Two weeks in the life of a badger vaccination volunteer

Paul Hobson, Wildlife Photographer, talks us through his experience of volunteering with our badger vaccination team.

I have photographed badgers at the sett a number of times over the last 30+ years and at the moment have an on-off project working with four badgers that visit my garden nightly. The threat of a cull has intensified dramatically over the last couple of years and, whilst a cull has not happened yet, it certainly may do so in the next year as Derbyshire has been added to the list of 21 cull areas in the UK by DEFRA (Department of Environment, Farming and Rural affairs).

What could I do to stop this, firstly as a photographer and, perhaps more fundamentally, as a person? I could protest. I could campaign, write letters and join marches. I may still do these things but I really craved something far more physical, something more immediate and direct. I had heard about the badger vaccination programme in Derbyshire (the most thorough and extensive in the UK) and I was aware that it was an ongoing project. Could I join this? Could I actually make a difference? With this idea firmly in my mind I made contact with Debbie Bailey of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. I was honest about what I hoped to achieve as part of her and Gail Weatherhead’s team. I would write articles based on my experiences, I would run a short blog as a diary to spread the word and, perhaps most importantly (for my sake), I could take an active part in the programme.

The following diary blog charts my involvement from the beginning of the September phase of the vaccination programme in mid Derbyshire. During the diary entries I will try to explain and demystify some of the ideas and misinformation that seems to go hand in hand with this vital battle in the fight to stop the culling of badgers, initially in Derbyshire, but ultimately across the UK.

Day one

I met up with Debbie, Gail and 6 volunteers at a car park in mid Derbyshire in the early afternoon. We divided into two teams, one with Debbie and one with Gail. I joined Debbie, Douglas and Pete and we drove to a farm where the farmer was keen to join the project and allow us access to his land. He had given us details as to where he thought most badger activity was and where any setts he knew were located. This is the start of year 1 of a four year vaccination cycle in this new area. The idea is to try to vaccinate as many badgers as possible each year in one intensive two week period. Other areas across Derbyshire are in either year 1, year 2 or year 3 of their vaccination programme.

The first sett we looked at (Copse sett) was clearly an active one with several clean holes with well used badger paths and evidence of fresh bedding outside one hole. Debbie had visited this sett two days previously and decided that five bait points would be tried. Each is covered by a large flat stone and located near tracks or the side of entrance holes. Each bait point is a shallow hollow filled with three handfuls of peanuts, then covered by a flat stone. The hope is that only a badger can get at the peanuts by rolling the stone out of the way. It should be too heavy for wood mice or pheasants. Before we left each bait point we crushed a couple of peanuts and smeared the oil onto the stone to attract the powerful nose of the next badger wandering by. We also left 5 traps which we had brought up in the 4x4 at the end of the sett. 

Below Copse sett on the edge of a farm track was a well used latrine with some fresh dung from the night before. By the end of this phase of the project I had looked at more badger poo in two weeks than I had seen in over 40 years. I had so many conversations about the age, colour, sloppiness and contents that I started to see badger poo in my dreams!

We recharged the two bait points there and moved to the adjacent farm, again with a very supportive farmer. One of the setts that he said had been used for many years was located next to an old stone barn (Barn sett). We set up 5 bait points but the sett has a disused air to it. The tunnels looked clean but there were many wind blown leaves on the tracks, next to and in the entrances of the holes. There were though a number of latrines, none with very fresh dung but certainly some from the last few weeks. This suggested that badgers, or a single badger, visited the sett every now and then. To help us decide if the sett was active we threw a small handful of peanuts down the holes. If these were there the next day then it would be unlikely that the sett was occupied at the time. This was a bit of a one hit wonder tactic because once wood mice located the peanuts they would move them to a hidden cache. Wood mice have fantastic memories and once they locate a source of peanuts they will return again and again, day after day until the peanuts disappear. However, it would be unlikely that they discovered all the peanuts on the first night.    

