Funds urgently needed for Badger Cull High Court challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can donate here: Donate Here 

Two bits of news………..

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


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

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

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

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

Legal wheels turning again with new pre-action letter

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

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

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

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

“Next Steps” Defra consultation expires

Revised 27th April

Defra closed the 27th January consultation without allowing time to consider the implications of the 10th March data release. They have said they will respond to points raised by 6th April and the matter is now being considered by legal experts. Here are extracts from a consultation response by Tom Langton, based upon use of government data to show what has really been happening in the High Risk Area since 2010.

As further analysis is done, the results will be sent to Defra and Natural England and published. Meanwhile we expect the government to correct its mistaken view that badger cull is working and not to issue any further badger cull licences in 2021.


Bovine tuberculosis: consultation on proposals to help eradicate the disease in England. A consultation exercise contributing to the delivery of the government’s strategy for achieving bovine tuberculosis free status for England. “Next Steps” (March 2020) Policy Consultation.

The SSEFRA Minister’s statement of 27th January 2021

There is a fundamentally misleading and erroneous statement which features in, and indeed underpins, the consultation proposals. The Secretary of State’s Parliamentary statement of 27 January 20213 states that badger culling “…has played a critical role in helping to start turn the tide on this terrible disease.”

This is the justification for continued use of ‘intensive’ and ‘supplementary’ badger culling, as described in the current consultation. This statement has been widely repeated in the media in recent months and also by a range of government officials including the Chief Veterinary Officer. It underpins, and influences, the current consultation. The consultation itself asserts that “the current cull policy has been effective” (8.1) and refers in Figure 1. to Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

The consultation proposes that new rounds of badger cull licences will be issued authorising the culling of badgers for the next six years and beyond. It is estimated that a further 150,000 badgers may be culled under these proposals: as many or more, as have been killed to date. The risk of serious consequences to the farming & nature conservation stakeholders and to the public purse of getting the policy wrong and perpetuating the disease are obvious.

Recent communications on fair time for consideration.

Promptly after release of data on 10th march and while the consultation was still running, my representatives wrote to Defra and Natural England to ask that they postpone it and re-consult once the information and the Ministers view provided (as above)  have been corrected. This was both to ensure that a fair and lawful consultation is concluded and to ensure that the Secretary of State’s proposals are based on a proper understanding and articulation of the evidence. In light of the matters set out below, a decision to adopt badger culling policy without reviewing these matters would be liable to be quashed on an application for judicial review.

Specifically I refer to release of key information on bovine TB (bTB) statistics on 10th March 2021, just ten working days before the closure of the consultation that showed significant variance from the Ministers position. This is unreasonable, and an initial look at the data released in the time allowing shows it to be both extremely important and to lead to conclusions that contradict the wording of the Ministerial statement on 27th January.

More reasonably, a minimum of 6-8 weeks should be allowed in order to consider the data properly. It’s use, I believe would result in a very different conclusion to the Ministerial statement and one of sufficient substance that would otherwise make the consultation unfair and invalid, should the current basis for the consultation be retained.

Further key points

1. Whilst the proposal to cease supplementary badger culling  (SBC) is in principle welcomed, its continuance for a further five years, to February 2026, alongside intensive badger culling is completely unjustified and unacceptable given the new information.

2. Our letters to Natural England in relation to the licensing of SBC dated 8 March 2019 and 29 May 2019 refer to Prof. Boyd (CSA) describing the need for an ‘adaptive approach to policy development’. According to Prof. Boyd, badger culling will “often not work as predicted” and so an “operational control” method is needed, based upon “outcomes”.

3. Natural England, in its internal deliberations on the uncertainties of evidence when licensing culling, (Paper by Dr Tim Hill to Natural England Board meeting of 6 November 2019, released to Mr Langton under FoI in August 2020. RFI 5049) has noted:

“7.1. As implementation of the culling policy has progressed a series of evidence needs and gaps have emerged. Culling is taking place over an expanding area of England and, as we advised in 2010 and 2011, it means the Government is increasingly less able to rely on the evidence base provided by the RBCT. Implementation of the policy has also identified operational challenges for which the existing evidence base is proving unsatisfactory. Finally, intensive culling was never proposed as the long-term solution to controlling TB in badgers and – particularly in light of the Godfray Review – we need to revisit the available evidence to inform future strategies.”

