About The Badger Crowd

The Badger Crowd is a support and fundraising coalition including Badger Groups and Trusts around the UK. Ecologist Tom Langton has fronted recent challenges with support from ‘The Badger Crowd’. The legal team is Richard Turney and Ben Fullbrook from Landmark Chambers, London & solicitor Lisa Foster and paralegal Hannah Norman of Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law, Cambridge. Dominic Woodfield of the ecological consultancy Bioscan UK is working extensively on aspects of the case is a national authority on ecological impact assessment and has provided expert witness evidence on ecological assessment including impacts on SSSI’s. Many other scientists, researchers and legal commentators assist in the background. The Badger Crowd believes that legal challenges are an important fight, not just for the badger but also for the future of our countryside and the farming industry. The badger cull policy is failing farmers, tax payers and our precious wildlife and will make the bTB epidemic worse.

New scientific paper shows that the badger cull was never going to work

This website has been reporting on the legal challenges to the badger culling policy and licences, and the science that has supposedly supported it since 2019. Over that time, there have been many jaw-dropping moments; government interference in peer-reviewed science, government scientists getting their data wrong in published letters, Natural England claiming that culling has no effect on ecosystems and then desperately covering their tracks in the courts. The list goes on, and the story that has unfolded remains  truly shocking.

Professor Paul Torgerson, Chair, Veterinary Epidemiology, University of Zurich

But an even more dramatic sequel to this long-running saga is the new scientific paper published this week in Scientific Reports by Professor Paul Torgerson and colleagues including Badger Crowd’s Tom Langton. We will be posting a video presentation that will put this new work into context and demonstrate the massive impact that it should now have on Government bovine TB policy.

Why is this new study so important?

Because the government badger cull policy rests all but entirely on the conclusions from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). It is the science that DEFRA has used in court to defend their decisions to experiment with culling. The study is the original  peer-reviewed science that claims badger culling can reduce bTB in cattle; many subsequent studies are derivative from it, use the same flawed methodology, or suffer heavily from confirmation bias. I.e. they are subjective opinion that fails to prove that culling badgers causes disease reduction. However, benefits are claimed from culling when any benefits are, in reality likely from cattle measures. This is because such benefits are “predicted” from the results of the RBCT.

What does the new study say?

The new study re-examines data from the RBCT experiment using a range of statistical models. It concludes that most standard analytical options did not show any evidence to support an effect of badger culling on bovine TB in cattle. The statistical model selected for use in the original study in 2006 was one of the few models that did show an effect from badger culling. However, various criteria suggest that the original model was not an optimal model compared to other analytical options then available. The most likely explanation for the difference in result from the different analyses is that the RBCT proactive cull analysis ‘overfitted’ the data and used a non-standard method to control for disease exposure. The result is that the original model had a poor predictive value, i.e. it was not useful in predicting the results of badger culling. The more appropriate models in the latest study strongly suggest that badger culling does not bring about the disease reduction reported.

How might the RBCT scientists defend their decisions?

  1. The RBCT was a pre-planned analysis i.e. data was analysed in the way they said it would be before they started the trial, so it can’t be questioned.  This is not the case. There was a loosely described plan to compare rates of disease between culled and unculled areas. Their published analysis in fact compared counts of disease between culled and unculled areas. Would the conclusion of the RBCT analysis have been different  if incidence rates had been analysed correctly? Yes it would. Even if the data had been analysed according to any ‘pre-plan’, this would not preclude subsequent re-analysis using correct and more appropriate methods, except you might not do it if you believed rates had been used as was suggested in the paper.
  2. There is nothing wrong with using the model to calculate the number of herds (exposure). There may be circumstances in which a model may be sensibly used to calculate exposure. However, the original model used suggests that bTB herd incidents (a standard measure of new disease) is independent of the number of herds in a study area. That is, if the number of  herds in an area is doubled, the incidence does not change. This is not credible. Not least because the RBCT report (Table 5.4) showed that breakdowns doubled in cull and control areas over the period of study.
  3. You are just model dredging; i.e. you are just picking out the model that says what you want. The new study re-examined RBCT data using a range of statistical models (22 in total). Most of these show no evidence to support an effect of badger culling on bTB in cattle. The statistical model chosen by the RBCT study was one of the few models that did show an effect, but when tested in an accredited way, it is not an optimal model. The new paper is not guilty of  “model dredging”, it is the result of an attempt to find a robust analytical method that could support the claims of the RBCT

Why has this not been picked up before?

It does seem remarkable that the original RBCT a) got through peer review, and b) has not been challenged since. One reason might be the rather casual use of the words ‘rate’ and ‘count’ in the original paper, which implies that rate has been used in the model, whereas in fact an epidemiologically non-standard method was used to calculate a rate. Supplementary information in the original paper showed standard calculated ‘rates’ and the assumption could have been made that these were what was used in the model. They were not.

Interestingly, in the journal Biostatistics in 2010, two authors of the 2006 paper discussed approaches to using a range of statistical methods on a data set to compare their performance, and the choosing of a planned statistical approach that best complimented the subject matter.  They proposed that selection of a specific statistical approach may involve ’subtle considerations about the interplay between subject-matter and statistical aspects and the detailed nature of the data and its compilation.’ And with respect to the peer-review of results, they contend quite boldly: ‘the suggestion of requiring independent replication of specific statistical analyses as a general check before publication seems not merely unnecessary but a misuse of relatively scarce expertise.’

This may go some way towards understanding how problems with the original analysis were not picked up for such a long time. And it goes some way to explaining why there is such a reproducibility crisis in science.

The paper is open access. You can read it here.