We had no more known setts to check on this farm so Debbie divided us up to explore every small woodland and field margin to hunt for badger activity. In one wood we found clear signs of badgers and initially we thought it would contain a large, well-used sett. On a large mound there were numerous latrines, though none looked as though they had been used in the last few days. There were a few holes but none of these looked active. Further along in the wood we did find an active hole, or at least one that had been cleaned out fairly recently. We set up 3 baits points there hoping that the wood was used by badgers.

Day two

Debbie, Douglas and myself started work at Copse sett. The bait points had all been used by a badger or, we hoped, a family of badgers, so we moved the traps into position. When a trap is positioned where it will be used it is ‘dug in’. What this means is that the base of the trap is covered with loose soil in preparation for the time it will be baited. The trap at this point is wired open and cannot be shut by anything that ventures into it.

Keeping disturbance to the minimum is important, though by the very nature of what we are doing it cannot be eliminated totally. If we speak we used hushed tones and try not to walk heavy footed over the top of the sett. The soil to cover the trap bases is dug not from the loose soil at the sett itself but from a short distance away. It increases our work slightly but it does help to reduce noise and vibrations that the badgers would almost certainly hear and feel.

The aspect of disturbance and the stress of being captured is an issue always debated. However, the whole point of the project is to vaccinate as many badgers as possible within our area. We can only do this if we capture them. If we don’t vaccinate, bTB could spread through the area and the call for a cull would become even stronger. The target is to get 70% of all known badgers vaccinated. The Derbyshire programme has a success rate of over 80% in each area they have vaccinated. It is thought that if a minimum of 70% of any population is vaccinated then the disease will effectively stop moving into, and hopefully across, that population.

This farm had quite a few rabbits and there was evidence of their digging everywhere. At one of these diggings two fields below Copse sett was a single tunnel entrance, smaller than a normal one, but it was restricted by a flat stone in the tunnel roof. I would have liked to set up a trail cam to see if the tunnel was used by a badger or whether it was just a large rabbit hole but the field had a frisky herd of young cattle with an insatiable curiosity so any trail cam would rapidly be licked into oblivion! We set up a new bait point and 2 more next to a wall and large patch of hawthorn in the rough ground next to the field. There were tracks there, probably badgers (though foxes also leave clear, well used tracks as well) that, if followed, would almost certainly have taken us back to Copse sett.

Barn sett was as disappointing as we expected. None of the bait had been taken and there were still peanuts visible in the holes. There was no fresh dung either. Douglas set up a trail cam so we could hopefully see if there was any badger activity at night. The old sett in the wood also had not been visited.

Day three

I had a prior meeting so I couldn’t take part.

Day four

I met Douglas at the farm and we first went to Copse sett. Most of the bait points were now being used so we moved two into the entrance of the nearest trap. Douglas had edged the bait points up to the edge of the trap the previous day. If bait is taken from just outside the trap then the next day the bait point is moved just over and into the entrance of the trap.

Debbie had asked me to take two traps with me and Douglas and I placed them into position on two of the bait points next to the single hole and on the mound above it next to the hawthorn bush. Both of these bait points were now being used, probably by a badger(s) from Copse sett. We covered the base of each trap with soil. We also now used dishes in some of the bait points because wood mice were becoming a problem. Wood mice are tenacious little rodents that love peanuts. Once they discover a bait point, in or out of a trap, they will burrow under the stone and in a matter of hours remove all the peanuts to a secret stash! The idea of the tray (which is simply a terracotta plant pot base) is that, as long as the stone is flat, they cannot get at the nuts. The problem is finding enough flat stones!

Debbie had taken four traps up to Barn sett earlier as she had found fresh evidence of badger activity the day before. We put these into position, covered the base with soil and set the bait point near the entrance. Whenever a trap is set into position a long steel bar is driven through the edge of the trap into the ground. This should secure it solidly so that if a badger starts to investigate the trap it does not move or tip over which would increase the badger’s distrust of it. The bait points in the long wood were still not being used but we had by then carried a trap all the way up, so had to walk all the way back with it! It looked like there was no activity there so we abandoned baiting it for this year.

