The illegal persecution of badgers by baiting, setting traps and disturbing setts is happening on an almost weekly basis in Northern Ireland, a new study has found.
Based on police figures for 2015, the study found 41 incidents which may have constituted wildlife crime in the space of just 12 months.
In that period there were 21 suspected instances of badger baiting recorded, a cruel form of animal abuse in which dogs are pitted against badgers.
A baiting session typically results in the death of the badger, and possibly serious injuries to the dogs.
There were a further six instances of traps and snares being used to try and kill badgers in Northern Ireland, and a total of 14 examples of sett disturbance.
The report, dated this month and titled simply ‘Badger Persecution Report Northern Ireland 2015’, is published by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime – Northern Ireland (PAW NI), which brings environmental and animal charities together with government bodies such as the PSNI and NIEA.
The report’s authors note however the figures only represent the number of incidents actually recorded by police, and that the true number of crimes is likely to be much higher.
One of those involved in PAW NI is from the Northern Ireland Badger Group. Peter Clarke, a spokesperson for the group, said: “It is vitally important that the whole Northern Ireland community assists the PSNI by reporting these often horrific wildlife crimes in a timely and accurate way.”
Following the report’s publication, the PSNI’s service lead for rural and wildlife crime, superintendent Brian Kee, said the badger is a protected species and that the force would seek prosecutions against those responsible for these sorts of crimes.
“The badger is a legally protected animal and it is an offence to kill, injure or take a badger, possess or control a live or dead badger,” he said.
“It’s an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct access to a sett.
“Whether these actions are intentional or reckless it remains an offence, and one which the PSNI will investigate and gather evidence with a view to prosecution.”
Brendan Mullan, chief executive of the USPCA, described badger persecution as a “brutal” .
“The USPCA welcomes this report as a real opportunity to focus resources to catch the criminals engaged in this brutal activity,” he said.
“There are no winners in this – the dogs lose and the badgers lose, both suffering horrific injuries or death.”
He continued: “These people go out with long-handled spades and dogs and travel the country in vans. They are not invisible. We urge the public to be vigilant and report all suspicious activity.”