Somerset Badger Patrol - 'peace-loving people' with a message
A group calling itself Somerset Badger Patrol which has been organising nocturnal vigils in the west of the county in the last few weeks says it plans to increase its activities as the likely start date for the cull draws nearer.
"We've got patrols going out tonight and every other night during the cull – and we will start going out nightly," said Michelle Gunn, who set up the group with two other women. The group is planning a candlelight vigil in Minehead on Monday night
"So far we've had patrols around the villages of Carhampton and Monksilver – and smaller ones in other places like Roadwater. Between 40 to 60 people have been coming to the larger patrols, but the smaller ones average 12 to 15 because they might be done at shorter notice."
Asked if the vigils were designed to drive off marksmen attempting a potential badger cull, Ms Gunn replied: "We inform the police where we're going so they can protect us – and they can warn [official cull personnel] – so maybe they would go somewhere else. But the reason we're out is to create a peaceful presence in the area. We don't agree with the cull – we're awakening the countryside.
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"We're also out looking for any wounded badgers because even the Government says there will be a percentage that are not killed outright," she added.
"The patrol's presence within the cull area is to allow people to know that we're against it – but if it inadvertently moves these people on, we won't mind that."
Ms Gunn said she and her two colleagues were Somerset residents and that they'd set up the badger patrols to "protect our county and show there is a big support network out there".
She added: "If readers are interested in carrying out action with us, we are very lawful."
One person who has been out on a couple of patrols in West Somerset is Amanda Barrett, who worked for many years as a producer with the BBC Natural History Unit and who has set up a website called Badgergate, subtitled: "The Need to Know – So Many Myths, So Little Time".
She told the Western Morning News: "A patrol I joined near Carhampton had upwards of 200 people. We split into two groups, there were so many people of differing abilities. One lot took a low road for an hour-and-a-half, meandering around Crown Estate land – others went up into the hills for about three hours.
"It was quite an effort for some – quite a few people had driven up from as far as Cornwall. On neither of the patrols I joined did we come across anything untoward, but we did have the chance to see some of the badger setts that may be under threat.
"I say may be, because of course it's all very secret. Defra will neither confirm or deny that it will start [the cull] this coming Monday, but people pick up things.
"I've never known anything like it in the countryside," said Mrs Barrett who lives in the north of the county. "The levels of secrecy surrounding the cull are incredible and yet it's going to impact on so many of us.
"How can the Government suppress so much information? And when it does come out, it is often heavily biased."
Asked if she had any personal reasons for joining exhausting nocturnal patrols, Mrs Barrett said: "I have travelled around the world making films for the BBC Natural History Unit and met many people involved with human-animal conflicts. I have made films in the Masai where lions were killing people's goats, in other places in Africa where lions were killing cows and in Australia where dingos were killing cattle. So I am very used to talking to both sides.
"But I have never come across such intransigence as this," she continued. "One of the best benchmark scientific trials ever carried out with wildlife showed that killing badgers would not create any meaningful results for bovine TB.
"Eventually you have to ask, what more can you do? I've written to my MP – I have written to lots of people – and no-one is listening to us.
"The media often calls people opposing the cull extremists, they talk about people out intimidating farmers – but I know that is a tiny proportion. The majority are peaceful, law-abiding, middle-class, middle-England, rural, people. They come from everywhere – from all walks of life.
"What more can one do but go about and raise awareness?" she asked.
We asked Mrs Barrett how she felt the patrols had been greeted by local people.
"Cars passed by and people saw us and honked their horns – but you never know if that's in support or not. English people are very reserved.
"We were accompanied by two policemen each time, so we were protected. And maybe that was just as well – there were quite a few who joined the patrol in their 70s. Just archetypal, peace-loving, ordinary people."