More badgers in Somerset are being “persecuted” as a result of the national cull, campaigners claim, writes Daniel Mumby.

Reports have been filed with Avon and Somerset Constabulary of setts being flattened with heavy machinery and snares being laid in fields.

The Somerset Badger Group says it has received numerous reports from residents, who are worried the cull is being used as “a green light to persecute badgers”.

The police has said it is working with Defra and Natural England to ensure the cull is carried out properly, as well as liaising with protest groups.

During the first two weeks in October – the most recent figures available – the Somerset Badger Group received an average of one call a day to its 24-hour helpline.

The reports included two separate incidents of badger setts being flattened with heavy machinery – one in Cothelstone in the Quantock Hills, and the other near the River Parrett at Chilton Trinity near Bridgwater.

The public also reported large numbers of snares being left in fields, with 15 being found in one location alone.

Group member Louise Matthews said: “It is really worrying the amount of badger persecution being reported, but we are pleased that the police are taking it seriously.

“The message is hopefully going to start filtering down to those involved in this illegal activity that badgers are a protected species and concerned residents will be out keeping an eye on them.”

The group has been working closely with the police’s rural and wildlife crime team, as well as the special operations unit at the RSPCA, to tackle this problem.

Read more: Badger culling proven to reduce TB in cattle says NFU

The police log reports of a range of offences involving badgers – including attempts to sell live animals, digging up their setts, harming a badger with a firearm or tongs, and attempting to attach a tag or marking device to the animal.

Nine badger-related crimes have been reported to Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2019/20 to date.

The number of crimes involving badgers has remained relatively consistent in Somerset over the last five years, ranging from eight in 2017/18 to 18 incidents in 2018/19.

During the badger culls the police have been running Operation Cobb – a national response which involves liaison officers working with both the cull operators and protestors.

Avon and Somerset chief superintendent Paul Mogg said: “The badger cull is managed by Natural England under licence from Defra, who together will implement the cull.

“We’ll be building on the success of previous policing operations relating to the cull, and proactively liaising with the key agencies responsible for carrying it out, the farming community and those wishing to demonstrate their right to protest.

“Public safety is our primary concern. We can’t go into the details of our plans for clear operational reasons but residents in Avon and Somerset can be reassured that we’re ready to respond should we need to in order to keep them safe.

“It’s possible the cull will attract protests as we’ve seen in previous years and we respect people’s right to protest against the action.

“Our aim is to facilitate safe, peaceful and lawful protests using well-rehearsed plans and would appeal for anyone intending to hold a demonstration to contact and work with us.”

Originally published in Somerset County Gazette