The law relating to badgers is complex, and the following information is a brief overview of the law as it stands.
Badgers are fully protected by law. The basic tenets are that it is illegal to willfully kill or injure a badger, but, importantly, it is also illegal to disturb badger setts. To handle badgers in any way - for example, for the purposes of rehabilitation requires a special licence. A licence is also needed for any interference with a badger sett, for example for development.
In 1973, the Badgers Act was passed by Parliament. This was amended by the wider-ranging Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981, which in turn was further amended in 1985 and by the Badgers Act 1991. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 was consolidated into the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
The more important amendments were necessary because of existing loopholes. The law now essentially protects badgers from persecution and ill -treatment, whether intentional or not. When caught digging a sett the onus is on the defendant to prove their innocence rather than the prosecution having to prove their guilt. Previously, many offenders were able to claim that they were digging for foxes or rabbits (which are both still legal activities) and that they didn't know they where digging a badger sett. The main offences relating to badgers include:
1. To willfully kill, injure or take any badger or attempt to do so.
2. To cruelly ill-treat a badger or use badger tongs.
3. To possess a dead badger or part thereof, or anything derived from a dead badger, to offer for sale or have in their possession any live badger, or to mark or attach any ring, tag or other marking device. The only exceptions are: (a) Mercy killing; (b) Unavoidable killing as in an incidental result of a lawful action; (c) Temporarily tending an injured badger.
The original act protected the badger but not its home, the badger sett, but further legislation encompassed in the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 makes it an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct access to a badger sett, cause a dog to enter a sett, or disturb a badger when occupying a sett.
Defra and Natural England are the only authorities able to issue licences for operations affecting badgers and their setts, such as housing developments, agriculture, forestry, control of foxes etc. In addition, courts are now empowered to make an order for the destruction or disposal of a dog, or disqualify the offender from having custody of a dog, where a dog was used or present at the commission of an offence under S1 or S2 of the Badgers Act 1992.
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