New Forest Badger Group History - Part 1

On 21st June 1965 years of discussion and complaint between naturalists and the Forestry Commission and the New Forest Hounds led to a meeting between the protagonists to agree a way forward that would offer some protection to badgers and their setts without interfering too much with the established practices of the hunt.

At this meeting were naturalist and wildlife photographer/film maker, Eric Ashby; the then Deputy Surveyor of the New Forest, Arthur Cadman; Oliver Hook; Master of the New Forest Hounds, Sir Newton Ryecroft and Bert Smith.

It was agreed to limit the methods the hunt could use in stopping setts during a fox hunt although Eric Ashby remained unhappy about the use of chemicals in stopping.

On 1st June 1971 a letter was sent to the then Deputy Surveyor, Don Small, from Oliver Hook and Anthony Kilburn expressing great concern about the damage being done to the badger population by hunt practices and calling for another meeting with themselves and Eric Ashby to discuss the problem.

On 22nd June 1971 a meeting between Head Forester, Fred Courtier; Oliver Hook; Anthony Kilburn and Don Small laid plans for a small group of “...qualified badger watchers who will be considered as a nucleus of a “Badger Corps” to maintain an all year round surveillance on a group of setts.” (extract from letter D. Small to O. Hook 23-7-71). Known setts were to be marked on a map by F. Courtier and O. Hook together with details of occupation, stopping etc. The aim was to “complete a 1971 census of all badger setts and will be confidential.”

On 22nd December 1971 the New Forest Badger Protection Group was formally set up membership was by invitation.
In Progress Report No 1 (1971-73) the objectives of the group were listed as follows:
• To safeguard the New Forest Badger.
• To study and record population trends.
• To record badger deaths, including those on the railway line.
• The membership was restricted to a total of twenty four members
• A small advisory committee would consider technical aspects of management and conflicts that arose which were in opposition to the objectives and advise the group and the Forestry Commission.

The Report then describes how a complete survey of setts was done by Forestry Commission employees and members of the group and this map formed the base for observations. Each observer took responsibility for recording setts near their home using maps supplied by the Forestry Commission and returning census cards each year to the Head Forester.

The Report describes how matters such as sett stopping methods used by the New Forest Hounds and disturbance by forest operations had been dealt with by the advisory committee. “There remains some areas of conflict which will be considered by the Group and hopefully resolved to the benefit of the badgers.”

The Assistant District Officer had produced a detailed report based on the two years of census card returns in the summary of which it was stated:

“…there is a stable or slightly increasing population of badgers in the forest…”; “68% of setts […] are active [and of those] 60% are breeding setts. Approximately 120 cubs are produced each year…”

The conclusion of the Report suggested ways that the information could be made more useful to enable more accurate estimation of the population.

In 1971, a Forestry Commission and Badger Group survey estimated the badger population.
It laid down guidelines for when and how often to visit setts. The conclusion of the Report suggested ways that the information could be made more useful to enable more accurate estimation of the population and laid down guidelines for when and how often to visit setts.
The Report was circulated as follows:
2 to the Deputy Surveyor; 30 to New Forest Staff; 30 to the New Forest Badger Protection Group; 6 to Nature Conservancy.

The Group meeting of 2nd March 1972, chaired by the Deputy Surveyor, was much taken up with sett stopping by the hunt.

• There was some discussion about the sett stopping clause in the permission of the New Forest Hunt but the Deputy Surveyor stated that he would not discuss policy when challenged by Eric Ashby.
• The Advisory Body had suggested a stopping code for the hunt earth stoppers and this would be issued to group members and Forestry Commission keepers.
• Eric Ashby appealed for sett stopping to cease altogether and drew on his experience over fifteen years when he said badger sett stopping had increased to the detriment of the badger. There was some argument around this and the lines were drawn up roughly between hunt staff or supporters and those who were not.
• The Deputy surveyor suggested to the Master of Foxhounds that that there be no stopping after March. The Master did not agree and expressed concern that no stopping would result in damage to a sett by hounds marking to ground.
• The Deputy Surveyor ruled that for the remainder of the season active setts should only be stopped by paper bags and asked for a list of active setts to be given to the Master.
• It was agreed to circulate badger group members with a list of hunt meets.
• Nine badgers had been found dead on the electrified railway line in 1971 and three so far in 1972.
• AOB continued with the discussion of sett stopping plus a short speech by the master on the necessity of hunting foxes supported by one of the earth stoppers present. There was some concern expressed about Forestry Commission ground works interfering with setts.
• The next meeting was called for 9th November 1972

During subsequent meetings sett stopping continued to be a discussion topic along with difficulties in collecting and collating data from sett record cards; danger from forestry operations; statistics on badger deaths; length of the foxhunting season.
    In addition on 9th November 1972 there was much concern over the sale of badger cubs by dealers and attempted digs in the Forest for both badger and fox cubs. Discussion ensued about the value or otherwise of publicising the group.

A decision was taken to lobby the local MP regarding protection for badgers.

At a meeting on 7th March 1974 a silent tribute was made to the late Oliver Hook whose efforts had led to the early meetings of the group. The Chairman reported that following four years of concern about stopping setts in spring the Master of Hounds had proposed to stop foxhunting after 2nd April. Also at this meeting the translocation of badgers from Dibden Purlieu to a sett in the Forest was discussed. There had been some adverse publicity.

In 1977 members were asked to increase their activities to monitor the effect of public pressures on setts.

In 1979 forestry operations versus badgers; sett stopping versus badgers; the role of the sett record cards and the role and constitution of the advisory body were discussed.

In 1981 a letter from the Deputy Surveyor, Don Small, on the Ninth Report of the Badger Group suggesting that it be wound up due to his impending retirement demonstrates the extent to which the group was considered to be very much part of the Forestry Commission and the members voluntary workers. The Report in question also demonstrates the comprehensive data documented over ten years by the group the correlation of which was done by Forestry Commission staff. Over that ten years some changes to the original membership had occurred which led the outgoing Deputy Surveyor to state on the Tenth Report in 1982 that a distressing attitude had appeared that he felt put the Badger Group “in danger of being a platform for other activities”.
This reflects an earlier statement from him in 1975 when Mr Kilburn raised the subject of Ministry of Agriculture gassing setts in Dorset and Somerset. Mr Small stated that “ was policy that the group should not become involved as a protest or action group.”    
He than states that it will be Forestry Commission policy to ask for the resignation of any member who uses the Group as a platform for any other activity.

In 1986 a formal constitution was drawn up and the word Protection was dropped from the group name. The Aims and Objectives of the Group were as follows:-
• to safeguard the New Forest Badgers
• to study and record populations, trends, and any other matters relevant to the New Forest Badgers
• to record Badger deaths
• to become a full member of the National Federation of Badger Groups

Membership of the group would initially comprise those members of the New Forest Badger Protection Group as at 1st September 1986 plus the Deputy Surveyor, the Recreation and Range Manager, the Head Keepers, New Forest Keepers and the Head Forester (Conservation).

The annual report of 1987 shows 40 members including Forestry Commission employees and 24 of them were watching 161 setts between them and reporting their findings on the usual record cards. The data extrapolated from these cards was compared with previous years and provides a useful overview of the population in the New Forest, which seems according to the figures to have remained pretty stable overall. This year shows a move away from the Deputy Surveyor being chairman although both he and the Recreation Range manager were Ex Officio members of the committee, the Keepers also had a representative on the committee and the secretary was also a Forestry Commission employee. The secretarial costs were born by the Forestry Commission. Altogether there were nine members on the committee.

to be continued……

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