Natural England refuses to stop licensing the badger cull

Badger Crowd can today reveal a letter from Natural England, stating that despite the sickening killing of over 230,000 badgers since 2013, the Natural England Board intends to continue with the failed and ineffective badger culls across England over the next two years. This despite the change to a Labour Government. In its years in opposition, Labour pledged to end the badger culls. But instead, around 100 adult and young badgers on average will be shot every day between now and January 2025 under the direction of the NE Board who control the plans.

Steve Reed, new Environment Secretary for Labour has inherited the disastrous badger culling legacy

This was revealed in a letter repeating much of the material provided in a freedom of information release in May showing  how Defra want to keep culling to appease the livestock industry and because they think badger culling ‘works’. This is despite the complete  lack of supporting evidence, and with strong evidence to the contrary. Indeed, the new government called the badger culling policy ‘ineffective’ in its manifesto.

The old government position relies on the lies of Defra over the ridiculous, unprofessional, and discredited speculation that badger culling  has been shown to bring about a 56% reduction in bovine TB breakdowns (see ‘TB Testing and Transmission’ letter in Vet Record on Friday).

This is almost as ludicrous as the claim in 2013 that helped to start badger culling in the first place, i.e. that half of cattle-to-cattle breakdowns originate from badger infections – one of the great mysteriously uncontested travesties of modern veterinary epidemiology. It is based on flawed opinion and flawed analysis, promoted by government scientists and contractors to support government policy.  The result has been to support the vested interests that have dominated for two decades. But there was a clear-out at the political level on Thursday night in the 2024 General election.

While dozens of pro-blood sport MPs have lost their positions, entrenched civil servants are no doubt striving to bolster positions they have defended against public interest as a result of tribal behaviour (see here and here), by using the fear-factor that has characterised bovine TB policy.

Notably, Natural England speculate in their letter on how long it might take Defra to gear up for badger vaccination – another cattle disease reduction folly  – and talk about a supposed gap between hypothetical benefit effects that have not been shown to exist. Tainted science, based on poor advice.

These plans to continue culling are now under legal scrutiny. Badger Crowd calls on the new government to stand up and be counted on its promises, and not duped by the range of bad advice, information and opinions floating around from those with a conflict of interest and confused stakeholders. It’s time for the badger culls to stop

Legal pressure grows as end to ineffective badger culls anticipated

This week yet more legal action is underway, seeking to end the failed badger culls. A Judicial Review Pre-Action Protocol Letter was sent to Natural England by the Badger Trust and Wild Justice,  challenging the issue and authorisation of 26 supplementary badger culling licences in mid-May of this year. This follows the shocking content of Freedom of Information releases obtained in May showing communications between DEFRA and Natural England since April of this year.

This action adds to two other ongoing judicial challenge applications, one of which was lodged today in the High Court, in relation to the recent consultation on the future of ‘badger control policy’ by Defra. This challenge claims that the Defra Consultation to introduce 100% badger culls (of a kind trialled in Cumbria since 2018), under control of the Defra Chief Vet, was unfair when it misrepresented scientific fact about badger culling efficacy to consultees. Other flaws are also highlighted in the challenge.

So how will things play out in the days and weeks to come?

Opinion polls now suggest a Labour government may be in place on Friday 5th July with a substantial majority of MPs in Parliament. Those following the history of badger culling could have expected that a swift and decisive end to the cull would be implemented with an incoming Labour government. A number of Labour MP’s and Shadow Ministers have stated that this is Labour’s intention in recent years. The Labour Manifesto launched last month stated that the badger culls have been “ineffective”, something that makes culling unlawful under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, confirming that position.

However, last week Shadow Environment Minister Stephen Reed, who has recently been in meetings with the National Farmers Union, threw a surprise question mark over this on BBC Farming Today by saying there would be no ’hard stop’ to badger culling. The implication is that culling could continue for a further two years under existing licenses for Intensive, Supplementary and Low Risk Area culling in England. A terrible prospect for killing protected wildlife with its known inefficiency. How could that be possible?

Dynamics for new Government making the right decisions next week?

There are currently three legal actions underway.

Challenge 1. from Stephen Akrill.
Seeking permission for Judicial Review at the Court of Appeal.

A  legal challenge against badger culling in England was made in a personal capacity by Stephen Akrill from Derbyshire, against the Secretary of State (S/S) for Defra Steven Barclay. With a Judicial Review claim lodged on 14th November 2023, Barclay’s second day in office, Akrill is challenging the historic decision of SSEFRA from 2012 to issue licences to kill badgers under section 10(2) (a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The claim is that the S/S has acted upon flawed scientific advice that badger culling could influence the  spread of disease.  Akrill is seeking a quashing order to revoke all licences for badger culls issued by the Secretary of State. With a request to stay extant licences issued by the Secretary of State to kill badgers in 2024, pending the outcome of his application for Judicial Review.

This was the latest JR concerning badger culling since the judgement in Northern Ireland earlier this year where DAERA were ruled to have consulted unlawfully on a plan to mass-shoot badgers, and where detailed justifications were wrongly withheld. In short, this new JR claim contends that there is inadequate evidence to indicate that culling badgers can influence the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle.  The RBCT experiment was done under Crown immunity despite the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. This, argues Akrill, did not make any subsequent act of killing badgers lawful. While the 2006 RBCT paper was called the established science, Akrill’s argument also is that scientific protocol dictates that science only becomes  ‘established science’ once it is shown to be reproducible, not simply because it has been published. This is the science reproducibility argument.

At the Court of Appeal in London in mid-May, Akrill argued that culling badgers by industry without clear reason, and effectively as an experiment,  was potentially a criminal offence. Akrill gave two recent examples where evidence suggested  non-reproducibility of the RBCT experiment and suggested that the industry led culls had been unlawful from the start of in 2012. Thus, he claims the rolling offence was an error on the part of the decision maker each time culling had occurred, as decided by the S/S, and so remains unlawful.

