Bad news: Judge rules on badger culling in England

News in today  … the High Court has decided not to quash government proposals to kill badgers in England.

It’s a bad outcome for badgers and those of us who want the focus to be on finding effective, sustainable and humane solutions to the control of bovine tb. Please support the Badger Trust in any way you can in their campaign against killing badgers. As we in Wales know only too well – it’s early days yet – we’ll let you know if and when more news is available …   The Badger Trust’s press statement is below:


SCIENCE UNAFFECTED BY BADGER CULL DECISION

 

Following a closely fought two-day judicial review in June, the High Court this morning decided not to quash the Coalition Government’s proposals to kill badgers in England. The proposal attempts to marginally reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle, at a net cost, over nine years. Although the Judge refused an oral request, the option is still open for a written application and Badger Trust, together with their legal advisors, are considering an appeal.

Importantly, Mr Justice Ouseley’s verdict is restricted to the law; it was not within his remit to decide on whether culling could work or not. He recognised the controversy surrounding the science underpinning the cull plans. However, at the hearing it was agreed between the parties that culling would spread the disease to more herds and that even with free-shooting, culling may lead to a net monetary cost to farmers.

In his judgment Mr Justice Ouseley described bTB as a “slow-moving disease” and explained that culling was “associated with an increase in confirmed bTB herd incidents in the 2km ring surrounding the cull area”. This ring is called the perturbation ring “caused by disruption to the behaviour of the groups of badgers within the culling area”. He recognised that bTB also spread from cattle to cattle and cattle to badgers.

The Badger Trust will now study the judgment closely and consider the next steps in its campaign to protect the badger from a pointless cull.   The Badger Trust will do everything in its power and within the law to minimise the harm caused by this thoroughly unnecessary killing. But the likely method of free shooting is cut-price expediency risking a cruel and brutal outcome for a protected species and increased outbreaks for farmers both within and around the culling zone.

The judgment demonstrates that the legislation in this area has not kept pace with developments in the understanding of how TB works; the spread of disease due to perturbation; badger social behaviour or TB vaccination possibilities.

At the hearing, it was accepted that the costs might increase tenfold if free-shooting was ruled out for being inhumane to badgers, unsafe to the public or ineffective in terms of killing 70% of the resident badger population.  However, the judge pointed to the fact that after the first year of trialling the cull in two pilot areas, DEFRA would review the cost- benefit analysis in those areas to see if the scheme should be rolled out more widely. Given the massive cost and marginal benefits anticipated, Badger Trust will call for detailed disclosure of the costings and findings if the pilots go ahead so that Parliament can decide whether or not it can actually be justified.

The Badger Trust has acted entirely alone in mounting and financing this legal challenge, as it did in its successful appeal to the Court of Appeal in 2010 which resulted in the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to kill badgers being quashed.

David Williams, Chairman of the Trust, said: “The Badger Trust emphatically did not ask the court to adjudicate on the science around culling. That remains exactly the same as it has been for a decade. Although the Secretary of State has tried to interpret the science to her advantage nothing has altered the basic finding that while badgers are implicated, killing them can make no meaningful contribution to tackling the disease, and cattle measures in themselves are sufficient if properly applied.

“The court was asked to decide whether the Secretary of State’s decision was based on a correct interpretation of the law rather than whether the science was right. The court does not make such findings of fact but only whether a decision was taken lawfully, and in his judgment Mr Justice Ouseley said almost all of the contentious part of the scientific evidence was irrelevant to the issues.

“We did not embark on this litigation lightly and England now faces the prospect of 40,000 badgers being slaughtered over the next four years. We act on behalf of local badger groups, their members and our many supporters across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. We have always seen it as our duty to use all legal means of persuasion to overturn unjust decisions such as the Coalition Government’s and we shall continue to publicise scientific facts so grievously distorted by the cattle industry.

“Scotland is officially bTB-free and the Welsh Government has decided to vaccinate badgers and step up its cattle-focussed measures rather than kill badgers unnecessarily. However, despite a constant stream of evidence that culling will make matters worse and growing consternation from many farmers, the Coalition Government intends to press ahead with its expensive and pointless policy.”

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