The Badger Vaccination Trap and the Geronimo Effect

When the March 2020 “Next Steps” Bovine TB policy was released, there was a rumour from inside DEFRA HQ, that its senior officials were secretly in despair. This related to compromises over its content, and the prospects to implement it in the years to come.

The policy was considered by many to be, ‘something for all, but nothing for anybody’. It would require substantial increased public funding to initiate. But it was not, with bTB still spreading, the planned tailing-off of the ruinous public funding poured into this festering agri-crisis over the passing decade.

“Next Steps” formed new mountains to climb, engaging the industry with more regulation: tighter cattle testing and movement controls, and with badger and cattle vaccination. A triple-finance whammy that the 2018 Godfray Review had hinted at. To have legs, it required stakeholder acceptance of just how bad the tuberculin skin (SICCT) test sensitivity really has been, and why ‘TB-Free’ status, after a breakdown is very  often untrue, allowing bTB to perpetuate within the High Risk and Edge Areas and to spread further to the east and north via cattle sales. Further, it required their resetting of farmer-psyche to help badgers, the animal they have been told and taught to eradicate, as vermin.

Influence from No.10?

The Prime Ministers interest in Bovine TB, beyond stalling the first Derbyshire cull for a year in 2019, has recently re-emerged. Rather off-message however, regarding the bTB threat in milk to humans, yet perhaps more visibly concerned with the claims of DEFRA, APHA and the Chief Vet’s bungling, in the ‘tough one’ case of Geronimo the alpaca. BTB is going to get fixed, Johnson promises.

Pressure from ‘high up’, had it seemed reawakened the badger and cattle vaccination policy options that rather looked like ‘window dressing’ in early plans back in 2011. Yet officials had just managed to maneuver them in, in 2020, but still to be largely ‘down the line’. To bite financially in a new Parliament. For now, work included a few modestly scaled badger vaccination ‘trials’ and a further look at the doomed immune-based ‘DIVA’ test (See here). Both are the epidemiological equivalents of fiddling while Rome burns. The disease is now so widespread that only mass cattle vaccination can possibly turn the tide.

DEFRA sleight of hand

The main DEFRA challenge in 2020, was how to present a policy moving from ‘proactive’, intensive, mass badger culling, to multiple small-scale farmer-lead ‘reactive-style’ intensive culling, but with minimum outcry. This was somehow miraculously achieved, with a press briefing claiming badger culling was being ‘banned’ or ‘phased out’. This was embraced by those who had not read the small print and who seemed unaware of the ‘epi-culling’ monster described within. Trialled in Cumbria since 2018, the flawed APHA ‘epi-culling’ (see here) approach kills 100% of badgers in a poorly badged ‘Minimum Intervention Area’, and most of them in a surrounding ‘buffer’ area, before trying to vaccinate the survivors left. The Cumbria ‘epi-cull’ has been a total flop, as breakdowns peaked again in 2020, sinking the APHA showboat.

Figure 1. All breakdowns in the East Cumbria cull area per 6 month period, showing commencement of enhanced cattle controls and the period with mass badgers culling with a small amount of badger vaccination in 2020.

Derbyshire: a stinging rebuke of APHA ‘Risk Pathways’ approach

As it happens, after 2022, Defra will be running out of large areas of West and Central England to mass-kill badgers. So, it wants to switch to smaller badger killing areas both inside and beyond the High Risk Area, and a future approach that is simpler and cheaper to operate. For this, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has been promoting a ‘Risk Pathway’ approach, to try to ascribe badgers as the cause of many or most of the bTB herd breakdowns in, for example Derbyshire. However, the capable Derbyshire conservation folks have veterinary expertise and were onto it with a stinging rebuke of the claim that 77% of bTB in that county is down to badgers (see here).

The original bTB policy promises to undertake badger vaccination, related then to the need to help navigate culling around the national and local Wildlife Trusts, which it did successfully. And what looked like a contrived difficulty in accessing BCG vaccine for badgers in 2015, only lasted a couple of years once, under pressure, Minister George Eustice allowed the switch to a new vaccine brand supplier. Defra had decided that they could not afford to fund badger vaccination or would only fund it on a small scale, with preference for places where badger numbers had been largely culled-out. The cost and feasibility of vaccinating badgers on a large scale was probably never really factored-in at the start, and as the bTB problem has spread, the cost of doing so has escalated.

