A crime prevention strategy which protects badgers and their setts from the horrific act of badger baiting recently received special commendation at the 32nd Annual National Wildlife Crime Prevention Conference.
Led by the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) and the Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG), the initiative entitled ‘Operation Brockwatch’ is an effective rural partnership which works with landowners and the PSNI across Northern Ireland to protect vulnerable setts previously targeted by criminal gangs.
The esteemed award provides special recognition of the initiative’s progress since its inception in 2019 – where a number of vulnerable setts were identified and monitored by cameras. To date, Operation Brockwatch has proven 100% successful, with none of the badger setts under surveillance falling victim to further attacks from vicious badger baiters.
Now in its third year, the joint initiative has expanded to cover 16 badger setts in total and has established a network of volunteers to drive forward the project.
Commenting on the award win, USPCA Chief Executive, Brendan Mullan, said:
“We are very pleased that Operation Brockwatch has been recognised on a national level as an effective crime prevention strategy. These awards recognise and speak volumes about the commitment of the organisations and individuals across the UK who strive to protect wildlife that is being relentlessly targeted by cruel individuals.
“Operation Brockwatch has gone from strength to strength and is driven forward by a dedicated team within the USPCA and NIBG, along with a fantastic network of volunteers.
“Badger baiting is a cruel and ruthless ‘blood sport’ and we are appalled that it continues to take place here in Northern Ireland. Often, individuals will trespass on rural land where active setts are located and will send small terrier-type dogs with trackers down the holes to locate the badgers. Once located, the baiters dig down, exposing the badgers which are then dragged above ground and set upon by a larger group of vicious dogs.
“We are pleased that 24/7 surveillance has proven an excellent deterrent to those who carry out this cruel activity. Suspicious behaviour from a select few individuals has been caught on our cameras – whilst no crime has taken place, this footage has been supplied to the PSNI to help identify any individuals who may have priors relating to badger baiting or other acts of animal cruelty.”
Peter Clarke, NIBG Spokesperson, said:
“This award highlights the significance of Operation Brockwatch in successfully deterring badger baiters. This form of badger persecution is premeditated cruelty at its very worst and causes unthinkable suffering – however, it’s merely seen as an enjoyable weekend hobby by these cruel individuals. It is unbearable that this beautiful protected species is being targeted mercilessly for the pleasure of others.
“Many dogs forced to engage in this activity also experience terrible injuries as badgers will put up a brave fight for their lives. Often the dogs’ wounds are crudely stitched together with no veterinary expertise – sometimes the dogs who ‘fail’ the task at hand are themselves slaughtered without mercy and at times, left to die in the badger setts.”
Members of the public who witness ongoing sett disturbance should immediately call 999 to report the crime giving PSNI an opportunity to apprehend wrongdoers. If the motives of strangers seen in the locality seem suspicious the PSNI non-emergency line 101 will assist.
Anyone uneasy at contacting the authorities directly can use Crimestoppers by dialling 0800 555 111. Do not approach the people involved, draw attention to yourself or put yourself in danger.
If possible, record the numbers involved and their precise locality. Note if dogs are being used. Record the registration number, colour, make and model of vehicles.
“Operation Brockwatch is strengthened greatly by the public who recognise their duty to protect our native wildlife – through their support and the reporting of suspicious activity, we can help clamp down on this malicious crime and ensure wrongdoers are apprehended.
“Northern Ireland has tough animal welfare legislation in place – maximum five-year custodial sentences, lifetime bans from keeping animals and fines of up to £20,000 – it’s imperative that these individuals are caught, and adequate sentencing is handed down by the Courts. Together we can send a clear message that there is no place for badger baiters in Northern Ireland.”