A related argument was that scientific opinion does not constitute science – specifically it does not overrule the basic premise that science should be reproducible to be safe. On that basis, the Defra CSA and CVO opinion on recent evidence is not sufficient for the S/S to base decisions on. The case continues, and now due to the snap election, will apply to the incoming Government.

Challenge 2. from Tom Langton supported by
Badger Crowd and Protect the Wild.
Challenge to the March 14th consultation on targeted culling.

This is a legal challenge to the Defra consultation on targeted badger culling proposals that ran from March 14th to 13th May 2024.

A PAP response was received from Defra in mid-June and the case application was lodged at the High Court today, 3rd July. It challenges the fairness of the consultation on three Grounds:

1) that it made misleading claims preventing intelligent consideration
2) that it omitted key information on ecological impacts and
3) it omitted information on the likely economic benefits of the proposed policy.

The government’s position has shifted from saying badger culling caused the disease benefit in cattle, to one where they think it helped, but the detail is fuzzy and not backed by evidence. This is not a good position for the government who needed to come up with some evidence that killing 230,000 badgers (and counting) was worthwhile. They have failed to do this due to weak analysis and are now called out for exaggerating to the public.

Challenge 3. from Badger Trust and Wild Justice.
Challenge to the authorisation and reauthorisation of Supplementary Badger Cull (SBC) licences.

The pre-action letter challenges the SBC licences that aim to shoot thousands more badgers from 1st June 2024 and in the next six months of the new Parliament. Also next year  between June 2025 and January 2026. This is more and more ineffective culling of tens of thousands of mainly completely healthy badgers for no good purpose.

Based on the information obtained by Tom Langton from Natural England this May, Badger Trust and Wild Justice have together sent a pre-action protocol letter to Natural England and the Secretary of State for Defra to stop the supplementary badger culls continuing.  This year, as usual, the supplementary culls started on 1 June. The challenge aims  to stop the cull immediately because the advice of Natural England’s own Director of Science (not to cull badgers) was wrongly overruled. The action could lead to the two organisations applying for a full Judicial Review. Natural England has been given until 15 July 2024 to respond and to halt the 26 supplementary culls.

The view is that Natural England, led by Tony Juniper and the Natural England Board, were wrong to overrule Director of Science at NE Peter Brotherton, who felt SBC could no longer be justified. Release of crucial information showed how a Defra official had pressurised NE with advice from  Animal And Plant Agency’s Christine Middlemiss (the Chief Veterinary Officer), to carry on culling in order to meet cull company and livestock industry expectations, and to sustain the so-called benefits that Defra have failed to show exist. The fundamental reasoning behind the decision was inadequate and unlawful.

Why a ‘hard stop’ to badger culling is actually warranted now

The time is right to bring an end to all badger culling.  As things stand, Natural England may also maintain its plans to continue to ‘cull by stealth’ this year (as it has done for several years) using ‘cull extensions’ to kill more and more badgers over hundreds of square kms, by secretly expanding the edges of existing cull areas. Further, in mid-August 2024, just six weeks away from now, over 20 further areas of 4-year culls could be re-authorised by Natural England for the autumn bloodbath to continue.

Scientific analysis has shown these intensive culls to be ineffective. There is no better time for a full-stop, and a new policy to be formed with a change of approach.

What about industry objection to culling ending?

Back in 2019, the government took a decision to stop the first Derbyshire badger cull before it started due to inadequate preparation on the distance standoff between badger culling and badger vaccination areas, that had not been properly thought through. NE paid compensation to the cull company involved for late notification of that decision. However, when NFU took High Court legal action against the government over the decision, the judge indicated that the government had a political prerogative to take such a decision.

A decision to cancel the culls in 2024 would surely follow the same outlook. And in any case, compensation paid to farmers for loss of set-up costs would be less than the cost of government spending on managing ineffective  culls. It would ultimately be a logical, cost-saving decision preventing waste and cruelty.

While the new government might be wary of not doing what some pro-cull rural voters want before an election, there are many more voters (rural and non-rural) who oppose culling, and who will support bringing it to an end. It is true that badger culling retains heavy support amongst niche livestock sectors, fuelled by government misinformation as to its value. The new NFU President has re-iterated his views on the need for badger culling to continue. But this support is misplaced, a result of a relentless campaign of poor information aimed at blaming for badgers for a significant role in the spread of bovine TB, based on weak and misquoted science. The position of Labour on the science of badgers and bTB is likely to consolidate with investigations into maladministration since 2010, and that is what should follow the decision to end badger culling for good very soon. In which case these costly legal actions need not proceed.

PM Sunak contradicts his legal position on badger culling. Further Labour comments reported too.

On 18th June, the BBC ran a story about Rishi Sunak on the election trail at an event In North Devon, where he was asked a question about his intentions concerning badger culling, should he remain Prime Minister.

Badger culling was not mentioned in the Conservative manifesto, but he laid his cards on the table, answering “culls have to be part of the solution”. The BBC wrote, “Mr Sunak said bTB outbreaks are at their lowest in 20 years and “part of that is because of the success of the badger culls.” The statement was confirmed by a video tape released by Farmers Guardian on the same day.

Sunak went on to say that “badger culls have brought down TB by just over 50%. That shows that the culls are working.” This despite the ink being hardly dry on a legal letter from Defra admitting that decline in TB cannot be attributed to badger culling and that not too much should be read into the Secretary of State saying so in the foreword of the recent consultation! This is a key point in the legal challenge that will move forwards shortly.

The current Government badger culling is based on the APHA’s publication Birch et al. (2024), published February this year. However, Mr Sunak is wrong to attribute reduction of disease incidence to badger culling. The new publication does not do this. Authors of Birch acknowledge (on careful reading) that the overall result cannot be attributed to badger culling: all disease measures implemented, including extensive testing, were analysed together. Crucially the expected comparison of culled and unculled areas was missing making the study of low or arguably no inference, given there was also some key missing information and over-simplifications. It is more likely that the cattle measures are causing reduction in disease than badger culling, because decline began well before culling was rolled out and in response to the introduction of annual SICCT testing in 2010. Other cattle-based  measures were also introduced alongside culling.

