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 119.

    #110@B Hansen

    The majority of lowland deer avoid cattle particularly Fallow Deer, although Roe Deer are less bothered by them, that said you rarely see TB in Roe. Most of the TB in wild deer is in Fallow in the badger/cattle hotspots and it largely believed it is transmitted from badger as they occupy the same areas particularly at dawn. I have seen Fallow and badger together a few times

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Culling any species because of an inconvenience to humanity is nothing short of premeditated murder! It makes me so angry that humanity believes it has the right to decide whether another species should live or die! The methane gas produced by cattle is one of the highest causes to the fall of our ozone layer and yet they aren't culled. Why? Because that would be rediculous, as is badger genocide!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    @104. countrygirl Country girl are you serious??You complain nobody feels sorry for the cows and yet you talk about wanting meat and milk?Those products are completely unnecessary and cause so much suffering and disease to both animals and humans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    A lot of you seem to forget that farming is a difficult & unprofitable industry. Farmers supply many of the products that we pick up daily from the supermarket without a second thought.
    Perhaps they deserve a bit of support rather than being knocked all the time by the "city folk".
    If farmers support the cull, let them try it...
    If it doesn't work, then try another plan...

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    So two facts:
    1. Culling has been done in the past and PROVED to not control TB.
    2. The largest spread of infection is cattle to cattle contact through infected herds.
    Seems to me the badgers are a scapegoat for bad animal husbandry. The swipe at "urban dwellers" is insulting....but very enlightening!

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    If only the concern were for cows and not profit. In robotisized milking units, the cows spend the day standing in a liquid mix of their own faeces and urine. Since they milk themselves 4 or more times dailly, bacterial infections can enter through their hooves softened by calcium loss. They often suffer lesions falling on the concrete floors. And for this we want to kill badgers ?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Once again, governments are playing god and killing animals because of money. I despair of people I really do.
    40,000 badgers to be killed over 4 years, is it really neccessary?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    "93.David Renner yes we intensively test and cull cattle here"

    Indeed which is the only way it's been successfully controlled anywhere, unless we wipe out every badger in Britain, if it is not removed from the cattle stock it will return (to cattle and badgers).

    Spreading the TB through badger culling will only make things worse, working toward badger vaccination and cattle culling may fix it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    104. countrygirl
    Not good for wild animals to be culled but no-one seems to feel sorry for the 25,000 cattle that were killed (in 2010)
    Maybe because its a drop in the ocean next to the 3M cattle killed for food in the UK (+ god knows how many unwanted male dairy calves) I eat meat too so don't mark me down as a militant veggie. The cattle are bred to be slaughtered for food. Badgers aren't

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    It is interesting that a lot of money and effort has been spent researching a link between Bovine TB and Badgers. However, very little seems to have been spent on researching the link between Bovine TB and wild deer. The deer are free to roam about the countryside (making a very effective vector for spreading TB) and graze on pastures where livestock do; the link between them seems more likely!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    It is better to keep and maintain badgers on purpose to prevent outside badgers from other areas moving in and bringing disease with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.


    Deer stalking is what I do, so have a little more exposure than most

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    #103 so all those people who go out to blow grouse from the sky get no pleasure from it? The Arabs who pay £1000 a Stag to shoot deer in Scotland don't like killing the deer? Your arguments get sillier and sillier.

    I'll agree a head shot from a 5.56mm destroys the brain and is instant and painless but a minute spent dying from a chest wound is damned horrible. I've seen it happen too (Bosnia)

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    No farmer would argue to reduce monitoring of herds for TB, but without effective controls on other TB sources(ie. badgers) all those thousands of cattle being culled is pointless.

    Similarly, we have no TB where I farm (yet) and I'm quite happy for the badgers that are around here - live and let live. If TB were to spread across the country to here, yes I'd want to get rid of the infected ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    The VLA for all we know are producing some kind of Oral anti bTV drug that could be left disguised as food in the vacinity of badger setts, the badgers would then be immunised and assuming a mother with cubs eats the meds then it will be passed to the little ones in her milk. Might seem far fetched but is it really impossible?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Not good for wild animals to be culled but no-one seems to feel sorry for the 25,000 cattle that were killed (in 2010) and the farmers who have to suffer the day to consequences of this awful disease - we all want our meat and our milk so something has to be done.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.


    "As for instant this is most certainly not guaranteed either. Your faith in the system is misplaced"

    A head shot is instance and a chest shot take about a minute. Also you are required by law to use an expanding ammunition to maximise the impact energy, "hopefully" stunning the animal enough to minimise pain. Very few hunters enjoy killing

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    #90 Plenty of people shoot deer and other animals using full bore rifles which (usually) kill instantly. They enjoy doing it as well. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

    On the strength of the foot & mouth culls I have less confidence than you in the abilities of the cullers. Phoenix the calf ring any bells? Whoever gave her the 'lethal injection' couldn't kill the animal even with barbiturates!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    90.Matt Henson

    Oh yeah and that makes it all the better to blast these poor creatures. Have you ever been shot or known anyone shot? I doubt it.
    Being shot, full stop, it's not painless it's pointless. To say it's not sport is like saying the glorious 12th is to get rid of those damned nusicance partridges that crap all over our land. 91 This is a protest from country dweller.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    This makes no sense until you realise its the torys that are behind it. Remember they want to remove all wildlife protection and allow land owners to "manage" wildlife as they see fit. Badgers have the dubious link to TB so they are seen as the soft will be buzzards and SSSI's next....


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