Lush podcast on badger cull law and science

Listen in here to Charlie Moores talking to Tom Langton (43 minutes) about the upcoming badger cull legal appeals, badger cull law, and the science of badgers and bovine TB.

Many thanks to Charlie for giving this opportunity for frank discussion on the details of this complicated and controversial subject, which many established media outlets are not covering in any depth.

Supplementary culling goes full-steam ahead

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Stephen Lloyd, Independent MP for  Eastbourne said the following: “Given the extended roll-out, it is estimated that about 150,000 badgers will have been culled by the end of 2020. This animal, which has been around since the ice age, faces extinction in various parts of the country.”

Given that 67,000 badgers have already been killed since 2013, presumably we  can expect around 83,000 more to be killed before the end of next year. And what is being used to justify all this culling? Well there’s the much quoted Brunton et al. 2017 paper, whose statistical modelling produced a theoretical benefit in Tb reduction, along with the less quoted caveat ‘’it would be unwise to use these findings to develop generalizable inferences about the effectiveness of the policy at present.”

And now apparently there is another computer modelling paper Downs et al, currently waiting for publication. This too, apparently, will show a theoretical benefit in Tb reduction in Gloucestershire and Somerset. This will come as a surprise to those looking at the actual number of new herd breakdowns, and seeing a huge spike in Gloucestershire in 2018.

Will  ‘Downs 2019’ heavily adjust too and caveat in the small print? These adjustments are made in an attempt to nullify factors other than badger culling which have not been ‘controlled’ for on the ground. How could they have been controlled? This is not a scientific experiment, it’s an industry led culling exercise, and no amount of adjustments will be able to give a conclusive ‘cause and effect’ result.

So how will  anyone be able to say badger culling has worked or not? Simple truth is they will not. The result is that there is no ‘off’ button – Plan A  is to cull forever. New herd breakdowns could go down, stay the same, or go up (as they have in Gloucestershire) and government could go on claiming a need for badger culling, which they will continue to endorse.

Please help up to fight badger culling with legal action. Without a change in government, we believe it is the only way to seek a change in this shocking policy.

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Update on fundraising & supplementary culling

The good news is that there has been another generous donation to the crowd fund which takes it to nearly 50% of the target. When the figure needed to pay for the Appeals and to progress new challenges was calculated, it seemed as if it was an impossible funding goal. But now the amount raised is all but half way there, with two weeks to go before the hearing. A huge thank you to everybody who has donated so far. Please keep it coming.

The bad news is that despite the Appeal to last year’s ruling on ‘Supplementary Culling’ coming up in the first week of July, and the recent pre-action protocol letter challenging such culling in 2019 (on the basis of escalating bTb herd breakdown figures in Gloucestershire), Natural England has now authorised the licenses for Somerset and Gloucestershire*. This means that badgers are again being shot, sometimes inhumanely, under supplementary culling licences. This may continue to  be the case until early 2020, and be repeated in further years unless the upcoming appeal is won, when it would be stopped.

As mentioned in previous posts, and most mysteriously, a letter from Defra saying that the licenses had been re-authorised was received within a day of receipt of a letter from Natural England saying they had not yet decided whether or not to re-authorise culling. The conclusion must be drawn that the claimed independence of Natural England from Defra deserves, and must receive closer scrutiny. This remains difficult with the continuing unwarranted blanket of secrecy that surrounds all matters relating to the cull. Despite three separate Information Commission Tribunals finding against Natural England’s refusal to hand over environmental information, Natural England still use the same old excuses that were ruled against previously. It is a disgraceful time for nature conservation and freedom of information. Nothing has changed.

The reasons given by Defra for the two 2019 licence authorisations are being considered by lawyers and the upcoming legal case will bring the issues into full focus. The battle goes on despite these setbacks, but it is only with the support of the badger groups, charitable trusts and generous, caring individuals that this work continues.

* Badger cull supplementary cull licences have also been authorised for Dorset Area 3 as of 20.06.19.

 

Natural England keep supplementary culling, despite Gloucestershire bTB spike

Yesterday was a surprising day. In the morning lawyers for the claimant received a letter from Natural England, here, saying they had not yet decided whether to re-authorise the supplementary badger cull licenses in 2019. They claimed that “the representations made in your letter regarding the effectiveness of supplementary culling may be considered by the decision maker in the context of the re-authorisation decision.” They said that “ judicial review is therefore premature and we invite you to await our further correspondence on this issue.”

We didn’t have long to wait. Just a few hours later, we received a letter from Defra with news that the cull licenses had been authorised, coming into effect immediately with letters of authorisation from Natural England placed on the Defra web pages dated 12th June. Word from the field comes that pre-cull activities started earlier in the week so when was the decision to issue actually made?

At the bottom of their letter Natural England said “…Natural England does not accept the allegation in your letter that it acts “under dictation” from DEFRA.”

Events suggest that the first letter was written at the same time the decision to issue the licences was made. What should we make of these two letters? Does it look like two separate hands on the wheel?

This morning a response was made by the Government Legal Department to the claimant’s pre-action letter regarding a request for supplementary badger culling to be suspended. More on this later.