More badger meddling: a nasty rural conflict with yet more unknowns and complexity

Badger vaccination, like badger culling, holds several important technical uncertainties. The science suggests it reduces the probability of a given badger being infectious. However, as with badger culling, there is no direct evidence that it can help reduce bTB cattle herd breakdowns. The wisdom of doubling the number of uncertain interventions (see here) in tackling bTB in cattle was not lost on Defra. The approach just gives the nasty rural conflict yet more unknowns and complexity. More expense without evidence-base or any credible efficacy monitoring system.

Defra promises to the Bern Convention and a new BTB Partnership

A few weeks ago, government began to reveal what its badger vaccination plans are. Firstly, in a letter to the Bureau of the Bern Convention (see here). While repeating the falsehood of intensive badger culling being phased out, it stated that it would carry out a badger vaccination feasibility trial on ‘unculled’ farmland in a corner (7%) of Sussex, for five years.

A further commitment to train 30 vaccinators (10 a year) from 2022, to cover 2,600 sq km by 2024 was confirmed to the Bern Convention. This is partly it seems, as a replacement for a further five years of ‘supplementary badger culling’ (SBC) for 4-yr culls ending in a few years’ time. SBC is the method fiercely opposed through the High Court in recent years, that the government has pledged to closely report upon, has hidden the results of, and will terminate in January 2026.

In relation to government planning ahead, secrecy appears to surround the new ‘Bovine TB Partnership’ made up largely of farming stakeholders, the voting majority of which clearly want to see badgers culled (see here). 

Defra have flagged to the partnership the ‘mountains to climb’ problems (including little money allocated), but they are apparently trying to get the ever-biddable, National Trust to front it. An online Badger Vaccination Conference this summer was shelved and APHA sent away to try do the impossible – find evidence of badger vaccination reducing bTB herd breakdowns.

A bTB ‘cordone sanitaire’ for the Edge Area

DEFRA do still seem to be hanging onto the old ‘cordon sanitaire’ concept for the Edge Area and this may also be a target for the 2,600 sq km capacity by 2024 target. The ‘cordone’ keeps moving back, like an army in retreat, due to infected cattle movements. And it is not much of a ‘cordone’ when unidentified infected cows are being transported by road into and beyond it, with regularity.

APHA has a new mapping procedure that produces their view of where badgers have or have not been infected by cattle. The grey hexagons on their map, they estimate, are bTB free and may be the kind of area for the ‘Sussex’ approach, but what status will they have in five years’ time? In truth, getting vaccination going in the key battleground counties including Cheshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, and Hampshire would require a ‘cordone army’ of 1000 people and a £12 Million annual budget, just to get off the ground. The cull areas, if not left alone, will need twice or more effort with a bill of £100 Million by 2030. DEFRA’s value for money accounting ‘wonks’ have little hard reference. Like badger culling, there are no measurable benefits to bank. External advice suggest that cattle vaccination will be ruinously expensive too. Which civil servant wants to front these initiatives moving forwards?

The scale of badger vaccination currently described is just a pinprick compared to the military style moblisation of gunmen to shoot badgers since 2013. Further, badger vaccination licence applications are now being discouraged by Natural England in the bTB Low Risk area e.g. in Essex and Herts & Middlesex. This is a significant change to allowing badger vaccination to protect badgers on public and private nature reserves, and other places under threat from diseased cattle in the fields next door.

Defra seems largely to want to vaccinate badgers as a part of a ‘cordone’ and once badgers have been decimated after four years. Not for it to be used proactively to protect badgers which is its only current ethical and scientific application.

Badger vaccination is now being manipulated into being the speculative exit strategy following mass destruction of badger clans. But this year, just a handful of new farms, in a 25 sq km area have been started up, in an area (believed to be in Cheshire) where a new project is pushing the government beliefs. Signing up to badger vaccination is a whole new ball game for those wanting to help badgers. The concern is that in doing so, a system is created where the price of vaccinating badgers is the killing of badgers before-hand or elsewhere, both now and forever, and while the disease in cattle continues.

Vaccination groups and Wildlife Trusts are already speaking out (see here) and seeking much better operational terms that those offered by Natural England, who seem to view the regular shooting of vaccinated badgers as inevitable and acceptable. BBOWT, the Wildlife Trust of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are urging government to develop and deliver a proper badger vaccination strategy, and not secretively and at the current snail pace.