Likewise, the BBC which has extensive ‘previous’ with mis-reporting of the badger culls, was wrong to state (again presumably from Birch et al) that badger culling cut bTB breakdowns by 56% after four years. A 56% reduction cannot be attributed to badger culling, as explained above, because that study was not designed to and was incapable of asking that question.

Mr Sunak said the Conservatives were “the only party at this election” committed to maintaining the cull. If this is the case, his seems to be the only party prepared to consistently misinterpret the science and misinform others about it.

Today the I News has mentioned what Labour might do, claiming culling might not be ended this year and also misquoting the Birch paper – you can see what a good job the government have done on fooling the media – good evidence for the legal challenge to the Consultation.

The outlet teased:

i understands a Labour government will not interfere with existing contracts to carry out culling

and that a Labour spokesman said:“

“The next Labour Government is committing to ending the badger cull and eradicating TB. We will work with farmers and scientists to introduce a TB eradication package rolling out vaccination, herd management and biosecurity programs to protect farmers’ livelihoods so we can end the killing of badgers.”

Is this a row-back on the earlier statement about the cull being ineffective? Difficult to say without clear evidence. What can be said is that a letter was sent today to Natural England and Defra asking for the the May licences and authorisations to be immediately revoked and for intensive culling to be ended too. After all, if they are ineffective as stated last week, they are unlawful.

Vote Labour, Vote Badger?

As demonstrated by the above, a vote for Labour now looks in the very best interest of farmers, cows, badgers, and all the other wild and domestic animals that develop bovine tuberculosis.

Why? Because a Labour Party  source quoted in the Daily Telegraph last week has confirmed that a ‘new Bovine TB eradication package’ would be developed by Labour if they win the upcoming General Election. It will prioritise eradicating bovine TB through vaccinations, herd management and biosecurity.

Last week they called the badger culls ineffective, based on published peer reviewed scientific evidence. This is a vital key step forwards. It signals the likely dropping of the current DEFRA  policy consultation proposals which are not to phase out badger culling as previously indicated by the 2020 policy. There should now be a fresh plan following the General  Election, that Labour are strong favourites to win with a working majority. Labour’s reported statement that they are confident about ending the badger culls will come into sharp focus on day-one of their term in office, as an ‘ineffective cull’ is unlawful under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and Labour is  “..confident that we can end the cull..” . This is sending strong signals to supporters who will expecting prompt action from 5th July.

Sadly, the farming industry has misread the published science. Their public statements, like those of Defra Ministers, suggest that the recent APHA study shows badger culling brought bovine TB down. This has not been shown. The study incorrectly describes gamma testing and other test tightening that occurred alongside  badger culling during the key four year period described. It was actually an analysis of a policy of extensive cattle measures and badger culling combined; the effect of badger culling alone was not measured due to the type of analysis used, which was a very weak one. The result of all the misleading coverage in the farming press, is that most farmers have been misinformed about badger cull efficacy..

Prompt action towards a scientifically sound and effective new bTB policy will be needed, as the legal challenge of DEFRA’s seriously flawed March 14th policy Consultation will be in full swing by the first day of the new parliament. This will be a considerable task.

Legal communications with Defra in recent days confirm this potential. Defra say:  “… it is unlikely that any decision would be made in relation to the proposals contained in the Consultation until early August 2024 at the earliest. Furthermore, the fact of a general election gives rise to the possibility that there will be changes in Ministers or government and that currently proposed policies may be revisited in any event.”

So the civil servants, many of whom have stuck loyally to political masters in the face of crumbling evidence on badger cull efficacy, are already preparing for change if the current Conservative government fails to be re-elected.  

An ineffective badger cull should lead to the recall of  supplementary culling licences recently issued by Natural England, and a curtailment of the final years of intensive culling (that would otherwise end in 2025/6). But Labour will have a dilemma, because the farming sector representatives such as the NFU may have said they will challenge that legally. However, the Derbyshire cull area postponement case in 2019 suggests that would be futile. If the new policy was judged to be a political decision backed up by the latest science, it would stand little chance.

Hopefully this July can see a new broom sweep away the vested interests in the BTB Partnership and get the right people working on real solutions to end the ruinously expensive polices we have seen since 2010. Saving public money, saving  heartache, saving lives, stopping cruelty.

Furthermore, data suggests that 80 per cent of rural communities want an end to the rural hooliganism of trail hunting where badger setts and other burrows used by badgers are blocked or assaulted by out of control dogs

Roll on the election……….

This General Election, please campaign locally to help STOP the badger culls.

It’s just three weeks until polling day for the General Election. We need badger supporters to step up once again, and  to alert parliamentary candidates to the ongoing outrageous badger culls. There are two things to do:

Firstly contact your constituency candidates and ask them if they will stop the culls, if they are elected. You can find out who they are here. The Green Party have said they will stop badger culling, and Labour say they will “work with farmers and scientists on measures to eradicate Bovine TB, protecting livelihoods, so that we can end the ineffective badger cull”.  Please ask them all what their plans are and make sure they know that all forms of culling should stop from July 5th, with all existing licences revoked.

Secondly, please try to attend hustings. These are the political meetings that are held locally in your constituency, where you can meet your candidates, supply relevant information and ask them questions. Find out  where and when the hustings meetings are and make every effort to attend. Click HERE for access to a leaflet that can help give you guidance with facts about badger culling, carefully prepared by a team of dedicated badgerists from around the UK. You can print it out double-sided on A4, then guillotine in half to make A5 leaflets. (You may have to print on one side of the paper first, then reload it in the paper cassette the other way up & run through the printer again).

