WARNING – Graphic images below, which some readers may find upsetting
Police have thrown the spotlight on the cruel blood sport of badger baiting in North Wales.
Officers filmed the recovery of a dead female badger from a disturbed sett near Llanbedr Y Cennin, Conwy, to show the crime’s graphic reality.
It’s estimated that 10,000 badgers are caught, tortured and killed in the UK each year – almost a third of them in Wales.
“This sort of thing – digging and killing badgers – is extremely cruel,” said PC Dewi Evans, of the rural crime team at North Wales Police (NWP).
“Unfortunately it happens regularly in North Wales and in areas further afield.”
Badger baiting has been illegal for 186 years but the practice has never died out.
Small terriers are sent into a sett to locate a badger and keep it in one place.
Their owners then dig down to their quarry, drag the badger out of the sett and set their dogs on it.
As badgers are tough, heavy animals with powerful claws, they can be formidable adversaries and fights can be long and brutal.
Often they are stabbed with spades to tip the odds in the dogs’ favour.
PC Evans was filmed by a colleague removing a dead badger at Llanbedr Y Cennin for later forensic examination.
He said the footage was “unpleasant” but he added: “It’s important you understand how these offenders get their thrills by killing badgers.
“We have already got good forensic evidence, but recovering a carcass adds to a possible case.”
It is thought the dead badger had been tossed back into the dug hole, and covered with soil, to hide evidence of the offence.
Under licence PC Evans removed the loose soil layer by layer to avoid disturbing the scene and compromising forensics.
After the carcass was retrieved, it was bagged up and placed in a freezer for future examination.
As the badger was a female, initially there were fears that cubs may have been left in the sett, facing starvation without their mother.
After a quick inspection of the carcase, PC Evans ruled out this possibility.
“She doesn’t appear to be lactating, which is excellent news because we were concerned that there were still cubs underground and unable to access nutrition,” he said.
“The fact that this female does not appear to have been lactating lessons the chance of that being the case.”
Badgers are said to be one of the most demonised species in Britain, persecuted more than any other protected animal.
In 2019 the UK Badger Persecution Priority Delivery Group recorded 270 incidents of badger persecution in England and Wales.
This figure was significantly up on 2018 but the crime thought to be widely under-reported.
Badger baiting is comfortably the most common crime but shooting, snaring, poisoning and lamping with dogs also takes place.
Working with wildlife charities, the NWP rural crime team has been able to secure a number of convictions over the years.
PC Evans is hopeful of getting another. “A post-mortem [examination] can reveal a variety of clues to find our offenders,” he said.