Our last task was to place and earth a trap near the long latrine next to the wall on the track to Copse sett. This was a bit more exposed than the other traps which we made sure to site where they were naturally sheltered by trees or bushes. In this case we covered the trap with cut branches which were nearby.

Day five

This area of the mid-Derbyshire vaccination programme was split between three teams, one led by Debbie, one by Gail and one by Jason. The idea is that each team dealt with approximately the same number of active setts, so dividing the work equally. However, the best laid plans! So, because the team I was in with Debbie and Douglas had fewer active setts I joined Gail’s and Jason’s teams to learn more about the whole programme and to find out where the two setts were that would become part of Debbie’s area.

Initially I did the rounds with Gail and Joe and we visited and baited some of the setts they were responsible for. These were on another farmer’s land, again one who is very supportive of the programme. It is difficult to understand why any farmer wouldn’t be supportive because as the farmer with Barn sett told me ‘it is a win-win situation.’ Every badger vaccinated is one less that can carry bTB and, unlike culling, it does not cost the farmer a penny. If all the farmers and estates in the area joined the programme then a very effective barrier to the spread of bTB would be created.

It was good to spend time with Gail who, when not coordinating the programme with Debbie, is a National Trust Ranger. She told me about the strong stance that the Trust has taken about vaccination. It will not allow culling on any of its land or that of its tenant farmers. Vaccination is one way to support its tenants in the fight to reduce bTB. 

Once we had been round Gail’s setts and re-baited any empty bait points I joined Jason and Dave to go to the two new setts that would be joined to Debbie’s team. One sett had already had four traps placed. This sett was at the wooded, lower end of a field which I named ‘Valley sett’. Jason had placed a trail cam there a few days previously and it had shown that at least two badgers were using the sett. Unfortunately, whilst there was fresh dung in a latrine, none of the bait points had been used. The second sett has been named Bottle sett because when Dave and Jason dug some soil to line the two traps they found loads of really old bottles - green, blue and some clear. The bait next to the traps had been taken for a few days so we re-baited.

Day six

Douglas was on call all day so I joined Debbie to do the rounds of all our setts including the two new ones. Unfortunately my car, the ‘Chelsea 4x4 tractor’ (which had earned its wings by bobbing all around the farms off road) overheated on the way to meet her so I had to turn round and coast home, luckily making it without causing the thermometer to go into the red again. I had to scrounge my partner’s car to get back out!

We started at Valley sett where unfortunately none of the bait points had been touched. It is difficult to know why some setts seem to use the bait points almost immediately whilst others don’t. It may be that the badgers in this sett have moved to an adjoining sett, a common practice with badger families.

The breeding success of badgers in this area, but also probably across a lot of Britain, has been incredibly low this year with many setts having no cubs. The cause is not difficult to understand - the long, hot summer. Badgers have a very catholic diet but normally 80% of their daily fare is made up of earthworms (which also supply them with water) which they seek out by smell, and then leave the characteristic snuff holes everywhere. I know this first-hand because in a normal year my garden is pockmarked by them yet this summer there had hardly been any until the rain returned. The effect of locking away the earthworms deeper into a very hard, compact, dry soil is partial starvation for the badgers and they have to try to switch another source of food. (On the farms in this area part of that may be young rabbits which Debbie suspects now form a large part of their diet). The seasonal effects of food shortage are underweight badgers and few cubs.

Bottle sett had one bait point which had been taken but the other looked liked it had been ‘moused’ so we added a tray under the stone. The sett there was very small, only a couple of holes, but there were clear tracks through the wood. Debbie suspected that either this was a lone badger living there or one that visited every night.

Copse sett looked to be our most active sett, but looks can deceive, which we find out later. All five bait points next to the traps had been used and both the ones next to the hawthorn and rabbit hole had also been taken, which seemed to suggest that this was the work of a family of badgers. The bait points were moved into the entrance of each trap. Here I set up my trail cam to cover an area around one trap. The bait point on the farm track next to the large latrine had not been touched.     

None of the bait points at Barn sett had been touched and the trail cam which Douglas had set up didn’t show any sign of badgers, just loads of bunnies!

