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Badgers in Saltdean

Badgered to Death
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15 May 2003 - DEFRA

Copyright in the following article, pictures, links remain with DEFRA.

Badgers in Saltdean

"The world of badgers is in some ways analogous with the human world. Like us, their behaviour is greatly influenced by their need for homes and living space, and being social like we are, they too have their problems of learning how to live together ..... and with us"
Ernest Neal

The case of the licence to cull a group of badgers in Saltdean has attracted a lot of publicity and stimulated a lot of debate over recent weeks. DEFRA has prepared this note to set out the background to the key questions which have been raised.

The badgers have caused problems for householders in Saltdean and DEFRA is keen to engage constructively in exploring how best to resolve this matter quickly and satisfactorily.

The sett involved is a large main sett in the grounds of four gardens which has caused significant problems for some considerable time. A thorough attempt at exclusion of badgers from the sett concerned was made in 1988; despite considerable efforts of the experienced staff involved over a three-month period, this was not successful. Between September and October 2001, DEFRA received new applications from four householders in Saltdean. DEFRA specialists subsequently visited the site and with the agreement of the householders, action was deferred until the summer of 2002 to avoid the badger breeding season. Further visits to appraise the progress of the situation occurred throughout 2002. After considering all possible options (including the initial attempts at exclusion) and consulting with several other organisations, a licence for the humane dispatch of the badgers was reluctantly granted on 7 October 2002. Although rare, this is not a precedent. A similar licence was issued in 1996. Two animals were trapped and humanely dispatched under licence.

Work was suspended on 14 October 2002 so that local residents and interest groups could have a further opportunity to come to a suitable agreement.

Local meetings have occurred allowing all parties to explain their views. DEFRA arranged a forum to discuss alternative proposals for a way forward. This forum took place on 27 November 2002.

Answers to key questions raised

Why does DEFRA want to kill the badgers?

DEFRA has a duty to balance the protection of badgers with resolving genuine problems that are sometimes caused by them. In dealing with all problems we follow the law which Parliament has laid down. In this case the law is set out in the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. This Act introduced important protection for badgers, but it recognised that in some circumstances licences might need to be issued to interfere with setts or kill or take badgers. Two bodies issue licences in England for a variety of purposes:

  1. English Nature issue licences for reasons including science, education or conservation, for development such as the building of houses and for investigation of offences against badgers.
  2. DEFRA issue licences for the prevention of serious damage to land, crops or other form of property, as well as for agriculture, forestry, drainage operations and prevention of the spread of disease.

If DEFRA receives an application for a licence, it is against the law to refuse it without good reason.

However, we have responded to concerns raised about this case. Work under the licence has been suspended to allow us to explore whether an alternative solution can be found which accommodates everyone's interests.

But the badgers weren't doing any harm?

Many people might enjoy seeing badgers in their gardens. However, when badgers dig a sett, the damage can be substantial. DEFRA would refuse to issue a licence if we did not believe it was necessary for the prevention of serious damage to land or property. But the evidence is that badgers occupying the gardens of 4 properties in Saltdean have caused significant damage. Over 40 sett entrances are present in the gardens of these properties; each hole is at least the diameter of a football. These entrances are connected to a network of tunnels and chambers underground and many tons of earth will have been excavated. An independent surveyor estimated that for one garden 70% and for the other 80% of the area was unusable by the owners because of the badger activity. Badger tunnels have undermined patios, paths and other garden features. These gardens could be dangerous to the elderly residents and visitors, particularly children. The surveyor also considered it likely that tunnels already went under the wall of one house and that the likelihood of damage being caused was high. A further house is at risk if the sett continues to enlarge. Additionally, deposits of droppings are present close to one of the houses, which may present a health risk.

Why didn't DEFRA consider alternative solutions before issuing the licences?

Before issuing a licence to trap and humanely dispatch the badgers a whole range of solutions were fully explored. Further explanation is given below. A number of organisations were contacted before a decision was made on the licence, but at the time no other workable solution was put forward. We then established the forum, involving a wide range of interests, to give us a further chance of finding an alternative solution acceptable to all concerned.

Two of the other possible options for dealing with the badgers which we considered were translocation (catching and transporting the badgers to another site) and exclusion (introducing measures such as electric fencing and one-way gates to exclude the badgers from the sett).

Exclusion was tried in these gardens previously. In 1988, an attempt was made over a three-month period to exclude the badgers from their sett. The sett was surrounded with electric fencing and barriers fitted with gates to allow badgers out of the area, but not back in to the sett. Despite considerable efforts of all those involved including a badger consultant; even trapping persistent badgers inside the barrier and placing them outside it, the badgers could not be excluded from the sett. This was probably because there was not an alternative sett for them to go to and exclusions are always more difficult from main setts (as opposed to the smaller outlying or subsidiary setts).

