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 139.

    How odd..the ''Editor's'' Choice on this forum all are pro-culling !!!!!!

    The commercial farmers have a problem with their live stock, so what do we do? we kill awild animals that most of us never see !!! really bad form..can't Great Britain find another solution to TB??

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Isn't it fact that the most effective way of eradicating a disease is compulsory vaccination? OK, we can't do that to every deer and badger, but we can to every cow and bull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    "134.worldwithoutborders Using the word 'militant' is unfair and misleading as it implies vegans are violent people when in fact the lifestyle places a huge emphasis on non-violence"

    "Militant" != "violent".

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    supermarkets not badgers are destroying farming.
    The data shows that cattle are more likely to get TB from other cattle than from badgers
    A cynic might think that over use of antibiotics to promote growth might have lessened cattle resistance.
    Bottom line its unlikely the badger cull will make much difference but it will provide the illusion/delusion of doing something

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.


    A lot of you seem to forget that farming is a difficult & unprofitable industry.

    I've never seen a poor farmer.

    It's a cushy job-for-life with no commuting and a nice detached house thrown in for good measure.

    And whenever they get themselves into a mess - like with Foot and Mouth and now with TB - they blame others. Usually innocent animals!

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    @131. Peter_Sym - Nobody would suggest we stop eating animal products overnight.That would be impossible in every way.Using the word 'militant' is unfair and misleading as it implies vegans are violent people when in fact the lifestyle places a huge emphasis on non-violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    After scientific proof that this cull will NOT reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle and may make matters worse, it is to go ahead. Will ignorant farmers never learn to protect their cattle properly and stop moving them around unnecessarily (or for merely financial reasons exploiting EU rules)?

    When the badgers are all gone who will the farmers blame? Never themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    @119: I see fallow in the cattle pastures in the early evening often! The link between Badgers and Cattle in terms of TB spread is circumstantial; Fallow are widespread and inhabit all cattle areas with TB, so should also be a target for more research. Trouble with Fallow deer control is that they move about more, making it more the badgers cop the blame as culling them is cheaper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    #121. My sister and sister in law are vegetarian. They're not militant veggies because they don't have a pop at others who do eat meat.

    Of course if we DID all stop eating all animal products there'd be the greatest cull of animals ever seen since that meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs. We couldn't afford the grain or land needed to keep them as pets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    123.Drunken Hobo - "Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group" - Taken from Wiki
    The "systematic destruction" of any species, be it human or other is genocide in my opinion. These animals are being destroyed because they 'might' carry or transmit a disease more apparent in the animals its protecting lo

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    At last a commonsense judgement so that this dreadful disease can be tackled for the benefit of both cattle & badgers alike.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    This plan is ill-conceived. Any culls, any species brings with it subsequent problems not foreseen. Will the cull actually do anything: RBCT (1998-2005):
    Group's recommendation: culling "is unlikely to contribute positively, or cost effectively, to the control of cattle TB"
    In my view, it would be much easier & feasible to develop a bovine TB vaccine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    We rape the planet at every opportunity with no regard for the environment or the many living things we share it with. It's not OUR world! Sure, the cattle get diseases from badgers, but they shouldn't be hogging their habitat. Cattle = Meat = £££ & when money's the motivation, God help anything that hinders somebody's greed for profit. But people always want their hamburgers, so...

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I'm disgusted that this is going ahead when there is no evidence whatsoever that it will do any good. Even if there was evidence it had worked in the past, I would still be against it - why not vaccinate against TB? Badgers are one of the most beautiful animals we have in this country, and so of course it makes perfect sense to destroy them. Sickening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    They have badgers in France. No TB.

    They have badgers in Sweden. No TB.

    Could it be that the real cause is shabby British farming practices?

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    "Culling any species ... is nothing short of premeditated murder"

    Not always - Badgers used to be culled to prevent the spread of rabies. Culling can serve a useful purpose if it is done for the correct reason. Fox hunting and deer stalking can also be considered as forms of culling.
    Invasive Grey squirrels are also culled to protect the native reds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    118 WebKinect - Methane doesn't affect the ozone layer in the slightest, it is however a potent (but short-lived) greenhouse gas.

    And to compare the slaughter of animals with the murder and genocide of humans only cheapens the horrors of genocide and makes your own argument less effective. This badger cull is pointless, cruel and nonsensical, but it certainly isn't genocide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    @118: Methane gas is not causing a fall in the ozone layer; it contributes to the greenhouse gases pool, which is linked to global warming!

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @111. Peter_Sym - It's a cheap shot to call people who choose not to eat meat and dairy 'militant veggies' just because you won't give these products up.We recognise that not only does it cause so much unnecessary suffering but the planet simply cannot sustain animal agriculture.Don't diminish the efforts of others to save your planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Nice to see that the Editor is impartial. Picking 3/3 Pro Cull posts.

    My £0.02, Here we go again killing animals to protect farmers. Isn't it enough that we provide tax £££s in subsidies to support this unprofitable industry. This is the government that also wanted to disturb and harrass Buzzards and other raptors to protect the obscenity that is the "Sport" killing industry.

    Good grief.


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