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BADGE OF COURAGE: A night with the secretive animal rights group sabotaging England’s badger cull

Last year, more than 35,000 badgers were slaughtered in England. Badgers are lured into cages or holes, before they are shot with rifles, taking up to 20 minutes to die.

NIKO VOROBYOV: The badger has a hallowed place in British countryside lore… But not everyone shares this enthusiasm for the black-and-white mammals… In 2013, the UK government began badger cull test run in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire, aimed at containing the spread of bovine TB – a disease that affects cattle and is carried by badgers. Cattle can contract bovine TB by eating grass where infected badgers have left urine, faeces and other bodily fluids. The badgers themselves may not show symptoms… Since then, the programme has expanded to 44 areas across England…

Ash is a member of Underground Badger Syndicate (UBS), a radical animal liberation group taking direct action to sabotage – or “sab” – the badger cull… Its members see themselves as taking a stand again “speciesism”… “When you see a badger in a cage, they’ve given up on life,” says Ash. “They’re diggers, so if they can’t dig anymore, they lie down and accept their fate. They shit themselves, and then they lie in their own shit. It’s horrible”…

Every day of the six-week culling season, which takes place in September and October, UBS activists scour woods and fields across the country looking for cages to smash, or fresh bait spots where they can later ambush farmers and disrupt their hunt. They are helped by a network of supporters and informers, which Ash claims number in the hundreds, if not thousands…

Unlike other anti-cull campaigners, who operate in the open, UBS prefer to work at night, loitering in fields, wearing masks and trespassing. “The Cult of Corn is a spooky group you don’t want to have around your farm,” reads a recent satirical UBS Instagram post. “They are attracted into your property by your cages, so either you stop or they will invade your fields.” Ash admits that there is an element of intimidation to UBS tactics. “We’ve had shooters cry and pee themselves because we were there,” they say…

UBS does not promote or condone physical violence, but the group isn’t against ringing farmers at odd hours to ask why they’re taking part in the cull. In August, protesters showed up at the home of a Surrey company director organising a cull and graffitied “badger killer” outside… But for the farmers on the receiving end of UBS’ unusual tactics, the group is a real worry…

Last year, more than 35,000 badgers were slaughtered, most of them shot dead, with less than 1 percent of kills monitored to check that they were carried out “humanely”. Typically, badgers are lured into cages or small holes filled with peanuts, before they are shot… Despite how contentious the badger cull has become, there is still some doubt about its impact as a method for stopping the spread of bovine TB.

Professor John Krebs, a zoologist at the University of Oxford, has commissioned a landmark study into the culling trial. “The cull has some effect, maybe a 20 percent reduction, but many scientists think that cattle-to-cattle transmission is more important,” he says…

For Ash and the UBS, the effectiveness of the cull is a moot point. “To be honest with you, I don’t care if the cull works, if it eradicates TB,” Ash says. “They shouldn’t be killing badgers, and farmers shouldn’t be farming cattle which is the main reason for greenhouse gases, for soya crops, and it’s ethically wrong”. SOURCE…

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