Badger cull saboteurs: ‘We will put ourselves between the bullets and the badgers’

As the badger cull gets closer to beginning, anti-cull activists are stepping up their efforts to stop the slaughter. In the last few weeks there has been a national march in London which attracted a couple of thousand people, daily sett surveying in the west Gloucestershire and west Somerset areas to map the locations of where the shooting will take place and ‘walk-ons’ at shooting estates and farms involved in the cull. On Friday a piece in the Independent featured local activists from the Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs,who put across their case and challenge accusations from elements of the media and the pro-cull and hunting communities.

Anti-cull activists patrol part of the cull zone, at the Forthampton shooting estate in Gloucestershire

Lynn, a 46-year-old midwife, finds a novel way to fill her days off. The one-time hunter is now a hunt saboteur who finds herself at the centre of the Government’s controversial badger cull. She splits her time between maternity wards and patrolling country estates of Worcestershire.

She is just one of an estimated 700 saboteurs who are fighting the plan to use licensed marksmen to shoot around 5,000 badgers in two pilot cull zones in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Around 500 of them are prepared to trespass on property to disrupt the cull.  “Obviously at night we’ll be finding the marksmen and putting ourselves between the bullets and the badgers,” Lynn told The Independent.

The badger cull row tearing up the countryside shows no sign of dissipating. While ministers argue that a cull is necessary to curb the spread of tuberculosis in cattle; critics argue that the cull is unethical or scientifically and economically flawed.

The coalition of opponents might be diverse – it includes Queen guitarist Brian May, TV presenter David Attenborough, and some prominent scientists – but it is the hunt saboteurs who stand accused of directing a “reign of terror” on farmers.

But Lynn believes they have been unfairly smeared. “The typical stereotypical image of the hunt sab is someone dressed head-to-toe in black, someone who doesn’t work, a 20-something-year-old male, but that’s absolute nonsense. The farming industry makes us out to be terrorists, or all evil people, but we’re individuals,” she said.

Lynn, who has a number of animal rights convictions for her involvement in anti-hunting and anti-vivisection campaigns, founded the group 3 Counties Hunt Saboteurs, last year. She gave up hunting after she saw some “terrible things” done to foxes, deer, hares and mink. She said that “very committed” new people were joining the “sabs”, or saboteurs, and scouring the fields straight from work.

“We’re seeing doctors, teachers, all sorts of people,” said Lynn, who can spend up to 50 hours a week checking badger setts, organising volunteers, or doing outreach. She also works as a midwife on a shift basis at a local hospital, usually at night. “I’m actually quite open about things,” she said. “Some of my colleagues do know, just as I am aware of what they do out of work.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway, national co-ordinator for domestic extremism at the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last year that clashes between protesters and cullers could pose “clear potential harm to public safety”. He added that there was “some potential for unlawful direct action, disorder and criminality” if the cull went ahead.

This week it emerged that officers policing the culls have carried out “wargames” with animal rights activists and cullers to simulate confrontations that might occur. Inspector Mark Ravenscroft of Gloucestershire Police said enforcing the cull remained a “big concern.” He stressed that the force will “allow people to bend the law to protest peacefully” by allowing a short protest on a highway, for example, to stop a group blocking the road all day.

But Elaine, a 49-year-old social care worker, who has volunteered as a hunting sab for over 25 years, said saboteurs “were not aggressors”. The Herefordshire-born activist treads a thin line between horse-owning country enthusiast and animal-rights crusader.

“I ride, I have my own horses, and I have drag hunted, but I was brought up to love and respect animals,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to go out in a balaclava. Work knows what I’m like and they don’t mind.”

She denied sabs were using intimidating techniques and dismissed claims that by trespassing, she could be breaching the law. “Whatever [the cull] is doing is 100 times worse that what I’m doing. When it comes to saving lives, if I have to tread off a footpath to do it, it’s worth it,” she said.

Michael, who is in his late sixties and has seven grandchildren, wants to help stop the cull. The retired builder lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, and has been involved in animal rights for 50 years. The former trustee of a wildlife rescue centre said: “This unscientific experiment they’re doing is wrong. I’ll help as much as I can; [the grandchildren] are right behind me. I spend four out of five days a week surveying and mapping sites, and checking setts aren’t baited. We’ve definitely got public support.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “People have a right to protest but this must be carried out within the law. The pilot culls are a legal and lawful activity and it is wholly unacceptable that those involved should be subject to intimidation or be a target for criminal activity.”

Originally posted in the Independent.

Badger cull delayed until next summer

The pilot badger culls planned for two areas in the West Country have been postponed until next summer.

The Heckler previously reported on the trial badger culls, planned to begin in areas of west Somerset and west Gloucestershire this autumn. But last week the badgers and the animal activists opposing the cull won a reprieve with the news breaking that the cull would not begin until at least the summer of 2013.

