Northern Ireland’s first badger report shows just over 40 potential badger crimes were reported in 2015.
The report was published on Monday by the “Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime – Northern Ireland” (PAW) showed badger crime was widespread in the region.
The incidents include 14 reports of sett disturbance; 21 of suspected badger baiting; and six cases of misusing traps and snares.
Wildlife crime incidents against badgers in 2015 had a wide geographic spread across the region.
Most reports were made in Co. Down, with 10 instances – around a quarter – reported in Hillsborough. The second largest area was Carrickfergus with three instances reported.
Badger culling has become a controversial subject in the region with many linking the animal to bovine TB.
The report comes at a time when TB rates in the region pass their 12-year high and the department’s TB Strategic Partnership Group proposes two areas of targetted badger removal and vaccination.
The proposals also include plans to test badgers to see if they carry the same strain of the disease found in cattle.
However, wildlife legislation – namely the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order – affords protection to badgers, including intentional or reckless killing, injury or taking; and including damage, destruction or obstruction of their setts.
Offences can lead to a custodial sentence as well as a fine of up to £5,000 for each offence.
The PAW NI badger subgroup comprises Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI); Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA); Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG); Lecale Conservation; Born Free Foundation and the Ulster Society the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA).
Supt. Brian Kee, PSNI service lead for rural and wildlife crime, said the report would allow authorities to focus on the worst affected areas.
He said: “Police always take reports of badger persecution very seriously, and would be keen for any members of the public aware of possible offences to report to the PSNI on the 101 number.
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. It is 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.
“The addition of ‘reckless acts’ in the legislation does away with the defence that it was thought there was a non-protected species in the sett, for example a fox – ignorance is no excuse.”
‘They are not invisible’
Brendan Mullan, chief executive of the USPCA added: “The USPCA welcomes this report as a real opportunity to focus resources to catch the criminals engaged in this brutal activity.
“There are no winners in this – the dogs lose, and the badgers lose – both suffering horrific injuries or death.
“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.”