Amongst other things, it soon became apparent that this corner of Somerset has an excellent population of badgers. The countryside is perfect for them, a mixture of small pastoral fields, abundant hedgerows, small copses and many old apple orchards. I soon started to map all the occupied badger setts that I came across and by March 2016 I had identified 87 of them, of which 78 are in my defined study area of 43sq kms around my house. With very little bovine TB in this part of Somerset I was not expecting to find any evidence of interference at badger setts – which just goes to show how wrong you can be! I have now recorded seven cases of illegal interference at six of the occupied setts.
So what was going on? On four occasions, all the entrances to the badger setts had deliberately been filled in by machinery, either a tractor with a front bucket or a Hymac. Tyre marks on the ground and scrape marks in the soil were clear evidence of what had happened, all of which I captured on camera. After contacting the Somerset Badger Group for advice on discovering the first case of interference, I went to the police with my photographs. On this first occasion the local police station was not particularly interested, not helped by the fact that at the time there was no Wildlife Crime Officer in this part of Somerset to assist. In the end I had to explain the badger protection law to the local officers and then take them to the crime scene to show them what had happened.
Even then there was a distinct lack of interest and I more or less told them what to do next, which was to make some enquiries at the two nearby farms. Although of course no one was going to admit to the illegal interference, at least this would make the farmers aware that the police were now involved and hopefully this would stop them doing it again. On the second occasion I went to the police with details of sett blocking I received a slightly more sympathetic response and this time the local officers knew what to do!
In due course I was able to contact the Head Forester for the wood and to meet him on site to discuss the issue. He was most concerned to see that the forestry contractor had totally ignored the badger sett and he promised to take it up with the contractor as soon as possible. Hopefully this will not happen again and the badgers will be left in peace. This did not appear to be deliberate interference, more a case of ignorance or couldn’t-care-less attitude and the sett was not damaged, so the matter was not referred to the police.
Amazingly the seventh case of illegal interference involved the same tenant farmer as the sixth. This time he had driven his tractor all over the location of another sett in a field of grass so that he could mow the abundant nettles growing around the sett. Who knows how much underground damage was done in the process. The farmer does not seem to realise that you cannot interfere with occupied badger setts! This time I had had enough, so I reported the incident to both the land owner and the police.
So, what is the moral of this story? Never assume your local badgers will be left alone. Do not expect local police to be understanding or knowledgeable. Always carry a camera. Be vigilent!
Badger Trust Member, Volunteer