The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) has called for renewed action to tackle badger baiting in Northern Ireland and legislation to be introduced to ban hunting wild mammals with dogs.

Badgers and their setts are protected by law in Northern Ireland.

Latest statistics for 2019-2021 recorded 32 suspected badger-baiting offences but according to the USPCA this “vastly understates the scale of badger baiting in Northern Ireland”.

The UPSCA has launched a new report – Badger Baiting in Northern Ireland – which it says “shines a light on the clandestine and barbaric underworld of badger baiting and hunting with dogs”. 

The report also highlights the lack of enforcement against the cruel practice.

Hunting with dogs is allowed in Northern Ireland and the animal charity says that this provides a smokescreen for those engaged in illegal activity, as perpetrators can claim that they are legally hunting foxes.

The USPCA is now calling for Northern Ireland’s politicians to support new legislation to ban hunting and it also wants to see greater enforcement of the current law and more public awareness generated to improve the reporting of offences.

Intelligence gathering by the USPCA special investigations unit indicates there are more than 150 active badger baiters operating in Northern Ireland; the unit has also estimated that more than 2,000 badgers are “illegally and cruelly killed” each year.

According to the UPSCA, just three people have been convicted of offences relating to killing or injuring wild animals in Northern Ireland since 2011.

Nora Smith, chief executive of the USPCA said:

“Badger baiting is a cruel and heinous crime. Every year thousands of helpless badgers and indeed other mammals are killed purely for the fun of bloodthirsty individuals engaged in this illegal act of cruelty.

“Our report highlights the shocking reality of badger baiting in Northern Ireland and the considerable weaknesses in the investigation, enforcement and prosecution of these violent and barbaric offences. Doing nothing is not an option.

“The USPCA and the Northern Ireland Badger Group have established Operation Brockwatch to protect badger setts with signage and cameras but further action is needed to protect badgers, dogs and other animals."

“Proper enforcement, a ban on hunting with dogs, and greater public awareness is needed to end this evil practice and protect defenceless badgers who should already be protected by law.” 

Veterinarian David Martin, who attended the launch of the UPSCA report on badger baiting at Parliament Buildings in Stormont, said the practice of badger baiting does not just destroy protected animals like badgers, it also results in gruesome injuries to the dogs as well.

“Horrific injuries to jaws and teeth will often go untreated as perpetrators fear their involvement in this activity will be discovered, resulting in unnecessary suffering and cruelty," he said.

“In the rest of the UK, since legislation outlawing hunting with dogs was introduced, there has thankfully been a marked decrease in this type of abuse against animals.”

Nora Smith has said the USPCA would be keen to join forces with the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) to develop a joint awareness programme, where badger baiting is concerned.

UFU deputy president John McLenaghan, who also attended the launch of the report, said the union works closely with a range of animal charities.

“We totally deplore the practice of badger baiting,” he stated.