The Geronimo effect

Finally, it is hard not to relate the mishandling of bTB policy in England by DEFRA, over the last decade, including badger culling and vaccination, to the events of recent weeks. The way in which an alpaca breeder Helen MacDonald and her alpaca Geronimo have been dealt with by Defra. The enforced euthanasia and post-mortem of Geronimo, suggesting, in this instance (subject to culturing of tissues) false-positive Enferplex testing, is a very public display of both the inflexibility of government veterinary services and the external pressure of industry bodies, forming and evolving a failing policy.

It is a reminder of why and how on a much greater scale, bovine TB testing and movement control has gone wrong over the last twenty years or more in Britain and Ireland. If Prime Minister Johnson is going to fix the Bovine TB issues in England, then he needs to put a new policy in place with the funding to make it happen. He needs to stop Defra doing ill-advised things that don’t’ work and to kick out those whose actions have made bTB worse in England. Those who have placated commercial interest and allowed vested and biased veterinary inputs to dominate animal welfare and environmental considerations.

Badger vaccination is not a valid exit strategy for badger culling. Badger vaccination should not become a fig-leaf of respectability for a culling policy that just seeks to carry on culling badgers forever.

Vaccinators need to be extremely careful of what they are endorsing or signing up to and how actions in a local area risk complementing and sustaining the routine killing of badgers to 2038 and beyond elsewhere.

Vaccinators should avoid:

  • Advice that badger vaccination, with epi-culling is a viable way to overcome bovine TB in cattle.

  • Advice not to support or fund legal action against badger culling in order to qualify for government badger vaccination contracts.

  • Offers of funding and staff posts for ‘buying in’ to the government’s ‘epi- culling’/vaccination plans.

  • Vaccination contracts with non-disclosure clauses, requiring vaccinators to;
  • Be silent on cruelty and opposition to badger culling.
  • Share sett data with cull companies.
  • Accept that vaccinated badgers may be shot occasionally or even routinely.
  • Suggest or imply to farmers that badger vaccination may help reduce bTB in cows when this is not known.

Badger Culling and Vaccination: Where is the March 2020 “Next Steps” policy trying to take us?

Last Thursday 23rd September, Hertfordshire and Middlesex Badger Group hosted a webinar to look closely at the governments “Next Steps” strategy for achieving bovine tuberculosis free status for England.

Ecologist Tom Langton kicked off the event with a presentation on the policy as it relates to badger vaccination. It was very sobering. In contrast to the headlines that accompanied the announcement of the policy (‘Badger Culling to be Banned’ was what much of the mainstream media ran), badger culling looks set to continue, although in a different guise.

Large scale culling (of 70-90%) of badgers is to be replaced with localised 100% culls, with the example of the Cumbria 100% cull as the policy model.  Cattle herds in Cumbria (Area 32/hotspot 21) are still experiencing high numbers of bTB breakdowns despite three years of culling & now farms have many ‘dead’ setts. One badger has been vaccinated for every ten shot, and some vaccinated badgers may already have been shot.

The chief vet will be able to authorise localised culling based on the new ‘epi-pathway’ approach. Basically, this means that if local vets cite badgers as a likely source of infection, such as infection found in just a few badgers, culling can be licensed.

APHA ‘risk pathways’ approaches do not factor in the low sensitivity of some of the bTB herd testing being used, leaving up to 50% of infection undiagnosed in the herd. Cattle are still the biggest, if not only source of bTB infection, but APHA just refuse to take full ownership of the problem.

So how is Defra going to sell this shocking new ‘cull and vaccinate’ policy to the public, those of us who passionately love our wildlife? It looks as if they are trying to ‘normalise’ culling by engaging voluntary groups to get involved in vaccinating a proportion of badgers. The problem with this approach is that participants will have to comply with government by stopping opposition to culling, by handing over sett data, and by telling farmers that badger vaccination will reduce bTB in cattle. None of these things are acceptable.

Born Free veterinarian Mark Jones made his position clear: we “…need to avoid getting drawn into a situation where there is tacit acceptance of a system that seeks to secure de facto support for culling, with vaccination used as an exit strategy from it”.

