The RSPCA has warned that action will be taken against people who commit wildlife crime after two men were caught illegally digging at an active badger sett near Wrexham.
A member of the public alerted the police after spotting them on land at Cross Lanes on 30 August last year. One of the men was lying on his stomach in a large rectangular hole which had been dug into a bank. Two quad bikes – one of which had a box attached with a terrier-type dog called Rosie inside – were also found at the scene.
Jamie Barnes, of Caernarvon Place, Beeston, Nottingham and Ben Davies, of Cwm Mawr, Belan, Welshpool, had both denied one offence contrary to the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, but were found guilty at a trial in August last year.
Appearing at Wrexham Magistrates Court last Tuesday (18 October), both men were fined £1,000 and each ordered to pay costs of £600, following a prosecution brought by the RSPCA.
The court heard how the men thought the sett wasn’t active, despite the fact there were three access tunnels into it with clear badger trails leading in and out, small holes spread out near the sett entrance containing fresh faeces and fresh bedding strewn nearby.
Neither of them had been given permission by the farmer – who confirmed there was an active sett at the location – to dig on his land.
In evidence to the court, the police officer who attended the scene said he saw Barnes and Davies lying down and crouching in the hole, which had been dug in the bank going vertically down. A locator collar was seen on a pile of disturbed soil and shovels and other implements were also present.
When asked what he was doing, Barnes replied: “I’m rescuing the dog, we put the dog down after a fox and lost the dog. We had to dig to find it and we are still looking for the fox”. When it was pointed out that they were digging into a badger sett and had breached a chamber, Barnes said “but it’s not active, there is no latrine or anything”.
The police officer asked where the dog was now and Barnes told him she was back in the terrier box. Asked why they were still digging if the dog was out, Barnes commented “we were filling it back in again”.
Rosie, who is owned by Barnes, was shown to the police officer. She was covered in mud, shaking and appeared tired. An injury to her nose looked like it may have been caused by a bite from another animal.
Both men were reported for disturbing a badger sett. When interviewed, Davies said he was at the location only to assist Barnes and that they hadn’t dug into a chamber and didn’t think it was an active sett.
Barnes said he’d been asked by the Wynnstay hunt to get a “rogue fox” and even though he hadn’t seen one enter the sett he was “convinced” the animal was there because he’d seen paw prints. He said they had been digging for approximately two hours before the police officer arrived.
A badger expert who visited the location the following day, 31 August, observed a “flattened and well used path consistent with that of a badger” running to the left and right of the hole that the two men had dug. He also noted fresh badger hair, paths, latrines and holes. “After my examination I was left in no doubt at all that the area was that of a currently active badger sett” he concluded.
Speaking after the case, chief inspector Ian Briggs from the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit – the team responsible for investigating serious and organised animal crime, including badger baiting and wildlife crimes – said: “There were clear and obvious signs that this was an actively used badger sett and this was a blatant attempt to dig and find one.
“We won’t hesitate to take action against people who commit wildlife crime and we’d like to thank our partners in this case, as well as the member of the public who so swiftly reported it.”
PC Dave Allen of the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team, said: “I welcome the sentence which sends out a positive message to the rural communities that North Wales Police and partners, who worked closely together as part of this case, take these matters very seriously.
“I’d also like to thank the public for their support by being our eyes and ears and reporting incidents to us when they see wrongdoing in our community. Anyone who witnesses rural crime in their area is urged to contact officers on 101, or via the website.”