When we were back at Copse wood farm where we stored the peanuts I had a fascinating chat with the farmer. He told me a few stories about the activities that occur on his farm at night. One late evening on his way back to his farm he came across two ‘walkers’, in the pitch dark, each with two large, long legged dogs, who not so politely told him they were ramblers and did he have a problem with that!!! Lamping for hares is now a large problem in this area. The large, sprawling, hare-rich farms of Lincolnshire have always attracted the evil works of the lamper and his lurchers but recently there has been a major effort to drive the practice out of the county. It seems that mid Derbyshire is one alternative area for these nocturnal predators. The effects of lamping with dogs doesn’t just affect the hares. In the breeding season any ground nesting birds will be severely disturbed and if it is dark they often can’t find their way back to their nest. The other more immediate effect for us is that the dogs disturb foraging badgers - and a badger’s short, stubby legs can’t run as fast as a hare! The stress caused by this can cause badgers to move sett, and unless the lampers had been spotted you don’t often know they had been working the night before. 

Day seven

I had to take my car to the garage so I was unable to join Douglas, who did the rounds on his own.

Day eight

I met Douglas in the afternoon as he had been working all day. Debbie and Gail were planning the two vaccination mornings 3 days later so Debbie asked us to move the bait points into the traps if they were still outside. This had already been done for all 5 traps at Copse sett and the two traps in the fields below the sett. I removed my trail cam which had been pointing at one trap in Copse sett and it showed one badger exploring the trap, turning the stone over and scoffing the peanuts. The badger seemed totally at ease with the trap and went in 4 different times, going right to the back. We now moved all the bait points to either the middle or back of the trap. The trail cam only showed one badger at a time. It could have been one badger going in 4 times, or 4 different badgers. The quality wasn’t good enough to be able to tell if there were any distinguishing markings but the size was consistent. I guessed that there was a family of badgers there because all the traps had been visited over a few days. Time would tell if I was right.

My trail cam did show just how active the area of the sett was during the day and night. One surprise (though it shouldn’t have been really) was the number of pheasants using the wood as cover. These had clearly found the spilt peanuts at the edge of the bait point and they had greedily hoovered them up. Pheasants, dominantly females, were constantly walking around and in and on the trap. During the night nifty wood mice zipped into the trap with the hope they could filch a few nuts. If the stone is not totally flat they can squeeze through the thinnest of gaps, almost as thin as a peanut itself! I must admit I have a real respect for these timorous wee mousies! During the day the occasional bunny could be seen hopping along but, unlike Barn sett which had a much larger rabbit population, none entered the trap.         

Frustratingly we found Barn sett the same. No bait taken and no signs of recent badger activity. We moved all the bait points into the entrance of the traps but I was convinced that this sett was unused at the moment. Debbie thought that a badger did visit every now and then, perhaps one from Copse sett, so baiting the traps was still a good idea.

The trap and bait on the track next to the latrine was still unused but there was fresh dung in the latrine. It seemed this badger visited most evenings, would take bait if it was outside but so far had not taken any from within the trap.

Bottle bank sett was still being used daily with both bait points in the entrance of each trap taken. We moved the bait points to the middle of each trap. Debbie and Gail were unsure of whether this badger was a resident. The maximum suspected was two but most of us thought it was more likely to be a sole badger visiting both traps. Gail thought it might be one from one of her setts which are quite close to Bottle bank. There were definitely fresh trails entering and leaving the small wood.

Valley sett remained an enigma. No bait points had been taken though there were signs that at least one badger was there. One day a small pile of bedding was by one of the holes and this had disappeared the next day. None of the traps look like a badger had been anywhere near them bar one on one occasion only. This looked like a badger (though it could easily have been a rabbit or pheasant) had gone partially in as the soil was slightly disturbed and there had been soil on the front lip of the trap which we religiously kept clean. A practice that Debbie had drilled into us.

Day nine

I met Douglas to do the rounds. Debbie asked us to put all bait points to the back of the traps in readiness for the vaccination in two day’s time. We had already done this with all the traps in Copse sett, so just had to move the ones in the other three setts.