To find out more about what the government has planned for our badgers to 2038 and beyond, watch the webinar recording here.

 

Ecological Impacts (NERC Act 2006) Judicial Review: Application to the Court of Appeal.

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The Badger Crowd is pleased to  confirm that an Application to the Court of Appeal has been made and that further legal papers are to follow shortly. The case concerns whether the High Court Mr Justice Griffiths was correct to rule that there was no need for the Minister to take steps to have regard for  biodiversity protection for NERC Act listed priority species and habitats. This relates to Minister George Eustice and Defra publishing its “Next Steps” policy in March 2020, prolonging the slaughter of tens of thousands of badgers each year in existing and new places. Government claimed it decided not to protect NERC Act biodiversity interest from potential culling side-effects when culling began in 2013, and again in 2020, despite the 2018 Godfray review flagging-up continuing professional concerns about impacts and the need for research to enable management of risks.

The removal of badgers from the countryside is known to bring about a range of changes to natural communities. However, when identifying risks of such change, research undertaken over 10 years ago was limited to just a few species and habitats. Claimant Tom Langton’s previous cases in 2017 and 2018 showed that Natural England were in breach of their duty in not properly considering the same kind of  impacts to SSSI’s, leading to criticisms by the High Court. The current case challenges the continuing and long-term neglect of potential impacts on a wide range of habitats and species. These impacts may alter habitat condition and species survival as a result of  badger culling changing mammal diversity, including change to smaller predators numbers.

The case also highlights Natural England’s pitiful contribution to the monitoring of nature, the unacceptably poor condition of many nature reserves and protected areas, and to biodiversity depleted countryside in general. It draws attention to the lack of research into England’s habitats and species, and to the continued decline of many widespread and rare species and threatened habitats. It brings into focus the potential for badger culling to contribute to these declines, that despite recognition of this threat-type, government think too difficult or expensive to address.

 

Application to Appeal underway for dismissed ecological impacts Judicial Review

Mr Justice Griffiths’s judgement on the recent Judicial Review of the ecological impacts of badger culling in England is now to be challenged. Claims against the Secretary of State George Eustice concerning the government’s biodiversity duty, under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERCA) were dismissed recently, after the July 2021 hearing. Following legal and technical advice over the last week, an application for permission at the Court of Appeal is now being prepared. This needs to be submitted within 21 days of the handing down of the judgement and determination of the application will be later this year.

Sincere thanks again are due to all those funding and supporting the legal work as a part of the Badger Crowd. This includes The Badger Trust who helped instigate the action in 2020, Badger Trust Sussex for managing offline donations, Wild Justice, very many of the  badger groups and organisations around the UK, many other animal welfare and conservation bodies and a number of generous individuals. Hundreds of badger workers and the general public have also chipped in to spread the load. Others have helped with administration, publicity and coordination to enable a solid challenge. Sufficient funds are available at present and if permission is granted, a further fundraiser will be launched. We are the Badger Crowd. We stand up and fight for Badgers.

High Court judge decides that Defra 2020 badger cull policy does not trigger protection of biodiversity under the 2006 NERC Act

Today, Mr Justice Griffiths handed down a High Court judgement on the most recent Judicial Review on the ecological impacts of badger culling in England. He dismissed the claims made against the Secretary of State George Eustice, concerning the need for consideration of measures to protect species and habitats in the wider countryside, under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERCA). This follows the decision to keep on culling badgers with changes in culling methods, including the wider introduction of reactive culling.

The claim had been brought in early 2020 by conservation ecologist Tom Langton, with support from the Badger Crowd, the broad affiliation of badger trusts, groups, and wildlife charities fighting poor science and decision making surrounding the badger culls in England. The ruling today for Judicial Review CO/2062/2020 suggests that despite the lack of evidence of the defendant recording any considerations, the Minister did not need to do anything “to have regard… to the purpose of conserving biodiversity” when the “Next Steps” policy was published in March 2020.

The judge indicated that so far, badger culling had been done “…with the benefit of all the evidence available about ecological impact and biodiversity. There was no new evidence that might even potentially have caused Next Steps to take a different turn.”

A ‘do-nothing’ approach was lawful?

