HOW long have badgers been living in Wyke Regis cemetery?

Claims are being made that the former council may have known they were there – raising the issue of financial help for the new Weymouth Town Council to deal with the problem.

Town councillor Ken Whatley said: “The badgers didn’t just appear there overnight. Judging by the number of holes they’ve been there quite a time…the question is whether the previous council knew about it, but did nothing, and from that have they got some responsibility in helping Weymouth Town Council solve the problem, which we seem to have inherited?”

More than 50 badger holes have been discovered in the cemetery with experts called in to help find a solution and stop damage to graves.

Moving the creatures requires a special licence and also presents problems in finding a suitable locations for them, although some have argued that the badgers should be left alone and are likely to move on of their own accord.

The cemetery was run by the previous Weymouth and Portland Borough Council before it was handed on, via the shadow Dorset Council, to the new Weymouth Town Council, along with other cemeteries in the area. Dorset Council retained the town’s crematorium because that makes a relatively small surplus each year.

Warning notices have been posted in the cemetery by the new owners, Weymouth Town Council, in case visitors fall into any of the holes. These cannot be blocked up and made safe because to do so would be an offence.

Margaret Dick, from Preston, who owns the lease for one of the grave plots said she flagged the issue up with the former borough council in April after discovering the holes when a friend, accompanying her on a visit to her late husband’s grave, tripped in one.

“I love badgers and I understand that they are protected but I don’t want them disturbing my husband’s grave,” said Mrs Dick.

Her husband William, known, as Bill, a former Army Major, was laid to rest there 14 years ago.

Mrs Dick: “I’m really upset about it. They have been going underneath the graves but I’m not sure they are still active at the moment. When I was up there at the weekend there seemed to be no new tunnels. They have dug near my husband’s grave, but they haven’t actually gone underneath it.”

She is also asking what can be done about righting the subsidence to some of the graves whether caused by tunnelling badgers, or naturally.

Cllr David Harris hopes the town council will be treated fairly to deal with the financial burden it may now face: “This is an example of why the town and DC councils need to have serious discussions to clarify what was hurried through over the transfer of assets by the shadow councils prior to the elections which changed each council quite considerably. New members should be given the chance to ensure that Weymouth has had a fair deal from the process.”

Wyke Regis councillor Lucy Hamilton said she was pleased to see that prompt action has been taken by town council staff: “I was really pleased to see the notices in Wyke Cemetery to ensure both that visitors are aware of the risk and to make sure that the badger setts are appropriately managed.

“It’s important that the graves are cared for properly, and that the wishes of families are respected. …I have been contacted by a number of residents recently with concerns that animals here and at other sites are at risk.

“There’s been a smooth transition of services between the councils. Parks and Open Spaces were aware of this situation at the earliest opportunity. An action plan is being drawn up and we’ll need to look into funding.”

Fellow ward councillor Kate Wheller says there has been evidence of badgers in the cemetery in the past: “There is certainly knowledge of badger activity over time in the cemetery but never as active as it now is,” she said. She is also asking for a resolution which respects both the badgers and families who have loved ones buried there.

“I can’t say when this extensive activity started, but I am pretty sure that although it has escalated in recent weeks it was already evident prior to the change over," said Cllr Wheller.