BADGER groups in the North East are backing a campaign which will be launched today to combat persecution of the animals.
Operation Meles is an intelligence-led UK-wide police operation gathering evidence of badger persecution and targeting offenders.
The chairman of the Northumberland Badger Group, Mervyn Anthony, is playing a key role in the campaign.
For the first time national statistics for badgers are available through the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), and statistics on reported badger incidents are now being compiled separately.
According to the crime report to be unveiled at today’s meetings, a total of 68 wildlife incidents involving badgers were reported from the Northumbria, Durham and Cumbria police areas in 2009-10.
Operation Meles is the start of a structured system of assessing the scale of badger crime, as well as wildlife crime in general. It will support the case for incidents to be formally recorded rather than simply reported.
A co-ordinated series of public meetings today in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not only expose the cruelty badgers suffer, but also the need for the proper recording of wildlife crime.
A particular concern is badger persecution where many of the perpetrators travelling long distances in gangs to commit offences. The dogs used in baiting are bred for the task and often suffer horrific injuries themselves.
Association of Chief Police Officers lead on wildlife crime, Lincolnshire Chief Constable Richard Crompton, will chair the keynote meeting in Sheffield.
“Badgers are not only cruelly baited but also sealed in setts and buried alive, snared, shot, poisoned and tortured, but most of these crimes go unreported,” said Mr Anthony, who is also the director of the Badger Trust who leads on persecution in England.
“This is a significant and persistent problem in the North of England. It is fairly well organised and criminals get involved as their way of relaxing.”
He said the Northumberland group exchanges intelligence with similar organisations in a bid to counter the diggers and baiters. He added reported incidents were “only the tip of the iceberg”.
Lesley McNaughton, chairman of the Durham County Badger Group, said: “It is still a problem and without doubt the incidents we come across are the tip of the iceberg. Persistent groups of people are involved.
“What has changed is that these people are now much more mobile and communication is more sophisticated through the internet and mobile phones.”
Badger persecutors are travelling well away from their home areas to commit offences. As well as badger digging and staged fights with dogs, lamping is also a problem, said Ms McNaughton. This involves using lamps and dogs at night to run down badgers, deer and foxes for sport.
The Durham group offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of individuals involved in a case where a dog was found wandering in County Durham with severe injuries thought to have been suffered in badger baiting.
Ian Hutchison, UK Crime Prevention Lead for Operation Meles, said: “Through Operation Meles, police, animal protection and welfare charities have joined together to present a united front in the fight against badger persecution.
“But there is a further dimension to animal crime. The perpetrators are frequently found to be involved in other kinds of serious criminality.
“But in the end we need public vigilance to ensure that all incidents are reported to the police so that, despite stretched resources, they can be investigated, offenders prosecuted and the informants told of the result.”