Whenever we enter a farmer’s land we are always happy to agree to whatever conditions the farmer sets us. Some farmers are keen that we disinfect our boots and vehicles before we enter their fields, which we always do. The farmer with Barn sett on his land puts out a disinfectant pump spray and boot dip for our use. Today, when we were spraying the tyres and wheel arches of my car he came out from milking to see how we were progressing. The conversation lasted for about half an hour and was a fascinating insight into how he viewed bTB and the measures to control it. He is incredibly supportive of the programme and hopefully will be able to persuade other farmers not yet involved in the area to join the scheme next year. He talked about cattle movement and said ‘buy a cow, buy bovine TB’. If this is the case (and research does show that one of the most effective ways to move bTB around is to transfer cattle from one farm or area to another) I asked him how he got around the problem. The answer was far more simple than I expected. He only kept cattle that he had bred himself, and he had followed this practice for over three decades. By only buying semen, he could guarantee that none of his cows had brought bTB to his farm. Douglas commented that because the farmer did this all his cows are born and reared on the farm and are therefore well adapted to the precise environmental conditions that govern his farm. It seems such a simple thing to do. His reputation is such that other farmers buy his surplus cattle because of his breeding ethos.

At present it is illegal to vaccinate cattle against bTB and whist the farmer respects this, he is also keen to explore any ideas that might allow him to do so in the future. Vaccinating cattle against bTB seems the most obvious thing to do, though vaccination can’t cure a cow if it already has bTB. One problem is that once the herd is vaccinated it is harder to work out if any animals actually have bTB because they all may react against the bTB test. There is a more sophisticated, more expensive test that allows the vet to distinguish between the two. Many of the regulations surrounding cattle in the UK have to meet EU regulations and since (rightly or wrongly) we are soon to be leaving the EU, then maybe a new window of opportunity will open.

After chewing the cud with the farmer we visited all the setts. Copse sett now showed for the first time a variation in bait taken. None of the bait points in the traps had been touched yet both in the field below had been used. Why? I had no idea but it had been much wetter in the last week so earthworms should have been back on Brock’s menu. Perhaps there were only one or two badgers there after all and they were now switching back to their natural diet far more. Barn sett was, as usual, untouched bar wood mice depredations. At Bottle bank both traps hade been used but, again, none at Valley sett.

Day ten

Douglas is one of the trained vaccinators, like Debbie, Gail and Jason, so he joined another group because he could vaccinate the badgers caught on that run. We would be joined by a trained vet on our run for the two mornings of the vaccination. Today Debbie and I were joined by Debbi and Laura. Debbi is an experienced volunteer but Laura was new to the programme like myself. Our aim was to set all the traps so that if a badger ventured in it would be caught. We would be vaccinating before dawn in the morning.

Copse sett was as Douglas and I had found on day 9. None of the traps at the sett had been used but both in the field below had been visited, with the stone overturned and the tray pushed to one side. Setting a trap is quite straight forward but needs to be carried out with precision. The stone that has been in the trap has a wire wound around it, which protrudes to a loop. The stone is pushed into place over the peanuts at the rear of the trap, with the loop going through the mesh at the back. A string is tied to this which is looped over the back and top to the mechanism at the front of the cage. The idea is simple - the badger pulls the stone back, tightens the string and this releases the catch. The positioning of the stone is vital - at the back so the badger has to pull it towards itself and also is well in so there is no danger of the animal being trapped in the mechanism and being able to back out. If it pushed the stone forwards to access the peanuts it wouldn’t trigger. However, if the stone is touching the back mesh the badger might try to get at it from outside the trap. To minimise this possibility a small bank of earth is pushed to the back of the trap before the stone is put in. The tension of the string is vital, too tight and any pheasants that perch on the trap roof might snag it and set it off. Too loose and it might not trigger when the stone is moved.

