Tony Juniper, a new King, and the ecological impact of killing badgers

Dominic Dyer, chairing the State of the Earth evening session at Birdfair on 15th July this year, asked two of his assembled panel guests about badger culling. The first, Sir Iain Boyd, the former Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) to Defra commented, beyond his usual emphasis that the problem is more with people than badgers, that he “suspected that the evidence is suggesting it doesn’t work”. And  “if badger culling isn’t working it shouldn’t be done, that’s absolutely clear.” Presumably, a reference to the most recent peer reviewed science (here).

The second guest, Tony Juniper, currently chairman of Natural England, freshly reappointed for another 3 years, was asked about the ecological impact of changing ecosystems by removing most of a dominant species.  His response was slightly less coherent. Knowing his staff had just issued more supplementary killing licences and were in the final stages of lining up licences for a further 40,000 mostly healthy badgers to be killed this and the following three autumns. He picked words carefully: “we did say that it wouldn’t be a good idea” and “Natural England’s advice was that it probably wouldn’t work and we should try other methods” and (not answering the question) “will it have an effect on protected sites and protected species?..  we are looking at that too.”

Not mentioned by him,  Juniper’s hands were tied due to a legal case that would play out a fortnight later in the High Court, that turned into a spectacular environmental travesty (here), remining us just how far government and the judiciary are now leaning towards unsound, politically expedient policies. Briefly, Defra remade its improper decision not to look at impacts from badger culling, supported by Natural England, without telling the court or the claimant. It rubber stamped its do-nothing approach in a way that meant Defra and Natural England could carry on doing little or nothing, escaping justice via the back door. It was ‘too late and too expensive’ now to study and deal with the problem anyway, was their best position, and that was their final decision. Looking at it was all they were doing.

Natural England had promised the courts in 2018 that they were on the case, with a research programme that was kept secret. Secret, it turns out because the BTO analysis used to justify continued culling had mistakes in it, and so had to be held back for two years while culling continued and Natural England staff worked with BTO to get the work through peer review. More recent events in the sorry saga have been exposed thanks to wildlife stalwart Mark Avery (here) and his guest blogs by the main expert witness for the three Judicial Reviews, Dominic Woodfield (here). Dominic has, in his blogs and comments, unzipped the whole matter from start to finish and dealt with the response from BTO during the sordid passage of the work over its last five years.  It is worth taking the time to read the new blog and those that went before, to get a firm understanding of how Natural England have obfuscated their statutory duty and worked hard at minimising effort to examine the problem, while at the same time helping badger cull companies with advice and support to find their cull targets.

Juniper is aware of this of course, and efforts to get funding from Defra to look at the issue may have been turned down. But he has another problem. He has a relationship with and has written a book with Prince Charles. Who is a known lobbiest for badger culling, with his ‘black spider’ letters urging Tony Blair to start culling, a notable royal intervention (here). There followed a concerted effort to neutralise badger culling opposition in mainstream wildlife ngos between 2008 and 2013. Now Prince is King, what will happen? The King faces the reality that the tenuous evidence of badger involvement in bTB in cattle fifteen years ago, then presented as strong evidence, remain tenuous. Critically, recently published research using all of the relevant government data suggests that badger culling since 2013 simply shows no sign at all of working. This is despite Defra’s attempt to use small selective amounts of data with over-elaborate variables to try to show that it does. Defra used their most senior staff CSA Gideon Henderson and Chief Vet Christine Middlemiss to try to rebut the new published research, but this has only made them look foolish. They published, then retracted flawed data (here) that showed huge benefits from badger culling in its first two years, while insisting in their rebuttal of the new analysis that there is little or no benefit to be had in the first 2 years. Leaving professional vets, scientists and commentators completely baffled. Juniper and Charles III now have a big opportunity to help put things right that have gone terribly wrong on their watch.

Most of all, with the BTO paper just published (behind a pay wall), there is a final piece of chicanery. There is no sign of the all-important last line of the conclusions in the papers introductory abstract. The latest BTO magazine simply says that a similar (to the new publication) minimal approach might be repeated. Yet in the BTO paper, the authors call for a landscape-scale quasi-experimental approach: “to provide stronger inference about the complex potential ecological effects of culling predators such as the badger” 

More and more journals are making sure that study limitations are placed in scientific papers and their abstracts, partly a response to the science reproducibility crisis. What this all means is that Natural England corner-cut to address important questions about the effects of the ecological impact of culling. It now admits that the minimal approach it employed is inadequate, and points to the kind of study it now agrees should have been done. This, in truth, is confession of guilt when there is little chance of a retrial before thousands more badgers are gunned down.

You can read Dominic Woodfields new blog ‘New paper same old same old’ here.

The Daily Mail, Defra and the bTB story that just keeps growing

Has Defra had enough of experts? Its own experts that is?

Last week The Daily Mail published a story (here) around the release of a Freedom of Information request (here). This FOI showed that the Deputy Director of the bovine TB Programme at Defra wrote to the journal Veterinary Record (VR) trying to influence the peer-review process of a new scientific analysis of badger cull data, Langton, Jones and McGill, (here), and largely failed.

