Waiting for the Appeal Hearing outcome…….

It’s been a month now since our High Court Appeal hearing, and the important matter of ‘what happens next’ still hangs in the balance.  The understanding is that the Courts and Judiciary are largely closed down over August, so having not received results thus far it is quite likely that we might not hear anything for several more weeks. This means of course that we may be into September before we find out more, and September is the month when we fear confirmation of  yet more areas for badgers to be shot, and for the badger cull carnage to be imposed over a much larger area. We could hear at any time, however.

As well as the Appeal outcomes, there should be news of the government’s response to the ‘Godfray Group’s’ review of the current bovine TB policy, and presumably Defra’s newly massaged ‘results’ of the pilot badger cull, (Downs et al. 2019) as an update to Brunton (2017). Raw data shows that supplementary culling has been followed by a massive bTB spike in Gloucestershire. ‘Downs’ has been used in the decision making process to try to help justify Supplementary Culling, but has been kept secret thus far. Rather like the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) report on effects of culling on the wider environment, which was held back from public scrutiny by Natural England for no good reason; the motives for withholding both are highly suspect. As ‘Downs’ has not yet been made available, we are guessing that it will be a much caveated piece of selective modelling, which will say that badger culling may be helping reduce bTB in cattle, but many more years of data will be required to be slightly more confident that it is a possibility or a likely  failure.

This is ‘the cull until 2038’ approach. The same old fudge that shames the government and the reputations of all those involved, whether they are actively enabling it or just keeping quiet for their own personal convenience/advancement. Government has said to us in writing that there is no way to identify the cause of any change in bTB breakdown rates in cull areas, and in any case, in some areas it might be expected not to work. Nobody is fooled about what is being done and aimed for; a corrupted version of the 30 years of failed badger culling in Republic of Ireland.

Perhaps those at Defra and Natural England hope to continue to hide behind the ensuing Brexit furore, hoping that badgers will not be most people’s priority at this time of national crisis? The bTB crisis in the national herd will not disappear though, but will spread, whatever happens with Brexit. At some point, those in charge will have to acknowledge that equivocal interventions are pointless, a complete waste of time and money without first addressing the major causes of disease in cattle; failed testing and hopeless movement restriction. This in fact was Natural England’s position during the original cull policy consultations – so what happened?

The solutions to bTB are available and have been used successfully in the past, and they don’t involve culling wildlife. Killing badgers may be damaging other wildlife species and habitats, in addition to all-but exterminating a persecuted apex species for spurious reasons. There are new cattle testing technologies becoming available, being stifled by vested interests that will make control easier and cheaper. The sooner the government’s policy advisors stop following failed veterinary and cattle lobby rhetoric and start listening to informed scientists (without vested interests), the faster will be the progress against this terrible disease. Whatever the outcome of the Court of Appeal, the Badger Crowd will continue to work to defeat this horrible policy using common sense, science and the law.

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Court of Appeal Hearing, London 2nd July

On July 2nd, the Court of Appeal heard the challenge to the decisions of Sir Ross Cranston in the High Court in July 2018 (Langton -v- The Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England). The Court sat between 10.30am and 4.10pm, with much of the proceedings (the morning and part of the afternoon) televised and now available on Youtube:

Links https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cF4Qc7a8p3U and (pm)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwwNRwj0cMQ

Unfortunately the sound quality from parts of the room was not too good at times, which is a shame for those wanting to listen and analyse the detail. The afternoon coverage cuts out at about 2.45pm; we do not know why. Unfortunately this means that the summing up is not recorded.

In this instance, two grounds of the case that the High Court decision of 2018 was incorrect were fully examined following some opening discussion over the scope of the Grounds (reasons for challenge).

Richard Turney opened with his arguments over why allowing supplementary badger culling (SBC) for 5 years after the completion of intensive culling is ‘ultra vires’, that is, beyond the provisions allowed for under Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 (PBA)

One aspect of the issue relates to the fact that the effects of SBC are unknown and cannot be separated from other bTB control measures. They may, according to published science (Jenkins et al. 2010) make things worse. The inability to be able to tell whether SBC works or not was reinforced  in the reference material and in a recent letter from Defra to the claimant.

