Badger culling legal challenge fails

Cow Bovine TB costs the UK economy more than £100m per year, mainly in farm payments

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A legal bid to block badger culling in England has failed in the High Court.

The government says that culling will help combat cattle tuberculosis, which costs the UK more than £100m per year.

The Badger Trust argued that the cull was illegal, as it will at best make a small impact on the disease and could make it worse.

Culling is now likely to go ahead later this year in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, with as many as 40 sites to be licensed eventually.

Badgers become infected with the bacteria that cause bovine TB, and can carry them from farm to farm, although more cattle contract the disease from contact with infected herds.

Plans to begin culling in Wales were recently abandoned in favour of a vaccination policy following the change of Welsh Assembly Government last year.

At the High Court hearing in London last month, the Badger Trust argued that the cull plans drawn up by the Department the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were illegal on several grounds.

Badgers are generally protected under UK law, but exceptions are allowed for disease prevention.

Start Quote

England now faces the prospect of 40,000 badgers being slaughtered over the next four years”

End Quote David Williams Badger Trust

The trust's lawyers argued that that the small reduction in cattle TB incidence anticipated by government scientists did not qualify as "prevention".

The government does not set a specific target for the percentage reduction in cattle TB incidence it expects to see, but the latest evidence suggests that nine years after culling, incidence might fall by 9-16%.

Scientific evidence, stemming mainly from the UK Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), shows that culling can actually spread the disease, as it disturbs badgers' family groups and makes them roam further afield, coming into contact with more herds.

The government acknowledges this, but believes its culling strategy will get round the problem.

Badgers Badgers (Meles meles) are protected by a number of UK and European laws

The trust also argued that the plan to have culling licences issued by Natural England was outside the law, and that the only person authorised to issue them was the Environment Secretary - currently Caroline Spelman MP.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Ouseley ruled against the trust on both counts.

"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," said Badger Trust chairman David Williams.

"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."

Costing the cull

The trust also raised issues regarding cost.

The government says that cull areas must be at least 150 sq km in size, and the groups of landowners and farmers applying to cull must show they can access at least 70% of the land.

The RBCT (1998-2005)

  • 30 areas of the country selected, each 100 sq km
  • 10 culled proactively, 10 reactively, 10 not culled
  • Badgers culled through being caught in cage and then shot
  • Incidence of bovine TB measured on farms inside and outside study areas
  • Trial cost £7m per year
  • More than 11,000 badgers killed
  • Reactive culling suspended early after significant rise in infection
  • Proactive culling reduced incidence within culled area but increased it outside
  • Group's recommendation: culling "is unlikely to contribute positively, or cost effectively, to the control of cattle TB"

The groups will employ trained marksmen to shoot the badgers as they roam - so-called "free-shooting".

The effectiveness of free-shooting badgers has never been studied. In the RBCT, they were trapped in cages and then shot.

The trust pointed out that if free-shooting proves ineffective, farmers may have to resort to trapping - which would increase costs approximately 10-fold.

The government said it was pleased with the judgement.

"No one wants to cull badgers, but last year bovine TB led to the slaughter of over 26,000 cattle," said a Defra spokesman.

"To help eradicate the disease, it needs to be tackled in badgers.

"We will continue to work with the farming industry so badger control in two pilot areas can start as soon as is practical."

Natural England is currently processing the Somerset and Gloucestershire applications.

The judge left the option of a written appeal open to the trust, and it has a week in which to decide whether or not to pursue that avenue.

Humane Society International has mounted a parallel challenge through the EU, arguing that Defra's plans contravene the Bern Convention on protection of wildlife.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Evidence-based decisions would go against most decisions.

    That badgers carry/spread bovine TB is not in question (they do), just whether this is the best control. Ideal would be a controlled extermination/full innoculation of the entire badger population, but this would be costly and still wouldn't prevent the other infection vectors (avian, cattle movement)

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Did you know that bTB vaccination is only effective if administered to neonatal calves and offers a 50% chance of full protection. The average age of a dairy cow is 4-6 year a so it would take longer than 6 years to provide 50% protection.

