£500 For A Badger


Eamon de Buitlear in his delightful book, Ireland's Wild Countryside (1993), tells us that badger and fox-watching evenings are a regular pastime in parts of Dublin. And he mentions filming a whole family of badgers which had been visiting a garden in Bangor, County Down for several years, a fact which the couple concerned kept to themselves. Walking among the trees, especially the oaks, in Glendalough, he sees signs everywhere of the badger presence - well-worn trails "pock-marked with diggings and characteristic pits filled with droppings". The oldest setts are often beneath the roots of old trees on steep slopes - for protection, you might guess. And against mankind.

Badger-baiting is not a thing of the past, though long outlawed. How much it goes on in Ireland, one does not know, but it is serious enough in Britain for Phil Drabble, well known to TV viewers, to assert, on the strength, probably of a book produced by two policemen who have written on the law of country sports and the protection of wildlife, that there are louts "who will still pay £500 apiece for `healthy' badgers to torture". (Badger-baiting consists of putting a badger in a pit and setting dogs on it until it is dead.) Drabble has come up with a method of making badger setts undiggable, and therefore a protection to the animals. He once had to fell some large trees to clear woodland around him. But how to dispose of the roots? So he hired a JCB digger to put the roots in piles, out of sight - and, incidentally, paid for the hire of the digger by selling the trunks for timber.

Then, as he tells in The Countryman, he covered the roots with soil and seeded the soil with grass. And badgers eagerly colonised the hollows beneath the roots. The sett might not have stopped trespassing diggers from sending down their terriers, but they could not have been able to get their own dogs or the badger out, without a JCB digger to move the roots!

Do we have this awful practice of animal torture still in Ireland? Eamon just touches on the badger/cattle TB controversy. "Decomposing cowpats provide an irresistible source of invertebrate food but this has brought badgers into close contact with cattle and some have contracted bovine TB as a result. The badger has been widely blamed as a vector of the disease for healthy cattle. While the mechanisms of such transmission are far from proved, many badger setts in woodland and elsewhere are disturbed and badgers killed unnecessarily as scapegoats."