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A success story.

Last Tuesday afternoon one of the team at Badger Trust forwarded a message to us from a Gosport resident who was concerned to have seen two badgers emerge from beneath the footings of a housing development. One of our members, Andrew Bishop, responded to my call for help as he knew the location and was nearby.


By 18.50 pm on Tuesday evening Andrew was on site and, over the next 90 minutes or so, counted 5 individual badgers emerging from a void area beneath two largely complete semi-detached houses. We passed Andrew's detailed notes and photographs (including the one attached to this post) to Gosport Borough Council and I spoke to them on Wednesday morning. We also passed them on to the developer but heard nothing in response.


The Senior Development Manager at the council was responsive and helpful. Unfortunately, he was also powerless (see below for the reasons why) but after reference to their ecology advisers he contacted the developer advising that work on site should cease immediately and that an ecologist should be contacted for advice. He also warned the developer that any disturbance could be a police matter.


I asked to be kept informed and was contacted again by the council later that morning to say it had received a communication from the developer's agent saying the work was essentially complete and they didn't believe there was any issue with badgers. At that point the planning officer sent them Andrew's photo of the badger we've now nicknamed "Scotch Mist". He again advised the developer that badgers are residing on site, access cannot be prevented without a license from Natural England and repeated his original recommendation that urgent ecological advice should be sought before any effort was made to close up the hole and complete the works on site.


Alarmed by the developers response, I took a look at the Ecology Report that had accompanied the original planning application. The author states very clearly in it that due to badgers being reported on site by neighbours, the ecologist had taken with her a local wildlife expert but on arrival at the site they found it to have been already been cleared by the developer. Consequently there were no findings of badger activity included in her report which is why the council hadn't specified any badger-related conditions to the planning consent and were unable to act formally.


I made the decision on Wednesday to report the situation as an incident to the Hampshire Police wildlife crime unit as we suspected that work on site would continue and that efforts would be made to complete the build and ignore the badgers and their sett. We were right.


Andrew, and the lady who first reported seeing the badgers, have kept an eye on the site and noted that work was continuing, although the opening to the void area the badgers were using had been left alone until yesterday. When Andrew looked yesterday the entrance had been blocked although he witnessed badgers emerging from another space beneath the property. Again, he took photographs and, again, these were passed to the police. His visit yesterday was prompted by an email I received earlier that day from a wildlife crime investigator at Hampshire police who was asking if the photos he had taken last Tuesday were time/date stamped. We suspected something untoward had happened and it had.


I'll cut to the good news. Hampshire Police has notified the developer today that trained wildlife crime officers attended yesterday and saw evidence of badgers using the site. In addition a witness (Andrew) had provided photographic evidence and eye witness accounts ot badgers using voids in the building as access and egress points and that this gives us sufficient cause to believe an active badger sett is present. The developer has been instructed by the police to stop any exterior and groundworks, with confirmation that any and all works to the exterior of the building, including landscaping, applying air vents/air bricks, temporary blockages to those holes are any other barriers would all be likely to constitute an offence and would be investigated as such.


The investigator has provided the developer with the Gov.UK pages on legal responsibilities around badger setts, applying for licenses and Natural England. Instructions have been given that any access blocking must be done under a full license and with a licensed ecologist - it cannot be done by the developer even if a license is obtained.


The police will be maintaining contact with the developer over the next few weeks and once an ecologist has been instructed (whom the police will speak to) they will close their report.


Advice has also been given to the developer that painting and finishing work to the interior of the property are permitted but that nothing is to be done to the exterior and that the police has photographs of the appearance from the outside which officers took when they attended yesterday. The investigating officer has also kindly agreed to let us know once the police have spoken with the chosen ecologist and closed its file.


When the dust has settled on this one I'll write to Gosport Borough Council and the author of the original Ecology Report as it seems pretty clear to me that the situation could have been avoided from the outset. The main thing is that a clan of at least 5 badgers is safe for now at least.


Huge thanks to Andrew for his hard work and professional approach to this problem and for being our eyes and ears down in Gosport. And to the lady who reached out to Badger Trust in the first place. Also to Mark Bridge at Gosport Borough Council for his efforts and, notably, to the Hampshire Police wildlife crime investigation team who took this seriously and headed off a probable disaster for those badgers.


Badgers are a protected species in the UK not because their numbers are dwindling (although that's a concern in some parts of the country where heavy culling has been undertaken for nearly a decade now) but because they are so widely persecuted. We immediately think of badger baiting, road kills and the cull as main areas of concern but unlawful activities by property developers is second only to sett-blocking in the league table of badger crime incidents reported to the RSPCA, Badger Trust and League Against Cruel Sports in 2021. Reviewing and reacting to planning applications that threaten badgers takes up most of our time at the moment. And we're only monitoring 2 of the 13 councils in Hampshire.


Take a moment to imagine how many badgers are being illegally killed, displaced and driven onto roads or into conflict with other badger clans by disreputable property developers and "tame" ecology companies that rely on their payments. Consider why it's sensible for the ecology report to be commissioned and paid for by the developer and not the council concerned? It isn't. And reflect on how much worse life will become if the Government proceeds with its deregulation of planning permission legislation in new "Investment Zones" across the UK.


The State of Nature report by the National Biodiversity Network is produced every 3 years. The 2019 report documents how human impacts are driving sweeping changes in wildlife in the UK. Yet we appear to be on the brink of making things even worse. Our country is shamefully one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with the UK ranking at 189 out of 218 countries assessed for loss in biodiversity according to Natural England, the Government department charged with looking after our natural environment.


We all need to do what we can to stop the relentless attack on nature in the name of growth, profit and personal gain. More on that over the next few days.





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