Police and wildlife experts fear that a recent court case in which a North Yorkshire farmer was convicted of recklessly damaging an active badger sett by pumping it full of slurry typifies a worrying new trend.
Scarborough Magistrates found Malcolm Foster, of Grange Farm at Bulmer, near Malton, guilty of pumping 5,000 gallons of slurry into a badger sett on land belonging to the Castle Howard Estate.
Mr Foster, a tenant farmer on the estate, had claimed that he wanted to kill rabbits and rats. The court heard that the badgers would have died from suffocation or drowning, and that the incident occurred in March, when badger cubs were still below ground.
Foster was fined £500 and ordered to pay £700 costs.
Jean Thorpe, who runs Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation, and was an expert witness in the case, said: “It was horrifying. The colony of badgers will have drowned in slurry as the pressure needed to fill this sett with 5,000 gallons of liquid cattle manure would have been considerable.
“The tractor tyre marks on the stubble field showed the deliberate intent to target this active badger sett. I have not been allowed back to visit the sett, but I understand from a local villager that it is now, sadly, completely inactive.”
PC Jez Walmsley, Wildlife Crime Officer for North Yorkshire Police, said: “This case and others like it are a cause of great concern for North Yorkshire Police. During the last two or three years, we’ve had a growing number of reports of cruelty that have involved people deliberately interfering with badgers’ setts by filling them or ploughing them out.
“We’re worried that people think there’s a free-for-all on badgers at the moment, but the cull in Gloucestershire will be tightly monitored by legislation. There is no cull in Yorkshire and no excuse to persecute badgers at will.
“I hope that this most recent court case sends out a strong message that badgers are a protected species, and that we’re still actively enforcing legislation and following up information received from members of the public. The cruelty aspect of this case was particularly distressing; there were live badgers in the sett with young cubs and the whole family would have died in a horrible way.
“As well as facing up to six months’ imprisonment or a heavy fine and costs, farmers who deliberately damage badger setts risk losing their Single Farm Payment subsidy from DEFRA. The grant is dependent on farmers not being prosecuted for wildlife offences and you have to disclose any convictions. I don’t know if the farmer in question was in receipt of tax-payers’ money, but it will be something that’s looked into.”