddened that the killers are said to have reached their joke target of killing 315 badgers in Somerset, we are very proud of everyone who helped out in Gloucestershire and ensured the kill rate was embarrassingly low. We didn’t expect to stop them hitting the target in Somerset, but knew we could prevent them hitting the maximum kill target of 785 badgers. According to the Guardian newspaper, exactly 315 badgers were killed in Somerset, which proves we did just this. We noticed on the last week that preparations for trapping (like below) suddenly halted, and traps in a number of locations never appeared. This was clearly because of hitting target, and fear of upping the cost of the cull by laying more expensive traps in areas where hunt sabs would find them. If it hadn’t been for all the activists on the ground, then the killers would most likely have hit the maximum kill target.
We would like to say an extra special thank you to the Somerset Hunt Saboteur Group for putting us up for 6 weeks, and to all of our supporters who have donated hundreds of pounds to help us sab the cull.