Terrier attacking and killing a badger in an act of badger baiting

Ban hunting to tackle badger baiting says USPCA

The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) launched a report on badger baiting in Northern Ireland. And as part of the strategy to end the cruel pastime, it’s reinforcing calls for a ban on hunting with hounds in the country.

The USPCA launched Badger Baiting in Northern Ireland on 7 March in Stormont, Northern Ireland’s parliament. It highlighted how more than 2,000 badgers are killed in baiting activities every year, and how the lack of a ban on hunting with hounds acts as a smokescreen for the activity. The report provided in-depth data on known badger baiting activities across the country, and informed speculation on its full scale.

The USPCA report said, for example, that there are 150 people known to the USPCA that bait badgers “at least weekly”. Despite this, the people involved remain largely unaccountable. The USPCA cited figures from the Department of Justice gained by the BBC that showed courts have convicted “fewer than three” people of baiting offences since 2011.

When badger baiting, people will send terrier dogs setts to locate badgers. Once found, the humans will dig down to the badger, during which time the terrier may fight with the creature. Once the badger is exposed, the humans will either set further dogs on the badger to murder them, or else capture the badger for further baiting at a later date. It is cruel and potentially lethal to both the badgers and the dogs.

Dug out badger sett.

Hunting shields badger baiting

Badger baiting is already illegal in Northern Ireland. However, much like other types of murderous rural pastimes, its inherent obscurity means it goes largely unreported by the public. However, in situations where the crime is reported, the USPCA said that hunting with hounds provides an easily exploitable loophole for baiters:

“Not only does the absence of [anti-hunting] legislation in Northern Ireland make it legal to cruelly hunt wild mammals such as foxes, with dogs, but it also provides a legal loophole for badger baiting offenders to use as an excuse for their (and their dogs) presence in fields where there are known to be occupied badger setts.”

As a result, it is calling for a hunting ban similar to those in force in England, Wales and Scotland. Chief executive of the USPCA, Nora Smith, said:

“Badger baiting is a cruel and heinous crime. Every year thousands of helpless badgers and indeed other mammals are killed purely for the fun of bloodthirsty individuals engaged in this illegal act of cruelty.

“Proper enforcement, a ban on hunting with dogs, and greater public awareness is needed to end this evil practice and protect defenceless badgers who should already be protected by law.”

The moment is coming

Northern Ireland is the only nation in the UK without anti-hunting legislation. An attempt to pass such legislation failed in December 2021 after MLPs voted 45 to 38 against a private members bill brought by John Blair. The USPCA had backed the bill and said at the time that it was “very disappointed” with the result.

Badger in grass in woodland

Nonetheless, Blair committed himself to pursuing such legislation and took up the role of chair of the All Party Group on Animal Welfare in June 2022. At the time, the group said that a ban on hunting with hounds was an urgent priority.

Meanwhile, as Protect the Wild previously reported, two northern Irish hunts have folded during the 2022/23 hunting season. The Killultagh Old Rock and Chichester Hunt, the nation’s oldest extant fox hunting pack, finished at the beginning of the season. By new year 2023, Hunt Saboteurs NI was reporting that the North Down Hunt hadn’t left its kennels for several weeks. It led the sab group to say that “it’s looking very promising that 2 hunts this year in NI have gone to the wall”.

Follow Scotland’s lead

The USPCA’s latest report shows how intrinsically linked many of these cruel activities are. Badger baiting uses fox hunting as a smokescreen to continue in the nation, just as terriermen use hunting as a smokescreen to carry out terrierwork across England and Wales. In both cases, taking out hunting will have a significant ‘trickle down’ impact on other forms of wildlife abuse.

Scotland has shown the way with the recent passage of its Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Bill, which pretty much spells the end for traditional forms of hunting. Hopefully Northern Ireland, with the ongoing support of the USPCA and a committed all-party parliamentary group working towards a hunting ban, will see something similar soon.

Scotland has shown that a complete ban on hunting is possible. Protect the Wild is demanding similar legislation for England and Wales.

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