BADGERS have turned grave-diggers at an Old Town cemetery – and there is nothing that can be done to stop them.
The expert diggers have tunnelled under coffins and even excavated bones and human remains at Radnor Street Cemetery, which they have left riddled with setts.
The graveyard is the final resting place for 33,000 people – including 100 servicemen from the First World War, but because it is a Local Nature Reserve little can be done to evict them.
Badgers dig far bigger underground homes than rabbits or foxes – with some systems containing 300 meters of tunnels.
Mark Sutton, of the Friends of Radnor Street Cemetery, said: “Though they are lovely creatures I wish they hadn’t dug their setts there.
“In some places they have burrowed right under the graves, toppling some headstones and more disturbingly, depositing human bones on the surface.
“Two or three years ago I received a phone call from a distressed person to say vandals had struck.
“I visited the cemetery to see the grass completely torn up. I have never seen it so bad. It wasn’t vandals but the very cute badgers.”
Swindon Council’s ranger department looks after the cemetery, which includes 104 war graves.
Graham Carter, who is also a member of the group said: “The cemetery is a wildlife haven which we want to turn into a green oasis for people to enjoy. In the long term we want it to be the kind of place where people can go for lunch and picnic on the grass.
“We want to encourage the wildlife and in any case, you can’t stop the badgers even if you wanted to. There was one grave where a large animal, which I assume was a badger, had tunnelled right underneath. But it’s a nature reserve and there’s not a lot you can do about it.”
The cemetery, which opened in 1881, was given nature reserve status in 2005 by the council and is considered inactive, though it is possible burials could still take place on family plots.
The Friends are in the process of applying for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in order to restore the chapel and kick-start the rejuvenation of the whole site.
Mr Carter said: “The council have done a good job of protecting it as best they can. The Heritage Fund would help them as part of the plan is for voluntary groups to maintain the cemetery by carrying out general duties such as keeping the grass down, which is why we are all quite keen for this to go ahead.”
A council spokesman said: “The cemetery has been home to badgers for several years and, under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, it is illegal to interfere with a sett.
“Licenses to move badgers are only granted in exceptional circumstances and there is a risk that moving them could make the problem worse in another part of the cemetery.
“There have been occasions over the years where human remains have been found above the ground in the cemetery and we have reverently re-interred these as close to their original graves as possible.”