The Mail story was published on Tuesday 30th August and names Eleanor Brown as the senior official who wrote to VR Editor Susanne Jarvis on 2nd March 2022, just a few weeks before the paper appeared in print. It laid down extensive criticisms aimed at the manuscript that they had been sent ahead of publication, where they stated that it was the VR Editorial Board’s (Headed by Lord Trees) decision as to whether to publish it or not. Defra thought it should not be published and made that very clear to a journal that extensively publishes government science.

The original Mail article implied that VR had been ‘forced’ to seek changes to the manuscript. The VR Editorial Board had in fact called a special meeting to discuss challenges to the paper, that Defra’s email in early March claimed was full of errors and flaws. However, the VR Editorial Board found that there was nothing wrong with the statistical work, which was found to be robust. These senior national and international veterinarians, with the VR staff, resting on the detailed reviews of no less than four peer reviewers decided that Defra’s accusations held little substance, and published the paper largely unaltered. The paper showed badger culling lacked any signs of working. Badger culling has not affected bTB herd breakdown in the High Risk Area of England since 2013.

The Daily Mail then republished the article the next day (31st August), removing the claim that Defra had ‘forced’ the Veterinary Record to make changes to the paper. The truth was that  in order to proceed with publication, VR had required the authors to write-in Defra’s apparent intention to publish something in the future, using data it had kept secret, and describe it as a limitation to the study. Something that was dubious, but was made a condition of the paper not being blocked. So the Mail got it right in that there was an element of ‘watering down’ due to the Editorial Board meeting, but nothing that impacted the full force of the paper’s findings that showed that  Defra’s badger culling policy had been a total failure.

Defra’s view that the analysis was flawed was therefore roundly rejected by over a dozen leading experts in the field. However, Defra had been invited to comment on the new paper for a short news piece to accompany the publication of Langton et al in the same edition of the journal. But this ‘comment’ somehow morphed into a full-page critique, fronted by the Chief Scientific Adviser Gideon Henderson and Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss. This  contained and expanded on the sentiments of Eleanor Brown’s email. It  persisted with the claims that the paper was ‘flawed’. This was published under the guise of a ‘letter’ in the very same issue.

These highly unusual events then became farcical when commentators immediately recognised errors in Defra’s alternative view.  But Defra then held out for six weeks before admitting that their letter was flawed. They then revised it. Saying it didn’t matter anyway because they were right and in effect, that the study, Vet Record editorial staff and the peer reviewers were all wrong (here).  In response to last weeks Mail story, Defra even put out a defiant blog on 30 August repeating their original nonsense and unchecked views using small amounts of data for the unculled area comparison (here).

The 30 Aug Defra  blog stated:

“As we had been invited to, we presented our findings to Vet Record to help inform its editorial decisions around publication of the paper, with the journal deciding to publish the study alongside a letter of response from the Chief Vet and Defra Chief Scientific Adviser. There was absolutely no attempt to make changes to the scientific research, as the Mail claims was the case.”

For some reason any comments made to this blog criticising Defra’s restatement of their flawed position were removed. Interesting.

So Defra now say that it never attempted to try to get changes made to the science. Yet it wanted to go over the head of the VR staff and peer-reviewers to the Editorial Board? And turned an invite for a news piece comment into a mini-paper that was wrong, dressed up as a letter.

Readers can be the judge of whether science was handled ethically in this instance. Defra say they made no attempt to make changes, yet they wrote to VR in very clear and emotive terms a few weeks before publication, and having been ignored, completed a hurried un-peer-reviewed missive that itself was full of error, ambiguity and secrecy. They were successful in getting the VR Editorial Board to require a smattering of changes stating that Defra had other ideas. Un peer-reviewed science of the future influencing peer-reviewed science of the present?

This actually all looks more than a bit dubious from the perspective of publishing ethics. It has to be asked, who is going to look into it? Having re-stated their views on their new blog, Defra have begun signing off new four-year intensive badger cull licences in 10 new cull areas this autumn, with 40,000 or so more badgers condemned. But Defra are wrong. They (wrongly) claim large benefits from badger culling in the first two years of culling, as they did in 2017, yet say this data cannot be used in the Langton et al analysis. And then they won’t talk about it and neither will Natural England’s statistical expert Peter Brotherton. Natural England as a whole have clammed up, presumably because Defra won’t explain their thinking to them either.

The Minister George Eustice owns the badger cull policy and is closely managing it. He must now be aware of what his staff have done. He may even be a part of it. They have painted themselves into a corner and gone to ground. Has he had enough of his experts yet? If he survives the reshuffle that is. If not, perhaps the dodgy legacy will be his, and a new Minister will get to grips with the ridiculous, unscientific yet defiant behaviour of Defra and its agencies on bovine TB and badger culling. As hundreds of badgers a day are shot for no good reason, the evidence clearly points to bad government and desperate measures. This policy of killing largely healthy, protected animals in a manner found cruel by the British Veterinary Association is out of control.