However, Tom Langton’s earlier cases in 2017 and 2018 had exposed Natural England as being in breach of its duty for lack of protective measures for habitat and species features protected by Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Measures needed, which NE then hurriedly put in place via a new set of guidelines, requiring a wide range of practical precautions.

The recent case addressed species and habitats across an average of 90% of badger cull areas; on land beyond SSSI boundaries and protected by the NERC Act 2006.  In a statement provided to the court, Natural England, who license badger culling, stated that protection imposed on badger culling licences “…are not necessary outside protected sites in order to comply with the purpose of conserving biodiversity.”

The 2018 Godfray Review conclusion to continue culling had stated that ecological studies of the consequences of reducing badger densities on other species should be undertaken. The Godfray review recommendation on ‘periodic culling’ involved a five-year badger cull cessation period with associated badger vaccination, and was considered the most ‘promising’ future approach. But this was not adopted by the government in March 2020.

An application to the Court of Appeal is now under active consideration.

A Badger Crowd representative comments:

“This is obviously a disappointment and blow to all those concerned with the biodiversity crisis in nature-depleted England, and who wish to see the potential cost, and damage to our environment from badger culling properly addressed. Ecological impact and potential impact from badger culling are accepted processes that are under-researched and not properly monitored. The need to address them was established by legal action in 2017 and 2018.  If addressing these problems outside SSSIs is too difficult, as has been suggested, or perhaps too time consuming and expensive, then badger culling should stop.   Freshly extracted evidence shows how government has improperly withheld information, that now needs to be fully examined. But, except for a few SSSIs, by his own admission, the Secretary of State has decided not to protect 90% of the countryside from scrutiny of the potential ecological effects of badger culling. England’s wildlife and the public deserve better. Thanks are extended again to the legal team and experts, and to the 700 individuals and organisations who have donated so generously and given support over the last 18 months to try to bring government to account.”

The Judgement may be read in full here.

Badgers back in in Court

Did the government forget about Biodiversity?

On Thursday 22 July, in Court no. 2 of the Royal Courts of Justice, London, the latest Judicial Review surrounding badger culling was heard: The Queen on the application of Thomas Langton vs The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England: Case C0/2062/2020.

The hearing was held ‘in person’ but, due to covid-19 restrictions, with few attendees, and with the Honourable Mr Justice Griffiths presiding. Outside the Court, a number of badger-suited campaigners were drawing attention to the ongoing badger cull travesty of England, including stalwart Betty Badger with her friend Mary Barton, Chris Wood and members of the Herts and Middlesex Badger Group and others from Buckinghamshire. They were making the public aware of the hearing going on  inside, giving out leaflets and polite explanations to passers-by, as well as getting a lot of social media attention.  Sadly the court was closed to the public, but online coverage was available to limited number of viewers from both sides of the case.

The government had a number of lawyers and advisors present, with spoken representations made by barrister Hannif Mussa of Blackstone Chambers. Mr Langton had spoken representations by barrister Richard Turney from Landmark Chambers. The case before the court was less complex than the previous ecological impact cases brought in 2017 and 2018. In those, inadequate provisions by Natural England (NE) with respect to European Designated Sites and in respect of Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protection of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) had been successfully exposed. This had caused NE extensive work to remedy failings, having been found in breach of their statutory duty.  This time, the case before the court was simply that there was no evidence at all that the Secretary of State had ‘had regard’ to conserving biodiversity, and specifically the species and habitats listed by  and protected under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. SSSI’s might typically cover a small proportion of badger cull areas, but what about the wildlife interests on the other 80% or more of land? Where is the evidence of monitoring of and safeguard from changes to mammal populations and predatory influences, upon threatened and vulnerable species and habitats in the countryside?

NERC Section 40 and 41

Section 40 of the NERC Act places a duty to conserve biodiversity on public authorities in England. It requires local authorities and government departments to have regard to the purposes of conserving biodiversity and to do so, in a manner that is consistent with the exercise of their normal functions, such as policy and decision-making. ‘Conserving biodiversity’ may include enhancing, restoring, or protecting a population or a habitat.  Section 41 requires the Secretary of State to publish and maintain lists of species and types of habitats which are regarded by NE to be of “principal importance” for the purposes of conserving biodiversity in England. These 56 priority habitats and 943 species are drawn from carefully considered lists of United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species and Habitats and therefore take forward the UK’s response to its international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity (the Rio Treaty). The Section 41 lists are needed by decision-makers in local and regional authorities when carrying out their duties under Section 40 of the Act, and in addition to lists of species and habitats in other legislation. The case looked at whether they had been completely overlooked in respect of the potential impacts of badger culling and the ecosystem changes that may occur, or not?

