‘Drawing the Badger’, A scene from a series of colour prints entitled ‘Badger Baiting’ produced c.1823 by Henry Thomas Alken. Courtesy: RSPCA
This feature on Badger Baiting was published in the Scene section of the Sunday Times on 9th November 1980. It was the result of a detailed investigation I made into the subject at a time, when there were very few badger protection groups and no internet.
Digging a grave for the badger
THIS HAS been a bad year for the badger. Ten days ago the Zuckerman Report called for a resumption of badger-gassing -control the spread of bovine TB in the West Country. Now SCENE reveals a new and more insidious threat—a widespread revival of the ancient, but entirely illegal, sport of badger-baiting.
Earlier this year Rochdale, in a wood near Rochdale, police and RSPCA officials caught three men in possession of some fox cubs, two badgers and five Lakeland terriers. One of the clogs was fighting a badger in a cage; two others were badly scarred.
At the subsequent trial, the prosecution called it "a hideous training ground for hunting dogs. All three defendants, average age 23, admitted cruelly terrifying a badger and were fined a total of £800.
This was by no means an isolated case.Badger-baiting and badger digging are flourishing,despite the fact that the badger is supposedly protected by law. It has always been an irresistible quarry for the hunter. Its tough hide, mantrap jaws and half-inch claws make it a formidable opponent for a dog.
A badger-dig usually begins with terriers, most often Jack Russells, being sent down into a maze of tunnels. They are trained to corner the badger in a blind alley, and to indicate its position by barking. The diggers then hack into the sett until the badger is exposed. Long, pincer-like tongs are used to drag the animal clear, and it is then either killed on the spot, by having its spine chopped with a spade, or baited with terriers. To, improve the dogs' chances, it is usual for the badger to be disabled— either by having its jaw smashed or its legs shackled. Sometimes the badgers are taken to be used at organised baiting sessions, where they provide sport for gamblers.
Michelle Harrison, of the Wirral and Chester Badger Group, says that Liverpool terrier owners have been taking badgers for baiting at artificial setts in the city. The hundred or so members of her group patrol the natural setts in their local countryside, even rigging baby alarms in an attempt to detect the intruders. But still the plundering goes on.
Jack Martin, at Croydon, is other ardent protectionist. “These people have been getting away ay with it," he says, " because very few people knew the badger was a protected animal." After all the badgers in a nearby public woodland had been either gassed or dug up, he held a public meeting and formed a protection society.
It was the efforts of this group which led to the first prosecution under the Badger Act to be heard in the Metropolitan area. On September 25 this year, four men and a woman were fined £50 each for digging in the woods near Purley, Surrey. One of them had been armed with a four-foot spiked iron bar.
Barrie Lewis, co-founder of the Gwent Badger Group, is currently trying to persuade his MP to campaign for higher fines. The maximum at the moment is £100 per offence, but magistrates have seemed in many cases reluctant to impose the full penalty. In the last couple of years in Lewis's area, men have been caught at a sett with dogs fighting a badger. Others were found with a live animal in a sack, and a farmer recently discovered a flayed carcass.
One of the badger’s most active defendants is Mrs Ruth Murray who runs an animal sanctuary at Bridestowe in Devon, and whose dossier containing the names and addresses of more than 500 diggers throughout Britain was partly instrumental in bringing about the 1974 Badger Act.
" There is definitely an increase in the illegal killing of badgers," she says. "During the last few weeks I have had ten brought in dead, dying or seriously injured—all due to digging. One was this year's cub three parts grown, which had had its jaw torn off arid was covered with dog bites."
The Badger Act, which came into force on January 25, 1974, makes it illegal to "wilfully kill, injure or maim any badger”. But there is a major loophole. Any "authorised person" — i,e. the owner, occupier, or anyone authorised by the landowner— can still dig for badgers if it can be shown that the animals are damaging property. In the first, four years of the Act, there were only 69 prosecutions, producing 53 convictions.
A possible solution to the problem has been demonstrated by West Yorkshire which, by an amendment to the Act, has been made a Special Protection Area. Landowners here must now go to court to prove that badgers are causing damage or spreading disease. Paul Patchett, of the Mammal Society, says the result has been a drastic reduction in the amount of digging.
Badger-baiting is covered by the 1911 Protection of Animals Act, which also applies to cock-fighting and dog fighting, and carries stiffer penalties—maximum £500 and/or three months imprisonment. The problem here is actually catching offenders in the act. Commander Leonard Flint, of the RSPCA's Uniformed Inspectorate, advocates a specially trained agency of " strong-arm boys like the SPG,” a kind of Wildlife Police.
Perhaps the most significant factor in the badger's current parlous state is the upsurge of interest in working terriers, coordinated through a national network of clubs. Stark proof of this is provided in a recently published book by D. Brian Plummer, The Complete Jack Russell Terrier. This contains a whole section on badger digging, complete with photographs which show little concern for the badger's status in law. As Plummer puts it: "The whole badger problem must seem like a medieval riddle. When is a protected creature not a protected creature ? Answer: when it is a badger."
He describes the Badger Act as a "lunatic law," and writes: "I have always suspected that this Act was drawn up to satisfy the anti-field sports contingent who, unknowing of the ways of badgers and badger diggers^ did not realise that a badger dig can last for hours, and sometimes days, the dig itself often growing to resemble an excavation job done' by a major contractor."
He reveals that one club, the Fell & Moorland Working Terrier Club, even offers a rescue service to free terriers trapped underground which often involves the hire of heavy machinery.
‘The 21st century badger baiters. They plot their sick fight on the internet, film them on mobiles and have bred a lethal new superdog to rip their prey to pieces’
This article by Danny Penman, published in the Daily Mail on the 12th Jan 2012 brings the story up to date.
In recent years, badger baiters have bred a new type of dog known as a bull lurcher. This fearsome beast has the enormous jaws of a pit bull and the size and agility of a lurcher
HEAR RSPCA PODCAST: Increase in crimes against badgers