4. Further, Natural England has identified in a letter dated 18 June 2019 the need for results from six badger cull areas, for at least four years in order to gain any initial insight into disease control trends. That requirement was achieved in respect of intensive culling, once the 2016 four-year intensive culls concluded in 2019, with a further year observation period of herd breakdowns to 2020. It was, in part upon the above clarifications, that the matters raised in my 2019 pre-action protocol letter were not pursued.

5. It follows that the real time outcomes in bTB control as measured in ‘cases per area, per year’ have become the definitive point of reference since the scale and nature of culling has moved well beyond that assessed in the RBCT. Such data tells farmers and vets in each cull area and across intervention areas what is actually happening, with an increase or decrease in bTB herd incidence and residual prevalence.

Preliminary view relating to available data 

6. Difference between confirmed breakdowns of bTB in cattle herds,  within and outside of the badger cull areas over the badger cull duration: 2013-2019 in the HRA are consistent with relatively small background fluctuations. They do not support the public claims by the Minister of an “effective” cull policy, using theoretical modelling (consultation paras 8.1-8.3) relating to 2017 and before.

7. At the county level, breakdowns began to level off  after 2010 when the HRA was placed on annual bTB testing. Other measures were progressively introduced from 2012. Importantly, in 2016 the interpretation of the SICCT test was changed too, to detect more disease. A raft of other measures to slow the incidence of bovine TB in cattle were slowly introduced within the HRA and are also relevant.

8.  Changes to the rate of confirmed breakdowns in the HRA will have been brought about by cattle measures beginning to have an influence, commencing well before the badger culling roll-out started. For the government to use the average figure for herd breakdowns for the four years prior to culling commencing as a benchmark is wholly inappropriate. It fails to have regard to the relevance of factors other than culling, in the same period, affecting the chosen measure. Any realistic comparison should be from the point at which badger culling commenced. Using the four-year average prior to the start of culling is wholly misleading. The figures have been misused to present a positive view of the culling when effectiveness is clearly open to question when: (a) a comparison is made with unculled areas, and (b) the effect of other changes in bTB control have been contemplated.

9. This is further demonstrated by additional observations of how the trend in bTB herd incidence is almost exactly the same in places where herd measures have been applied and where they have been applied together with badger culling at the County scale. 

10. Other counties are being looked at carefully and hence the need for more time prior to consultation ending and the request in my letter of 18th March 2021 and subsequent clarifications.

11.The reality of these trends  is in stark contradiction to key findings of the now out of date modelling of badger cull efficacy: the publications Brunton et al. 2017 and Downs et al. 2019 (using data only up to 2017) . This is the basis upon which SSEFRA has previously relied to imply progress in 2017, albeit on heavily modelled results, with caveats as to the reliability of the findings.

12. For these reasons, there is grave concern not just that theoretical modelling has not reflected the subsequent long term face-value evidence, but that the real time data on the full period 2013-2020 has been misrepresented to the public by the Secretary of State, both in public statements and in the current consultation process.

13. This is of very significant concern because of the manner in which the consultation has been worded to imply that badger culling has had a substantial positive effect in real terms. The only fair analysis from the existing data is that it remains uncertain as to whether there has been any benefit from badger culling at all. The consultation fails to grapple with this uncertainty and the evidence that it has been of no value at all.

14. This finding  is consistent also with previous considerations of the CSA (in June 2019) that any contribution of badger culling to bTB new herd incidence will never be measurable in any event. That doubt, from the CSA, is also not alluded to in the consultation document.

15. The assumed effectiveness of culling as a means of bTB control is central to the consultation proposals. It is both put forward as an explanation of the Government’s proposed approach to licensing, and it purports to inform consultees of a factual basis upon which they should respond to the consultation. Once that proposition is put into doubt, it is apparent that the Government’s proposed approach is undermined and that the consultation process has been rendered unfair by the false claim.