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Supplementary culling licences – update

Hours after receiving this letter from Natural England, comes  a letter from Defra saying that the supplementary culling licences have been authorised in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

So it appears that the challenge to the supplementary culling licences was not premature after all?

What is going on at Natural England?  

Natural England’s new authorisations allow the killing of up to 540 badgers in Gloucestershire Pilot Area 1 and 578 in Somerset Pilot Area 2.

Supplentary culling licences

Yesterday the claimants legal team received an email from Natural England’s solicitor in response to the pre-action letter. The letter says that Natural England have not yet made a decision on whether to re-authorise the supplementary badger cull licences for Areas 1 and 2  (Gloucs and Somerset) in 2019. Presumably the same applies to Area 3. (Dorset) which has had 4 years of culling and is now a candidate for supplementary culling. NE says that ‘’representations made in your letter regarding the effectiveness of supplementary culling may be considered by the decision maker in the context of the re-authorisation decision.”

This doesn’t sound like much of a concession yet, but at least Natural England are actively considering new information and evidence. NE know that their licensing decisions are being carefully scrutinised, and they know that the science is uncertain.

Please help to continue the calls for more openness on environmental information, data and the decision-making processes of badger cull licensing, and to highlight the lack of evidence for the policy as a whole.

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Does the badger cull spell trouble for ground-nesting birds?

The Ends Report has put out a further piece by James Fairs here, on Natural England’s licensing of the badger cull and the risk that ‘carnivore release effects’ from removing badgers could have a clear-cut or subtle, yet profound damaging impact on our countryside. Last year during a Judicial Review hearing into whether adequate assessments had been done into the ecological impacts of badger culling, Natural England made repeated assurances to a High Court Judge that their ‘routine monitoring’ would detect any effects of badger culling on important protected ecosystems, and that they would respond to any changes identified. There remains no clarity surrounding what is being monitored,  nor how the integrity of any monitoring can be guaranteed. 

Culling has been underway for six years in the pilot cull areas and data released by the Government last summer indicated that in fact 47% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest have not been examined by NE in accordance with their own monitoring protocols within the last six years. This is the reality of the ‘routine monitoring’ referred to. A report commissioned by Natural England last year which compares coarse datasets of breeding bird records collected by volunteers continues to be suppressed.  

This last ditch scrabble to cover the legal loopholes while keeping an awkward public funded report secret is surely a stark humiliation for our statutory agency.

We despair at the weak and woolly response of Natural England in merely trying to find fox control data, rather than implement full and proper monitoring of at-risk rural ecosystems in their entirety. This is what is essential  to ensure the protection of our best wildlife sites, given such a drastic and large-scale intervention as badger culling. We call on the government to halt all badger culling immediately and to launch an inquiry into the oversights.

Full text is available on our ‘Press Cuttings’ page.

Press Release

A new pre-action letter has been sent to Defra and Natural England over ‘supplementary’ badger culling


Key Points

  • A pre-action protocol letter has been sent to the S/S for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs and Natural England over the governments refusal to stop supplementary badger culling.
  • ‘Confirmed’ bovine TB cattle herd breakdowns have risen in Gloucestershire and Somerset after one year of supplementary culling.

  • New calls for a halt to supplementary culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset, and for Dorset not to start this year.

  • Four weeks to go until the Court of Appeal re-examines a previous (2018) case challenging supplementary culling policy.  

There is mounting public scepticism over the science and justifications behind mass culling of badgers in England. Badger culling has increased steadily since 2013 as a part of the Government’s attempt to control the livestock disease bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Supplementary culling is the killing of badgers for a further five years or more once four years of intensive culling have been completed.

Recent correspondence with the government and Natural England follows release of data on 8 April showing that ‘confirmed New Herd Breakdowns’ (NHBs) have risen since the 2017 implementation of Supplementary Culling in the Gloucestershire and Somerset cull areas. Confirmed NHB’s in Gloucestershire jumped from 10 to 23 cases.

Following release of the data, the claimant is taking further action against the government to stop the issue of supplementary cull licences and has written to DEFRA and Natural England to formally request that DEFRA withdraw the Supplementary Culling Guidance and NE revoke licenses issued under the supplementary cull policy. A response is expected in a week. Further legal proceedings may follow.

In any event, the Court of Appeal will hear a case brought by Tom Langton in 2018 scheduled for 2/3 July  which asks the Court to quash the supplementary cull policy guidance, issued in 2017. The hearing will also address other questions which have emerged over safeguards on protected nature sites from culling. The principal argument in the guidance case is that government lacked the necessary evidence and safeguards to justify the supplementary cull policy. The recent data on NHB confirms that supplementary culling is not associated with any bTB decline benefits and could well be contributing to policy and licensing failure.

Mr Langton, an ecologist who has worked on studies of wild animal diseases, is challenging alleged breaches of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 by the government. In particular, he is challenging claims made by the Chief Scientific Officer Prof Ian Boyd that badger culling with an experimental approach could be a learning process, despite senior scientists and expert organisations in 2017 advising that such an approach might be counterproductive. He said:

‘’The government has indicated that it can adapt its policy on badger culling as further evidence becomes available. However, it is well established that it is not possible to definitively identify the source of bTB in cattle herds breakdowns, except in cases where a new strain of bTB has been imported through cattle trading or neighbour contact.