Good luck in your constituency. We hope newly elected MPs will be caring and compassionate and understand that on badger culling, much science has been questionable or misrepresented to promote badger culling.

We must stop the Cruel, Expensive culls. They Just Don’t Work.

Defra’s zombie killing machine won’t stop

DEFRA don’t want to vaccinate badgers, they want to keep killing them, against advice from Natural England.

As the first badgers of summer 2024 are being killed outright by a shot to the heart, or scream and die slowly in pain, a Freedom of Information response released on 31st May has revealed a morass of Government confusion. Communications between Defra and Natural England  from April and May of this year show DEFRA contriving to carry on culling. By aligning with the views of its highly controlled ‘BTB Partnership’, and stalling the promised badger vaccination programme, that they have had four years to prepare for.

Dr Peter Brotherton’s (Director of Science at Natural England) advice in April, (see here), a response by Defra in early May (here), and final decision by NE (here) tell the story. NE’s response to the recent policy consultation (here), is also very revealing. Brotherton gives NE’s view on Supplementary Badger Culling (SBC) that are done after 4-years of Intensive culling, is that badger vaccination should be the best option to promote, based upon his view of the available scientific evidence :

“I can find no justification for authorising further supplementary badger culls in 2024 for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease and recommend against doing so.

However, on 1st May, Sally Randall who is the Director General for Food, Biosecurity and Trade for DEFRA responded saying:

“The experience of the last three years has shown that whatever changes are made to disease control, those most affected by the disease, must have confidence in both the process and the trajectory. Changes need to be carefully timed and communicated, whilst balancing a range of potentially opposing views. Any abrupt changes to policy would seriously undermine our ability to engage constructively with the industry on future disease control interventions.”

The letter included an Annex A. with advice from APHA and the Chief Veterinary Officer, stating that Defra’s view was that SBC should continue until badger vaccination was fully viable, and that would take an unspecified amount of time. DEFRA said it had not gone far enough with preparations and that there was no financial capacity to promote it. They implied that farmers didn’t want it either. Then just two days later on 3rd May, Oliver Harmar, Natural England Chief Operating Officer, responsible for badger cull licensing at Natural England, decided to grant nine new Supplementary Badger Control licences and to authorise seventeen existing SBC licences in 2024, the decision having been passed by Tony Juniper and the NE Board. The licences were issued around mid-May.

But of equal importance, Brotherton made the following remarks:

“As I have said in previous advice, much greater effort is needed to raise awareness of the disease reduction benefits of the alternatives to culling among the farmer community, in my opinion. In this regard, it is disappointing that the recent publication by Birch et al. 2024 has been widely reported as providing evidence that badger culling reduces the incidence of bTB by 56%, when in fact the study shows the overall impact of implementing a range of bTB control measures, not culling alone. Further research to establish the relative disease reduction contributions of the different control measures is needed.”

This of course is the point made problematic by the crude and misleading ‘Abstract’ at the start of the APHA draft report (here) and following on with the published version (here). The recent Defra consultation on introducing so-called ‘targeted culling’ claimed that badger culling was responsible for herd incidence reduction, although it had no evidence of this. Brotherton is therefore disappointed by Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Defra and Defra Minister Douglas Miller and previous Defra Ministers. They have all seriously misled the public with badger cull claims and this is now a matter for legal consideration. Reductions in herd breakdowns could all have been down to tighter cattle testing and the accepted published peer reviewed and uncontested science on changes to herd incidence peaking and falling before badger culling was rolled out – and shown at the County level (2013-2019) suggests that this is most likely the case (see Langton, Jones and McGill 2022).

In previous High Court challenges over the future of badger culling, the ruling has been that decisions on culling can also be political decisions. If the future of badger culling is to be based on the science, then we will be seeing an end to culling very soon. Intensive, Supplementary, Low Risk Area, and Targeted culling are mistakes that should, and will be seen as such, and confined to the past.

While the disease benefit of badger vaccination is (like badger culling) not proven, the benefits of tighter cattle testing are well established. It is cattle measures done properly that will deliver the much needed bovine tuberculosis disease control for Britain and Ireland.

On 5 July the new Government must focus on advanced cattle testing, quarantines and lockdowns and consign badger culling to history, where it belongs.

Defra scraps pre-election badger cull ambition

There has been a positive step forward.

Defra have responded this afternoon about how they are handling Tom Langton’s legal challenge to the recent badger culling consultation, that closed just before the General Election was announced last week. A Pre-Action Protocol letter challenged the lawfulness of Defra’s  ‘targeted badger intervention’ policy consultation for several reasons and today Defra were responding about their intentions in the weeks to come.

Defra said they are “continuing to analyse consultation responses with a view to putting proposals for a decision on this policy to the incoming government after the election.”

This is good news at least in the short term. A new policy will not be put in place by the current Conservative government. But it also implies that Defra may seek to defend the claim that the consultation was unfair, which is disappointing.

Defra also say that they want an extra two weeks to consider the PAP letter, but we will learn their position on 14th June. Defra should drop the consultation,  recognise its failings and accept that badger culling has no future at all in bovine tuberculosis control in cattle.



In March Rishi Sunak seemed intent on killing all the badgers by giving sweeping powers and a very free hand to the Chief Veterinary Officer to cull up to 100% of badgers in areas she deemed appropriate. Now he has now called a General Election for July 4th , which means that Parliament will be prorogued tomorrow, 24 May, and dissolved on 30th May. The public will vote 25 working days later. Government actions are limited during the election campaign ‘pre-election period’  that was previously known as ‘purdah’. The shut-down helps to ensure that public money is not used to support campaigning by the political  party in power, and to maintain the impartiality of the civil service.

This could be good news for bovine TB control  and badgers if the outcome is that the government  does not let the National Farmers Union dominate and dictate its actions, as it has for so long.

