TWO men have been sentenced for interfering with a badger sett in Delamere Forest.

Sean Gamble, 24, and Dean Griffiths, 25, said they were digging into the sett to retrieve their dog, which ran down a hole while they were out rabbiting.

The pair, both from Liverpool, appeared at Chester Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

They had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to interfering with the sett and another charge of hunting a wild animal with dogs, in this case rabbits, without the landowner’s permission.

The incident happened on land known as Blacks Nursery, in Delamere Road, in Norley, on March 30, 2011.

Andrew Meachin, prosecuting on behalf of the RSPCA, said police had a call from a member of the public who saw Gamble and Griffiths with two dogs, a lurcher and a Jack Russel, digging down into the sett.

When police arrested them returning to their car they also had a terrier with them.

The RSPCA visited the site with a expert who confirmed the sett was actively being used by badgers.

In the car officers found three dog locators, used for tracking dogs underground, a box of purse nets, used in rabbiting, and a shovel.

Clive Rees, defending the duo, said: “The terrier was chasing rabbits and ran down a hole after a rabbit.

“The gentlemen waited for a while then Mr Griffiths went back for a shovel and they dug down to where the terrier was, located it and got it out.”

He said that when the pair were questioned by the member of the public about why they were digging they did not run away.

“The first and most important thing was concern for the dog,” he said.

“Once somone is on the scene you’re not going to carry on digging for badgers if that’s what you’re doing, which they say they weren’t – they would have cleared off immediately and made themselves scarce.”

Magistrates gave the pair a 12-month community order each with the requirement to do 200 hours of unpaid work.

They were both disqualified from keeping dogs for five years and the three dogs and equipment seized from the car were confiscated.

Gamble was ordered to pay £500 costs and Griffiths ordered to pay £1,000 costs.

Wildlife enthusiasts are warning residents to be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour in the countryside.

Jim Marshall, from the Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group, wants to make people aware that badger baiting is still going on and to know what the signs are of people digging for badgers.

“Unfortunately the public don’t know much about it,” he said.

“It’s barbaric – you think it’s the sort of thing that happened in feudal times but it’s still going on.”

Hartford man Jim said setts in mid Cheshire had been dug within the past few weeks, including one off Linnards Lane and close to the A556.

He explained that a lot of digs were actually taking place during daylight hours.

“What we believe happens is that two or three blokes with dogs dig a badger up, take it miles away where they have a pit with loads of dogs, they ring around their friends and 20 to 50 people watch a badger being baited,” Jim said.

“It’s a sub culture and what’s worrying is that they’re bringing children up to believe this is how you have fun.”

He added: “Before they chuck a badger in a pit with dogs they cut the tendons in its back legs, pull its claws out and break its jaw.

“In a fight between a badger and a dog, a badger is far more powerful so they just maim them.”

Jim said ideally police need to catch people in the act of digging in a sett in order to bring charges.

He added: “The advice of the badger group is that if you see someone digging for badgers don’t approach them.

“If you can, get their number plate and report it to the police.”

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