Badger cull to go ahead, High Court rules
The government’s controversial cull of badger will go ahead after a High Court judge quashed a legal challenge by the Badger Trust who had sought to prevent it going ahead. Vets and representatives from the beef farming industry have largely welcomed the decision, which paves the way for the cull of wild badgers to go ahead as early as this autumn.
The culls were announced last July by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman as part of Defra’s ongoing fight against bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Two pilot culls were to being carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire to determine whether the method was safe, effective and humane before potentially expanding it to the rest of England.Last year nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered as a result of bTB, which is estimated to cost the country £90m.
However, the Badger Trust mounted a legal challenge in the High Court to prevent these going ahead, arguing that culls would not limit the spread of the disease but could disrupt badgers’ stable social structures and cause them to roam further in search of food and territory, thereby spreading of disease further. It also argued that Defra’s cost-impact assesment was flawed and may be unlawful, because it had been calculated using a ‘free shooting’ basis, a method which may be ruled out after the first year of the cull if it is deemed inhumane, ineffective or unsafe, leaving farmers obliged to continue the cull on a much more costly “trap and shoot” basis for the remaining years of the cull license. It also arged that the cull licences which are issued by Natural England, should have been the responsibility of Defra.
However, today (12 July) Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the legal challenge had failed on all three counts, paving the way for the culls to go ahead.
The news has been greeted with relief by many within the farming industry. The NFU said it was “reassured” by the outcome. NFU Director of Policy Martin Haworth said: “This news is critically important to cattle farmers who are blighted with this disease on their farms.
“We must remember that no other country in the world has ever tackled TB successfully without also controlling TB in its wildlife reservoir and this is why the NFU fully supports the two badger control pilot areas as part of the Government’s science-led policy of culling badger in areas where TB is persistent and high. This policy is desperately needed to tackle what is a terrible and damaging disease that affects cattle and badgers and brings misery to the lives of many hard working farming families.
“Our end goal is for a healthy countryside and that needs healthy badgers and healthy cattle. This policy, and these pilots, will help to deliver that.”
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) also welcomed the judgement, stressing the importance of tackling the disease in wildlife as well as in cattle. BVA President Carl Padgett and BCVA President Andrew Praill said: “The BVA and BCVA believe that the government’s approach has been robust and justifiable as it is based on our current scientific knowledge.
“Bovine TB is a devastating disease and we must tackle the disease in wildlife alongside cattle controls if we are to get on top of it.”
The National Beef Association also expressed its delight that the cull would be going ahead. Joanne Pugh, NBA assistant director, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the High Court has given the go-ahead for two pilot areas to operate this autumn. A lot of farmers have put in a lot of work to get to this point and it would have been heartbreaking if a further delay had been created.
“We cannot tackle TB with cattle measures alone, something Mr Justice Ouseley acknowledged during the High Court proceedings, and we just hope the Badger Trust heeds the strength of this decision and decides against appealing.
“Everything is in place for the two pilot areas to operate this year and we are confident these will prove free shooting is safe, humane and effective, paving the way for 10 more areas to seek licences in 2013.”
However, welfare groups are still opposed to the “unnecessary killing” and the Badger Trust said that it may appeal today’s decision in Europe. The RSPCA also said that it was “bitterly disappointed” by the decision and has called on the government to follow the example of the Welsh government which decide not to go ahead with culls in favour of vaccinating badgers.
Speaking last July, Spelman said: “Bovine TB is a chronic and insidious disease, which is having a devastating impact on farmers and rural communities. Unless further action is taken now, it will continue to get worse.
“There is great strength of feeling on this issue and no-one wants to see badgers culled. But no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has successfully controlled the disease in cattle without tackling its presence in wildlife as well.”
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