Government faces two new legal challenges as it seeks to expand controversial badger cull policy
Updated: Jul 30
Permission for two Judicial Review legal cases is being sought against the government as it seeks to expand its highly controversial badger cull policy in 2020.
Wild Justice legal challenge
The first case is being taken by Wild Justice, the non-profit organisation formed in 2018 run by wildlife experts Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay to ‘fight for wildlife’. The case against Natural England (with Defra as an interested party) concerns the manner in which badgers die from ‘controlled shooting’, whereby individuals are licensed to shoot badgers following a single, short training course.
In 2014, the government’s own Independent Expert Panel advised that badgers should not take more than five minutes to die in more than 5% of cases. Natural England has been observing levels above this yet has taken no action, despite the level of suffering caused. Shooting into the small heart of a badger from a distance can be difficult and the British Veterinary Association has also previously concluded that the method is inhumane.
Funds for this legal challenge have been donated in record time in an outpouring of public disgust and concern over the rapidly expanding badger cull policy. The challenge comes in advance of a further increase in culling with up to ten more licences to be issued by Natural England in September
Wild Justice opposes the entire badger cull policy, but its legal challenge aims to force the government to stop the use of controlled shooting as a culling method on humaneness grounds.
An end to the use of controlled shooting, could also force the government and the farming industry to recognise that now is the time to move towards badger vaccination - a non lethal means of lowering bTB in badgers, on both cost and humaneness grounds.
Tom Langton Legal Challenge
The second case by conservation ecologist Tom Langton, challenges parts of the Next Steps Policy, a response to the government’s bTB policy review in 2018, carried out by Sir Charles Godfray. The key grounds for the legal challenge are as follows :
Supplementary culling and a failure to expand vaccination
‘Supplementary culling’ follows a four year cull licence for a cull area and is usually carried out by ‘controlled shooting’ methods. This means that culling in any area can continue, with little to no monitoring for up to nine years. The grounds for this new legal challenge fall into five areas, including:
The case seeks to show that continuing the supplementary cull policy (which is not supported by the available evidence) is not rational and should be phased out by gradual replacement with vaccination as the government's own review detailed.
Defra is also failing to apply a two year break in culling or a move to vaccination in 50% of the post intensive cull areas, despite recommendations to do so in the Sir Charles Godfray TB Policy Review and public statements claiming the government is phasing out badger culling in favour of vaccination.
Low Risk Area culling
Low Risk areas form all areas of the country that are not considered to be high risk or edge areas (between the two). The Next Steps policy seeks to cull in these areas, wherever ‘epidemiological evidence’ suggests that there may be a reservoir of the disease in the area. In practice*, this means wherever badgers are present and the source of repeated breakdowns has not been identified. The Godfray Review made clear that poor tests are missing large reservoirs of disease in the cattle herds themselves.
Despite this, evidence from Cumbria suggests that Defra is carrying out proactive type culling in the low risk area that does not even conform to the evidenced approach of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) and has no basis in veterinary science. A widespread adoption of this type of culling in low risk areas might result in permanent collapse of the badger population across many areas of England.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Defra is failing to carry out an appropriate assessment of the impact of badger culling under the Habitat and Species Regulations 2017.
Over the last three years, Tom Langton has led two legal challenges against the government, supported by The Badger Trust and the Badger Crowd.
His first challenge in 2017 against Defra exposed the fact that supplementary culling may hold no value at all in the fight against bovine TB (bTB) in cattle potentially making eradication of the disease more difficult, with no way of directly measuring whether it works or not. The second case required Natural England to concede a national breach of duty, regarding monitoring the potential impacts of culling on internationally important nature areas where culling has been allowed.
Although failing to bring an end to supplementary culling, the two legal challenges have enabled a deep insight into secretive government planning and have exposed areas of deficiency including the experimental and poorly monitored nature of the government’s interpretation of legislation, protecting badgers and natural communities.
The latest legal challenge in 2020 is again supported by the Badger Trust and the Badger Crowd.
Dominic Dyer, CEO Badger Trust said: “ In the past, The Badger Trust has taken legal action preventing badger culling in Wales and has fought a number of legal actions in the High Court since 2013 seeking to stop or limit the cruel, destructive and unnecessary killing of our iconic badgers in England.
We welcome the involvement of Wild Justice to the cause of badger welfare and support their efforts. The legal case we have helped to fund this year with Tom Langton is equally important and we hope that they both get permission in the weeks to come so that non-lethal bTB control methods in badgers prevail, as the Sir Charles Godfray bTB policy review expert panel has recommended” .
Dr Mark Avery from Wild Justice said: “We’re very grateful to over 1100 individual donors who have funded our legal challenge. We wish Tom Langton and the Badger Trust all the best with their separate legal challenge. Badgers are wonderful creatures and they need all the friends they can get these days.
We believe Gandhi was right to say you can judge the greatness of a nation by the way it treats its animals, and by that measure Defra and Natural England are doing a very poor job.”
* Critical evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency report: ‘Year End Descriptive Epidemiology Report: Bovine TB Epidemic in the England Edge Area – Derbyshire 2018’
The Badger Crowd
Crowdfunder link and information on case here:
Extract of Wild Justice pre-action letter to Natural England
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