DEFRA want my help!

This week I have been in the very fortunate position of being able to work from home. So there I was in the middle of a whole lot of complex IT development work for an important client, when the Badgerland phone (01422 846 846) rings.

Very well spoken young lady on the other end of the phone wants some advice about dealing with badgers in gardens.

To cut a long story short, an old lady is living in her own home and badgers are coming into her garden and causing quite a lot of damage. She’s upset because they are coming in from outside and she really loves her garden and she wants the badgers to stop making such a mess. The badgers are actually living in their sett which is on neighbouring land – the neighbour being the local council. Of course, the old lady is a bit infirm and, as she’s living only on the state pension, she can’t afford to be spending any money on expensive ways to try and solve the problem.

Badgers and their underground homes are protected by law. You can’t get rid of them if you don’t like them or don’t care for what they are doing. The local council don’t have a problem with the badgers living on their land. Quite rightly, the council are not responsible for the actions of wild animals – especially when they are as well protected by the law as badgers are.

There is a proper procedure to deal with major badger-related problems – this involves getting a commercial badger consultant or your local badger group to apply for a so-called Badger Licence from Natural England, which would give the legal authority to move the badgers to a new home which you have built for them (at your expense). The procedure costs both time and money; and there are periods of the year when you can do nothing to the badger sett – this is to make sure that any cubs can be born and weaned without disturbance. The Badger Licence procedure has traditionally been used for problems which are serious, rather than just trivial, upsetting or, for want of a better word, cosmetic. The procedure is there to make sure that there is enough “justification” to destroy a protected badger sett. It is there to deal with important things such as the case of a real risk to health and safety, such as badgers digging into a railway embankment or a flood defence or a corner of the house falling off. Bog-standard garden damage is not serious enough, so, correctly in our view, the Badger Licence procedure does not apply here.

Apart from moving house and leaving the badger issue as a delightful surprise for the new owners, there are a couple of ways to think about coming to an amicable solution.

First solution, and without doubt the cheapest one, is to get used to the badgers and their friendly little ways. Of course, making sure there are no food scraps in the garden might help; as the badgers will have less reason to come into the property. Like many wild animals, badgers don’t go round the countryside as tourists with the aim of wanton destruction. They do travel around for food and what people politely used to call “a bit of how’s your father”? If badgers have nothing to eat in your garden, that’s one less reason why they will want to come on to your lawns and flowerbeds.

The second way to keep badgers out, is with the use of badger-proof fencing.  These come in two types: permanent and temporary.

  • Permanent fence: As prolific diggers, you need to sink the fence deep underground to stop them burrowing underneath. As accomplished climbers, you will need to make the fence good and tall (at least 4 feet); and so they can’t get a grip with their strong claws. Some animal rescue centres confine their rescue badgers with a fence with an horizontal overhang – a bit like you’d see surrounding a military base, but without the CCTV cameras. Erecting the fence is a considerable undertaking – both in terms if time, labour and expense. No doubt the mess made by the builders would add to the stress of an already-worried pensioner too.
  • ¬†Temporary fence: these are good to exclude badgers for a few weeks or months. Hence their use around food crops in fields and on allotments; and golf courses when the Tiger is in town. More than 99% effective at keeping out badgers, foxes, rabbits and dogs; the main problem comes in the name – yes – it’s the dreaded “electric” fence. Yes, they are unsightly in a domestic garden and they can harm or kill small creatures such as frogs. But, you can buy these for a few hundred pounds from farm suppliers; and the saleshuman will probably know some-one who can help out with the installation too. You can even run them through a manual on/off switch or a timer so you can keep your garden pain-free for pets and any favoured children during the daylight hours.

There did used to be a special chemical (called Renardine) which was very good at excluding badgers from a treated area. However, this was made completely illegal by the European parliament as it was made from ground up cattle bones. If you ever got a whiff of the oily brown stuff, you’d think it was made from something much worse than that (think “BP oil spill” and you are getting close).

So, here we are; an old lady with no money to put up a fence to keep badgers out of her garden asks for advice. It sound like she’s been contacting various people already, and she eventually settled on speaking to the DEFRA helpline. For any-one who has been living outside the known universe for a number of decades, DEFRA (and its predecessor government called MAFF) have been conducting the most appallingly blinkered badger-hating campaign since the late 1960s. Any reason to blame the badger, and DEFRA are there. Bovine Tuberculosis in cattle – that must be badgers who do that, is the DEFRA mindset. Never mind that the cattle skin test for bovine TB is less accurate than an MPs expense claim. It’s more important that you can blame an innocent scrapegoat rather than assess the science and see that the cheapest TB tests are hardly worth doing in cattle which might have been exposed to TB from their fellow bovines.

In case you hadn’t guessed already, the polite nicely-spoken young lady we were speaking too was from the DEFRA helpline.

They wondered if there was any advice or help we could give to the old lady. Methinks we’ve been in contact with her already – we are happy to give free advice about badgers and we are pretty sure we did so a week or two back. We try to help where we can, but some people don’t like to hear what the law is and then don’t agree with it anyway. Cest la’vie !In her circumstances we suggested she might like to contact her local badger group who would be able to see if there is a problem with badgers in the area around her garden. We also suggested she might like to ask the council to share the cost of the new fence which would be on their shared boundary – possibly sharing with the neighbours too.

Coming back the the DEFRA hepline, they were keen to know if we were aware of any-one who was able to pay for the old lady to have a new fence around her property. Errrr – no we weren’t..

They wanted to know whether we would be able to fund a project like this. Errrr – I know the government is skint, but asking private citizens to bail out other private citizens is a bit much…

Then Defra (a government department with a budget of billions and a staff of 10s of thousands and a call centre full of underemployed Media Studies graduates) asked the killer question! If they had any badger queries in future, could they give their callers our Badgerland phone number? Not bloody likely (unless they are offering a 7-figure Lottery grant)!!

If people want to contact us, they’ve a better chance by emailing us on ask@badgerland.co.uk

With kind regards

Simon Flory 

Badger Specialist

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