ANIMAL campaigners are blaming huntsmen after a badger sett was found dug into and destroyed.

Police are investigating reports of a sett allegedly being destroyed by terriermen belonging to an Essex hunt, near to Sturmer Road, New England, in Halstead.

It is illegal to enter or disrupt a badger sett without a licence.

Renee Hockley Byam, of the North Essex Badger Group, said: “This is not the first time we have had reports like this, there have always been problems with the hunts but until we can catch someone red-handed, we will get nowhere.”

It is believed a fox had sought refuge from the hunt by going to ground into a sett.

“When that happens, the hunt should stop but in this instance, the report is that the terriermen dug in to find the fox,” she added.

“In doing that, the badgers would have been disturbed and if they feel under threat they will turn nasty and at this time of the year they are defending their young.

“This sort of thing is going on all the time but it is just that supporters of the hunts, for one reason or another, will not talk about it.”

Mrs Hockley Byam has inspected the sett herself and reported it to the police.

Andy Long, wildlife officer at Essex Police, confirmed he was investigating the reports “with an open mind”.

“Disturbing a badger sett is illegal as well as being a deplorable thing to do and it is important people know Essex Police take these crimes seriously.”

He also urged anyone with information about the alleged crime to contact him at Braintree police station on 101.

The badger group were told of the incident on March 12 after receiving a call from an eyewitness.

Mrs Hockley Byam added: “I would urge people who see this sort of thing to firstly call 999 and then call our group to report it.

To contact the group, call 07751 572175.

Spokespeople for the East Essex Hunt and Essex Hunt said there has been no contact from police.