Badger Vaccination at Trill

2 Oct 2017 | 0 comments

“That most ancient Briton of English beasts”, as the poet Edward Thomas once described Mr Brock (the Old English name for the badger) has rarely had an easy relationship with man. The badger is now our largest land carnivore and has been burrowing these isles for over 500,000 years. During this time they have been vilified in folklore as harbingers of death, described as vermin and blamed for crop damage and predation of game, livestock and other wildlife. They were the subject of widespread persecution and “sport” in the form of baiting, whereby they were either dug out of their setts, or chased out by terriers, and set upon by large dogs. Despite now benefiting from high levels of legal protection they are still baited, snared and gassed illegally.

Public attitudes towards badgers have shifted somewhat, due in part to the portrayal of Mr Badger as a fatherly, morally upstanding character by Kenneth Grahame in The Wind in The Willows. This hugely influential story paved the way for a more positive and rigorous approach to understanding these animals, old myths and legends were debunked and a more accurate picture of badgers emerged, proving them to be highly social and complex animals with fascinating habits.

The dark loving badger is often again in the glare of the spotlight, continuing to polarize opinion, this time over their role in the transmission of Bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The views of the Government and the National Farmers Union are that culling up to 70% of badger populations in bTB hotspots is necessary. Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire will see a another year of culling. At Trill, bTB has been a source of frustration but we do not believe that culling badgers is the way forward and we would not allow the badgers on our land to be shot. Rather than sitting around and waiting to see what happens, we decided back in 2015 that we would be proactive in helping with an alternative solution, badger vaccination.

Somerset Badger Group is made up of extremely dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers, trained and licensed to carry out badger vaccinations. All summer, Somerset Badger Group, their colleagues from Dorset Badger Group and ourselves have been surveying the Trill setts, identifying locations, activity and where possible, badger numbers.

Throughout September, we initiated our annual vaccination programme, by placing peanuts every evening in specific locations around five active setts on the farm. This feeding gets the badgers used to taking the ‘bait’ and our scent and activity around their homes. After a week of this feeding, cage traps were introduced and again each evening peanuts were placed inside the traps to get the badgers acquainted with them. After a further week of this, over a period of two nights, the traps were set to capture any badger that went inside.

Capturing a wild animal is never a particularly pleasant thing to do and I wasn’t sure what to expect when, at 5am, walking through the woods on a beautiful and misty morning, we went to check the traps. I was pleased and surprised to find that the badgers we had caught seemed quiet and not anxious in their traps, it was the first time I had seen a badger so close and their brilliantly defined stripes and silver grey coats seemed to shimmer in the early morning light. The process of injection was over in a blink and the trap door was opened for the badger to be released. Rather than bolting for the nearest hole, a number of the badgers stayed in their traps and had to be cajoled out, before ambling into the bushes, none the worse for their experience.

Two things struck me as I watched the badger in its trap; the dedication, passion and hard work of the volunteers who give up enormous amounts of time, and their beds, to help look after our beautiful wildlife in the face of ever increasing threats and how, when facing these badgers, I would much rather see them vaccinated than to pull the trigger.