    Nothing is ever simple

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    #28 Vaccination in humans only provides partial protection. No vaccine is 100% efficient (I should know I make them!) and the BCG human TB vaccine was more like 40% effective. However if you immunise everyone the pool of infection is so reduced the disease can die out totally (like smallpox, polio, diptheria etc) Stop vaccinating and the disease comes back (see measles & MMR hysteria)

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    How do they know the badgers aren't catching it from the cattle, and not the other way round? They already admitted most cows get it from other cows... Killing badgers won't stop the disease: they'll still have to find a cure/vaccinate the cows anyway, when all the badgers have gone, so why not do it now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Poster 'Matt Henson' seems to suggest that it is only 'townies' who are outraged by this decision. Not so. Also since when did have a so-called 'real working knowledge of the countryside' mean killing anything which gets in the way of commercial farming? I'm afraid that dealing in tired old 'country folk vs townie' stereotypes does not add to the issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    A badger cull will be pointless, expensive, destructive and probably counterproductive. There's no convincing evidence in favour of it, and much against. Animals will be unnecessarily slaughtered, and the public will foot the bill.

    Human healthcare has been improved by the introduction of evidence-based medicine. Why are government departments not required to use
    "evidence-based policy"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    What evidence is there that TB is spread by badgers and passed onto cattle. It doesn't make any sense if badgers are largely territorial and so don't move great distances. If need be, why not vaccinate the badgers? This seems to be a typical knee jerk reaction possibly lead by worried farmers. TB is a serious problem in the cattle industry why isn't more research being done in this area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.


  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Is a dose of rationality allowed in this very emotional debate?

    There are huge numbers of badgers in the countryside - they are certainly not endangered. They are nothing like as endangered as the British dairy farmer, anyway.

    This cull may work: most evidence suggests that it will. Badgers are very cute - at a distance - but they do spread this disease that causes huge damage. Lets try it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    While it is certainly true that "To help eradicate the disease, it needs to be tackled in badgers." there is no evidence that culling badgers would in any way help to tackle the disease in badgers. It may, in fact, do quite the opposite, as seen with trying to combat rabies in bats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Last week we walked along the Thames Path in Greenwich and saw the poignant memorial to the thousands of uninfected animals that were slaughtered as a 'precaution' against Foot & Mouth ten years ago. Will we see a similar monument to badgers at the end of Downing Street soon? Shameful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I know I will be flamed for this but all the townies cry foul when lovely fluffy animal die but have NO real working knowledge of the countryside.

    Can one of the experts here tell me what is wrong with the current husbandry of cattle they make them more suspectable to bTB. Vacination is not perfect, it only offers partial protection of the herd and limits the ability to detect actual infection

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Well, the tories were blubbing into their sherry glasses when fox hunting was quite rightly banned, so it's hardly surprising they turned they thirst for blood onto another helpless victim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I'm sorry for the badgers but there does seem to be a weight of circumstantial evidence behind the decision to cull and simply resorting to name-calling and / or sentiment doesn't really add anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    #12 More cattle catch TB from other cattle than from Badgers. If RogerE can't suggest any ways to improve animal husbandry I can: vaccinate the cattle like the Welsh do (the vaccine will cost about 50p a cow) and don't allow the movement of un-vaccinated animals to prevent one herd infecting another. Its hardly rocket science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This culling programme is a purely political act, carried out without any clear, indisputable evidence of absolute cause and effect. The Government should be ashamed of themselves; bowing to the farming community on matters such as this will not win any elections for them. My vote will be against them in the next election, unlike in 2010. Shame on you Cameron, Clegg and Defra.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Look out BBC! People are talking about real issues! Better wheel out a wedge-issue and quickly!

    Oh, you did. Oh well, everyone can back to sleep again then...

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    We have a beautiful wild animal that many of us have never seen, other than dead at the side of the road and what do we want to do? Kill it!

    Welcome to the human race...........

    I feel sick :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "The government said it was pleased with the judgement. "

    They would be, nothing pleases them more than running round shooting anything that cant shoot back. The only thing this will achieve is a sense of outrage amongst many decent people. Farmers who engage in it may very well find their produce unwanted by many people and hence super markets who buy it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I think that if badgers were responsible for transmitting a computer virus that meant all the city bankers couldn't go to work, a cull would have started years ago.

    There's no right or wrong answer with this, but maybe people who are mainly concerned about the rights of the cutesy wildlife from Tales of the Riverbank should chat to the farmers and find out how bTB has affected their lives.


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