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 99.

    90.Matt Henson

    Death is never painless unless you know someone who can prove otherwise? As for instant this is most certainly not guaranteed either. Your faith in the system is misplaced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    One cow can infect a herd. As there are infected cattle in the UK there should be a complete block on cattle transportation. The vehicles used to transport catlle might be carrying the virus (are they spotlessley clean and free from bacteria? as a country-dweller I can tell you they most certainly are not).

    Badgers have nothing to do with Bovine TB. The hint is in the disease name itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    So what next after the badgers have been wiped out and bovine TB still persists?

    Kill anything that moves on a farmyard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    "If your diet is not already dairy free then boycott such products today"

    No thanks - I like dairy products, so do most of the people in the UK.

    Why don't you stick to discussing the topic rather than trying to promote your minority views which have nothing to do with Badger culling ?
    You can keep your soya milk !

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The hunt crowd must be rubbing their hands together. Trust a Tory government to propel us back in time and hand back legality to a practice that nobody other than the landowners and the idiots who get a kick out blood sports wants. Before we know it we'll be back to having sub-humans wearing red coats charging through back gardens on their horses in pursuit of anything that moves. Shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    As far as I know, goat farmers aren't calling for the cull --- so I've switched to goat's milk -- a token change (for one person) but an easy one for many to take up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Yes, infected cattle can infect badgers. That's why they're tested regularly (expensive for the farmer) and culled if positive or dubious. Positive TB tests are financially crippling for a farming business, not a money making exercise.

    @85.D Dortman, yes, we intensively test and cull cattle here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Instead a more effective solution is to issue the same cull on ALL MPs,civil servants,parliamentry personel, aswell as last Government as they have done far more distruction with constant house building,destroying the countryside than badgers ever will. As its not proved, the badgers could be vaccinated, dont we see enough killed on the roads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    All countryside pests need to be controlled, after all it is the human lifestyle which allows badger and fox populations to spiral.

    Although this is not true of everyone, it seems that protest calls are louder from urban dwellers who have no real experience of living in the countryside and the realities of keeping livestock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    #78@Cyber Tantric

    "Badger baiting or 'culling' is barbaric and does not help deal with TB - it's an excuse for 'sport'"

    They are not being "baited" or shot for sport, they are being killed using a full bore rifle by licensed and trained hunters for the purpose of this trial. Death will instance and painless

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The vets and home office, DEFRA are all in bed together. TB may even be spread by the vaccination program itself? Liver flukes have just been also mask the disease so infected animals remain in herds deemed to be clean thus propagating the spread of infection. If you killed every badger on the planer TB would prevail in cattle. PS Badger loves mash potato(e)

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    A significant proportion of politicians are not nice animals, aggressive, less than truthful, selfish, causing inconvenience, squandering money, making poor decisions, wrecking society...I hope someone is working on a vaccine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    #79 Complete and utter c***. With most vaccines (including the human TB one) you need one dose. A badger rarely even lives to 12. I need to get my cat immunised every 12 months not because the vaccine only works for 12 months but because it was only TESTED (and therefore certified) for 12 months. As a result he gets worst side effects every boost suggesting he already has a good immune response

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    There's no good reason to do it, yet the government are going to anyway. I wonder what politician has a vested interest in a pest control company... Nick Clegg to be the new CEO of Badger-B-Gone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    82.David Renner

    The only way it's ever been reduced to minimal levels anywhere in the world is "test and cull" OF CATTLE!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Badger populations increased dramatically in the 80s and 90s. And at the same time, the rate of TB infections in cattle FELL, just as dramatically, by slaughtering cattle testing TB-positive. So badgers can't be the main factor in the TB increase.
    TB jumped massively after the Foot & Mouth outbreak, when TB testing stopped. Not a coincidence. The problem lies in the farming, not the badgers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    If your diet is not already dairy free then boycott such products today. The point is cow's milk is just that - for cows not humans.

    Whether pandering to the dairy industry in this case or the shooting industry in the recent case of the (now shelved) destruction of birds of prey the Tories are hopefull digging themselves into an even bigger hole never to return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @Adrian, TB has never been eradicated in any country where wildlife reservoir populations of TB infected wild animals haven't been culled.
    The trouble in the UK is that we have so many people with an opinion (but not involved in the countryside) which MUST BE CONSIDERED.

    "going ahead with something cruel and outrageous"
    What's cruel and outrageous is the effect of TB on farmers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

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

    I hope they are equally pleased when I don't vote for them. This is a ridiculous decision, it isnot hard to make a good decision in this case, culling doesn't work, vaccines seem to work; lets try the vaccines then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    #63 Have you checked Merck share prices recently? They're on the floor. They're not making 'huge profts'... quite the opposite. In any case perhaps you can explain why farmers aren't motivated by profit like the "evil" pharma companies?

    #73 Lions and Tigers aren't nice animals. They're very aggressive too. Should be cull all big cats? (Ironic considering what we do to the cows... steak! )


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