Judi Hewitt: Life on patrol during a badger cull
The animal welfare campaigner from North Wales goes to Gloucestershire to see first hand what goes on
North Wales animal campaigner Judi Hewitt on patrol during the badger cull trials in Gloucestershire
IT was 9.10pm and pitch black when we heard two gunshots just ahead of us from the far side of the field.
I looked up at the dark sky with its trillions of stars and thought, “it’s going to be an eventful night”.
I recall thinking that if a badger had been shot and injured we would hear it screaming: reporting these heart-rending sounds was part of our remit.
In the event, we were grateful not to bear witness to any.
Earlier I had left the rain behind in Rhyl when travelling down to the Westminster Government’s badger cull zone in Gloucestershire.
Joining me was Betty Lee from Clwyd Badger Group. We met two experienced protesters who showed us the area we were to cover and what we should do if we met the police and any marksmen.
So with the prospect of patrolling footpaths from 6pm until 7am, we set about checking our equipment.
At 9.25pm, high on the brow of the hill, just above a badger sett, we saw a single spot of vivid red pointing our way. I took this to be the infra red beam on a high-powered rifle scope.
We set our head torches to flash mode and kept our hand-held torches switched on.
I called to the marksman that there were people in the field: would he please stop pointing his rifle in our direction?
By this time I was feeling a bit jittery. Having a rifle pointing your way is unnerving at the best of times, let alone in a dark field.
After five minutes I noticed another red spot heading towards the first: now there were two marksmen in the field, possibly three.
By 9.35pm two red spots were being pointed our way.
We screamed at them to stop. I threatened to call the police. A few minutes later, relief washed over us as the night went inky black again.
Shortly afterward I had a text from a protester telling us to get out of the field and on to the lane: an angry farmer with police officers were headed our way. We had every right to be on the public footpath but we didn’t want any hassle that might delay our patrolling.
As we walked away, we bumped into the area’s “wounded badger patrol”, a visible and highly organised group of about a dozen men and women.
Some had to leave at 2am as they had work in the morning. They were being replaced by fit, retired people who came on duty around 3am.
I think we must have met about 30 people along that dark footpath during the night. It was quite surreal.
As we entered the lane we came across three police vehicles. We stopped for a friendly chat and were told that we could patrol the footpaths as long as we didn’t stray. I wondered how much this cull was costing them?
By 3.15am I was really feeling the cold, so I returned to the car to fetch my thick, fleecy dressing gown. I didn’t care who saw me in it.
Walking back along the footpath, I was by now seriously fatigued – unlike Betty, still as fresh as a daisy.
To my relief a badger patrol lady suggested we head back to the car and drive around looking for the NFU’s hired vehicles – their registrations all shared the same first three digits. They might indicate where the shooters were.
I didn’t need asking twice.
As we drove around, headlights bouncing off twisty trees, a solitary, badger came into view. It quickly hurried into the trees. We were ecstatic.
Other patrollers had not seen a single live badger in the cull area for almost six weeks. We felt honoured!
Just after 4.15am we were joined by another protester who had just come on duty. We kept watch until about 5am. I couldn’t help feeling relief as dawn approached and the sun popped up over the horizon.
At 6.50am we made our way to the nearest services to freshen up and get some breakfast before heading back to North Wales and home.
Having met the protesters in Gloucestershire I was blown away by their compassion. We felt very proud to be a part of this anti-cull patrol, if only for one, very long night.
And now it appears the cull is to be extended by eight weeks. It looks as if a couple more long nights are heading our way.
Judi Hewitt is spokeswoman for Wales Against Animal Cruelty
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
Direct Action Against All Forms of bloodsports