Biodiversity Impact expert Dominic Woodfield had provided a witness statement to support Mr Langton’s statement on inadequate approaches by Defra, showing the court a comprehensive list of overlooked species and offering examples of the way in which disruption of ecological systems can bring about potential changes to NERCA species and habitats through change in  predation type and extent and via vegetation change, for example in lowland calcareous grasslands.

Defra’s position was that (despite the lack of evidence)  it had ‘had regard’, and that in any case NE considers such matters when issuing badger cull licences. Dr Eleanor Brown, a qualified vet who manages the Bovine TB policy for Defra and the Animal Plant and Health Agency, had made a witness statement mentioning a report on ecological consequences of badger culling, prepared by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in advance of badger culling in 2011, and that refers to the section 40 NERC Act duty. There were some references to legal necessities in the original 2011 badger culling policy, including those regarding the protection of European Designated Sites, but nothing specific on the NERCA species and habitats, with respect to licensing conditions.

The government also sought to claim that “Next Steps” was a policy where intensive and supplementary badger culling was being ‘phased out’ in favour of badger vaccination. But the fact is that intensive & supplementary culling was to continue for five or more years, and ‘epidemiological’ culling, a type of localised intensive (reactive) culling, along the lines of the Cumbria cull is being ‘phased-in’ to replace it. Further, any use of badger vaccination was conditional upon the results of yet more vaccination trials. More badgers are likely to be killed under the new policy than have already died.

The ‘withheld’ 2018 British Trust for Ornithology report

Dr Brown had also mentioned some research commissioned by NE from the British Trust of Ornithology in 2019 to compare  bird recording records made by volunteers inside and around the edge of badger culling areas, before and after badger culling. The study had compared these with bird records from unculled areas. This had given rise to a published paper in 2021, but that was after the policy had been confirmed in March 2020. In the days leading up to the case however, the earlier report completed in 2018 by BTO for NE and used for the policy, was released.

Oystercatcher; now you see them, now you don’t ? One of a number of medium sized waders (such as redshank, snipe and lapwing) at risk from changing predation patterns, but only afforded protective consideration by conditions on culling licences, when nesting on protected sites.

Natural England, an interested party in the case, was not represented in court. However, a witness statement had been provided by Dr Matthew Heydon, who works on ‘Species Protection and Wildlife Management’ for Natural England.  His statement opined that protected species and habitats should be considered on a ‘case by case’ basis, but that looking at the whole list of NERCA species was considered too much of a burden. A note that he helped to prepare at the start of badger culling referred to the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but only to NERCA in the sense of it being the instrument by which NE could license badger culling for the Secretary of State. There was no mention of biodiversity duties. Natural England had drawn up some new advice “Guidance for the assessment of fox control practices around designated sites” dated April 2021, showing that NE agree that credible risks are present for which precautions are necessary.

How wide does the challenge reach and when might the ruling be?

The government put a lot of effort into saying the case only related to supplementary badger culling, but Mr Turney refuted this, pointing to the simple wording of the grounds of challenge. Any problem with the approach taken by Defra would ‘infect’ all forms of culling and not just supplementary badger culling, in any case.

The hearing had been expedited and the judge indicated that he would be making his decisions in due course. An exact date is not clear, but within six weeks seems likely and probably before the end of August.

 

Biodiversity Catastrophe

Badger cull case will test UK commitment to wildlife legislation

A High Court Judicial Review in London this Thursday 22 July is a timely test of the extent to which DEFRA has ‘had regard’ to biodiversity protection. The claim is that Secretary of State George Eustice failed to protect wildlife, as is required by the Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, when causing ecological disturbance to the wider countryside by mass badger culling in England.

The biodiversity commitment was made in 2006 in response to the UK signing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, established in 1992. Minister George Eustice in a speech recently however admitted that the UK is “one of the most biodiversity depleted countries in the world.”

The case is particularly important as a New Environment Bill is passing through parliament and amidst claims that proposed targets for addressing the biodiversity crisis may be treated as non-binding, following worries that public bodies have not implemented the NERC Act 2006 adequately.

