IN AUGUST Defra announced that licensed marksmen had been given permission to begin culling badgers in Dorset. 
Just days later the cull started, with the aim of shooting at least 615 animals within a six-week culling period. 
But it wasn’t just marksmen who were fast to act. 
Daily patrols were quickly set up with dozens of wildlife campaigners volunteering their time to go out after dark. 
The Dorset Echo joined them to find out exactly what happens on a badger patrol.

IT’S raining.

Not just spitting, or drizzling, but a set in, Met Office weather warning-style downpour.

“I don’t know how many people will turn up,” says Karin Snellock, press officer for Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare. She needn’t have worried. Rain is not enough to put these campaigners off.

In twos and threes they drift in to the trolley shelter in the car park of a Blandford supermarket – the temporary headquarters where volunteers are formed into groups, phone numbers exchanged and they are sent off with maps and torches to patrol remote areas of Dorset.

Manning all of this is a group member, a woman in her 40s, who, like others, has asked me not to reveal her identity.

“The police have advised us not to put pro-badger stickers in our cars,” says another group member, a man who has brought the maps. “These are nasty people we are dealing with.”

Who are ‘these people’?

“People who believe the false statistics they are being fed, hangers-on, people who go out looking for a fight. We’ve been sworn at, even had cars driven right at us.”

Did that happen here in Dorset?

“No, I heard it happened to some people I know, in Somerset.”

I want to ask more questions, but the groups are ready to go, and they need instructions.

“Stick to the footpaths,” says the man with the maps. “No one can shoot if there’s people around. If you find any cages, phone in the location into headquarters. And if there’s any trouble, just be polite. If it’s bad, call the police.”

Protest liaison officers are already talking to patrol organisers, finding out how many people are going out, and in which areas. The mood is light, happy. The 20-odd volunteers have a common cause.

“We’re opposed to the cull and we wanted to do something about it,” says Rachel Henson, who has come along with two friends, all in their early twenties. “We live in town but it’s something we’re passionate about. The cull is ineffective and inhumane.”

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As everyone heads off, I team up with the three core group members: Karin, the man who brought the maps, and the woman who organised the volunteers. Our destination is Duncliffe Wood, or rather the footpaths around the outskirts.

“Our volunteers are a huge variety of people,” I’m told. “Lawyers, farmers, people from the town and countryside. They come from Poole, West Dorset, Christchurch, even from over the borders into other counties.”

The conversation doesn’t stop as we get out of the car and head off up a dark footpath – although it’s punctuated frequently as we step carefully through muddy puddles (it’s still raining) and shine our torches up badger runs to look for cages.

All is seems peaceful, pitch black apart from a glow of lights in the direction of Shaftesbury. Are we even in the culling zone?

“Our sources say culling is happening here, in the fields around the woodland,” says Karin, without explaining where the information has come from. “This is also where population counts were carried out in 2013.”

Every noise in the dark is amplified. We stop to check out flashing lights in the distance. A passing car, or a marksman? But all is quiet. Despite several hours of walking, we don’t see a thing.

Walking down the road back to the car, we are passed by an unmarked police car. They stop for a chat, and to check we’re safe.

Is this a typical night for the badger patrols?

“We’ve had reports of cages left in places, trails of peanuts,” is the reply. But I want to know if they have ever found anything personally. The answer from all three is the same: “No.”

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THE badger cull has now come to an end in Dorset. But when I went out on patrol, it still had several weeks to go and it could have been extended by Natural England if needed.

The tales I’m told of clashes between farmers and protestors in other areas of the south west are unprintable and, as they are coming to me second hand – something that happened to a friend of a friend – I take them with a pinch of salt. 

We talk about the perceptions of protestors.
“We’re not city dwelling and we’re not soft hearted,” says the man with the maps. “We’ve read the evidence. The badger cull doesn’t work.”
“We care about our wildlife,” the organiser adds. “We know what pro-cull people think of us. It is like us versus them.”
Where does this ‘us and them’ attitude come from?
“I don’t know. I think perhaps we are coming at this from such completely different view points, we will never see eye to eye.”

It’s after midnight by the time we get back to Blandford. Whatever you think of the campaigners’ opinions, no one can doubt their commitment. They’re still talking science and statistics. From a lay person’s perspective so many different facts and figures have now been reported it’s hard to know what to believe.
On the drive back to Weymouth I spot one of the elusive creatures this issue is all about. It scurries across the road and disappears into a hedge, not remotely aware of how much fuss its existence has caused.

The Dorset Echo has asked to meet with the marksmen carrying out the cull. To date, we have not received a response.