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  1. ITV Report

Patrols of badger cull zones attempt to fish out unlawful activity

People opposed to the culls have been patrolling the cull zones daily looking for wounded badgers and signs of unlawful culling activity. Photo: Ben Birchall / PA

The cull of badgers is due to end in Somerset, Dorset and Gloucestershire in the next few days. People opposed to the cull have been patrolling daily, looking for wounded badgers and signs of unlawful activity.

Volunteer Ian Mortimer explains what they are looking for in Dorset.

"By daylight obviously we're not going to see people shooting badgers, that wouldn't go down well. Any sign of baiting where people might be trying to bait badgers, to pull them out of woods so they can shoot them, any sign of badger activity so it gives us a sign of where to look, those are the things that we are looking for."

– Ian Mortimer, volunteer

Culls have been licensed to run for six weeks in an area of each county. They had all started by early September, so will come to an end in the next week. Our environment correspondent Duncan Sleightholme, has followed a patrol in Dorset.

As the cull comes to an end, the determination of volunteers to protect badgers in Dorset remains as strong as it was when the licence was issued six weeks ago.

Every night they meet to hand out maps of walks in the cull zone and spread out across the county. They hope to find the marksmen being employed to shoot badgers and disrupt their work by, merely, being present.

It is the third year of culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, this a patrolling map used to scour the cull zones. Credit: ITV News

The Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare group says it is a peaceful organisation opposed to the mass slaughter of animals in a misguided attempt to tackle bovine Tuberculosis in cattle.

I walked with them on public footpaths through land they believe was in the cull zone. Volunteers look for signs of badgers, bait and traps. It seems unlikely they will come across marksmen in places the public can access, but they hope that they will.

Volunteers walk day and night to look for signs of badgers, bait and traps. Credit: ITV News

We are walking in the day, but at night they say it is a lot more challenging. A volunteer who tells me only that her name is Sonia says:

“We try and walk the routes during the day, but once you are in complete darkness, you've got torches yes, but you can't see the landmarks across the field and you can easily get lost.”

– Sonia, volunteer

There's discussion on this walk that ministers and farmers are ignoring the science, that culling badgers makes it more likely that surviving animals will disperse, taking TB to new areas. Farmers argue they simply want something done to tackle the disease and ministers repeat their statement that the cull is part of a wider strategy to tackle Bovine TB over 25 years.

Volunteers search public footpaths through land they believe is in the cull zone. Credit: ITV News

It could be several weeks before Defra says whether targets have been met this year. But the thing everyone really wants to know, though, could take several years to emerge; whether culling badgers is leading to a reduction of TB in cattle or not.