Well, what can we say? The last 3 and a half months have been hectic. The many hours commuting from A to B, the nights darting around the zones, the quiet nights where it was hard to stay awake, and the long walks around badger setts in all weathers – there’s been good, bad, difficult and easy moments but every minute has been worth it.
Sheffield & Doncaster Sabs were part of a network of groups which actively disrupted both the Somerset and the Gloucestershire culls. Minus the first few days (when we were in Gloucs), we had sabs in the Somerset zone for the whole of the cull and the extension, with others travelling to Gloucestershire on occasions. We met and combined efforts with some amazing people and groups in Somerset, who we couldn’t have managed without. Before the cull started there was a lot of uncertainty about how badger shooters would be sabbed and how easy it would be. We quite quickly got the hang of it though, finding that as soon as shooters knew they had been spotted they would abort their plans and move off! Finding shooters was obviously tricky at times, but became a lot easier when we received good quality night vision equipment from Stop The Cull. The shooters used infra-red to spot for badgers, and with our equipment we could see infra-red just as though someone was shinning a torch around. The landscape was tough in the Somerset zone, with many setts being a long trek away from any roads, and even the roads being very hard going. The shooters worked a little differently in the two zones as well, most notably with them having a security firm drop shooters off in minibuses in Somerset so that they could walk between setts and not be so noticeable. Those guarding the shooters were a little different in the 2 zones as well. The NFU had employed security in Somerset, that we never saw in Gloucestershire – some that looked like your average huntscum, and some that basically impersonated police – though these may have been around as much as security for the pheasant shooting estates as for the badger killers. Then there was the police. In Somerset the police made next to no arrests, but continually hassled our group because of their inability to digest the DVLA rules on minibus use. They wrongfully told us on around half of our nights out that we were driving our minibus unlawfully on car licences, and threatened to seize it, and they actually did seize it once and authorise a second seizure another night before changing their minds!
When we heard the kill figures for Somerset we were shocked and saddened that 850 badgers had been killed, but pleased that the cull target had not been met. The Gloucestershire cull failed even more drastically than Somerset, with 708 badgers being killed.
Then, because it helped cover up what a mess they were in, DEFRA decided to tell everyone that their badger population studies had shown a huge drop in the number of badgers in the zones just prior to the cull starting. Funny that they hadn’t mentioned this sooner, when they fully intended to meet their original target kill number, which – if the revised population numbers were real – would have meant badgers would have been wiped out in the zones. And funny how they didn’t mention that their population study was massively interfered with by hunt sabs, so the target of killing 70% of the revised lowered number of badgers in the zones was actually based on incorrect findings, and would mean actually killing way below 70%.
Then came the extensions, with Somerset first. We knew stopping them hit their target during the extension was going to be really hard, but people from all the different hunt sab and badger patrol groups stuck at it and we managed it! A further 90 badgers were killed during the 3 week extension in Somerset, making their kill figure 59% of the what DEFRA claimed the badger population was. The Gloucestershire cull only managed to kill around 30% of the fictional badger population numbers, so once the Somerset extension was over, we switched our attention to the 8 week extension that had been granted there.
The Gloucestershire extension was authorised, not as a continuation of the trial, but as a means of trying to clean up the mess made by the trial – because Natural England and DEFRA believe it would do more harm than good to kill less than 70% of the badgers because of mass perturbation. Because the Gloucs extension wasn’t so much a trial of free-shooting anymore, badger trapping was massively increased and less shooting took place at night.
Gloucestershire was an easier cull to sab because of the terrain and roads, but was heavily and oppressively policed by numerous forces. The end results though, show that the policing tactics really achieved nothing and activists routinely did what needed to be done. Certainly for our group it will be a positive thing in the long run, as we will soon begin suing the police for 3 wrongful arrests and will use compensation received to fund direct action. 213 badgers were killed during the extension in Gloucestershire (taking them to less than 40% of their reduced target), a pretty high figure, but this would have been so much higher had people not been there to oppose the cull, and it was eventually cut short by 2 and a half weeks because of terrible kill rates each day. DEFRA and the NFU clearly never thought the hundreds of people disrupting the cull would still be doing it so long after it first started. The truth is none of us expected to be either, but unlike DEFRA, we would never give up.
We want to say a massive thank you to Stop The Cull for all the support they’ve given to us and the other groups disrupting the cull, as well as all the other sabs, individuals involved, everyone who helped raise funds for us in Sheffield and everyone who donated to our appeals!
Owen Patterson, DEFRA: “It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.”