Environmental principles ‘usurped’ as Badger Cull ecological impacts case is hijacked

On Tuesday 26th July 2022 at the Court of Appeal in London, case CA-2021-001918 was heard: The Queen on the Application of Langton v The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs & Anr was heard in Court 71.  The presiding judges were Lady Justice Macur, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Lord Justice Dingemans.

It was not a good day for badgers, or for public interest concerned with how government policy impacts the UKs increasingly nature-depleted rural areas. It showed a sinister ploy by the Government to defeat a well constructed legal claim in what is plainly backroom conduct that only came to light in April 2022, after the Court of Appeal had granted permission for the appeal to be heard. Most of all it shows the level of thinking in government where winning and ‘doing it our way’, takes precedence over doing what is right and in the public interest.

The decisions, read with the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommendations published just two days later, could not provide a  more stark contradiction. Government has created a new low bar, where not knowing enough, not being able to afford essential research and ignoring official reports pointing to evidence gaps, are all good reasons to do nothing. Biodiversity protection just entered a dangerous void, thanks to those in charge at Defra and Natural England.

Background

This case was an appeal from the High Court judgement of August 2021 [2021] EWHC 2199 (Admin), where Mr Justice Griffiths concluded that the Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice, was not required to ‘have regard’ to the potential impacts of badger culling policy on biodiversity under Section 40 of the NERC Act 2006, see here. This was in respect of listed priority species and habitats and the potential disruption of biodiversity by removal of badgers from the wider countryside.

The first stage of the Court of Appeal hearing was to consider whether the appeal had become “academic”, after permission to appeal had been granted by Justice Simler on 13th April, following late evidence from Defra in the form of the witness statement of Eleanor Brown dated 28 April 2022 and submitted by the Secretary of State.

Ms Brown’s witness statement showed that Defra took steps to remedy the same defect alleged in the High Court case regarding the all-important section 40 duty to consider biodiversity impacts. The Secretary of State had conceded before Justice Griffiths the assessment under section 40 had not been done when adopting Next Steps in 2020. It was a rearguard action that had significant implications for the case when it was finally before the Court of Appeal this July.

Ms. Brown is DEFRA’s Veterinary Head for TB Policy Advice. She told the Court in her witness statement that following the judgment in the High Court in July 2021, that although Defra had “won” the case, in October 2021, Defra officials nevertheless took steps in case that decision was overturned, and to prepare papers for the Secretary of State, to be signed off in December 2021. This would include the missing s40 assessment of the effects of badger culling on biodiversity. Ms Brown explains that the Defra officials invited the Secretary of State to consider whether to continue with Next Steps badger control policy. A copy of the briefing note to the minister can be found here. Our view of the Minister’s briefing was that it was a wholly inadequate summary of previous information about the risk of badger culling and manifestly failed to fully assess the wider ecological risks.

Ms Brown’s evidence was challenged as being a breach of the duty of candor, given that Ms Brown, and the Government Legal Department who acts for the Secretary of State in legal proceedings, kept these October 2021- December 2021 activities secret both from parties to the case and from the Court, and only declared them once permission to Appeal had been granted in mid-April 2022.

The case for the claimant is made

The question of the Appeal being ‘academic’ (without legal means for ‘relief’: to quash the unlawful original policy, as challenged) was considered as the first stage in the court process. Mr Richard Turney (Landmark Chambers) for the claimant, argued that although relief in respect of the quashing of the badger cull 2020 ‘Next Steps’ policy was no longer available, due to the Secretary of State having latterly remedied any potential omission ‘to have regard’ in December 2021, (Ground 4), an important point of principle remained. This was in respect to the legal requirement to ‘have regard’ under the NERC Act 2006 when making decisions of this sort (Grounds 1 and 2). The claimant was nevertheless entitled to a hearing and if successful, ‘declaratory relief’, this being recognition of the legal error in respect of the generic approach to the issue and the judgement by Mr. Justice Griffiths in August 2021.

Mr. Turney emphasised the importance of the case, that badger culling is highly controversial and possibly the largest intervention ever for protected wild species in the UK. The same duty to ‘conserve biodiversity’ (a central component of obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992) is now to be taken forward in the 2021 Environment Act. Some parts have yet to come into force, but it is potentially weakened by the original 2021 Griffiths judgement by giving space for provisions to be avoided where uncertainty exisits.  Mr. Justice Griffiths judgement was said to be, in Mr. Turney’s view, ‘stark’:  if the biodiversity duty does not apply in these circumstances, would it apply in any circumstances?

The government responds

Mr. Hanif Mussa QC (Blackstone Chambers) for the government took the court to the government’s ‘no difference’ argument, that it would have done what it did (not take steps to consider, investigate, avoid, monitor, and take action to mitigate potential ecological impacts of badger culling) irrespective of its consideration of the biodiversity duty. He submitted that the claim had to be dismissed because the court no longer had authority to continue. He submitted that the 2021 Environment Act was sufficiently different for the decision not to be that relevant and that there were currently no outstanding cases where the outcome might rest on this case.

He referred to Dr Brown’s witness statement that research into potential impacts would take too long and there was no point studying them over the four years remaining of culling.