30th May is also the date by which DEFRA must respond to the Pre-Action Protocol (PAP) letter issued on 16th May that was supported and funded by The Badger Crowd.  We should soon learn what Defra intends to do in response. What are their options? And what will the government that takes over in six weeks’ time be likely to do?

Defra could accept that the consultation was botched and shut it down by doing nothing. The PAP letter gives them the option to withdraw the proposals or to reconsult, which would now be after the election. This is likely to mean that it  would now receive a new political steer.  The PAP letter also asks that no future proposals are decided before a legal challenge is  disposed  of – i.e. dismissed or heard in a court trial.

Defra could accept that the consultation  was rushed out too hastily without proper consideration, just in case of an early general election and so needs a total rethink. Alternatively, they could try to rush a formal response through next week, so that the principle of  ‘targeted culling’  is established before a change of government. They could either keep Natural England licensing or continue to re-badge the NE Bristol licensing office as one of  Defra’s own. However, this now looks like a very tall order in the limited time available.

What will the Lib Dems do? Like Labour they will be looking to take back and win over seats in the southwest, in areas where livestock farming dominates the landscape. Not making badger culling a big election issue looks likely to remain important to both political parties, and both are likely to remain tight-lipped. Labour has previously pledged to scrap badger culling, and are the party most likely to hold power next.

Whoever wins the election will be responsible for the bigger challenge of putting in place the appropriate cattle-based measures that will drive down the disease that is embedded in chronic cattle herds. This will have to involve tough restrictions that will cause the beef and dairy to contract. This is something the NFU have resisted and put off, while at the same time holding out a hand for compensation. It’s no easy choice for whoever wins the election. Scrapping badger culling should be an easy decision, but what will really count is making the necessary changes to  testing using the expertise pioneered by  Dick Sibley in Devon. That might mean scrapping the ineffective BTB Partnership and setting up something that understands the science of the problem, and how to address the problems without reverting to the lay-beliefs of many rural cattle  vets, based upon dogma and misinformation from government.

The winning government might also instigate a rapid review of bovine TB control needs early on. Whatever happens next, the actions of Badger Crowd have again been highly effective. Legal letters sent to Defra on 19th and 28th March demanded an extra 3 weeks of consultation time, which gave the legal team time to submit the PAP challenging the legality of the consultation. All of the three legal challenges supported by Badger Crowd since 2017 have been accepted for trial by the High Court, and it would be great if a fourth substantive hearing is now not needed. This would allow time and resources to be better spent, redeployed  protecting badgers and dealing with bovine disease in meaningful ways.

Yet again we can dare to  find optimism for the future. Let’s hope that it won’t be dashed as it has been so often over the last ten years. The science is clear that badger culling does not work and plays no role in reducing infections in cattle herds. It has to stop. It must stop.

Tom Langton who has figure headed the legal challenges since 2017 said:

“This looks very much more than the beginning of the end. We have fought hard for seven years to highlight the legal and scientific case against badger culling, with breakthroughs more recently, and exposure of actions that are not in the public interest. Of great concern has been the ‘tribal’ behaviour of civil servants and wilful blindness that shows hallmarks of both the blood transfusion and post office scandals. Yet ‘badger blame’ has been ongoing for 50 years now. Thanks to better understanding of the issues involved, we can now start to see the mistakes and misjudgements of the past. The new government will need to focus on how to lower the rates of transmission of bovine TB, much as was done with Covid-19 in humans. This will bring tough times for the beef and dairy  industry, but it has to be done to interrupt the dependency on public subsidy, stop the wide range of collateral damage to rural life and the environment that it has caused in recent decades, and finally see progress in eliminating this horrible infection”.

Thanks, and good wishes to all who have supported the Badger Crowd fight against badger culling.



A pre-action protocol letter regarding proposals to evolve the badger control policy was sent to Defra on Thursday 16th May following closure of their extended consultation period on plans to continue badger culling using a so-called ‘targeted’ approach.

Badger Crowd has had sight of the letter sent by lawyers to Defra that challenges aspects of the consultation that ran 14th March – 13 May 2024, as unfair.  A large number of problems are identified including:

  • Misleading and inadequate information regarding badger culling efficacy
  • Failure to provide information on ecological impacts of the policy
  • No meaningful information on economic impacts of the policy

The action is being taken by conservation ecologist Tom Langton who since 2017 has been given permission for and completed three previous judicial reviews (JR’s) supported by Badger Trusts and Groups, wildlife charities and caring individuals. These JR’s have exposed details of the badger culls that have been vital for public understanding of the rationale behind and operational decisions surrounding badger culling, although only preventing culling in a few nature reserve areas to-date. As a professional scientist and with others, he has published since 2019, details of badger culling efficacy and bovine TB trends in England. One of these publications in particular, Langton, Jones and McGill, March 2022 in Veterinary Record, is directly refuted by two government scientists in the recent consultation, but yet again without any supporting evidence. The Government agency APHA have published a paper in front of the new consultation that is weak; it lacks any comparison between culled and unculled areas and states that there is no way to tell whether badger culling is having an effect on measured levels of disease. Despite this, wording in the abstract of the same paper, both as a preprint and as published, has led the Secretary of State and the Defra Minister to make unsubstantiated claims before (since 2022) and within the consultation, saying that APHA data shows badger culling works. This is a very basic misreading of the available published and peer-reviewed science.

Tom Langton said:

“It is with deep disappointment that Defra forces us back towards the courts to seek redress on the ‘badger control policy’, because the current consultation has created a confusion that surrounds safe and informed consideration of the best course of action for bovine TB control in cattle. Defra has not learnt from mistakes of the past and wants to u-turn the 2020 policy that aimed to phase-out badger culling. It wants to award sweeping powers to the Chief Vet to decide when and where to cull, and how many more dead badgers to add to the 230,000 mostly healthy adults and cubs already killed since 2013. This they achieve by simple misinterpretation of science and by implementing further countrywide operations that are veiled in secrecy.

