MAFF Ministry at centre of badger bodge
Isle of Wight News - January 1998
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has come under
fire for its role in the eviction of a family of badgers - a
protected species - from a massive sett under the tracks of one of
Britain's most popular steam railways.
A badger protection group which had been monitoring the sett
has accused the Ministry of advising on the destruction of the
sett in a totally insensitive fashion - including lighting fires
at the entrances, and methods which drove the creatures out under
Now the badger protection group - based on the Isle of Wight -
wants the Ministry to review its policy over the way it handles
badger sett evictions. Minister Dr Jack Cunningham has been asked
They say they were shocked over the way the Ministry failed to
consult them, even though they had very detailed knowledge of the
sett and its inhabitants.
It has been revealed it cost the Isle of Wight Steam Railway
around £13,000 to have the badgers relocated from sett beneath
the tracks of its five-mile line. The sett was causing sinking and
instability on the line, which winds through picturesque
The sett was discovered in a section of embankment over which
trains carrying tens of thousands of tourists chug each year.
Commercial director of the railway at Havenstreet, Jim Loe,
said: "The erosion of the embankment was getting so bad we
had to investigate. When we saw the size of the holes we knew it
was badgers underneath. "We called in the Ministry of
Agriculture, who advised us to carry out repair work under their
supervision so the badgers could move out to a new site about
half-a-mile down the line." But badger protection group
spokesman, Brian Masterton said they were amazed over the way the
work was carried out under the advice of the Ministry, which
licensed the work.
"The steam railway was aware of the badger sett more than
two years ago when the then chief civil engineer announced that he
intended to fill it in. He was advised that such an act would be
illegal under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and that such an
act could render the steam railway liable to prosecution. "He
was also advised to contact the badger group, and in due course
the track supervisor contacted our field officer and together they
visited the sett. It was agreed that the main sett posed no
problems to the steam railway."
But Mr Masterton revealed that much to their surprise they
later learnt the sett was to be destroyed - under licence approved
by the Ministry.
"The initial stages of destroying the badger sett
comprised removal of the trees and foliage and excessive trampling
of the spoil outside each of the entrances, the dumping of debris
in the entrances and the lighting of fires near to two entrances -
all of which was not necessary, particularly as the badgers still
had fairly young cubs with them.
"The family was still in the sett while the destruction
was being carried out and the badgers were forced out under
terror. Under such conditions of obvious stress, badgers have been
known to remain in a sett for up to one month, too frightened to
venture out." Mr Masterton also said there was no replacement
"There are a number of entrances which are known as
outliers and sub-setts in the vicinity, but there is no proof that
these are occupied by the same group of badgers from the displaced
sett. "Having forced the badgers out of their home, crude
wooden and wire one-way gates were placed in each of the six
entrances in the sett."
Mr Masterton described the style of removal of the badgers as
"a lack of consideration to an animal protected by law".
He said the badger group had questioned MAFF as to the manner of
the exclusion, and the stress it placed on the family of badgers.
"MAFF has failed to answer specific questions posed to them
by the badger group as it appears to have a policy of not
disclosing details of licences to third parties, which
unfortunately they consider badger protection groups to be.
"More often than not the badger groups have more local
knowledge and expertise than MAFF. MAFF's lack of co-operation and
lengthy delay in responding to queries has led the badger group to
write the Minister, Jack Cunningham, asking him to alter the
manner in which MAFF deals with the exclusion of badgers.
"The provision for proper surveys of badger activity prior
to, during and after exclusion, and the provision of a receptor
sett are highly desirable to prevent a repeat of the questionable
manner in which this exclusion was carried out. "It should be
noted that such problems are not just confined to the Isle of
Wight, but are of concern to badger groups on a national
The railway's commercial director, Mr Jim Loe, defended the
need for the work to be carried out. "The repair work had to
be carried out for the safety of our passengers, the damage was
too severe to ignore. When we started work on stabilising the
section of track, we found there was a honeycomb of tunnels which
went on for about 50ft."
"There have since been no sightings of the badgers near
the old sett, and we believe they have gradually moved to a bank
in a cutting further down the line.
"All the work was carried out to the letter of the law
protecting badgers. A representative of the Ministry of
Agriculture was present whenever we undertook any work at all.
"Since discovering the sett we were forced to bring in up
to 40 tonne loads of ballast to stabilise the track, which had
been sinking as a result of the activities of the badgers.
"We were granted a Ministry of Agriculture licence for the
work. We were concerned over the welfare of the animals so the
Ministry gave us the idea of special one-way trapdoors to ensure
the creatures were not trapped - after all one of the reasons why
people ride on the trains is the vast array of wildlife we have in
The badger is commonplace on the Isle of Wight, with the badger
protection group estimating the resident population at 1,500 of
the nocturnal mammals.
The Island's badgers were given special extra protection after
the local council introduced an English Nature-backed scheme
earlier this year which ensured the location of all known setts
were kept secret.
A MAFF spokesman said its recommended procedures were designed
to ensure no badgers were in a sett when work was carried out.
"The Environment Information Regulations of 1992 mean that
MAFF may only disclose details relating to the environment as part
of an application for a licence to interfere with a sett, if the
applicant consents to this disclosure."
"Under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 it is an offence
to kill or take a badger or interfere with a sett, but the act
does allow for licenses to be issued to interfere with a sett for
the purpose of preventing serious damage to property."
For the full text of this article, please click on this link: