Badger cull ecological impacts case –

Featured

Did Defra breach its ‘duty of candour’ to the courts ?

On Wednesday 13th April, the Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Simler granted permission for the High Court decision in Langton v Defra (case ref: CO/2062/2020) to be challenged in the Court of Appeal. The High Court case had been dismissed on 9 August 2021 by the Honourable Justice Griffiths. The case concerned an alleged failure of the Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (S/S) to have regard to the implications for biodiversity of ecosystem disruption following  badger culling, in accordance with the duty imposed on ministers and public bodies under Section 40(1) of the NERC Act (2006), before making his decision to continue badger culling under the ‘Next Steps’ policy.

It should be noted that previous challenges brought by Langton in 2017 and 2018 repeatedly found government and government agencies in breach of duties related to the assessment of badger culling impacts on designated nature conservation sites and associated protected species.  In the present case, it is argued that the NERC Act obligations require that the impact of badger culling across the wider countryside and on the broader and larger biodiversity resource within it must also be assessed, including by the Secretary of State, but simply hadn’t been. The Government argued in the first instance that the Secretary of State wasn’t subject to the duty at all, or that the duty was in any event covered by the assessments carried out by Natural England in the course of issuing badger licences (the same ones the earlier cases had previously convinced the courts were defective), notwithstanding that these only claimed to consider impacts on designated nature conservation sites and related land.

Last Thursday 28th April, Justice Simler confirmed that the appeal case had been expedited to June or July 2022, giving notice of a hearing in the coming weeks. This appeared to precipitate a rapid pre-prepared action from Defra that same day. They sent Mr Langton’s legal team a suite of new documents (including a mass of heavily redacted emails) showing that in October 2021 Defra had placed in front of the then Secretary of State George Eustice a brief paper exercise, summarizing their opinion on the wider biodiversity effects from badger culling, and that he had been asked to reconsider his decision to adopt ‘Next Steps’ in the light of that information.

It is very difficult to read this other than as recognition by Government that the NERC Act S40 duty:

a) did (and does) apply to the Secretary of State (despite their arguing in front of Justice Griffiths that it didn’t),

b) that it hadn’t been considered or discharged by the Secretary of State prior to the adoption of Next Steps (as argued by Langton and his team) and,

c) that the Government was concerned that it may not be possible to defend this position upon further review by the Court of Appeal.

The real matter of concern here is not so much that the Government and its agencies exercised a volte-face and sought to remedy the legal error, but that they did so in secret, without informing the court, and in a situation where the case was still ‘live’. Our legal team has raised this issue with the GLD in correspondence copied to the Court as a breach of a basic tenet of legal protocol – the ‘duty of candour’ – which requires that the courts be informed when circumstances have changed or decisions have been taken (or re-taken) that have a bearing on a live case. Both the court and the claimants legal team should have been informed of the fact of the Secretary of State’s reconsideration when it happened in December 2021. The fact that this secret Ministerial briefing was only revealed after the Court granted permission for the appeal is extremely concerning and begs the question whether it would ever have come to light at all had that permission not been granted?

It’s all there in black and white…. Secretary of State shows the court details of his Ministerial sign-off.

While it is not possible to comment of the quality and coverage of the new Defra material presently for legal reasons, it is sufficient to say that nothing has changed regarding the absence of any proper research by the Government into the collateral effects on biodiversity of badger culling. There remains an overarching need for extensive baseline research and data on the likely effects of predator removal, increases and perturbation in wildlife communities following ecological disruption on nature conservation interests. The research the Government seeks to rely on, to advance the premise that there are no meaningful side effects on biodiversity, remains scant to the point of being meaningless.

Where does this leave us?  Plainly the Government is scratching around to avoid the embarrassment of having the 2020  “Next Steps” policy quashed.

And it will no doubt seek to rely on what is called a ‘no difference’ defence it has sprung as a ‘get out of jail free’ card whenever procedural deficiencies and oversights have been exposed in previous eco-impact claims. Defra’s argument in essence, is that even if the Secretary of State had complied with the duty, he would have come to the same decision. There must come a point where the elasticity in that defence and its ability to cover and excuse all failures at departmental and ministerial level becomes fatigued. But legally speaking, whether what Defra has done behind closed doors may be sufficient for the quashing of the policy will be determined by the Court when it hears the case.  In our view, allowing badger culling to carry on in 2022 without revising the policy to address these very serious and wide-ranging biodiversity impact concerns is simply not tenable.

From a wider UK nature conservation perspective, it is very important that the case should continue, to ensure that ignoring of the NERC Act 2006 in decision making by government bodies is not allowed to become an accepted standard, and to get that confirmed by a Court judgment if Defra are not willing to concede it right away. In other words, the prospect that we could overturn the (we say perverse) ruling of Justice Griffiths in July last year that environment ministers are exempt from considering that part of the environment called ‘biodiversity’ when making decisions, is worth pursuing for many reasons.

If successful, the case could also have the effect of forcing Natural England to reconsider whether they are similarly failing to comply with what the duty demands in artificially restricting their considerations just to designated sites. It would bring into sharp focus the fact that the level of information they rely upon for impact assessment and to inform basic provisions for protection, is inadequate. Impacts are guessed or assumed because there is no background information to inform them beyond speculation, meaningless analyses of borrowed, coarse-grained datasets and a near total absence of monitoring, the lifeblood of real understanding.

These developments merely serve to reinforce the determination to halt badger culling. In recent days legal letters have been sent to Defra and Natural England asking them to stop badger culling in 2022 because of the current peer-reviewed scientific evidence that it has not worked.

So please consider supporting the Crowd Fund linked below. If everyone chips in we can spread the load and gain access to justice for badgers and all our wildlife and countryside.

Thanks you for your support. We are the Badger Crowd. We stand up for badgers.

If you can, please donate here:

Donate


Thank you.

It must surely be time to kill the badger cull?

A new article for BBC Wildlife Magazine by James Fair takes a look at newly published peer reviewed research that concludes that the badger cull isn’t working. It’s worth a read because it puts the new analysis into the context of the historical background of bTB and the previous analyses of the results of badger culling.

It is of note that the conclusions of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) in 2007 are mirrored by the conclusions of the latest study;

ISG: “After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain,”

And

Langton, Jones and McGill 2022: “This examination of government data obtained over a wide area and a long time period failed to identify a meaningful effect of badger culling on bTB in English cattle herds.

Despite this confirmation of the expected & predictable results of nine years of badger culling, Defra (Chief Vet & Chief Scientific Adviser) have kicked back strongly with accusations of partiality on the part of the authors. This is somewhat ironic as (nearly) all published English bovine TB science to-date has been published by Defra or their funded contractors. Commentary on the paper via the Science Media Centre was supplied by two recipients of Defra contracts who are or have been heavily engaged in bTB policy.

The paper’s authors are still waiting for a reply to their request for an explanation of how Defra manipulated data in their un-peer reviewed rebuttal analysis letter, published in Vet Record, which claims to show culling does reduce bTB in cattle.

You can read James Fair’s article here, and Langton, Jones and McGill (2022) here.

Permission Granted!

Court of Appeal confirm new hearing regarding the ecological impacts of badger culling (NERC Act 2006). Judicial Review Case: CO/2062/2020

The Badger Crowd is pleased to confirm that an Application to the Court of Appeal has been successful, reopening the judgements in the High Court of Mr Justice Griffiths in 2021. The appeal has taken a very long time to come through and we now hope the case will be heard before any new licences are issued by Defra and Natural England, and used this year.

Justice Griffiths in his ‘to everything there is a season’ ruling (1) had intimated 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 in England. The case relates to Minister George Eustice and Defra publishing a “Next Steps” policy in March 2020, prolonging the slaughter of tens of thousands of mostly healthy badgers each year in existing and new places with, according to current peer-reviewed science, no recordable benefit (2).

Defra claimed that it had decided not to protect NERC Act protected biodiversity interest from potential culling side-effects when culling began in 2013, and again in 2020, despite the 2018 Godfray review (3) flagging-up continuing professional concerns about impacts and the need for research to enable management of the risk, as determined by government funded pilot studies.

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 predator patterns, but only afforded protective consideration by conditions on culling licences, when nesting on protected sites.
 

Removal of badgers from the countryside is known to bring about a range of changes to natural communities but the extent of these is unclear and determined only by careful monitoring. However, when identifying risks of such change, research undertaken over 10 years ago was limited to just a few species and habitats. 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 of government by the High Court and radical changes to Natural England’s operations. Impacts expert Dominic Woodfield from Bioscan continues to provide specialist advice on the case.

The current case challenges the continuing and long-term neglect of potential impacts on a wide range of potentially impacted habitats and species. 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 in England, and to the biodiversity depleted countryside in general.

This case will also resonate in Northern Ireland where the government department’s (DAERA) proposals to carry out ‘preliminary ecological assessment’ to form a baseline to monitor badger culling that it wants to undertake, has been widely derided and possibly now withdrawn. It is unclear how ecological impacts will be considered in NI and the case in England will certainly inform that consideration and potentially a legal challenge by the Northern Ireland Badger Group (4).

Details of the timing of the Court of Appeal hearing are currently undecided, but as last year’s case was expedited in front of the issue of badger culling licences, this is likely to happen again this year. So far, this case has been generously funded by the Badger Crowd network of Badger Trusts and Groups, notably the Badger Trust, Badger Trust Sussex, & Wild Justice, together with well-wishers and the public who are thanked again for perseverance, generosity, and determination.

Reference

(1) https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2021/2199.html

(2) Langton TES, Jones MW, McGill I. Analysis of the impact of badger culling on bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the high-risk area of England, 2009–2020. Vet Rec. 2022;e1384. https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.1384

(3) Godfray Review 2018

(4) Northern Ireland Badger Group challenge, with others: http://www.badgersni.org.uk/pressrelease.html

 

Defra ‘tribalism’ tries to undermine bTB study?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Picture2.png

A recent scientific paper in Veterinary Record (1) by independent researchers Tom Langton, Mark Jones and Iain McGill, showing the effects of badger culls on bovine TB herd breakdowns over the last decade, has been met by criticism from officials at the top of Defra. There are accusations that it is ‘flawed’, and in the Daily Telegraph, even of data ‘rigging’ . You can view a 3 minute video of the main findings here.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Off-The-Leash.jpgFurther details on the origin and contents of the paper are discussed in a 40-minute Off the Leash interview by Charlie Moores with two of the authors Tom Langton and Mark Jones, here. 

Many badger campaigners will know Mary Barton, aka Betty Badger, who stands up for badgers outside Defra offices each Thursday, and has done for many years. On Thursday 17th March, she was granted a meeting in person with Environment Secretary George Eustice. He told Mary that he thought the study was ‘flawed’. Then on 18th March, Defra put out a dramatic press statement, criticizing the content & motivation of those involved in writing, reviewing, and publishing the paper (2) :

“This paper has been produced to fit a clear campaign agenda and manipulates data in a way that makes it impossible to see the actual effects of badger culling on reducing TB rates. It is disappointing to see it published in a scientific journal.”

and

“Experienced scientists from the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency have reviewed the report and found its analysis is scientifically flawed. It has manipulated the data in a way that makes it hard to understand the actual effects of badger culling and therefore its conclusions are wrong. Today, the Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, and Chief Scientific Adviser, Gideon Henderson, have also published a letter in Vet Record, which rebuts the report’s claims. The CVO has also written a blog about this.”

 Which stated (3):

“We do not believe the scientific methodology used is credible as the analysis has been carried out in an unusual manner ”

These are confident words from the chief vet, informed no doubt by James McCormack (Head of Science Advice to Defra TB policy) and Eleanor Brown (Defra’s Veterinary Head for TB Policy Advice) to try to prevent acceptance of what are the plain and simple findings from Defra’s own data. The new analysis has been extensively checked using appropriate models, peer-reviewed by 4 reviewers, and accepted as a solid piece of research. In truth the 2021 badger culls should have been put on hold in June of that year because the basic findings were clear then and Defra knew about them. 

However, the Defra Chief Scientific Advisor and CVO claimed in a letter to Vet Record on the day of publication (4) that “This analysis has been carried out in a manner that masks the effect of culling by incorrectly grouping data.”

 

Defra’s alternative analysis, shown above, has done something strange to diminish ‘unculled’ area data, that is not explained, yet which appears to undo their own argument. The letter states that the ‘impact of culling on cattle outbreaks takes some time to appear’ while showing steep decline in bTB in the first two years of culling. Oops!

All scientific studies have limitations and none are 100% correct. What Defra are doing in their letter is adopting a pro-cull narrative to promote their policy publicly, with an un-peer reviewed analysis. They are avoiding the sharp reality of what their data is really telling them, and George Eustice and the government should be very concerned about this.

Defra have defended their pro-cull policy in Parliament and in the High Court using a government study from 2019 that uses very small amounts of data (Downs et al. 2019 (5)), wrongly, as ‘proof’ that badger culling ‘works’. That paper in fact admits that there are enormous limitations to its conclusions. The position that ‘culling works’, however, has been widely adopted by the Minister, MPs, the NFU and farming stakeholders.

It’s in the herd: cattle measures are the answer

Cow undergoing SICCT test

Defra have dismissed in a short soundbite, one of the most interesting findings of the published paper: the disease slowing, peaking and declining between 2011 and 2016 across the HRA counties, and before badger culling began in all but one area.  Defra want to adjust the data for confounding variables. Such adjustment is something that only Defra can do, as they alone have access to this ‘secret’ data. But adjustments are hardly likely to substantially change the conclusions, when such a huge dataset has been used in the analysis (over 20,000 herd a year).  Mention has been made of changes in badger cull buffer areas and badger population numbers, but the strength and validity of that data is questionable and presently obscure.

The Defra letter is particularly disappointing, given that Defra/APHA should have been using data to closely monitor and inform the public on the effects of bTB interventions and to ‘adapt and learn’ from their analysis. As they intimated would be the case in a Judicial Review of culling in the High Court in 2018, and as the judgement anticipated. And to encourage and inform those involved in the grueling cattle testing effort. Shouldn’t the public, who are after all paying for all of this, demand that too? Ask a simple question: why didn’t Defra do an analysis with the large data set they had available in 2019 and show the results? Was it because it showed that bTB was peaking and falling in both culled and unculled areas, well before badger culling was rolled out?

But that would mean admitting that cattle measures are the key ‘tool in the box’ to bTB control and need to be extended. BTB  decline since 2015 has averaged around 5% per year in the HRA, very similar to the picture in Wales where badgers are not culled and also in Republic of Ireland (RoI). Badger culling is now being phased out in RoI, with long term use of annual SICCT and gamma testing, and with bTB OTFW incidence no lower than around 4%, due to the limitations of the SICCT test. International evidence points to cattle measures alone being the solution, as predicted by experts for over 20 years.

The answers are all here. BTB should keep coming down in the English HRA if it follows the RoI trend over the next 3-5 years. If modern PCR testing is applied, it could be dealt with well before 2030. If the will is there. The Edge area crisis is another matter, but could be turned around too with correct thinking and the right interventions.

Other specialist comment:

Prof Paul Torgerson from the Section of Veterinary Epidemiology at the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Zurich wrote an opinion editorial for Vet Record on 19th March (6) offering insights on why badger culling doesn’t work, as predicted by the government researchers conducting the Randomised Badger Culling Trial back in 2007.

The Defra and the Middlemiss/Henderson arguments have been more than dented.The authors of the new analysis have responded in the Veterinary Record (2nd April) letters pages (7), saying that Defra’s criticism of the paper is baseless, and their attempt to show alternative science lacks explanation in the way they have handled the data. Defra have discounted around half of the data and the figures they use do not match figures from the reference material. There is also a dead end Link. This could be interpreted as ‘data manipulation’ to try to defend existing policy-based science. Defra’s refusal to accept the Langton et al. analysis using all of the cull data over the whole period of culling, is effectively limiting consideration of one of the most important debates of farming and veterinary concern of the last 50 years.

Over £100 million of public money per year is paid to farmers each year to support bovine TB control, and over £90 Million has been spent killing around 180,000 badgers since 2013; £500 per badger.

Defra’s position is that it wants yet more ‘thinking time’ to privately consider data and internal reports. Meanwhile, concerned observers can only watch while the decision on the course of the badger cull, where Defra aim to kill a further c.110,000 badgers from this June through to January 2026, hangs in the balance. The matter of efficacy needs settling. But Defra want to begin culling again this June and September with the issue of further licences.

‘Scepticism, science & statistics’, by Ian Boyd

There is an irony here in as much as the attitude of Defra employees towards the new study appears to have formed a classic exemplar of what the retired Defra Chief scientific advisor (2012-2018)  Prof. Iain Boyd has described recently as departmental ‘tribalism’ in his article in the Royal Society of Statistic journal Significance  entitled ‘Scepticism, science and  statistics’. Staff behaviour includes hostile over-reaction to anyone questioning government policy.

We can only hope that those involved will now resist that ‘unjustified tribal confidence’ and the ‘traditions embedded within their professional tribe’ and find the ‘social licence to break out’. For the sake of badgers, cows, farmers, the countryside  and the public, they need to do it now.

Northern Ireland

DAERA  (NI Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs) have been pressing for a badger cull in NI for some time and have rushed a consultation through recently to try to copy ‘English-style’ badger culling.

For many years Mike Rendle and the Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG) have been working with legal and scientific support from the Badger Trust and Eurobadger. Working and meeting with government at Stormont to discuss the issue.

Developments since 2020 have been very disappointing and many who have been watching closely feel the DAERA process of considering interventions has been bungled and that it should have followed the Welsh model. For example, on the government’s own data there is a distinct lack of association (see below) between high badger density areas and high bovine TB incidence areas. The matter of DAERA’s concealed ‘business case’ for badger culling and why the badger intervention with highest environmental impact has been chosen remains unexplained. DAERA even dropped their ecological impact assessments (SEA/HRA) in favour of an earlier ‘dumbed down’ version. This  followed an extensive critique, submitted by NIBG describing multiple failures in the proposals and with useful input from eco-regulations expert Dominic Woodfield.

 

Illustration from the Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Now Wild Justice (8)  (Chris Packham, Ruth Dingle and Mark Avery) have come to the fore and with NIBG are Judicially Reviewing the decision to shoot badgers on the basis of improper consultation regarding the business plan and cost-benefit analysis. This includes reference to the new paper on badger culling efficacy in Vet Record. Cattle movements in NI are less controlled than in England, and cattle measures alone should control bTB if a higher level of herd management discipline and more accurate testing could be introduced to cattle controls. But if Defra have been coaching DAERA, the road to ruin may have been laid.

References

(1) Langton TES, Jones MW, McGill I. Analysis of the impact of badger culling on bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the high-risk area of England, 2009–2020. Vet Rec. 2022;e1384.

(2) Defra media statement 18 March 2022.

(3) Christine Middlemiss blog 21 March 2022.

(4) Christine Middlemiss and Gideon Henderson letter to Vet record 19th March 2022.

(5)  Downs S HProsser AAshton AAshfield SBrunton L ABrouwer A, et al. Assessing effects from four years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, 2013–2017. 

(6) Paul R Torgerson, P. R. Editorial in Vet Record, 19th March 2022.What is the role of badger culling as a control measure for bovine TB?

(7) Badger culling to control bovine TB, letter to Vet record, Thomas ES Langton, Mark W Jones & Iain McGill. 2nd April 2022.

(8) Wild Justice Judicial Review

(9) Interview with Tom Langton & James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, BBC Radio 4 Farming Today, 19th March 2022. Clickable button below.

2021 – it’s been another bad year for badgers and cattle

This ‘end of year’ brings an opportunity to share collective thanks for everyone’s efforts to inform and support the legal action for badgers and their wild communities. Those actions that are being considered and planned, and those that are currently in progress. Take a moment to ponder how many of us continue to work on a regular basis, often many hours a week, to help expose the truth about badger culling, and to bring to bear justice against the government’s vandalism of nature. We still have sufficient funds to progress legal avenues for now, and the continued generosity and positive messages from you is hugely appreciated.

There is no doubt that this has been a busy and difficult year. There has been a great deal happening in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. We have remained in close contact with and maintained multiple workstreams with all the individuals and organisations who are fighting to protect badgers and their natural communities.