Much of the confusion and misinformation in the consultation obscured public consideration of critically important matters such as rationale, ecological impacts, economic benefit and animal welfare considerations, to a point where it was simply not fit for purpose. Many of the consultations 19 questions and comment opportunities were likewise cloaked in ambiguity, to the point where response was dependent on assumptions and interpretations, so wide as to make collective and comparative analysis of them meaningless. The consultation options were narrow and miscast, appearing to be aimed at quickly pushing though a single, pre-planned approach to keep on killing badgers. This was a construction by a Ministry desperate to use public funds to support a demand that Defra has itself fostered, by blaming badgers as a key part of bovine TB epidemiology for decades, but based on flimsy evidence. The muddled thinking and bad policy needs to stop right now.

On behalf of badgers, cows and farmers I implore Defra to recognise that this consultation was flawed and should be set aside in favour of more detailed and coherent review of current needs, with new planning towards approaches that can be successful.”

The challenge asks Defra to withdraw its proposals or to reconsult in an adequate way. Meanwhile the request to Defra is that they confirm no decision will be made on consultation responses before the challenge and complaints are fully heard and concluded.

The Defra Badger Cull consultation on the ‘targeted badger intervention’ policy – where are the swerves?

The Defra consultation on more badger culling ends on Monday 13th May 2024, at midnight. Since it was launched on 14th March there has been increasing incredulity over how sketchy and confused it is. It is a classic example of how not to consult with the public over an extremely important decision on how to tackle a complex disease epidemic.

The problems are largely of Defra’s own making, with the scientific aspects of the issue particularly poorly handled. Questionable management of the bTB policy is exemplified by the ‘BTB Partnership’. This was was set up under the 2020 ‘Next Steps’ policy, after the Derbyshire badger cull licence was put on hold for a year in 2019 by Boris Johnson who fought off the NFU and announced a  move to phase out badger culling.

The BTB Partnership was set up as a group of largely cherry-picked farmers and vets, most of them it would seem wedded to badger culling, and ‘hired and fired’ by Defra who also control the agenda, with secrecy over its work, reporting and outputs. There is a blog about the shambolic Partnership here. Not surprisingly, it recommends more badger culling and tries to row back on actions that might inconvenience the beef and dairy industries, thus preventing the industry contraction that must inevitably come, but that could have been so much smaller, if done earlier.

The main problem with the consultation is that it blurts out its intention without actually consulting. It’s a bit like asking what colour your new car should be, and do you need a sunroof? But the bigger questions have already been fixed; make, model, engine size, fuel type, all decided for you. You are being asked questions about the trimmings.

So, the consultation is not at an early stage, not at a stage where the various options are reviewed and described, with a sound build up to a presentation of the top range of possible alternatives and asking you about which path to take. Instead, Bang!, this is what you get. And it is being handled in a  similar way to previous bTB consultations  only this time it is much, much worse. It looks sloppily written and rushed. Rumour has it the NFU wanted to get it in place before the general election, although it is not actually needed in 2024. The problem for Defra is that views, or perhaps expectations on the government consultation process have been changing, and this kind of approach is no longer acceptable. Witness last October the judgement in Northern Ireland that found the badger culling proposals unacceptable. Why wasn’t the lesson heeded you have to ask?

Looking specifically at factual issues, the ‘elephant in the room’ is the discovery over the last ten years that all but a few of  (SICCT) test reactors are infected. With few false positives this makes any narrative that the herd status OTFW (officially bTB Free Withdrawn) is the yardstick for eradication (or better expressed, elimination), very old thinking.

This has some unfortunate consequences, not least for the now challenged RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial) which actually found no effect of badger culling when all reactors (OTFS (Officially bTB Free Suspended) and OTFW are taken into account. This should have led to Defra reviewing their approach, but ‘stick to plan’ is the order from somewhere – the farming industry? It doesn’t make sense. And it isn’t mentioned at all in the consultation. Neither is the increased frustration and louder and louder complaints by vets and test developers that the current policy is unviable and useless. Not fit for purpode. It follows the failed trend of the Republic of Ireland who have culled badgers for over 20 years. The consultation seeks endorsement without adequately, or in many cases at all, explaining its rationale and alternatives.

Further, the consultation is not adequate in explaining the progress and new development of badger vaccination and cattle vaccination. With badger vaccination, DEFRA now pull back, saying its efficacy is unknown, much as the Godfray Review did in 2018. There is no enthusiasm for it from the farmers either. They have been told since 2022 that badger culling works and a new generation of advocates for culling have developed, bringing sentiments of badger hatred to new highs on social media.

How has this happened? Well by a series of announcements, interviews and parliamentary statements by Secretaries of State and Ministers since 2022, based upon a combination of staff at Defra and its agencies telling people that badger culling works. This continued until just before the start of the consultation on the back of unpublished data, uncheckable analyses and inference trying to transmute association to causation. Same old.

The new Secretary of State in Defra’s revolving doors of sackings and appointments is Steve Barclay. No one in cabinet wants to do the Defra job. You have to deal with climate change, flooding, sewage and farm waste in rivers and on beaches and wangle ways around protecting nature as a flurry of screamingly bad diseases flourish with industrial farming.  So Barclay sets out the consultation, claiming a figure of 56% decline in herd breakdowns after four years of culling, based on the ‘before and after’ APHA paper (Birch et al published Feb 28 this year), with absolutely none of the controls of a scientific study checking causation. There is no comparison of culled areas with unculled areas. There is a blog about the problems of Birch et al. preprint here.