Initially rumours were rife that the cull was about to commence, with areas near badger setts found baited and Natural England working around the clock to issue the final licences to farmers and marksmen. But at the 11th hour (quite literally), the task ahead seemed too overwhelming and uncertain. The National Farmers Union wrote to DEFRA asking for its postponement, claiming that the cull “cannot be confident of removing at least 70 per cent of the populations.” This followed the news that the number of badgers in the cull zones had been vastly underestimated.

Animal rights and badger activists are continuing to oppose the cull, by using the additional delay to garner more public support for their campaign and putting the pressure on those who will be carrying out the cull.

Hunt Saboteurs plan to use ‘non-violent direct action’ to disrupt the cull if and when it goes ahead

On 14th October, around 80 hunt saboteurs and animal activists gathered at the Forthampton shooting estate, near Tewkesbury, to “show their disapproval at the proposed cull.” Dozens of police officers, additional private security and even a police helicopter were mobilised to keep an eye on the protesters, who did little more than walk around footpaths on the estate, where badger culling was due to take place. The Hunt Saboteurs Association issued a press release detailing the protest, which can be read here.

According to the campaign group ‘Stop the Cull,’ fox hunt saboteurs and anti-cull activists are planning to attend the opening meet of the Ledbury Hunt at the Corse Lawn Hotel on Friday 2nd November, as the hunt has a number of people involved with the cull within its ranks and the hotel is linked to the Forthampton Estate.

For continued updates or to get involved in opposing the cull, visit the Stop the Cull and Hunt Saboteurs Association websites.

Conflict in the countryside as badger cull set to start

Yesterday over a hundred people gathered outside the annual Tory Party Conference in Birmingham to protest against the upcoming pilot badger cull planned for two areas in the West Country, the latest part of an increasingly intense debate over the morality and practicality of killing badgers to lower TB in cattle. 

For a number of months now a battle has been brewing in the countryside, between dairy farmers and those advocating a cull of badgers, and seemingly the vast majority of the public who’re opposed to the cull alongside the animal rights activists vowing to stop it. It looks like the cull is about to begin and this battle may finally come out into the open.

This cull is to be a ‘trial’ held over 4 years, consisting of 6 week periods when badgers can be shot. Although the exact locations of the cull are being kept secret, this initial trial will be held in two general areas; west Somerset including parts of Exmoor and the Taunton Deane district and west Gloucestershire, including the Forest of Dean and stretching to Tewkesbury (including parts of the Malvern Hills district and small areas of southern Herefordshire). Areas near badger sets will be ‘baited’ with peanuts to encourage badgers, where marksmen will be waiting to shoot them at night.

 

DEFRA and the National Farmers’ Union are claiming that a cull is an effective way of lowering tuberculosis in dairy cows, a disease which some claim costs the farming industry and the government an estimated £75-100m a year. If carried out correctly and meeting certain criteria, culling could reduce incidence of bovine TB by an average of 16% over 9 years. For it to be effective, it is said that over 70% of badgers in the cull areas will need to be killed. It is believed that up to 130,000 badgers could be killed during the cull period.

 

Opponents from all corners are slamming this move for its immorality as well as its scientific invalidity. Many believe that the figures simply do not add up, and that the number of badgers that would need to be killed far outweighs such a small decrease in cases of bovine TB. DEFRA have issued guidelines to marksmen taking part in the cull, including diagrams of which areas of the body they need to target. Despite this, it is still likely that some badgers will not be killed outright and will suffer a longer and more painful death. Vaccination is being cited as a much more ethical way of controlling the spread of TB, rather than a mass shooting. Vaccinating badgers that are caught in cages is currently being used and trialed in an area in Devon, as well as in Wales and Gloucestershire.

 

The science and the figures used to support the cull are also being questioned. Lord Krebs, a government science adviser and the mastermind behind another, more wide-spread trial badger cull in the 1990s recently came out saying he believed the cull scheme was ‘crazy.’ The Badger Trust went to the High Court earlier in the summer, hoping to get the badger cull overruled. Their case was built on their belief that the cull would be both ‘illegal and unscientific.’ It failed, but one of their main points what that the shooting of badgers would actually spread TB, as it would disperse badgers over a wider area more quickly and others would move in to take over territory that they had vacated.

Hunt Saboteurs Association members join others in a protest against the cull outside the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham at the weekend

A whole host of badger and animal rights groups have come out to oppose the cull. ‘Team Badger,’ consisting of well known groups such as the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports, the Badger Trust, including a number of celebrities (most notably Brian May), have been involved in a mass publicity campaign, through the media and by holding a series of well-attended speeches and meetings. They also created an online e-petition, calling on the cull to be banned. Within 3 weeks of being launched it reached over 100,000 signatures, meaning it will be debated in parliament.

 

Animal rights and vegan out-reach organisation, VIVA!, have been calling on the public to boycott the milk and dairy industry, stating the fact that it is dairy farmers and their lobbying groups initiating the cull.