16. Further, the present state of the evidence cannot conceivably support the grant of further intensive culling licences. Licences granted on the false assumption presented in the consultation paper would not be lawfully granted in accordance with Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

Steps that Defra should take

In light of the above, the following steps should be taken:

  • Correction of the misleading information in Paras 8.1 – 8.3 and elsewhere of the consultation in relation to the effectiveness of culling from the evidence held to date. That correction should include an explanation of the comparison with non-culled areas, and an explanation of the factors other than lethal badger control which might have affected bTB incidence in the study periods;
  • The Secretary of State should extend the consultation period by sufficient time to correct the current information and to make public statements to reflect the position in (a) above;
  • That there is a further consultation period on such amended proposals as the Secretary of State makes having properly directed himself on the matters set out above;
  • That no further badger cull licence applications are processed until a public position is set out by the Secretary of State on the effectiveness of such licensing, having regard to the matters set out above.

Tom Langton 24th March 2021.

References:

https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-statements/detail/2021-01-27/hcws738     

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-incidence-of-tb-in-cattle-in-licenced-badger-control-areas-in-2013-to-2019               

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain;

https://www.tbknowledgeexchange.co.uk/        

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/944414/bovinetb-statsnotice-Q3-quarterly-16dec20.pdf   

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/cff_animal_vet-progs_2013_dec-2012-761-ec_bovine-tuberculosis_gbr.pdf     

Brunton LA, Donnelly CA, O’Connor H, Prosser A, Ashfield S, et al. (2017) Assessing the effects of the first 2 years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle in 2013-2015. Ecol Evol p. 1-18.

Downs, S.H., Prosser, A., Ashton, 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. Sci Rep 9, 14666 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49957-6

Annex 1. Further information on relevant cattle measures responsible for changing leftes of new herd incidence.

Area 32 Cumbria

Recent published raw data shows encouraging trends of reduced incidence and prevalence across the first 32 cull areas compared with the years before culling began. Compared with the average of the four years before culling started, OTFW incidence has dropped by an average of 27% after 2 years, 51% after 4 years and 53% after 6 years in the first twenty-one, three and two areas respectively.

Area 32 Cumbria had achieved OTF status before the onset of culling 2018 and so Cumbria has been wrongly included in the above calculations. Furthermore, having removed almost the entire badger population from the extended Area 32, ibtb mapping shows there are currently 5 ongoing breakdowns in the area, all of which became restricted between 8/10/20 – 29/10/20. The epidemiology history of Area 32 does not provide support for wildlife being drivers of disease.

European (EU) undertakings

In order to understand the effects and benefits of cattle controls newly introduced into the High Risk Area from 2012 to-date and there is need to examine a report submitted by Defra to the European Commission

The submitted Eradication Programme for Bovine Tb provided a whole raft of measures to improve the control of disease. The most notable of which was the introduction of annual testing in England from January 1st 2013.

  • January 2010:

In England, a core annual testing area was established, spanning entire counties in the South West and West Midlands (the ‘high risk area’) and surrounded by a ‘buffer’ of two- yearly testing parishes. Most of the rest of England remains on background four-year testing.

  • January 2013

Herd testing intervals are determined on a county basis and England is split into annual testing and four-yearly testing counties.

  • 2014:

Enhanced measures were introduced in 2014 to address the problem of persistent herd incidents. Mandatory IFN-γ tests are also used in persistent incidents where herds have been under restriction for more than 18 months.  

Published the joint government-industry Bovine TB Biosecurity Action Plan. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cattle-biosecurity-action-plan-for-improving-herd-resilience-to-bovine-tb

Stopped the practice of de-restricting parts of some TB-restricted (non-OTF) holdings.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-information-note-ending-the-practice-of-de-restricting-parts-of-tb-restricted-holdings

Tightened pre-movement testing rules by removing remaining exemption for cattle moved between holdings that are part of the same Sole Occupancy Authority(SOA).

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-information-note-changes-to-tb-cattle-movement-controls-exemptions

Tightened pre-movement testing rules by removing exemption for movements to and from common land.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-information-note-changes-to-tb-cattle-movement-controls

Introduced an enhanced approach for dealing with persistent bTB breakdowns.

 http://apha.defra.gov.uk/documents/ov/Briefing-Note-0214.pdf

2015

Further measures were adopted in the HRA during 2015 which sustained the reduction of incidents following the success of previous measures:

-Introduced improved IT data capture system for epidemiological investigation outcomes to support targeted enhancement of more sensitive testing regimes in the HRA.