Court of Appeal decides not to hear the case.

Within two hours of consideration, the judges came to their conclusion that by reconsidering the matter in December 2021, Defra had corrected any possible error in the Secretary of State’s earlier procedure and therefore any consideration of relief in 2022 was therefore academic.

With respect to the matter being considered on Appeal as exceptional circumstances, the judges did not seem too interested in the issue over whether the subject of the case was part of an ‘ongoing relationship’ between Mr. Langton and Natural England (remedies in the 2017 and 2018 cases proved the long running dispute) although they were ‘aware’ of Natural England’s communications with the claimant.  

Whether the wording of the 2021 Environment Act is sufficiently different to that of the 2006 NERC Act in respect of the Section 40 duty and for there to be a significant concern over the decision affecting future decisions withthe new legislation did not appear to be appreciated as a compelling argument of much interest to the court.  This is where it might be argued most forcefully that the Court of Appeal let things down.

Finally, whether there were other cases waiting to be heard on the point, and to which this Appeal related seemed to be important, and because none were known this appeared to act against the argument for a full hearing so the three judges decided to close the hearing down.

Conclusions

It is disappointing that the Court of Appeal decided not permit the substantive merits of the case to be aired and allowed an important public interest case to be “played” by Defra through the submission of very late evidence that had the effect of rendering the claim ‘academic’, so that the merits were not decided.

For now, there remains doubt over the validity of the main ground in the case as to whether the s40 duty was engaged when Ministers considered Next Steps policy in 2020, and we continue to maintain that the Court of Appeal judges could and should have heard the case given the important legal issue before them.

Defra and Natural England’s conduct since 2013 and during this litigation is worthy of more extended analysis. Those who started off defending doing nothing, and who dug in further when badger culling was rolled out and fought not to take steps and then had to give in a little in 2017 and 2018 doing the minimum possible and in secret. All that behaviour is on the record. There is also a public discussion to be had on the utility of Senior Courts Act when it is used in this way – to remedy clear errors of law after the event, and only in the face of legal challenge, with a claim ‘no difference’ to avoid any consequence.

This repeated approach is against every principle of natural justice.  It also suggests that neglect of, or wilful failure to abide by legal duties and responsibilities is now open to Government departments to employ as a default. Employed on the basis that legal challenges exposing such failures will be precipitated in only a minority of instances, and in such situations, you just remedy the error, claim no difference and can be confident the courts will award no sanction or relief. This disgrace holds all the hallmarks a broken system that can and will be used to limit the expectations that might be had for the 2021 Environment Act.

House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommendations

Published just two days later, compare what is being promoted with what happened in this case. In the Environment Act 2021, Parliament agreed five environmental principles which are to guide Ministers and their officials in the formulation of policy. These principles are:

• the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies

• the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage

• the precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment

• the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source

• the polluter pays principle.

Environmental principles of this type are widely used to inform national governments in their approach to environmental policymaking. Reference to them is to be found in several multilateral treaties on the environment, and they are explicitly included in European Union treaties as a foundation of EU environmental law.

After the hearing Claimant Tom Langton commented:

“It is fair to say we have been outmaneuvered by a Ministry intent on culling badgers and ignoring its duty to properly protect the environment from the unmeasured, unmonitored changes that culling may bring about across the wider countryside. The decision not to examine the initial ruling means that our biodiversity crisis has just got deeper, with one of the few statutory requirements to hold back the influence of commercial exploitation on wild species and habitats shown to be both slight and expendable. Many of the basic principles of environmental safeguard have been avoided and this is a bad day both for badgers and biodiversity protection. We will fight on and expose the unscientific and undemocratic actions and attitudes that typify the destruction of our environment and fuel the biodiversity and climate catastrophe.

Environmental impacts expert witness Dominic Woodfield, from Bioscan UK said:

“I believe the refusal to hear the case represents a fundamental failure of jurisdiction, in an instance where any application of logic shows the first instance decision to have been flawed. That failure has been lapped up by Defra and the Government Legal Department, despite their actions since in re-making the decision, demonstrating that they have always known the first instance judgment to be wrong. We went to the court of appeal in the hope of seeing bad law corrected, and if the Court of Appeal are not interested in doing so, one wonders whether the hard work in getting the Environment Act 2021 onto the statute books has been fruitless, even before it has properly come into effect.”

See also here regarding the infamous BTO reports, part of a related ‘broken’ promise by Natural England to monitor badger cull impacts effectively.

Thanks for the huge effort since 2020, to try and bring justice for badgers and their wild communities.

Thanks are extended to the legal team acting for Mr. Langton: Richard Turney and Ben Fullbrook of Landmark Chambers and Lisa Foster and Hannah Norman of Richard Buxton Solicitors, expert witness Dominic Woodfield of Bioscan UK and 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 legal action against aspects of the ‘Next Steps’ policy in 2020, Badger Trust Sussex for administrative assistance and 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 several generous individuals. Hundreds of badger workers and the general public have also chipped in to spread the load. Others have helped with a wide range of supporting actions: research, advice, publicity and coordination. Thank you all.

