Pembrokeshire badger cull appeal decision due

Badger (generic) The cull is one of a number of measures aimed at reducing TB within cattle

Protesters trying to prevent a cull of around 1,500 badgers in south-west Wales are to learn if their legal challenge has been successful.

The Badger Trust is appealing against Welsh Assembly Government plans for a trial cull to reduce TB within cattle.

The trust has questioned the cull's effectiveness, though farmers losing diseased stock are calling for action.

Three law lords are due to announce if the trust's appeal against a judicial review has been successful.

The cull is one measure of many, as compensation payments to farmers cost taxpayers £24m last year alone.

The assembly government outlined its plans for a pilot cull of badgers within a 288 sq km (111 sq miles) area of south-west Wales in September 2008.

The go-ahead was given in January.

Analysis

The main focus in this Court of Appeal judgement will be how the three judges evaluate the science behind the proposed badger cull.

The Badger Trust brought the case on two grounds - how much benefit would come from a cull in terms of reducing TB in cattle in the long term, and that no proper balance of the expected benefit of the cull has been made in relation to effects on wildlife.

The Welsh Assembly Government conceded it plans to amend its TB Eradication (Wales) Order - the legal authority needed to cull badgers - from across the country, to just the proposed culling area.

Because of that the trust have already claimed this appeal has been won.

But the real focus will be on the two main arguments which are centred on the science of whether a cull is justified or not.

And even if the judges found on behalf of the assembly government, a new order will have to be laid to authorise a cull.

It may be the assembly government could be forced to more consultation, debates and an another vote to re-assess how much support there is for a badger cull.

It has not said when it will begin, or the exact area; but it is known to lie mostly in north Pembrokeshire, extending into Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.

More than half the TB compensation paid out across Wales goes to farmers in the area.

Under the proposed five year cull, badgers will be trapped in cages and shot.

Leave to appeal

Anti-cull protesters, led by the Badger Trust, argue it has not yet been scientifically proven that badgers are implicated in the transmission of TB within cattle and it doubts a cull would help eradicate the disease.

On June 11, the trust won leave to appeal against the outcome of a judicial review that backed the assembly government's plans.

Three law lords hearing the case are expected to announce their decision after 1000 BST on Tuesday.

Tensions in the proposed cull area are said to be running high.

Some landowners have protested against the cull, arguing that they were not properly consulted and that the badgers should be vaccinated rather than shot.

Others who support the proposed cull say they are wary of speaking out about the issue for fear of reprisal.

Vaccination trials

In England, Defra, the UK government department responsible for rural affairs, has begun trialling a programme designed to stop the spread of TB within cattle by vaccinating badgers.

Six trial zones for vaccinating were identified but only one remains, near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

The first badgers there were vaccinated and released on 5 July.

The Welsh Assembly Government said it would not be making any further comment on the cull until the court had made its judgement.

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