In front of Sir Ross Cranston in the High Court in 2018, Defra and the SSEFRA had used the claim that they would learn from the SBC results and adapt their policy accordingly to support their case. The arguments yesterday included whether the PBA allows ‘experimentation’, although SBC cannot even be regarded  as an experiment, since there can be no learning resulting from it. 

The judges have a fine line to tread in that under the current approval, SBC might only be claimed to have helped, and cease, if bTB goes down and is eradicated. However if it does not, (and the government scientist’s position is that it could take a very long time for success or failure to be indicated), it is not possible to be sure whether SBC is helping or holding things back. Under an experimental approach, if SBC is actually worsening the spread of the disease, you may not find out for decades or even ever.

We remember that in the 1960’s bTB was reduced by 80% in four years with thorough cattle measures. What we know of SBC from results in Gloucestershire in its first year is that there has been an increase in confirmed new herd breakdowns by 80%. Government claims that it is too early to be able to interpret the results of SBC and longer periods of implementation are needed; this is  not correct as there can never be certainty on causation with the current policy.

In approving the policy, the Minister may have overreached the powers of the PBA; there is a clear argument that this should only have been attempted under different legislation. Defra/SSEFRA argued that licensing doesn’t have to be definite in terms of outcome. But that didn’t seem to address the capacity of SBC to increase the spread of bTB disease on a country-wide basis, in a manner that it is impossible to detect.

The other part of the case argued yesterday concerned the way in which Natural England approaches its legal duties of assessment in terms of the negative impacts of badger culling on non-target species in internationally protected sites. Much of the evidence relied upon in this challenge arises out of forensic analyses of the detail of Natural England’s impact assessments by our Habitats Regulations expert Dominic Woodfield, who continues to work pro bono on the case.

The argument centres on the implications of a suite of recent European and domestic court cases, in particular an Irish case known as ‘People Over Wind’. In this case the European Courts ruled that mitigation measures, taken specifically to avoid or mitigate adverse effects that would otherwise be likely to occur to sites protected under the EC habitats and Birds Directives, cannot be taken into account by a decision maker when screening proposals for ‘likely significant effects’ – the first stage of what is called a ‘Habitats Regulations Assessment’.

In the challenge in the High Court in 2018, Sir Ross Cranston accepted NE’s argument that measures imposed as conditions on badger licences, in order to try and avoid impacts on sensitive species and sites, were not ‘mitigation measures’ because NE had invited applicants to incorporate them into their application and they were thus integral parts of the project.  This is an approach that contradicts the methodology NE requires to be followed in all other aspects of its duties under the Habitats and Birds Directives and it is telling that NE has very recently overhauled all of its Habitats Regulations Assessments for badger culling to try to correct this error.

The Court of Appeal’s decision on this aspect of the case has huge implications. If the Court of Appeal finds that Sir Ross Cranston’s decision was correct, it will put UK case law squarely at odds with that of all other EU countries bound by the Directive and will mean that Natural England’s approach to marking its own homework when it comes to badger licensing is open for wider adoption by developers and others as a means of avoiding the more stringent requirements of the Appropriate Assessment stage of Habitats Regulations Assessment. This will result in reduced protection to internationally important sites and have knock on implications for wildlife protection generally. On the other hand, if the Court of Appeal finds that Sir Ross Cranston’s decision to accept NE’s unusual definition of mitigation was wrong, it will confirm that NE’s authorisations for badger culling over vast areas of south-western and western England were unlawful, in both 2017 and 2018. 

The question now remains what relief could occur if the cases are successful. With SBC it will be all or nothing; supplementary culling will either be stopped or considered acceptable. With the Natural England licences, judgment in  favour of Mr Langton could see a number of licences quashed. This would both show the validity of the original challenges and  focus a  spotlight on how NE approached the 2019 licence applications.

We hope that judgment will be handed down before the end of July, but it is possible that it will be towards the end of August or even later. The courts were fair and open yesterday and we can only wait to see the verdicts. Huge thanks again to all those supporting the legal challenges and sending in messages of good wishes this week. It really is appreciated. Please keep encouraging donations as we are still short of funds. Huge thanks to the legal team and the contributing experts, advisors and researchers too.

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