-Promoted new guidance to cattle farmers (agreed with key industry groups) on how to protect their herd from bTB through implementing improved bio-security on farm – the Five Point Plan.

-Extended reduced CAP Scheme payments (cross-compliance penalties) for overdue bTB tests to include all types of TB tests with very few exceptions.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-information-note-tb-testing-changes-for-cross-compliance-penalties-and-surveillance-tests

2016

Improved testing and cattle controls:  In the HRA: introduced requirement for two consecutive clear short interval tests at severe interpretation by default for all bTB breakdown herds before they can regain OTF status.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/506575/tbin-0216-breakdowns-high-risk-area.pdf

Phased out SOAs and Cattle Tracing System Links between summer 2016 and summer 2017 and reviewed controls on cattle movements within a 10-mile radius of home premises (‘CPH England’ project).

2017

Tighter controls on cattle movements were introduced, together with severe interpretation extended to cattle traced from breakdown herds.

  • Increased the sensitivity of skin testing of cattle traced from lesion/culture positive bTB breakdown herds by applying the severe interpretation of the SICCT test.
  • Tightened rules for licensed movements of cattle between two bTB breakdown herds.
  • Harmonised the timing of short interval skin tests in bTB breakdown herds, so that tests are scheduled at least 60 days from the date of reactor removal, rather than the date of detection.

Is the Badger Cull Consultation unlawful?

Revised 27th April 2021

George Eustice’s Badger Cull consultation misrepresents reality. Tony Juniper should prevent Natural England processing further licences based on the flawed Ministerial claim.

On the 18th March, the Badger Crowd was pleased to see a solicitor’s letter being sent to the Government Legal Department and Natural England raising serious concerns over Defra’s “Next Steps” (March 2020) Policy consultation that ended on 24th March 2021. This relates to attempts to deliver the government’s strategy for achieving bovine tuberculosis (bTB) free status for England.

Fundamentally misleading and erroneous…

The main concern is a fundamentally misleading and erroneous statement by the Secretary of State on 27th January 2021 which underpins the consultation proposals. It  states that badger culling “…has played a critical role in helping to start turn the tide on this terrible disease.” This is an extremely serious matter in many regards. Up to a further 150,000 badgers may be culled under these proposals over the next six years. This will be as many or more as have been killed to-date, involving huge use of public funds, police time and other government resources.

The legal letter asks that the consultation is postponed until mistakes have been corrected, to ensure  a fair and lawful consultation, based on a proper understanding and articulation of the evidence.

In recent years both the Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) and Natural England have expressed concerns over the scale of badger culling (see here) and the ability to link any changes in bTB levels in cattle to badger culling. Prior to his retirement  CSA  Prof. Ian Boyd described the problem as badger culling ‘often not working as predicted’ and needing an operational control approach based upon face value outcomes.

Natural England’s internal deliberations on the uncertainties of evidence when licensing culling were shown in Dr Tim Hill’s note to Natural England Board meeting of 6 November 2019, as released under Freedom of information, see here.

“7.1. As implementation of the culling policy has progressed a series of evidence needs and gaps have emerged. Culling is taking place over an expanding area of England and, as we advised in 2010 and 2011, it means the Government is increasingly less able to rely on the evidence base provided by the RBCT. Implementation of the policy has also identified operational challenges for which the existing evidence base is proving unsatisfactory. Finally, intensive culling was never proposed as the long-term solution to controlling TB in badgers and – particularly in light of the Godfray Review – we need to revisit the available evidence to inform future strategies.”

The 2021 statement and consultation

The statement that badger culling has played a critical role in helping to start turn the tide on bovine tuberculosis has been widely repeated in the media in recent months, including by the chief veterinary officer and by government officials. It underpins and hugely influences the current consultation.

Data on bTB herd breakdown for the High Risk Area (HRA) has become available online in recent months, both in the APHA bTB monitoring reports and bTB statistical data for Great Britain.  That data has not been properly presented in the consultation. It contradicts the public statements surrounding the consultation and the terms of the consultation document itself. On proper scrutiny, the data is telling a different story. We are analysing the latest data at the moment, and will be publishing an analysis of the ‘real world’ results of the bTB policy soon.

