Halt badger culls, minister urged
A new plea has been made to Environment Secretary Liz Truss to stop the latest badger culls and save hundreds of animals from "potentially unnecessary and inhumane deaths".
The call came from the Badger Trust after it lost an 11th-hour High Court legal battle arising from the Government go-ahead for a second year of "controlled shooting" of free-roaming badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is using the two pilot schemes to test whether the shooting method can be rolled out to other parts of England to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.
An independent expert panel (IEP) monitored the first year of the four-year pilot programme. It reported that controlled shooting could not deliver the level of culling needed to bring about a reduction in bovine TB and was not humane.
Defra decided to continue the programme this year without an IEP in place, leading to accusations by the Badger Trust of an unlawful breach of a "legitimate expectation" that the IEP would monitor the entire pilot cull.
David Wolfe QC, appearing for the Trust, argued at London's High Court that Defra had not simply "moved the goalposts" but was "sacking the referee".
Rejecting the accusation, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker ruled today that there were "no plausible grounds" to support the legitimate expectation claim.
The judge accepted Defra's argument that it had always been intended that the IEP would only be in place for the first culling period.
He said the Environment Secretary believed the IEP report had shown "a clear way forward".
Ms Truss had taken steps to implement its recommendations, and she was legally entitled to conclude further participation by the IEP was "not necessary or proportionate".
The judge refused the Trust permission to appeal and ordered it to pay £10,000 towards Defra's legal costs. The Trust can still ask the appeal court to hear the case.
The Government and farmers insist that culling is necessary to tackle TB in livestock, which saw more than 26,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year and multimillion-pound losses.
But opponents say culling is inhumane and ineffective and alternatives such as vaccination should be pursued.
Broadcaster and naturalist Bill Oddie was among those backing the legal challenge.
Trust member Nigel Tolley, from Stourbridge, West Midlands, said IEP reports showed that last year badgers had taken a "completely unacceptable" 10 minutes to die.
The Trust says bovine TB has been reduced by 50% in five years in Wales without a cull, relying on farming measures and the annual testing of cattle.
The Trust accuses the National Farmers' Union in England of refusing to do annual testing because of the cost, while millions are spent on killing badgers.
Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer said an appeal against the High Court ruling was under consideration. He also called on the Environment Secretary to halt the culls - or reinstate the IEP.
Mr Dyer said the ruling "does not detract from the serious public concerns over the continuation of the cull, including the most recent leaks regarding potentially unlawful and unsafe activity undertaken by culling contractors during the 2013 culls".
He said: "Given the indisputable failure of the 2013 culls, the still unresolved issues regarding safety and the significant uncertainty over the numbers of badgers to be killed in 2014, the only sensible option for the Secretary of State is to call a halt to these pilots, and the potentially unnecessary and inhumane deaths of hundreds of badgers.
"Whatever happens during the second year of the culls, in the absence of the IEP, it will be impossible to trust any findings supporting a wider roll-out, not least because this is already clearly the preferred option of the Secretary of State."
A Defra spokeswoman said: "We are pleased that the judge has found in our favour, as we have always been clear that the independent expert panel's role was to oversee the six-week pilots in the first year of the culls only.
"This year we have made changes to monitor effectiveness and humaneness and the culls will be independently audited.
"We have a comprehensive strategy to make England TB-free, including strict cattle movement controls and badger vaccination, but overseas experience shows that we will not beat the disease without also culling badgers where the disease is rife."
She added in a statement: "The policy approach in Wales covers only 1.5% of the country, too small an area to draw meaningful conclusions from.
"Overseas evidence shows multi-faceted approaches work best. A comprehensive strategy including culling was key in Australia, where TB has been eradicated; and in Ireland and New Zealand where it has been significantly reduced."
Earlier this week it was announced that Natural England has authorised the latest round of culling.
The authorisation letters require companies carrying out the licensed culls to kill a minimum number of badgers - some 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset.
The maximum number has been set at 1,091 in Gloucestershire and 785 in Somerset.
Six weeks of culling between June 1 and January 31 each year are allowed under the licences, with those carrying out the cull deciding on the start date.
The judge said in his ruling that the incidence of bTB in cattle herds had increased significantly since the 1980s and the annual public cost was about £100 million, with estimated multimillion-pound annual costs to farmers.
It had spread extensively northwards and eastwards from infected pockets in the South West of England and Wales, and the incidence of new herd breakdowns was now doubling every nine years.
The judge said: "This incidence of bTB is the highest in Europe."