We set all the traps at Copse sett and repeated the task at the other setts. Both traps had been used at Bottle bank but none at Valley sett, Barn sett or the one on the track. I must admit that I found this disappointing. At most it suggested a maximum of four badgers in our traps but I guessed it could actually be only two who visited two traps per night. Copse sett seemed so promising at the beginning of the programme but we now suspected that all the traps were initially being used by only one or two badgers. We didn’t know why they stopped using the traps at the sett. I was sure it wasn’t disturbance or fear of the traps because I had photographed one badger going right into the trap on many occasions on one night. The main theory was that natural food was at long last plentiful, it was much wetter after an incredibly dry summer. This might suggest that peanuts are not as tasty as juicy earthworms!

Valley sett was an enigma as I was sure that there is at least one badger in residence. Fresh bedding was present outside the main hole and, whilst this has been the case during our time there, I was convinced it looked like it had been moved. Badgers were definitely here earlier as Jason had filmed them on a trail cam. Perhaps this badger(s) just wasn’t confident enough to go into a trap or it (they) had moved sett.

Day eleven

The atmosphere crackled with excitement and anticipation when all the teams met at the car park an hour before dawn. This was what everyone had been waiting for - the culmination of days tromping to and from setts across fields to vaccinate badgers and in the long run, we all hoped, to stop the cull. For many of the volunteers this was the only time they would get to see a live badger and, for some, the chance to release a badger back to the wild was a deeply emotional experience.

Debbie called all the vaccinators together and they worked through the procedure for the morning and shared out the vaccine and sterile equipment - masks, gloves, syringes etc. Once everybody was ready we divided into our teams. I was glad to be with the team (Debbie, Debbi, Laura and the vet) that was going to vaccinate the setts I had been working on for the last 10 days.

The procedure to check the trap and vaccinate is well coordinated. We arrive in the vicinity of a trap where one person will approach quietly and see if a badger has been caught. If one hasn’t then the trap is closed for the day, to be reset later that evening. If a badger has been caught then a well rehearsed procedure starts. The vaccinator dons sterile gloves and face mask, and Debbie and the vet prepare the syringe with the correct dosage of vaccine. Normally only two people approach the badger, whose behaviour can vary wildly. All the badgers must be really stressed, they have been in a trap for several hours but their reactions to the trap and approaching humans are varied. Some are clearly nervous and constantly on the move as you approach, others are actually asleep and remain incredibly calm. As we approach we move quietly and don’t talk. If the badger is constantly moving around we have a plastic tool, shaped like a barred gate which we can use to confine the badger to one end of the trap to reduce any harm coming to it. Once the injection has been completed a small piece of fur is clipped and the skin sprayed with coloured spray (the same that farmers use to mark sheep). Each of our groups use a different colour. This allows us to check if we re-catch a badger and thus don’t inject it twice. Debbie told me that up to 30% of the first night’s vaccinated badgers can be caught on the second night. 

Our first sett was Copse sett where I had high hopes. As we suspected, none of the five traps at the sett had been touched. Of the two below the sett, one had been visited by a badger but the trap had not been triggered. The other trap was untouched which was surprising. The track trap was, as expected, untouched. All our hopes now rested on Bottle bank sett. As Debbi approached the first trap she could clearly see a badger so Debbie and the vet sprang into action. The badger was mildly active, not manic but a bit wary, turning as we approached. Normally only two people approach a trap but because part of my work was to photographically document the whole project I was allowed to walk in with Debbie and the vet. The badger had to be restrained with the plastic tool whilst it was vaccinated and sprayed and I estimated the time from approaching the trap to releasing the badger was less than three minutes. Once released the badger ran straight for cover, and hopefully back to its sett. It was now obvious why we were working at such an early hour - the time the badger is in the trap is reduced and when it is released it is still fairly dark so it can find its way back to its sett without any hassles.

The other trap in Bottle bank was unused, suggesting that there was only one badger there. All the traps at Barn sett and Valley sett were unsprung, disappointing but not unexpected, so our morning run totalled one badger.