References

House of Commons 2022. Environmental Audit Committee recommendations on the Government’s draft environmental principles policy statement Third Report of Session 2022–23.

https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/23278/documents/169773/default/       

Record of hearing: Court of Appeal video archive. Search for:  Langton (claimant/appellant) v The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (defendant/respondent)

Outcome of the ecological impacts legal case at the Court of Appeal on 26 July

A detailed account of the legal aspects of what happened last Tuesday 26th is currently being prepared with the help of legal advisors. This is an initial summary of what happened, what it means and where we go from here. The investment of many people in this legal case has been considerable, with a large number of organisations and individuals giving time and resources generously over the last two years. Learning from the outcomes when you don’t win is important and can be valuable, and we will make sure we use the experience to best advantage.

As you may know, the previous cases concerning ecological impacts on designated sites in the High Risk Area in 2017 and 2018 managed to move Natural England to create a system whereby they assessed each designated site for possible outcomes caused by removing badgers and changing the wild community dynamics of species and habitats of international importance. In many cases NE started to impose conditions intended to protect the most strictly biodiversity interests where there had previously been none.  Despite this, and as with other large-scale actions such as the release of huge numbers of game birds for people to shoot, there is a view within Natural England that the impacts of badger culling are low, even if factual evidence for that position is lacking and chronically under-researched. No matter how uncertain the data is in relation to negative effects, the commercial interest in the damaging activity takes precedent. And while the judge in the previous cases chided Natural England for being in breach of their statutory duty, the resulting actions in response have been largely a tick box exercise involving game keeping in shooting areas near nature reserves and a flimsy exercise using volunteer bird watching data held by the British Trust for Ornithology that leaves a lot to be desired (see here). There has been no actual monitoring of change over time in the designated sites, no detailed research (it would cost a lot and is too late now, says government). Basically, Natural England have maintained their position on the back of no proper evidence, that effects are small, and their view is that precautions are barely necessary. They just ride along happily with inadequate resources to do their job thoroughly, and obediently back up their master Defra when questions are asked. The legal challenges have forced them to improve assessments and protective provisions somewhat, but only in relation to protected sites. The latest challenge that began in 2020 and ended in the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, sought to expose and address the illogicality of Defra and NE’s position that there was an agreed need for assessments and protective provisions in and around designated sites, but no such provision in the wider countryside, even dealing with precisely the same species.

So, what went wrong on Tuesday? Well, it started last year when we had the main Judicial Review hearing in July 2021, having waited for over a year to get into court following the 2020 ‘Next Steps’ policy. In August, Mr. Justice Griffiths decided that it was okay for the Secretary of State not to have regard for protection of NERC Act (2006) species and habitats when making the policy. We thought this was plainly wrong and so did many others. Natural England and Defra evidently also thought Mr Justice Griffiths’ decision was vulnerable to being overturned on appeal, and decided on a clandestine plan to cover their backs with some ‘after-the-event’ actions. So, whilst the appeal claim  was being lodged in August 2021, Defra and Natural England were quietly cobbling together a briefing for the Secretary of State (comprised of not very much) to rectify his failure to ‘have regard’ to biodiversity when making the decision to adopt ‘Next Steps’.

This briefing to the Secretary of State on the biodiversity implications of the badger cull (pursuant to the NERC Act 2006 duty) was kept secret, possibly because it was a clear admission that the Government itself also believed that Mr Justice Griffiths had erred when ruling that the biodiversity duty didn’t apply to the impugned Next Steps decision. Not withstanding the recommendations in 2018 (Godfray Review) that further research of biodiversity effects was needed, the duty was thus discharged after the event and in the most cursory manner. Without anyone knowing, without anyone being consulted and without anyone being give the chance to say, hang on, your do-nothing approach is flawed.

Secretary of State George Eustice signed this off behind everyone’s back in December 2021 and the Government then sat on it. They didn’t tell the claimant or the Court of Appeal what they had done. Why not? Because Defra have always liked to play for time and keeping people in the dark is a way of minimising the public interest right to monitor potential government bad practice. In April of this year, the Court of Appeal granted permission for the Appeal case to be heard. Defra then played the card that they had kept up their sleeve. They announced to the court what they had done via a witness statement from Vet Eleanor Brown, deputy head of bovine TB policy at Defra, resting on the Natural England re-hash of the little that is known about ecological impacts of mass-killing healthy badgers. By remaking the decision, Eustice was in effect saying that even if  judge Griffiths did get it wrong, I have considered it now and so I can go ahead and cull this year – you can’t stop me. Your appeal is now of academic interest only because the Appeal judges cannot quash the 2020 policy in front of the 2022 cull season. Defra wrote to the courts wanting the Appeal dismissed before the hearing date that had already been expedited to the end of July.

Of course, this pulled much of the rug from under the legal challenge, and more legal advice was needed. The advice was that there was a chance that the Court of Appeal would still appreciate the trickery that had gone on, and want to correct the legal mistake of Mr. Justice Griffiths and hear the appeal accordingly.  The Court of Appeal admitted the new Defra evidence describing what Defra had done behind everyone’s back on 4th July, set the hearing for 26th July and appointed the three judges.

At the start of the Appeal hearing,  the legitimacy of the request to obtain what is called ‘declaratory relief’  (recognition of the incorrect judgement) would become the first part of the session – simplified to the legal arguments as to whether the case was ‘academic’ or not, i.e. the Griffiths  judgement being determined as wrong, even if the defendant (Defra) isn’t obliged to do anything other than lose and pay costs to the claimant. The judges decided after 90 minutes that they would shut down the case straight away and not hear it. They seemed initially a bit conflicted. We might ask what the point was in holding an Appeal only to shut it down before it happened? This was because the judges decided to take the position on there being no need for the Minister to give relief (remake the policy) because of what he had done behind backs and because of a provision in something called the Senior Courts Act – specifically Section 31(2A). This clause can be used by a defendant (and has been by Defra in the past) to get around legal sanction by claiming that even if an action (decision, policy etc) was done in the wrong way, ‘had I done it in the right way I would still have made the same decision’. This is a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card, but this is no game. It is governments way of getting away with malpractice and is another part of the story as to how badger culling will continue as government out-manoeuvres public good by throwing time and money (at public expense) at ways to avoid doing things openly and correctly. They might think they have been clever. But they haven’t, they have been somewhere between devious and deceitful, and it does not make for open government or fairness. It is a will to win, only to win and to back up the government policy at all costs. It is a will not to address legitimate concerns about the erosion of the countryside.

As for the badgers and our wildlife in rural areas – they will continue to be subject to the subtle, unmonitored and unresearched stochastic forces that apply to our fragmented landscapes. They will be buffeted by the unpredictable activities of many land managers whose view of British wildlife is that they are pests to commercial land use, to be constantly depleted to low numbers, even if this displaces and disperses them to greater distance and into unfamiliar areas where they seek to feed and compete with resident animals.

We therefore did not get justice, we were strung out by a combination of a government keen to ‘win dirty’ and a Court of Appeal apparently disinterested in a bad legal decision, the biodiversity crisis and the strength of legislation in the 2006 or 2021 Acts, where duties to biodiversity are enshrined. How easy will it be now where there is uncertainty, a lack of research and need for precautions for someone to say, ‘well, these duties don’t really add up to much, do they?’  So it was a bad day for badgers, a bad day for wildlife and a bad day for public interest.

We must try not to be too downhearted and take the fight back to government in every way possible to stop the failed, pointless, damaging , unscientific, cruel and wasteful badger culls. Huge thanks are extended to our legal team, Richard Turney and Ben Fullbrook of Landmark Chambers and Lisa Foster and Hannah Norman of Richard Buxton solicitors, expert witness Dominic Woodfield and 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 legal action against aspects of the ‘Next Steps’ policy in 2020, Badger Trust Sussex for administrative assistance and 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 several generous individuals. Hundreds of badger workers and the public have also chipped in to spread the load. Others have helped with a wide range of supporting actions: research, advice, publicity, and coordination. Thanks to all turning up in London over the last two weeks to show support for the badger culls to be ended.

What has happened is bad governance at the highest level, but we are used to that these days. We will take the learning and redouble our efforts.

Thank you for your part in this. Further information will follow over the next few days and weeks.

Reactions to George Eustice avoiding fair legal scrutiny

The deeply disappointing news is that the legal Appeal, granted by the Court of Appeal in April and reopening the judgements in the High Court of Mr Justice Griffiths in 2021, has at the last minute been refused. It would have examined the claim of judicial error over potential ecological impacts of badger culling, and the NERC Act 2006, that the government has worked hard to deny. The case has been blocked, and the impugned decision has been protected by those who brought about the legal problem in the first place and then covered it up.

Having been given a date for the hearing, and arrived in court on Tuesday 26th July in expectation of the case being heard, the legal team were turned away after 90 minutes following representations relating to Defra’s last minute actions. Permission for a full hearing was denied due to legal tricks, prepared in secret over the previous nine months, crafted by Defra and Natural England to prevent matters proceeding.This is rough justice and shows that the government is more interested in ‘playing dirty’ than having an open and honest consideration of the essential duties that it carries out on behalf of the general public for the benefit of the environment.

Be very aware that this is the government that has presided over the worsening biodiversity catastrophe in nature-depleted England over the last decade, manoeuvring to prevent the natural course of justice over an issue of huge importance and uncertainty and ensuring that their ‘do-nothing’ approach is sustained.

A full account of events is being prepared and will be placed on this site in the next few days. But for an immediate reaction, please read Charlie Moores blog post here. Charlie, who many of you will know, runs ‘Off the Leash’ podcasts. He has kindly helped publicise the case, and provided an opportunity for the claimant Tom Langton and his expert witness Dominic Woodfield to discuss the important issues at stake in this latest of legal challenges in a podcast here. He attended the Court on Tuesday to listen to proceedings, met with many of the badger protection folk who turned up outside the court to give support, and his blog gives a heartfelt insight into his experience of the judicial system in action.

We will post more about this case shortly.

Badger Culls, Biodiversity, Birds, and the High Court

For an in-depth preview of the upcoming Court of Appeal hearing (Tuesday July 26th) on aspects of the ecological impacts of badger culling, have a listen to this ‘Off the Leash’ podcast of Charlie Moores talking to Tom Langton & Dominic Woodfield

It’s a sobering story of how difficult it is to get justice for badgers and their wild communities  in the Courts. The Courts can accept (and have done in previous cases) the arguments made by claimants. But  government may still evade taking sensible and necessary precautions to avoid the side-effects of removing 70-95% of badgers. They do this via vague promises and superficial actions to monitor, assuming ‘absence of evidence’ to be ‘evidence of absence’, and by using the ‘no difference’ argument. In this way, they enable culling to continue and avoid undertaking proper research and subsequent avoidance and safeguards.

The interview is long and involved but  gives an insight into the really important principles behind this Appeal, and the problem of holding a slippery government to act properly within the detail & spirit of the law.

A letter to the Prime Minister

A letter signed by 30 veterinary and environmental professionals has today been sent to the outgoing Prime Minster Boris Johnson and other members of the government calling for an immediate moratorium on badger culling in England. Those signing the letter include the three authors of a recently published peer-reviewed paper (read here) on the efficacy of the badger cull using government data.  

A moratorium would allow time for independent scrutiny to establish the veracity of the independent scientific evidence as well as Defra’s claims, and to consider whether culling should be permanently ended as a result. It would also allow for a re-evaluation of the bovine TB eradication policy based on the latest scientific evidence rather than received wisdom that is decades out of date.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said:

“It couldn’t be clearer – badger culling simply doesn’t stop the spread of TB in cattle. Yet even when presented with this evidence, DEFRA has its fingers in its ears, and continues to kill at will. We need to see a moratorium to allow time for independent scrutiny of the evidence – which I have no doubt will reinforce the message that this cruel and counterproductive badger cull must come to an end.”

Tom Langton, the lead author of the independent study said:

“Defra have painted themselves into a ridiculous scientific corner and now simply refuse to discuss it. This is the sign of a government that has lost its grip and cannot accept that its own data now shows badger culling to be a cruel and ineffective failure. It’s Defra’s version of ‘Don’t look up!’.”

Veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free and one of the co-authors of the scientific analysis, said:

“Huge numbers of badgers have been killed across vast swathes of the west of England over the past decade, ostensibly to control the spread of TB in cattle. However, in spite of Government claims, evidence that the culls are working is lacking. No further badgers should suffer and die for the sake of this failed policy. It’s time that badger culling was ended.”

The letter can be viewed here. The letter is featured in an article in The Guardian here. More from Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free, and an author of the scientific analysis which led to the letter can be found here.

Badger cull eco-impacts to be heard next week:

Court of Appeal hearing date has been set for Tuesday July 26th

Next week: Tuesday 26th July, the Court of Appeal in London will reconsider the 2021 Judicial Review finding, in respect of the judgement of Justice Griffiths in the High Court. This is relates to the Secretary of State’s (George Eustice) alleged failure to have regard under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 when approving the 2020 ‘Next Steps’ policy to allow badger culling in England to expand.

The original claim, brought by ecologist Tom Langton, and supported by the Badger Crowd Network, was that of a failure of government to adequately consider the potential ecological impacts of mass badger removal upon priority species and habitats across the wider countryside. It argued that there was a deficiency in the government for not taking adequate steps to deal with potential impacts.

Earlier hearings in 2017 and 2018 brought similar claims in respect of ecological impacts upon statutory designated sites of national and international importance. It resulted in the initiation of measures to more properly address potential impacts. Such safeguards are missing away from designated sites.

The Appeal is marked for a one-day hearing with an outcome likely before the commencement of continued intensive badger culling in September 2022.

Badgers back in court in July

Who tampered with the data when examining potential ecosystem impacts?

In the last week of July 2022, the Court of Appeal in London will reconsider the 2021 Judicial Review findings of Defra’s alleged failures, under their NERC Act (2006) duty in relation to badger culling. The original claim was that of a failure of government to adequately consider the potential ecological impacts of mass badger removal upon priority species and habitats in badger cull areas under the Act, and to take adequate steps to deal with them.

Now is an appropriate time to report on one important aspect of the case. It relates to a scientific paper published in February 2021 in the journal Bird Study, published by the British Trust for Ornithology, entitled “A comparison of breeding bird populations inside and outside of European Badger (Meles meles) control areas”.

A forerunner of this paper was an unpublished report using BTO volunteer data, that was used in decision making, yet labelled by Defra agency Natural England (NE) as ‘secret’. It had been referred to in NE ecological impacts guidelines, having been cobbled together to try to show the judiciary that Natural England had not completely overlooked the subject after all, and were treating it seriously. NE needed to show something, having been found by a High Court judge as being in breach of duty in respect of SSSI protection.

Why then was this earlier report, prepared in 2018 and cited in government advice, not available publicly until 2021 and despite multiple requests for access to it, as is normal?  It is now a story that is worthy of close scrutiny. It is a story that the main expert witness in the case, Dominic Woodfield, a professional in ecological impact assessment, has devoted much time and energy to in support of the legal challenges. He tells clearly and concisely the story of what has happened in his new guest blog for Mark Avery.

We think it sheds more than a little light on the way Natural England, and their handlers Defra, are managing information with the aim of providing the messaging that they are looking for, to facilitate the continuation of badger culling policy. Policy-lead evidence if ever you saw it?

You can find the full story here on Mark Avery’s blog..

See also: https://thebadgercrowd.org/badgers-back-in-in-court

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Defra in Denial?

A new peer reviewed scientific analysis (Langton et al.) of the effects of the current badger cull was published in Veterinary Record on March 18th this year. Alongside the summary of the paper, Defra published a rebuttal of the science. There followed a conversation in Vet Record over the Langton et al. data versus the Defra data, and six weeks later Defra admitted that they’d got their data wrong. This is very worrying as it suggests that they have not been accurately monitoring the effects of culling as they should be, and as they assured  a High Court Judge that they would back in 2018. Importantly, however, Defra maintained that although they had got their calculations wrong, this didn’t change their overall conclusion that the Langton et al. paper was ‘wrong’.

So what have Defra said is ‘wrong’ about the Langton et al. analysis? Let’s take a look……

Their main argument seems to be that data has been ‘inappropriately grouped’ because the impact of culling on cattle takes some time to appear. They claim this because Langton et al. add culled areas into  the analysis in the years following commencement of culling. However, since Defra originally forecast an average annual 16% benefit from badger culling starting from year one, this is an appropriate approach. Indeed their own graph shows substantive declines in bTB herd breakdown incidence in year 1 and year 2. It is not clear how Defra’s argument can be valid on its own presentation. And even if there was some ‘dilution’ or ‘masking’ effect created by having early-year cull data in the analysis, if badger culling was, as claimed by Defra, ‘working’, it would still be possible to pick up a signal of any so-called ‘benefit’ from culling.  But there is no detectable effect. None. Twenty-six statistical models failed to find any effect. Four independent peer reviewers, including epidemiological statistician specialists agreed and found the analyses robust.

OK, so actually there is nothing ‘flawed’ or ‘inappropriate’ or ‘wrong’ about the methodology as used in the paper, but Defra seem to carry on in denial, not wanting a conversation about it. How about the data analysis that Defra’s Christine Middlemiss and Gideon Henderson present in Vet Record, and which is also presented by Chief Vet Middlemiss in her 18th March blog?

Well, their graph starts in September 2015, not 2013 when the current badger culling policy began. Why might they do this? bTB had been rising in the High Risk Area for years, with the same trend being observed in nearly all areas. By starting their graph in 2015, Defra is obscuring the fact that bTB had already peaked before badger culling was rolled out to any extent, and has subsequently been declining in all areas. The Defra approach is called ‘selective use of data’, and it conceals the bigger picture of what is more likely happening, as shown in the published paper.

Again, Defra selected a subset of ‘never culled’ badger cull areas to compare with ‘culled’ areas. Why have they done this? Because if you compare ‘all’ the unculled areas  with ‘all’ the culled areas, those 26 different statistical models used in Langton et al. fail to find any difference in levels of bTB between them. What is the difference between Defra’s ‘never culled’ data area & Langton et al.’s unculled data area? Well for a start Defra’s never culled area is very much smaller  than Langton et al’s unculled area (see figure), about 30% of it in fact. Defra are are comparing only the blue (unculled) and red (culled) area data, but none of the green unculled area data; all area data were used in the Langton et al. analysis. The weakness of Defra’s analysis is their use of a smaller dataset. This could potentially exaggerate any difference between the compared areas. Again, Defra is selectively using data and adding uncertainty to claim a benefit, when impartial analysis using all suitable and available data shows there to be none. Defra’s approach is arguably less appropriate than that of Langton et al.. And of course their analysis is not peer reviewed, i.e. properly checked by independent experts. It is disappointing to see it being published.

What Defra are doing is picking pieces of data from areas of their choosing, using data from years of their choosing, holding them up, and saying, ‘look, we can see a difference’. It’s simply not acceptable to try to criticize a  piece of peer-reviewed science like this, using hastily cobbled together snippets, to get your calculations wrong, and still claim that you are right.

What Middlemiss, Henderson and a few paid Defra contractors seem unable to accept, is that the analysis in Langton et al. points very convincingly to  cattle testing initiating a reduction in bTB in Englands High Risk Area. Of all the statistical models used in Langton et al., it is the the one in which the cull is excluded that gave the greatest support i.e. a model that did not include culling as a covariate. So without the cull as an effect in the decline in bTB rates, it is cattle measures that are likely to be the driver and this is the best scientific evidence of that to-date.

There is a Crowd Fund for the upcoming Judicial Review Appeal of the ‘ecological impacts of badger culling’ case. You can donate to help cover essential costs here:

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Badger cull ecological impacts case –

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.

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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.