Since then, the size of the sett and the number of badgers have grown, making the problem much more serious. Excluding them, even if it was possible, would be likely to transfer the problem to some other houses and gardens. It could also cause significant badger welfare concerns. There are at least 3 other occupied main setts within 1.5km of the problem sett. Conflict between the excluded badgers and other social groups would be a significant problem for the animals. The welfare of the badgers has always, and continues to be, a major concern to DEFRA.

Translocation is not simple and has significant welfare implications. The right site must be chosen otherwise the badgers could be unable to adapt to their new location, and may starve to death. Also they may come into conflict with badgers already present and be unable to establish a new territory. The welfare of the badgers can therefore be put seriously at risk. In this case there is a complicating factor as the badgers live in an area where TB has been detected among the badger population. At least 10 badgers in the Saltdean area have tested positive for TB since 1985. TB can eventually cause the death of an infected badger and there is a risk of TB being spread to cattle. The badgers will have to be kept in captivity while they are tested for TB and such confinement is stressful for a wild animal. Both badgers that were taken under this licence had lesions that may be indicative of TB (though evidence is not conclusive at this stage).

So DEFRA has already made up its mind that there is no other option?

In considering the licence applications, we looked at a range of possible ways forward. However, we hope that the establishment of the forum process will provide options, which might provide a solution acceptable to all parties.

We have played our part in the work of the forum in good faith and will work constructively with other interests to try to find a suitable accommodation between the interests of residents and others in this case.

What did the forum do and how did it operate?

The forum was led by a chairman appointed from outside DEFRA. The aim of the forum was to work together to explore whether a solution can be found to the Saltdean case, which is consistent with the requirement of the law, solves the problems for all the householders and is supported by those interested in the case.

The parties involved in the forum have had an opportunity to visit the site and discuss the case. DEFRA staff have been working to collate all the relevant information on this case to provide background for forum participants. DEFRA has been complying with its obligations under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and the Environmental Information Regulations. We have been as open and transparent as we can be, while protecting the residents' rights under the Data Protection Act and the law more generally.

DEFRA wants to achieve a mutually satisfactory outcome with all groups having their views carefully considered and taken seriously. The forum enabled representatives of relevant organisations to put forward their constructive suggestions for an alternative workable solution to this case. DEFRA representatives were present to provide information that is relevant to the case, not to impose a particular outcome. All other parties were present to provide solutions, or to ensure that all technical aspects of possible solutions are considered.

The forum process is transparent. A verbatim report of the forum will be made public, as will the chairman's written report on its findings. It is the responsibility of DEFRA to take this case forward and issue licences where appropriate.

Other badger questions

Will the issuing of licences in cases like this result in extinction of badgers?

Badgers are common in the UK; we have the highest densities in Europe, in some areas ranging up to 25 per square kilometre. Since 1992 badger numbers have almost doubled by some estimates and the population is likely to be in excess of 400,000. Moreover, this type of licensed action is extremely rare. Only 3 other badgers have been killed to prevent damage to property since 1992, and this is the first licence of its kind since 1996. This is an exceptional case and in no way threatens the conservation of badgers locally or nationally.

Is this the tip of an iceberg? Will DEFRA now issue many more licences to take and kill badgers?

Each licence is considered very carefully on its own merits. DEFRA have dealt with many thousands of badger cases since the Act was introduced for a variety of problems including setts causing damage to roads, railways, flood defences and buildings. Every single case is visited by DEFRA specialists and the problem and potential solutions explored in detail with the applicant. Every advisor has received comprehensive training and will have a background in dealing with wildlife.

We receive up to 700 badger licence applications each year. This was the first licence to be granted to kill badgers for damage to property since 1996. Such a licence is always a last resort. We expect that any such licences would continue to be rare.

DEFRA is culling badgers to deal with TB in cattle. Does that programme and this licence show DEFRA is seeking to remove all badgers from town and countryside?

The trial cull is a totally separate issue from licensing to prevent damage to property. The trial is designed to find out whether badger culling is an effective or sustainable TB control mechanism. There is currently a policy of no culling in relation to bovine TB other than for the purposes of scientific research within certain limited and well-defined experimental areas. This will remain the case until the results of the trial in 2005 are published.

Are licences to close setts a result of development encroaching on badger habitat?

Many licence applications dealt with by DEFRA are rural, relating to agricultural or drainage work such as closures in flood banks to prevent the flooding of homes and productive land. Less than 10% of the 700 or so badger licence applications received each year relate to problems in gardens, ranging from minor damage to lawns to tunnels causing subsidence to paths, greenhouses and in some cases houses. Licences concerning development proposals are considered by English Nature, not DEFRA. Last year approximately 300 licences were granted by EN following a process similar to that of DEFRA, 95% of these licences were for development.

Have other sett closures in the area caused the current problem?

Badger activity in the area is considerable and DEFRA staff have helped householders in Saltdean deal with many badger problems. However, records show that in the last 18 years only three small setts (eight entrances in total) were closed under licence within 1.6 km of the current problem. There is no evidence that the action taken under previous licences has contributed to the current problem.

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