Cattle measures beginning to have an influence, well before badger culling started

Results  are suggesting that any changes in bTB incidence in the HRA have been brought about by cattle measures beginning to have an influence, well before any mass badger culling started. For the government to use the average figure for herd breakdowns for the four years prior to culling commencing is wholly misleading. All the signs are that the previous modelling has been inaccurate in reflecting what can now be shown to have actually happened.

For these reasons, there is grave concern not just that past theoretical modelling simply has not  reflected reality and the face-value evidence of outcomes, but that the real time data on the period 2013-2019 has been repeatedly misrepresented to the public by the Secretary of State, both in public statements and in the current consultation process.

The demand now is for proper correction of the misleading information within the consultation in relation to the effectiveness of culling from the evidence held to date. The Secretary of State George Eustice must correct his public statement accordingly. Any further consultation must take the real situation into account and not articulate false information to influence stakeholders in a misleading way.

Tony Juniper at Natural England should instruct his staff to allow no further badger cull licence applications to be processed. A new position should be  set out by the Secretary of State based upon the effectiveness of such licensing, as is required by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and other legislation and Natural England’s wider duties to protected species, habitats and designated nature conservation sites.

We ask that the costly, cruel, failed and pointless badger culls are brought to an end right now. Emphasis should be switched towards more comprehensive cattle measures that are known to be effective. These could make deep inroads in disease control in four years if carried out properly. This is in line with aspects of the Godfray review and the current government’s stated wish to tilt the policy away from badger culling. Hopefully for good.

We are the Badger Crowd and our fight is to seek justice for badgers, cows and for sustainable farming & wildlife management.

 

 

 

Supplementary Culling in retreat, but the war against English badgers continues

On 27th January 2021, Defra published a new consultation on parts of its March 2020 “Next Steps” Bovine TB eradication policy for England. This aims to continue to mass kill badgers in the last 30% or so of badger strongholds in the High Risk Area of the West of England and across parts of the Edge and Low Risk Areas for the foreseeable future.

Defra intends to make small changes over the next six years as it moves towards ramping up more localised badger culling and apparently some badger vaccination, once populations have been freshly decimated. The final twenty, up to 4-year intensive culls starting in 2021 and 2022 may, with existing kills, shoot up to around a further 150,000 badgers between this Autumn and February 2026. A sickening ‘keep to plan’ commitment with ‘killing as usual’.

The new consultation does not address the policy expansion of ‘reactive’ (localised) culling of 100% of badgers taking place in the Low Risk Area (as e.g. already in parts of Cumbria & Lincs) and potentially across the entire English countryside from the mid-2020’s. Like the March 2020 policy, the recent consultation was unfathomably branded in the media as a major ‘shift in policy’ and ‘badger culling coming to an end’ or ‘banned’.

However, the 6-year phasing out of Supplementary badger culling (SBC), both as a long term sustained killing policy and as a post-intensive cull option, is one of the more notable decisions. As the method for keeping badger numbers low in High Risk bTB Areas, its overdue departure is more than welcome.

This is a victory for those who have funded and supported the Badger Crowd coalition of Badger Groups, Trusts and charities plus many individuals, who enabled legal action against SBC when it was introduced in 2017, based on secret un-reviewed modelling.  The High Court challenges unearthed internal government rationales and they unpeeled the policy decisions. Finally High Court judges only just found favour in government using the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to introduce SBC, despite the exposure of it as a risk-laden experiment.

Government has spent up to £2 Million over the last 5 years responding, defending and reacting to Judicial Reviews brought by the Badger Crowd and has now made huge concessions in the two cases that went to trial. So a moment of thanks, to all those challenging the policy in a wide variety of ways and to the legal team and experts who have combined so ably to help bring about these significant shifts. It is not unusual for government policy documents, considerations and briefings to now make reference to legal constraints and challenges.

Government giving up on Supplementary culling is a logical reaction to what is being seen on the ground by vets and farmers – no tangible benefits in bTB reduction after huge effort and expenditure killing badgers.  At time of writing, two further Badger Crowd Judicial Review applications are still extant, seeking change to the government’s badger culling policy, including the 2020 policy for which this consultation applies.

