We're here to remind people about the cull, not to attack farms
The nation's media out-numbered badger-cull protesters at so-called Camp Badger yesterday as TV crews, technicians and reporters gathered to speak to a small but passionate handful of animal-rights enthusiasts who've set up house and home on the West Somerset coast.
The anti-cull campaigners on an old military firing-range above crumbling cliffs near Watchet explained that most of their number were out on "badger patrol" in the Government's Brendon, Quantock and Exmoor killing-zone.
They were also insistent that theirs would be a peaceful and legal protest involving no direct action.
"Absolutely – there is no reason for any other sort of action," one of Camp Badger's spokesmen told the Western Morning News. "There is no reason for intimidation. There is no reason for what the Press is saying is direct action against farmers. Just on the grounds that we're out there – badgers are shy animals, they are extremely timid – people being out there will send the badgers back to their setts."
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"All publicity for this is good," continued the man, called Mike, as a TV camera helicopter flew low over the site. "It's great – it shows the rest of the country what is going on.
"We haven't had any abuse from local farmers so far. But I do understand – they have a living to make. It's been a livelihood in this country for hundreds of years. It's just that I don't believe there should be a badger cull."
The encampment's official spokeswoman – a Welsh woman called Maria – told the WMN: "This is the meeting and greeting place for all those people who are against the badger cull. We've had plenty of people from all over the UK from a wide variety of backgrounds – many with an extensive knowledge of badgers and their setts and wildlife issues.
"Yes, we do have more media here at the moment," she added when asked about numbers. "And I am delighted by that because I am really hoping this is going to spread the word about the barbaric nature of the badger cull.
"This is a place to meet one another and to learn about the issues and hopefully recruit more people. We have constant walks going on – at the moment it is quiet because we have a big walk going on.
"We are here to report what's happening," said Maria as we talked on the cliff-top scrubland which yesterday played host to four camper vans belonging to protestors and three tents pitched 200 metres from five TV satellite trucks and numerous media-owned vehicles.
"Any badger that has been shot or is wounded in any way – to the best of our ability we will record that and spread the word.
"I'm a person who has absolutely no hidden agenda – I love badgers, but I love cows as well and people," she said. "This is not about the badgers versus the cows – or the pros versus the antis. This is about democracy. I believed we lived in a democracy in Great Britain – the Government has set up a new petition system in order to give people a choice in this country. The 'stop the badger cull' petition has smashed the record of all e-petitions with about 265,000 signatures – an incredible achievement – but it's falling on deaf ears."
She went on: "The badger cull is unscientific. Using the badger cull as a means of controlling bovine TB in cattle quite simply is wrong. It has been proven to be ineffective in a random control trial where 11,000 badgers were slaughtered in Cornwall – less than 2 per cent of those badgers were heavily infected with bovine TB. In Ireland 97,000 badgers have been slaughtered since 1984 and it still continues today. In Ireland in large areas, the badger is extinct.
"We will not allow this to happen here. It is an iconic animal and a small percentage of them do carry bovine TB. But the badger has been here for 600,000 years. They disperse when they're under threat. I am absolutely in no doubt whatsoever that you cannot use a bullet to control tuberculosis. Badgers that are not killed will move on. The situation may get worse."
Mike added: "The media portray a lot of camps like this as the 'great unwashed' – a huge hippy movement that is uneducated, out in the countryside creating havoc, and freeloading. But I am local and I'm out here nearly every night checking on the badgers.
"I care about wildlife – I care about where we live and I care that we have open spaces and we have the animals that we're supposed to have in this country," said Mike. "The science behind this whole process is so heavily tainted and it doesn't seem that the Government is interested in actually getting specifics on numbers killed with TB. An awful lot of badgers are going to be slaughtered here in the next six weeks that don't actually have TB – but we're never going to know this.
"The idea of the camp is simply to have a base where like-minded people can come down who want to go and walk out – who want to be seen to object. There will be people here for the six weeks – people are giving up a week or even a few days of their time to come down – so there will be a constant presence."
Three decades ago Camp Badger's cliff-side field became famous when it played host to a group known as the Teepee People. Half a dozen large wigwams were pitched there for six months, inspiring one national newspaper to call the place "Watchet's Wild West".
Three decades before that military guns were based on the cliff, firing live ammunition over the sea at a flying drone target called the Queen Bee. Apparently they never managed to hit it. Today's occupants are hoping the same will apply to those aiming guns at badgers.