AN award-winning initiative to prevent badger-baiting is looking to help Fermanagh fight back against bloodsports.
Operation Brockwatch – a scheme launched by the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) and the Northern Ireland Badger Group – recently received a special commendation at the National Wildlife Crime Prevention Conference for their badger sett monitoring work in Co Down and Co Armagh.
Badger-baiting is a criminal offence which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, lifetime bans from keeping animals and fines of up to £20,000.
Operation Brockwatch has proved to be a success in the east and now Colleen Tinnelly, the USPCA’s development manager, hopes to expand the initiative west to Fermanagh.
She said: “Operation Brockwatch is there to deter criminal gangs from badger-baiting in these areas. In that period from 2019, we’ve had a 100 per cent success rate. We started off monitoring six setts across Northern Ireland and now we’re sitting at 16 now.
“In terms of monitoring the setts, we have volunteers that look after each sett by monitoring footage from a CCTV camera and making sure that signage is up.
“These setts are ones that have already been targeted in the past by badger-baiters although they have not been at those setts since Brockwatch began.
“Operation Brockwatch has gone from strength to strength with a growing network of volunteers and we hope to stretch this out further.
“I know that in Fermanagh area especially, we have been contacted by the public to help these setts that have been targeted by criminal gangs in that area. We would appeal to the public in the county to contact the PSNI in terms of any suspicious behaviour they may see.
“In order to establish Brockwatch, we do need the public coming to us to say that they’ve identified something in their area that looks suspicious.
“Fermanagh is an area that we would really be appealing for information. We would like people to come forward to let us know and keep a vigilant eye.
“To set up Operation Brockwatch, it would be of absolutely no cost to the landowner. All we need is their permission to set up the CCTV cameras – plus our volunteers would do all the work monitoring setts.
“We have found – from our work in Co Down and Co Armagh – that landowners are very willing to work with us to protect their countryside and native wildlife and not have criminal activity taking place on their land.”
Badger-baiting involves the use of dogs – terriers to go down the holes and locate the badgers in their setts with bigger, more aggressive dogs to kill the exposed badgers afterwards.
“It is a horrendous ‘sport’,” adds Colleen. “Individuals trespass land to carry it out. They’ll find an active sett and send a small terrier dog with trackers round its neck down the holes to locate the badgers.
“The badger-baiters will then dig a hole to expose the badgers. They then drag them along the ground where they will be set upon by groups of different and more vicious dogs.
“It’s one of the worst acts of animal cruelty that you can imagine. It’s not only the badger that’s very badly injured, the terrier dogs who are sent down the holes are injured as well because badgers do know how to hold their own when cornered.
“Unfortunately, as with the badgers, some dogs do not survive the attack they receive when a badger defends itself.”
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