Camp Badger eco-warriors claim campaign success
These are the Brian May foot soldiers – the eco-warriors at the front line in the battle to sabotage the badger cull – and they believe they have waged a successful campaign over the past six weeks, writes Phil Goodwin.
Patrolling the lanes, fields and bridal paths of West Somerset armed with state-of-the-art night-vision equipment, torches and whistles, the band of animal rights activists has been a constant thorn in the side of the marksmen tasked with killing 2,200 badgers.
There have been claims that the 70% kill target may have fallen to as low as 20%, making it hard for the Government to continue the practice of free shooting.
Visitors to Camp Badger – a muddy field at Ash Priors, near Bishops Lydeard, north of Taunton, provided by a sympathetic farmer – are met at a crossroads half-a-mile away then accompanied there on foot.
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However, this is not out of excessive secrecy – the headquarters is clearly visible from the road – it is simply because there is precious little space to park among the camper vans and 4X4 vehicles.
On the day that anti-cull movement's spiritual leader Brian May makes an appearance, morale is high at the vegan camp.
But if the Queen guitarist is Team Badger's commander-in-chief, the field marshal of the night-time operation in the Somerset cull zone is Jay Tierney, of Stop the Cull.
Mr Tierney, pictured right, who was arrested as film crews watched at the start of the cull, has been trying to stop the free shooting for six weeks and is unrepentant about interfering in the Government-sponsored pilot. "I think it's absolutely outrageous and I haven't got any problems whatsoever in interfering with something that is wrong," he says. "Slavery was wrong – that was lawful activity – was anybody that interfered with that wrong? It's like hunting with hounds. That is illegal now because we have decided as a society it was morally repugnant. So history now says for all those years the hunt saboteurs were right. Society now says hunting is wrong and I think that will be the case with the badger cull."
Clearly, these views will find little favour within much of the farming, hunting and shooting community, where tales of extreme action by animal rights groups linger long in the memory.
But Jay is adamant that the mass slaughter is unjustified and other ways must be found.
And despite the bitter exchanges and fears of widespread intimidation beforehand, the cull has largely passed off without incident, something in which he takes pride.
"I think naming and shaming is definitely justifiable. I think the whole thing right from the start was supposed to be shrouded in secrecy and that was our number one goal to make sure it was very clear what was going on," he adds.
"People ask us why we are masked up and being anonymous, well the other side is.
"We know where lots of people have been shooting badgers but we haven't been round their houses throwing bricks through their windows. Have people been waking them up through the night? Yeah, maybe, a bit, but there isn't this big file load of terrible incidents that have happened to people. Intimidation is notes through the letter box, people waking you up banging on the door and that isn't happening. I'm very pleased about that. We have been very effective without threats and intimidation. It may have happened to a degree but I don't think it's very much." One of the dozen or so saboteurs at the camp, Sally, from Cornwall says trying to find nocturnal hunters in camouflage has been tough hard, tiring work.
She says the six weeks has passed "peacefully" and says the "generosity and good feeling" shown by the public to them has "moved her to tears".
This reaction, Mr Tierney insists, shows a public misconception: "Animal rights is a weird thing because you have got the people who are the most sensitive to cruelty to animals being exposed to it. I'm not saying they are somehow special but they are motivated enough to not sleep properly for weeks on end. What motivates somebody to do something like that? It's not done out of a blind hatred for farmers it's done out of a compassion for and love of wildlife."
And despite claiming the cull has failed, he doesn't believe the protest is the reason, rather that free shooting of so many badgers could not work.
"We never expected it to be able to get there on effectiveness so for us it was all about damage limitation," he concludes.
"They are going to try to kill 2,200. They might kill 1,000. What we need to do is bring that number down as low as we can. I feel we have done a really good job of that, directly and indirectly."