At the car park as everyone met up after visiting their setts the morning’s stories were shared. Gail’s and Jason’s teams had vaccinated badgers making a total of nine badgers treated. Listening to both Gail and Jason and from what I knew about our team’s setts I guessed we had vaccinated roughly 80-90% of the badgers we thought were using the setts we were working with. It is only a guesstimate, but a good one. The low number of caught badgers that morning sadly reflects the depressed state of the badger population here and across Derbyshire this year due to the hard summer they have experienced.

In the afternoon I joined Gail’s team (with Joe) to even up the volunteer numbers. It also gave me another opportunity to see the setts she had been working with and have a chance to talk about the possible cull.

We did the rounds and re-baited and set the traps that had caught badgers and reset the catch mechanism on all the others. Gail felt that they had caught probably all, possibly missing one, of the badgers that used her setts.

During the afternoon Gail explained how the system of culling works. The UK government decides which areas of the country will be culled (bTB hot spots) which at the present stands at 21 areas. The first culls were in Gloucestershire and Somerset and were shown through rigorous scientific study to be ineffective and not cost-effective yet, amid intense opposition, the government ploughed on with its policy. The study showed that within the cull area the reduction of bTB infected cattle would only drop by an estimated 9-16%, and this would be after a nine year intensive cull. It also demonstrated that instead of controlling bTB it could more likely be spread by a process called perturbation. This is where the cull disrupts the badgers’ behaviour to the extent that they start to roam far more and travel to areas bordering the cull, thus, if affected, actually spreading bTB to areas with little or no disease. Vaccination does not have the same effect and this is one of the strong reasons for doing it.

Within a government designated cull zone a group of farmers/landowners have to form a group and satisfy certain criteria to apply for a licence to cull. The area they propose must be a minimum of 100km2 and they must have access to at least 90% of that land. They also have to show they are economically viable so that they can pay an external company to come and do the cull for the four years it would have to run for, and it’s not cheap. The farmers pay for the actual killing, the government for the monitoring and licensing (via Natural England).

The situation in Derbyshire is a little unclear at the moment. A group of farmers have applied to Natural England for a licence to cull, but at the present that has not been granted and, as I write this, there is no cull going to take place in 2018 in Derbyshire. However, that could change, so the vaccination programme is more vital than ever, and support for it and participation in it has to grow. Thousands of badgers have been culled in the UK in the last five years, at a huge cost and with probably little real benefit towards the fight to eradicate bTB. For an animal that has its own Act of Parliament to protect it, this is a ludicrous state of affairs.

Day twelve

This was our last day and the second morning of vaccination. I had high hopes we would trap the badger that visited the two traps below Copse sett. None of us really believed we would trap a badger anywhere else on our round. Our group consisted of Laura, Debbie, myself and the vet. The trap on the track was empty but as we approached the two below Copse sett we could see that one had a badger calmly sitting in it. The vaccination went incredibly smoothly. The badger was so calm. It just sat there as Debbie carefully moved in and injected it. She then cut a bit of hair and sprayed it with the same colour dye that we used the previous day. Laura had the privilege of releasing it, definitely an emotional moment.

We rapidly did the rounds to check all the other setts and, as we thought, none had a badger in their traps. Once we had checked all the traps Laura and I started the process of taking the traps out and carrying them to the field margins where Gail or Debbie would pick them up later. Debbie picked up Dave and did Bottle sett as we de-trapped Valley sett before moving to Copse sett. Debbie had already been to Barn sett and removed the traps there.

Back at the car park we met the other teams and learned that Gail’s team had trapped a new badger and Jason’s had trapped one that had been vaccinated the previous day. So the total for this area was 11 badgers vaccinated which was very close to the maximum number we thought were using the setts. (The total number of badgers vaccinated in Derbyshire by this amazing project and its team now stands at 182.)

The end of an intense project like this is bittersweet. I was glad it was over and we had been so successful, yet at the same time I knew I would be a little sad the next day when I wouldn’t be doing the daily rounds. However, I am committed to the project. I believe whole heartedly in its aims which are just and ethical. I will return each year for the next three years as a volunteer, starting next spring to survey the area to hopefully discover new setts and to see how the fortunes of Copse, Bottle bank and Valley sett have all developed.