Wildlife crimes

There is a growing problem with rural crime and our Special Operations Unit are increasingly investigating more and more incidents of badger persecution, hunting with dogs and wildlife crimes such as bird trapping.

Badger digging

Badger digging is a process that's carried out to find and kill badgers. The sport itself was outlawed in 1973 but is still happening across the country.

Groups of 'diggers' will go out with terrier-type dogs that have inherited behaviours to instinctively enter a badger sett (just interfering with a badger sett is a crime). Dogs search underground through tunnels to locate the badger to corner the animal and pin it in place before barking to alert its owner who may use a radio transmitter to locate them. They'll then dig down to remove the badger and kill the animal themselves or set their dogs on it.

Sid was used as a digger

Sid will have permanent injuries © RSPCA A four-year-old Patterdale terrier, previously named Fig, was found by members of the public when he wandered into a yard in Mid Wales. He had gruesome injuries to his mouth, jaw and lips which were consistent with badger baiting.

We took in the little dog and launched enquiries in the area to find out where he'd come from. He was taken care of by our staff at Newport Animal Centre, before being adopted by Dean and his family and renamed Sid. He's a happy little dog who loves curling up on Dean's lap in the evening and rummaging around his toybox to choose a toy to play with. While he has to stay on the lead due to his background, he loves to run through the fields and play on the beach.

Badger baiting

Badgers will often be baited or pitted against dogs - usually bull lurcher types - after being located in their sett during digging. The badger may be stunned or restrained in some way to ensure the dog wins.

In medieval times, when this bloodsport was popular, it took place in a pub yard and a badger was thrown into a ring with a number of dogs and the animal's tail would be nailed to the ground. Today, it tends to happen out in the countryside after the badger has been dug out of the ground - but videos are often shared within private groups, on social media or online.


Hunters use high-powered lights or lamps to hunt nocturnal wildlife at night in lamping. They may attach these lights to the roof of their vehicle - usually a 4x4 or off-road vehicle so they can drive across verges and fields - or use large handheld torches.

Lamping is often used to hunt rabbits and deer but can also be used for badgers and foxes. Animals can be easily startled and disorientated by the bright lights before being shot or attacked using dogs.

Hare coursing

Hare coursing has long been a problem for farmers and landowners across the British countryside. Gangs will usually trespass to find hares and then set their sighthounds - usually greyhound and lurcher types - to pursue the hare. They'll place bets on whether the dog will catch and kill the hare or whether the fleeing animal will escape.

Left for dead Zach

Zach in our care © RSPCA Zach was left for dead after running into the road and being hit by a vehicle while being used for hare coursing. The five-year-old Saluki was scooped up by a member of the public after his owners fled the scene and was rushed to our Harmsworth Animal Hospital in London. He needed treatment for large open cuts and wounds, and a broken leg before moving to a rehoming centre to find a new family.

He was adopted by the Markham family, from Wiltshire, where he enjoys long walks in the beautiful surrounding countryside and going to work with his new mum.

Bird trapping and the trade in illegal wild birds

In England and Wales all wild birds, their nests and their eggs are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and people may only catch birds or interfere with their nests or eggs under specific licences. However, there is a large market across the country for trapping and trading in wild birds, particularly small, attractive birds with pretty songs, like goldfinches and linnets.

Bird trappers

Trappers use specialist nets, paste glue onto feeders and perches or rig up complex traps to catch birds after luring them in with feed or even other fake birds. Taking a wild bird from its natural habitat and shutting it in a tiny cage is cruel. These birds can suffer immeasurably, both physically and mentally, and they often die shortly after being captured as a result of the stress.

Bird trading

To legally sell a captive-bred wild bird in the UK, the birds must have close-fitting leg rings fitted shortly after birth. Bird trappers will go to the lengths of fitting tampered rings to adult wild-caught birds to pass them off as legitimate. This can cause further suffering to the birds and we've often found them with damaged legs and broken toes.

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