The inevitable reduction and plateauing of the rate of increase of bTB breakdowns in the English HRA is not unlike the pattern in the Republic of Ireland. (Figure 1), where the futile killing of badgers now sees bTB herd incidence levels that are similar to those of ten years ago, with cattle testing and movement controls still very poorly addressed.

Figure 1. Bovine TB herd incidence in the Republic of Ireland.

Source: most recent DAFM stats (NI Badger Group)

Likewise, the rate of spread of bTB in the Welsh and English countryside starts to level off (England), with a clear downward trend in Wales since 2012. But it offers no evidence that badger culling plays any part.  Defra can see that Wales is out-performing England, without culling badgers (Figure 2.)

Figure 2. New herd incidents per 100 herd years at risk of infection during the year, GB, per quarter.

Source:https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/944414/bovinetb-statsnotice-Q3-quarterly-16dec20.pdf

Defra also know that the former chief scientist supporting the culls has said in legal exchanges that a first look at cull efficacy would require six cull areas to be studied for four years, plus the following year as an observation period. This might give enough data for a tentative indication of efficacy to be seen, but even then not a very strong one. So the results might not be that reliable and any true contribution (from badger culling) to bTB eradication will always remain obscure. 

It is likely that an analysis of the outcomes of four years of culling using the ‘new in 2016’ badger cull cohort data, plus one observation period (to Sept 2020) has now been completed but not disclosed.

Government scientists following policy science (the RBCT and RBCT-derived work) might say the lack of any substantial change in bTB prevalence is either because the conditions of the RBCT don’t apply to real-time control effort, or/and that cattle measures are inadequate. Or it could be that Supplementary Culling is removing any putative bovine TB benefits. This was predicted as a distinct possibility within peer-reviewed science a few years before badger culling started.

Defra should know its modelling projections are more than dubious. In addition to George Eustice’s usual reading-out of the government position script, the Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss has also disgracefully again promoted on BBC Farming Today, the fantasy of badger culling working, to try to mislead farmers and the public. Why the government bare-faced lies?

The new consultation: details on badger measures

Table 1. Summary of what the new consultation is proposing in relation to intensive and supplementary culling only.

The new Consultation includes (proposal 6.) restriction of Supplementary Badger Culling (SBC) licenses for those four year intensive culls commencing on and after 2017, to two years duration (rather than five) and to cease the re-issuing of SBC licenses for the first three areas in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset after completion of 5 years of SBC.  This is a phasing out of Supplementary Culling over six years and by the end of January 2026.

The general effect of the proposals is to reduce current culling durations from 9 to 6 years and new intensive four year culls to possibly a 2-yr duration, according to  decisions by the Chief Veterinary Officer. There is some rather tortured Defra speculation (rehearsed in court in 2018/19) on why theoretical bTB breakdown reduction can be achieved from just two years of Intensive Culling. As usual this guesswork rests heavily upon multiple uncertainties.

Badger Crowd supporters have helped  take-on the government for three years now, to some good effect and the work is far from over. Thanks to all who have contributed generously so far. We will not rest until we have justice for badgers and proper science-based solutions for farming and wildlife that are not simply a ruinous waste of public funds and wild animal lives.

 

High Court says Minister George Eustice may reject science advice and choose the science he needs, as a ‘political’ decision.

Case CO/2062/2020, Wednesday, 14th October, 2020

The High Court held a Judicial Review permission hearing in Court 16  at the Royal Courts of Justice in London last week; The Queen on the application of Langton v Secretary Of State For Environment Food And Rural Affairs. The matter was before Mr Justice Cavanagh and the requirement was for parties  to attend in person as opposed to via video conferencing.

The application for Judicial Review had been made earlier this year in response to the Defra policy guidance of 5th March 2020, signed off by Minister George Eustice  “Next steps for the strategy for achieving bovine tuberculosis free status for England – The government’s response to the strategy review, 2018”. ‘Next Steps’ is the response to the expert review in 2018 by the Group chaired by Sir Charles Godfray. The claim was about Defra not taking up the main finding of the Godfray  Report (GR) in respect of badger-related interventions. The report had very clearly identified a ‘more promising’ strategy of ‘periodic culling’;  that is allowing for a two-year badger cull cessation period (to mirror conditions of the RBCT outcome) after four years of intensive badger culling and then  applying a combination of badger vaccination and intensive culling, should bTB herd breakdowns persist. 