Using words from a rather flaky abstract, designed to please, Barclay mis-quotes and misrepresents what the paper actually says, no doubt incorrectly briefed by the hapless APHA who are desperate to find a way out of the 2020 policy car-crash and not to call the last decade out as one huge mistake. Barclay follows other politicians, Eustice, Coffey, Spencer, Douglas Miller who have groomed the farming industry to believe what they want to hear i.e. that but for the badgers the cows would be clear of bovine TB. What is irrefutable is that the influence of badger culling on bovine TB in cattle herds is unclear.

Defra seem to have gone out of their way to bias consultee’s opinion in front of their consultation. Some observers thought it had been put on hold, with the hope of a new Parliament sorting out the mess in a years’ time. The consultation fails to distinguish between the scientific opinions of a handful of Defra staff who have spent the last decade blaming badgers, and what the published science actually says and means. Not to do so is not just worrying, it is unfair and unlawful.

Why did they drop a weak bit of analysis (Birch et al. 2024 ) just in front of the consultation and weaponise it to try to force a return to mass culling? Results from Cumbria, south of Penrith, showed that cluster culling was a sham in Area 32, and cattle measures had resolved bTB in all but chronic herds before the first of the 1115 mostly healthy badgers were shot, from 2018.The independent report “A Bovine Tuberculosis Policy Conundrum in 2023” demonstrates this clearly, and the follow-up addendum produced in April 2024 confirms it.

The failure of their ‘epi-cull’ or ‘cluster-cull’ trial is too uncomfortable for them and doesn’t fit with their ‘keep to plan’ strategy, so they pretend it hasn’t happened? Then they delay the economic evaluation until later because it looks like everything done to date has been done at a financial loss, but can be fudged in four years’ time?

The confusion and lack of technical reporting on cattle vaccination, and the need for enhanced testing according to the learning from Gatcombe farm in Devon has not been mentioned at all – no options provided. Airbrushed out.

The consultation normalises the least humane option for shooting badgers without going through the difficult considerations behind that decision. This is extraordinary, given the shift to free shooting over cage shooting for cull companies that have had praise heaped upon them with offers to make their killing easier..

The executive powers that would be passed to the Chief Vet and the appointed BTB Partnership for day-to-day decisions looks like an unrepresentative, unaccountable closed shop. Methods for identifying where badgers would be culled are unformed and justified using the unsuccessful Low Risk Area model (see here and here) and the unproven intensive culling results (see here, here and here). Why was the consultation not held back until these problems had been addressed? Answer, because the trials have failed. Why does this consultation even exist if this key point is not absolutely clear for all to consider? As APHA said in 2023, there are now more questions than answers.

This consultation is an abomination. Following the failed DEARA consultation in 2023 it is unprofessional and embarrassing. We should know who is responsible for it. It is so far away from the interests of the public and industry that it must be stopped.  

Responses to consultation questions: some thoughts:

Q7. Should there be an annual cap on the number of clusters that can be licensed to undertake badger culling? 

If you answer Yes, you may be accepting that the policy is fine as long as it is limited to x number of culls per year. Don’t be misled by this trick question. It does not offer the alternative of knowing that no targeted culling should be done.

Q8. What other factors should be taken into consideration in defining a cluster under the targeted badger intervention policy?

If you suggest new factors, this may imply that you agree with the other factors suggested. 

Q10. & Q11. To what extent do you agree or disagree there should be a separation of Natural England’s statutory conservation advice from licensing decisions?

These are tricky. At face value it might suggest that you are being asked if NE need no longer fulfil its statutory nature conservation role. But that is very unlikely to happen without a change in law. What it might be asking is whether you think NE should stop licensing culls in order to distance its  advice on badger culling ecological impacts from the authorisation of killing badgers, which would be a very good thing. However the question is very general and vague. Perhaps the question supposes culling should continue (which it should not), so does agreeing to it endorse the act of culling? NE should never have taken on the role of licensing culling, it was the worst decision in its history and has seen rampant killings of around 230,000 badgers since 2013. The next question, 11, deals with whether cull licensing should go to Defra, (to join with vaccination permissions), to which the answer should be no because culling should stop.  So Natural England  who are just told to get on with it without question should stop and it shouldn’t go to Defra? It would seem sensible not answer these ones on the grounds of confusion.  Defra would love to keep licensing with NE as it gives culling the respectability of endorsement by a conservation body. Be careful how you answer this one because the question isn’t clear. It could trick people into supporting keeping badger culling responsibility with NE. It is not clear if you can use question 12 to explain your views if you have not answered questions 10 and 11 however. What a muddle.

Q12. Please give reasons for your answers to this section (optional)

Here you could make the point that Question 10 is faulty. The question does not reflect the text of the consultation adequately.  Natural England, in preparing impact assessments free of charge for cull companies and being instructed by Defra to issue licences, has lost its supposed  independent role. NE has taken direction from and rubber-stamped Defra and the CVO’s instructions to issue licences, and for the NE Chief Scientist to describe culls as successful whether or not minimum cull targets are met.  And on an uncorroborated assumption that Defra’s badger culling policy has an disease benefit, which it has consistently failed to show.

Q13. Do you have any comments on the Information for Applicants at Annex B for carrying out the culling part of a targeted badger intervention policy? (optional)

This information is inappropriate given the unfair nature of the consultation.

Q15. Should animal level bTB risk information be published on ibTB?   


Q16. Please give reasons for your answer (optional).

Any information on disease risk should be publicly available.

Q17. To what extent do you agree or disagree it would be helpful to share information on where herd owners source their stock from?

  1. Strongly agree

Q18. Please give reasons for your answer (optional).

Any information on disease risk should be publicly available.

Q19. Do you have any other comments? (optional)

Here is your chance to offer your full view.

This consultation is an utter shambles and should be withdrawn. It is thrown together, unfair and misleads on multiple counts. It avoids providing essential background facts and leads those answering questions into endorsing ill-described proposals. This consultation will be challenged and measures are already in place for that to happen.