Concerns have existed since a House of Lords Select Committee in 2018 found the nature conservation agency for England, Natural England, to be run down, ‘hollowed out’, and unable to discharge aspects of its statutory function properly, including when advising Defra.

The case seeks to quash the Government’s 2020 (“Next Steps”) Bovine Tuberculosis policy covering the continuation of badger culling. It is being brought by ecologist Tom Langton supported by a large ‘Badger Crowd’ of Wildlife Trusts, charitable organisations, and the public, including The Badger Trust who helped get the case running and the new wildlife law group Wild Justice.

 

We reached our fundraising target!

Thank You

Thanks are due to everyone – to those who supported the 2017 challenges and to those joining us afresh. To those who helped promote the CrowdJustice crowdfunder and those who donated to it. It seemed like a  mountain to climb just a few weeks ago, but you all stepped up to make it happen and we reached our fundraising target. Behind the  670 donations is  a majority of the public, disgusted by the cruel, useless badger culls and those who recklessly promote and protect them. There is enormous support for the fight against the badger cull, from a very wide range of people and organisations, and for so many legitimate reasons. Yet it is so hard to challenge the corrupted processes that are stage-managed by government officials and contractors behind the scenes. The voice of the public, including specialists speaking out in the interests of badger and biodiversity protection, and the interests of competent bovine tuberculosis control, have been left out of the decision-making process.  Updates on the case, including the substantive hearing this Thursday 22 July at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, will be issued as things progress. But for now, thanks again for playing your part and for helping to make this possible. We are the Badger Crowd. We stand up for Badgers.

Go Wild for Wild Justice!

Great news this morning. Wild Justice, the UK organisation fighting for justice for wildlife, run by Mark Avery, Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham are sending over unspent funds from their badger killing welfare legal challenge. This was recently refused permission for Judicial Review, meaning that the disgracefully cruel and ineffective way of killing predominantly healthy badgers, escapes further legal scrutiny. However, this welcome synergy by those seeking to change the more extreme bad management of our wildlife and countryside, means a welcome boost to fundraising for the case now going to court and supported by the BadgerCrowd. Thanks also for a generous link to our CrowdJustice fundraiser from the Wild Justice newsletter today. The crowd fund has already had over 500 donations from people chipping in, and with a last push, we hope to reach our target before the deadline in front of the 22 July substantive hearing. Keep up to date with the important work of Wild Justice by signing up to their newsletter and follow them on Twitter at @WildJustice_org. Their challenges, legal investigations and commentaries are well worth your interest and support.

THANK YOU WILD JUSTICE

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SAVE THE BADGERS * STOP THE CULLS * JUSTICE FOR BADGERS

Two more bits of good news……

Firstly, the Legal Challenge fundraiser for the NERC Act 2006 case has passed its first target of £8,000 in just over a week. Great going. Huge thanks to everyone who has donated, promoted the campaign and put the appeal out on social media over the last few days, especially the Badger Trust. Badgers and biodiversity have friends everywhere.

Secondly, an attempt to push the legal case hearing to the winter by the Government Legal Department has failed. Instead it has been expedited to be heard on 22nd July 2021. The result could be known before the planned  issue of intensive badger cull licences in September. 

Please keep sharing the fundraiser. There are probably around five weeks to raise the  further £14,000 needed to cover our costs.

Donate here

Funds urgently needed for Badger Cull High Court challenge

A new crowdfunding appeal is launched today via the Crowd Justice website. 

The Court of Appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice has awarded ecologist Tom Langton, permission to challenge an important aspect of the 2020 “Next Steps” Bovine TB eradication policy.

The trial will test whether government failed to meet its statutory duty to protect biodiversity in England under the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act before ordering its quango Natural England (NE) to organise the decimation of badgers across much of the west of England.

Government policy hangs on inscrutable modelling, based on culling data from three areas only, and only up until 2017. It ignores more recently published science that has a further years data, which shows that any claim of modelled benefit is premature. The manner in which bTB policy influences our wider countryside, including badger removal, has never been properly addressed.

