A MAJOR police and RSPCA investigation has been launched following the biggest mass killing of badgers ever recorded in the country on land near Cark-in-Cartmel, reports Mike Addison.

Fifteen animals are believed to have been destroyed by the setting of illegal self-locking snares and their decomposing corpses and remains littered the woods in which they were found over the Easter weekend.

Harry Stables, survey officer with the South Cumbria Badger Group, said: “There were 11 badgers snared recently in Wales but this is by far the biggest mass killing of badgers in the country. It’s very significant.”Mr Stables called in the RSPCA and the police when he discovered snares in the woods and the RSPB was alerted when a dead buzzard was found. He said snares were set on traditional paths regularly used by the badgers and once caught the animal invariably died.

“The badger is such a strong animal that once caught it tears itself to bits in its struggle to get free,” said Mr Stables, who lives in Urswick, near Ulverston. “The wire cuts the throat and stomach open and cuts down into the backbone.”A badger caught in one of the snares was released alive and was said to be making a full recovery.

Guy Shorrocks, an investigating officer with the RSPB, said 18 self-locking snares were discovered in the woods.

“Two police wildlife officers did a search of the area and uncovered six badger corpses which showed signs of snaring,” said Mr Shorrocks. “There are injuries to animals that appear consistent with snaring and these were pushed down holes out of the way.” Mr Shorrocks said badger bones and skulls were scattered around the area and a dead buzzard was found hidden in a hole.

Yesterday, six of the badger corpses were taken to Edinburgh University by the RSPCA for post mortems to be carried out.

RSPCA Chief Inspector Nick Welch was reluctant to discuss the incident and would only confirm that an investigation was currently on-going.

Chief Inspector Andy Bell, of Kendal Police, said: “We are currently in the process of obtaining evidence which will ultimately be used to form the basis of a case with regard to these animals.

“We are talking about badgers and snares and traps that have been placed in order to catch animals and birds and the person or persons responsible will be interviewed when we have finished our investigation.”