In truth, the badger culling policy is a policy with no stop button, and where there is no possibility of learning, just a direction to continue killing badgers forever, even if measures are not working. This repeats the mistakes made in The Republic of Ireland where badger killing for decades cannot be linked to any changes in disease levels.

The English bTB emergency requires crisis management as the current cattle testing regimes and movement controls are clearly failing.  The Supplementary Culling policy is a road to no-where. Killing for the sake of killing. There is no potential for linking cause to effect, no scientific learning, and for that reason the policy is unlawful. It cannot show, as is required, that it is preventing the spread of disease.’’

FURTHER INFORMATION

In consultations held for the badger killing policy in 2011, Natural England appeared to indicate that badger culling was unlikely to contribute to disease reduction if other bTB control measures in cattle were not working. This consultation wording has since been redacted and is now kept secret.

Natural England’s new Chairman, environmentalist Tony Juniper is faced with a dilemma. Is he prepared to license the updated policy, that was initially introduced by former (2009-2013) NE Chairman and dairy farmer Poul Christensen?  He has to decide over the next few days and weeks whether to agree to support an acceleration of badger killing by around 25% to 40,000 badgers annually, starting this September. This would take place despite the lack of evidence of any contribution to reduction in disease spread and evidence that the policy could be worsening the crisis.

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Another magnificent contribution

Badger Crowd is delighted to report that the fantastic trustees of Badger Trust Sussex have yet again made an extremely generous donation to the legal fighting fund. This is great news for our fundraising efforts, and further compounds our determination to continue to judicially defend the badger against bad decision making and procedure. Thanks go out to the BTS trustees and volunteers who have been at the forefront of making this possible.

With just six weeks to go we still need a considerable sum to cover essential costs, and we hope that BTS’s donation inspires other groups and individuals to join us! We are indebted to all our generous donors, and continue to work towards fully funding our cases. Together we are stronger. Together we strive to bring #justiceforbadgers.

To contribute towards our legal funds you can donate through our Just Giving appeal here.

Licensing Question: whose job to monitor the Predators and Prey?

An article in the Farmers Guardian here (17.05.19) reports on certain conditions which Natural England are attaching to this year’s badger cull licenses as a result of legal challenges. The action in 2018 relating to 2017 licences was against Natural England’s omission of  proper process in scrutiny of potential ecological impacts and did not particularise the method or manner of scrutiny or gathering of essential information beyond the normal accepted confines of the licensing system.

Although dispute resolution talks have being held with Natural England over the last few months, the detail and nature of the new licensing requests on predators and prey to cull companies have not been discussed. They are nevertheless consistent with the Natural England internal guidance developed last autumn.  It would seem that the cull companies have been contacted regarding the normal requirements  necessary to ensure that the Carnivore Release Effect (CRE)  resulting from the 70%+ removal of badger populations can be recorded, with emphasis on, but by no means limited to both breeding bird and fox numbers.

Referring to a condition requiring the monitoring of fox numbers, Tom Rabbetts, head of TB delivery at the NFU is quoted as saying “When the cull companies were set up, this was certainly not a requirement. They have not recorded this data and they do not have access to every person controlling foxes in the area.”

He also questioned why cull companies were being forced to carry out the work when fox control was not part of their remit and NE has responsibility for collating data on wild bird populations. Normally in activities that cause or may cause impacts to SSSIs and European sites and species, the applicant is responsible as standard, both for provision of baseline information and for carrying out avoidance, mitigation or compensation activity.

This would include the monitoring of the effects of badger culling on breeding birds, roosting birds, butterflies, small mammals, other invertebrates and habitats that could be influenced by sudden reduction in higher trophic species, either immediately, or over a period of time for more subtle changes. The Badger Crowd believes that the ecological consequences of the removal of badgers could potentially be enormous, and thus far have not been measured.

New Natural England ‘Guidance on evaluating the ecological consequences of badger culling on European Sites’ here, issued within weeks of the judgement on the Judicial Review in 2018, suggests that the ‘trophic cascade’ effect from badger culling may potentially result in a requirement to control the number of other carnivorous species, including stoats, weasels and even hedgehogs. The Badger Crowd believes this is correct recognition of the huge potential impact of badger culling on wildlife sites of national and international importance and the countryside in general. Such impacts need investigating as a requirement of statute and must be taken as seriously as any other threat, such as road building.

Badger Crowd is seeking solutions to bovine tuberculosis for farmers and wildlife. We believe that badger culling is not an acceptable or effective solution and that impacts upon the environment are just one of the major issues that act against the interest of the countryside, taxpayers and farmers. It distracts from the real needs for better cattle testing regimes (including a halt to the misuse of and over-reliance upon the SICCT test) and the stopping of daily transportation of diseased stock around England. Immediate reform of poor veterinary advice and a compensation culture resting on public funds that further accentuates the problem is urgently needed.