Cruel, unnecessary badger killings will massively increase from now until 2026, with huge new cull areas. Already 140,000 badgers have been shot and this will now double to around 280,000. Following on from these culls, there is a little mentioned long term policy to expand the extermination of badgers locally with reactive-style culling of 100% of badgers. This will be happening in and around our woods, fields and nature areas, perhaps even close to where you live, with multiple side effects and implications. It just has to stop.

Last year, the Badger Trust generously contributed £5,000 to help seek permission for a case to be made. Badger Groups, other charities and many individuals also gave donations and support to help win through a lengthy appeals process and seek the access to justice that is now available. The persistence paid off.

Together, in numbers, the Badger Crowd can achieve this. The immediate need is to raise £24,000 over the next few months to cover costs for the dedicated legal team planning and preparing the case. They will write legal representations, give advice, attend hearings and deal with matters relating to this deeply flawed government “Next Steps” policy. Every penny raised goes to legal essentials and nothing else.

With your help we can now fight on to stop the policy in its tracks before it causes more damage to biodiversity protection and recovery. And before it does more harm to badgers, cows, farm families and livelihoods. All of whom deserve far better approaches to dealing with a virulent livestock disease that infects and pollutes the environment in very many unseen ways.

Thanks to the many of you for helping get to the point where this challenge can be taken. Thanks also to those donating now for the first time. Once more, we will stand up and fight for the badgers, our beautiful, enigmatic and protected mammal. Victim of the poorly managed cattle TB epidemic and failed statutory duties.

You can donate here: Donate Here 

Two bits of news………..

Permission  granted for Judicial Review of aspects of  the 2020 “Next Steps” bTB eradication policy


On 9th May, the Court of Appeal granted permission for a Judicial Review, with a ruling by Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Bean. The Ground of challenge approved for scrutiny concerns a decision made by the Secretary of State George Eustice in February 2020, just after he took over from Theresa Villiers. In March of that year he signed off a “Next Steps”  policy to continue culling badgers.

The legal challenge maintains that the new policy was formed without adequate regard to conserving biodiversity, as is required by duties under section 40(1) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006. These duties are far ranging and relate to protection and recovery of biodiversity in England. Not just specific duties to internationally protected species and sites. The case has been brought to the courts by ecologist Tom Langton, following a grant last year from the Badger Trust to help instigate challenges against the new policy.

Very many people have been concerned about how removing badgers from county wildlife sites and fields, woodlands and quiet corners in the landscape influences nature on a local level, especially as the policy has moved towards 100% eradication of badgers locally. The  new proposals promote the further phasing in of ‘reactive-style’ culling as a full replacement towards the end of the decade to the current intensive and supplementary culling approach.

A legal letter sent to Natural England (NE) has made it clear that they should not issue any badger culling licences this year as a result of this ongoing oversight. It is an omission  that has been persistent since 2013 and it is now part of a complaint accepted at the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention.  An urgent  Court hearing is being sought for this June.

Legal wheels turning again with new pre-action letter

The second matter relates to a previous Badger Crowd blog introducing analysis of official data from 2010 to 2020. Figures released on 10th March of this year complete the data for four full years of culling over six areas. The data  shows no significant difference in bTB levels between areas culled and those unculled since culling began. Further data from each of the main High Risk Area counties is consistent with cattle measures gradually becoming effective before badger culling started.

Bovine TB breakdowns (herds bTB Free status withdrawn) peaked and was in  decline before badger culling became widespread. A detailed report on this data has been sent to Defra and NE as new findings. What more evidence could NE want that badger culling is unsafe under Section 10 of the Badgers Act 1992?

NE have released, under Freedom of Information request, documents showing how far badger culling has drifted from policy science (The Randomised Badger Culling Trials: RBCT). Culling rules now move closer to a free-for-all, with culling over wider areas for longer and with new speculative methods. Immediate concern relates to ten potential badger cull areas that could be licensed for intensive culling for four year culls, starting this September, with a further ten next year.

All of this legal work will require funding to pursue and coffers are nearly empty. There is need to gear up for some emergency fundraising over the next few weeks and reach out widely to gain support. Please look out for a crowd funding link and for information on where donations can be sent. It is hoped that supporters can once again rise to the challenge and give badgers a chance to roam undisturbed across the fields and woods of England.  We will continue to seek justice in the best interests of badgers, wildlife, farming and the public.  The bovine TB crisis must focus on the cause of the problem; the spread of disease amongst cattle.