A MEMBER of the Wiltshire Badger Group managed to deter a pair of cull shooters on Thursday evening.

The incident came after the end of an evening in which I joined the group on patrol in the Bradford on Avon area but sadly did not witness any confrontations.

For two hours photographer Trevor Porter and I trekked through local fields to inspect badger setts with two group members who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals.

The pair, who we shall call Dave and Emily (not their real names) regularly go out on patrol several evenings a week with the aim of preventing badgers from being shot.

Dave said: "The cull is taking place over the whole of rural Wiltshire, including Avoncliff, Bradford on Avon, Freshford, Pewsey Vale, Chiseldon, Marlborough, Salisbury and Ludgershall.

"None of these locations are announced as the government keeps it secret. We only know by hearing from locals, village gossip and chance encounters with the shooters."

While on patrol, the group are checking on known local badger setts and looking for badgers, signs of culling and baiting, often using peanuts.

At the end of the evening, Dave received a call from another member of the group and said she would have to go.

She later told me: “After I left you I attended a location having been called by a new patroller - as I was driving there, a pair of cull shooters (a marksman and his buddy) turned up to cull in the field which she was patrolling.

“She was actually alone, but her presence meant they immediately packed up and left - text book stuff.

“It turns out they had pre-baited the field earlier in the day, by placing the bait on cow pats. The reason she noticed the bait at all, is because she noticed a fox having a munch on a cow pat.

“It’s clear evidence of how unscientific this cull is - with cattle being the primary way in which the disease is spread to not just other cattle but to wildlife too.

“In this case, their own baiting method is high risk for actually spreading the tuberculosis disease.

“We have forced them to adapt how they bait and how they target them in ways that are obviously less efficient for them. Even if we don’t see them so much any more at least we have made their jobs a bit harder.”

Dave, who has been disrupting culls for three years, said: “It’s a cat and mouse game. We aim to disrupt the badger culling as much as possible.

“I like nothing better than to go home knowing that I have managed to stop some of the badgers from being killed.”

The group obtains its intelligence from many sources and says it’s down to “very hard work” by lots of individuals who find and survey badger setts throughout the year.

The group claims shooters in the west Wiltshire and north-east Somerset zone are aiming to kill 4,141 badgers in the current cull.

“The initial licenses last only four years. Beyond that, they are issued with what are called supplementary licences.”

We also asked the National Farmers Union if we could join a badger shooting group but our request was denied because of the “sensitivities” surrounding the cull.

The Wiltshire Badger Group estimates there are 789 people authorised to cage trap and dispatch badgers in Wiltshire and 641 people authorised to carry out controlled shooting.

They say landowners are attempting to close public footpaths and rights of way on land where there are badger setts in a bid to deter the group from entering.

Dave, 49, said: “Signs have been placed on two sections of a footpath by a cull farm in Bromham, using Covid-19 as a means to illegal close public rights of way.

“We work closely with Wiltshire police and it has been reported to them. The police have asked the landowner to take the notices down.

“The landowner also attempted to block a badger patrol from crossing the public footpath across their land.

“It is an offence under the section 57 of the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949 to display misleading signage to deliberately deter people from using a right of way.”