Defra and Natural England issue manual on how to safely kill badgers
Driving down a bumpy woodland track in a pick-up truck, the rifleman and his 'spotter' are heading for a pre-arranged area where they can park up, in clear sight of a badger sett perhaps 50 metres away with a high earth bank behind.
The sett entrance has been baited with a mixture of peanuts and treacle and the cull team will be in place as dusk falls, well hidden yet with a good view of their target.
Climbing into the back of the pick-up, wearing dark clothing and with a camouflage net for extra cover, the rifleman, using a .243 calibre weapon with a 50 grain bullet, will train his telescopic sights on the area in front of the sett. His spotter, meanwhile, scans the area around for other animals – and anti-cull protesters – using a red filter on his spotlight. If anyone is in the line of fire, the operation will have to be aborted.
All is clear, however, and as the skies darken and the wood quietens down for the night, the rifleman switches on his night vision equipment, allowing him to see clearly in the dark. A badger comes into view, side on, The rifleman takes aim, placing the crosshairs of his sights a little behind the badger's front legs to be sure of hitting heart and lungs for a clean kill. He pulls the trigger and the first of up to 5,000 badgers that are likely to be culled as part of the pilot exercise in Somerset and Gloucestershire is dead. That, at least, is how the 17-page manual, Controlled shooting of badgers in the field to prevent the spread of bovine TB in cattle, issued jointly by Defra and Natural England, would have it.
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Safe shooting, clean kills and minimal risk to anyone else in the area underpin the guidance, which has been issued as part of a training regime and rifleman's accuracy test which all those taking part in the cull will have undertaken.
The badger, once shot, will be collected up, bagged and could be one of those subjected to an examination to try to confirm it died quickly and painlessly – although only a small proportion of the total culled will be checked in this way.
Those opposed to the cull say the scenario will in fact be very different, with unnecessary cruelty, wounded badgers and unacceptable risk to the public. In the next six weeks, we'll find out who is right.