Badger crime and forensics

Spades abandoned at a sett by badger diggers. Potential for DNA.

Spades abandoned at a sett by badger diggers. Potential for DNA.

Sole impressions at a badger sett may be a good source of evidence

Sole impressions at a badger sett may be a good source of evidence

In recent weeks there have been some good convictions in England and Wales for badger-related crime. I am so glad to see these convictions as I consider badger-digging/baiting to be one of the most horrific crimes committed against our wildlife. One particular case came to a conclusion in North-East Derbyshire and Dales Magistrates Court in Chesterfield on 27 February and resulted in three thugs in their 20s being sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment.

Two had been caught by police as they tried to flee from the scene of their crime, a badger sett that had been dug and partly back-filled. When police used thermal imaging equipment and with the assistance of a police helicopter, a third man was found hiding in a nearby field.  When they examined the sett, police found locator collars, three shovels and six dogs. Close to the area of backfilled earth a badger with its skull smashed in was found.

With the knowledge forensic techniques common across a range of crimes committed against humans or property, police seized the men’s clothing, which was blood-stained, and submitted items of clothing, the dead badger and the shovels for examinations. The examination was carried out at Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Wildlife DNA work is regularly carried out by Dr Lucy Webster at SASA on behalf of Police Scotland with considerable success. In this case the DNA on a vest worn by one of the accused and on a shovel was found to be match and originated from the badger.

In addition to their jail sentence the three men were banned from keeping dogs for life, which is an important part of any sentence involving animal cruelty and something the prosecutor should always be aware of asking the court to consider. Part-way through the investigation RSPCA joined forces with the police, adding the valuable dimension of their expertise in animal cruelty cases.

As this badger-related case came to a conclusion, another is beginning today. Sgt Rob Taylor, wildlife crime officer for North Wales Police, and his team, have just finished executing a search warrant on a property in Caernarfon and have seized five dogs.

Hopefully, with advances in investigations available such as the use of thermal imaging, police helicopters and a specialist wildlife DNA service the odds are stacking up against badger-diggers. They are amongst the lowest form of criminals and most of them rightly deserve to be jailed for their crime.

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