The wait continues for the English Court of Appeal to determine the September 2021 application for permission to appeal (Claim No: CO/2062/2020) against Defra and Natural England. This case relates to the potential ecological impacts of intensive and supplementary badger culling under the March 2020 “Next Steps” policy and the way in which safeguards have been overlooked or inadequately addressed for ‘NERC Act’ habitats and species. Much information is bound up in the legal papers that cannot be shared freely yet, and in recent freedom of information disclosures. These hold revelations regarding how Natural England has conducted itself, with respect to its duty to protect the countryside and their behaviour when confronted with uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the government remains secretive and uncommunicative on its position on phasing-out intensive and supplementary badger culling. Rather suspiciously, it is refusing to explain its scientific rationale because it says it needs ‘space to think’. Referring only to its general and rather vague wish to ‘tilt’ cattle TB eradication policy towards non-lethal interventions, that is yet to be revealed in any tangible forward plan.

Government has also encouraged, and tried to promote its future vison on epidemiological or ‘epi’ culling. This put simply, is localised or reactive culling that failed during the RBCT, and that has failed in the Republic of Ireland, and for which APHA now bizarrely holds its failed Cumbria Low Risk Area culling since 2018 up as its exemplar [1]. DEFRA has also admitted that beyond a small Sussex experiment on engaging farmers in badger vaccination, it will only train ten vaccinators a year. Showing that this approach will remain a tiny side show to culling. I reviewed some of these aspects in the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Badger Group ‘Voices For Badgers’ Webinar on 23rd September 2021 [2]. This followed the announcement by DEFRA via their Exeter University TB hub that they would be ignoring the findings of the Godfray Review (2018), instead promoting badger vaccination on their ‘brand new’ view that it “should” influence cattle TB levels. This is a leap of faith for those expected to accept, implement, and pay for it. Badger vaccination of course comes with the heaviest of price tags; allowing badger culling alongside it, with continued inadequate cattle measures for as long as those in charge decide.

Several ‘Whole Genome Sequencing’ studies using badger and cattle dna samples were published as papers and reports this year. Results are full of limitations and uncertainties and argued this way and that. Much of it is speculation due to the uncertain timing of transmission events. This year also saw the results of the Edge Area ‘Badger Found Dead’ survey, showing that the bTB spoligotypes found in badgers and those in breakdown herds did not match other than in one or two places [3]. More evidence that the role of badgers is constantly being exaggerated by APHA.

Meanwhile, Wales decided to drop its expensive Test Vaccinate Remove (TVR) programme for chronic bTB herds, with its erratic DPP trap-side testing system. England has decided to throw £565,000 at a 3-year DIVA test for badgers to try to distinguish vaccinated from infected individuals [4].  Unfortunately, DIVA tests using the immune response are likely to share the same known uncertainties of the SICCT test. The approach ignores new technology that can directly identify bTB at low density in the blood (and milk) of animals (Phage testing ) and which is so valuable for detecting Johne’s disease.

2021 was a year with growing evidence to show that badgers are not significantly involved in causing or maintaining bovine tuberculosis transmission in cattle, and that badger culling holds no true meaning or value in attempts to control cattle TB.  This provides us with further motivation to push over this rotten mountain of misinformation that perpetuates a failed policy supported by vested interests. To call out the clouded judgment of those ‘in too deep’ to see and recognize the hole they are in and to stop digging. The Geronimo alpaca case, where vets could not find evidence of infection, yet government came out with a lame cover story, exposes just how sickly, government veterinary management has become.

In Northern Ireland we are working on their consultation regarding badger interventions, and have warned DAERA of the potential for legal action should they cross red lines and engage in an ‘English-style’ badger cull in 2022.

At Westminster, Owen Paterson, the man who pushed the badger cull into life in 2013, has been exposed for his sleazy breaking of parliamentary rules. He has gone, and with him, his constituency seat. Maybe this is a sign that things are changing and that truth and accurate evidence will replace the bTB nonsense that we have perpetually been served since 2010.

So we will come out fighting again in 2022, with added resolve and determination. We are the Badger Crowd and we fight for badgers.

With thanks again for all the kind messages of support and with all good wishes for Christmas and the New Year to you and your families,

Tom Langton, for the Badger Crowd.

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 rose 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 from 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.

Image

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.