 

Grassroots group ‘Stop the Cull’ have also been hitting the headlines, leaking sensitive information on the cull on their website and gathering information to help them take ‘non-violent direct action’ to disrupt the cull when it starts. The Hunt Saboteurs Association have also released statements saying they have recruited a number of new activists who are willing to go with them into the cull areas when it starts to sabotage  it. Hunt saboteurs groups and groups associated with ‘Stop the Cull’ claim they will turn up at night with powerful torches, air horns and wearing hi-visibility vests to scare off badgers and make the job of the marksmen difficult. Marksmen carrying out the shooting have been instructed to disarm their weapons and move away from the area if the come across demonstrators at night.

Animal rights activists have been collecting information and carrying out surveillance in the cull areas to help them take action when the cull begins

It was thought that the cull may have to be delayed until next year following the failed judicial reviews, appeals and delays in the issuing of the licenses allowing farmers to carry out the cull. But last week the second license was issued allowing farmers and marksmen to shoot badgers in Somerset and it now looks like it is set to start imminently. Police leave for Gloucestershire Constabulary has been cancelled until January in anticipation of protests and the media circus is sure to arrive soon. Whether the badger cull will be effectively carried out it yet to be seen, but it is almost certain that there are many who will be out in the countryside prepared to stop it.

 

People interested in helping to stop the cull or help with donations of money or equipment have been urged to get in touch with their local hunt saboteurs group or to contact Stop the Cull. Details for these, and other resources regarding the cull can be found below.  

Stop the Cull (Coalition of groups and activists collecting information and coordinating groups to take action against the cull)

Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs (Hunt saboteurs in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire who’ll be taking ‘non-violent direct action’ to try and stop the cull)

Hunt Saboteurs Association (National Hunt Saboteurs website with press releases and information about the cull)

Team Badger (Coalition made up of the Badger Trust, RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and others)

VIVA! pledge to boycott dairy

‘Stop the Badger Cull’ e-petition

Forest Of Dean Riots – 1831

Hereford Heckler Radical History #6 – Warren James and the Forest of Dean Riots of 1831

The threat of forest privatisation is nothing new to the folk of the Forest of Dean. Over the centuries they have challenged every move to deny them access to the forest, sometimes they have succeeded sometimes not, but they have never given up without a fight.

Perhaps the most memorable confrontation occurred in the mid 1800’s. The process of enclosing common land by the rich and greedy had, by this time, pushed many people into a life of poverty and misery. In the Forest of Dean there were still laws guaranteeing Foresters, free miners and peasants free access and use of the forests resources. But things were beginning to change. The greed of land owners and industrialists, especially Lord Nelson at the Royal Navy, led to the passing of an act of parliament which set out to increase the enclosed land from 676 to 11,000 acres. Not only did this privatise the timber and coal industries, but it denied people the ability to scare even the most basic of livelihoods.

When an economic slump hit the Dean at the beginning of the 1830’s the Foresters lives became unbearable so they got organised. The Committee of Free Miners was set up. The Committee elected local lad Warren James to lobby those in power to reverse the enclosures. As a peasant and squatter, James was well aware of the hardships facing the people. So when the Free Miners demands were ignored he tabled to motion that all enclosure fences be torn down.

Things quickly escalated and at its peak there were 3000 men women and children organised into gangs, destroying fences, turnpikes, crown buildings and the houses of local gentry.  Eventually troops managed to end the rioting, and although James was arrested and transported to Tasmania, other rioters received quite lenient sentences. Most of the fences were rebuilt but the radical nature of the Foresters has lived on and many free mining and commoner rights still exist today.

Further reading- Bristol Radical Pamphleteer #6 by Ian Wright available here

REPORT: Hands Off Our Forest protest

At the beginning of January members of Hereford Solidarity League joined over 3000 people to protest against government plans to privatise vast areas of Forestry Commission (FC) land. The rally, speeches, music and ritual burning of Big Ben took place at the Speech House outside Coleford in the Forest of Dean.

The demonstration took place to show opposition to the coalition governments Public Bodies Bill. This piece of legislation currently being pushing the through parliament will allow the ConDem cronies to privatise our state owned forest. This is another part of Cameron’s Big Society. We are told it will allow local communities to buy and run their local woodland. But this is utter nonsense, we already own all the FC land, that is what state ownership is. This bill will allow developers and energy firms to get their hands on some of the most beautiful and important land we have. It’s just another example of politicians favouring the rich and powerful over the right of the people.

More than anywhere else this government sponsored land grab will affect the people of the Forest of Dean, but they are not sitting back and accepting it. The newly formed Hands off our Forest (HOOF) describe themselves as a broad alliance of groups and individuals campaigning to keep the forest out of private hands. And they have history on their side. From the riots of 1612 through Warren James in 1831 to the campaign that stopped the 1981 forest privatisation, the foresters have shown themselves to be a committed and passionate bunch, so don’t be surprised when they win this battle.

For more information visit http://www.handsoffourforest.org/