The GR advice was also highlighted by the recent government position in another court case; a fresh decision to move away from  badger culling in the essential actions to reduce bovine TB. This was something that FOI papers show both the Chief Vet and Natural England were anticipating last year, to begin in 2020.

During the hearing, and after both sides had outlined their points, Justice Cavanagh read out a lengthy judgement with just a few embellishments. His view mirrored the governments  defence almost exactly.  He said that the Secretary of State must ‘have regard’ to the GR, but was not obliged to accept its expert advice. He said that it would be wrong to characterise the GR as  giving ‘recommendations’. This is quite extraordinary give the specific content of the text and the plain language of the overview summary at the start.

Referring specifically to paragraphs 6.51- 6.54 in the GR, he agreed with Defra that the  difference between supplementary culling and periodic culling was merely one of ‘cost and convenience’. This is a misreading of paragraph 6.52 where the text implies periodic culling might bring about the same benefit as was seen in the RBCT, whereas Defra and the judge seemed to imply that the comparison was between periodic culling and  supplementary culling, which it is not. Another extraordinary development.

A full hearing should have been granted but was rejected. The judge questioned whether a requirement to rework policy was worthwhile, as ‘relief’ (from a win for us) would not prevent the further use of supplementary culling licences. This rather missed the point that a continuation of the confused and unmeasurable approaches currently in place may do as much harm as good in the bTB fight; destroying the cattle industry.

It was also depressing to see Defra ‘s argument that  cull area data needed to be analysed (modelled in comparison to non-intervention areas) for the value of badger culling to be appreciated. To Defra, raw data is no good, because it only tells you what is happening with disease levels in an area and not why, which is an absolute nonsense. Direct evidence of herd breakdown levels were said to be somehow insufficient, despite obvious face value performance of ‘all measures’ in cull zones, year-on-year being the rational measuring-stick for stakeholders and practitioners; not least farmers and vets.

What is the point of being told that badger culling is working when there is no change or an increase overall of herd breakdown incidence and prevalence in an area? Defra have created a policy where failure doesn’t exist. We maintain that it is dangerous and unlawful.

Acceptance and normalisation of a policy that has no stop button, has always been the problem with supplementary culling,  with no capacity to ‘adapt and learn’ of any direct value of badger culling. This was made clear by the Chief Scientific Advisor in 2019 following the 130% hike in herd breakdowns in Gloucestershire and legal pre-action at that time. It seems we are locked into a system  that is failing, yet pays people to model data to say it is a huge success, when it isn’t or cannot be said to be so. While keeping the ability to check secret from the public. Defra and now the courts say this a lawful approach when protected badgers are being shot in ever-growing numbers.

Finally, within the judgement there was a moment that was deeply disturbing, distracting even from the above considerations. It was that the government is entitled to make the decision not to adopt the findings of an expert review, for political purposes. These are the same words used in the ruling earlier this year by Justice Andrews with respect to a case brought by the NFU against the Secretary of State. In that case, the government’s decision to hold back for a year on culling in Derbyshire in  2019 was because it wanted to find ways to help to ‘tilt’ the bTB eradication policy in favour of badger vaccination. Something that the 2020 bloodbath of tens of thousands of mostly healthy badgers over the last six weeks shows has not happened either.

The ecological impacts part of the case was dismissed with brevity, a matter that will need taking up again soon once BTO and Natural England’s secret reports are exposed.

The government approach to badger culling is not just ineffective, it is  indiscriminate and  unaccountable. It treats wild animals as worthless pests and the protected designated  sites where they live and roam as disposable.  This at a time when wider awareness of  the way in which we treat wild animals and wild places defines our ability to manage our countryside and climate successfully and against wider environmental catastrophe. Aspects of the decision made  in this case will be further appealed.

 

Does Natural England care for Badgers, Hen Harriers and other wildlife?

In recent days, Natural England has released its Habitat Regulations Assessments (HRA) for the disgusting and incompetent 2020 licensed badger culls, currently underway as a part of the wider  failed bovine TB strategy. This follows release recently too, under FOI of the updated (July 2019) NE “Guidance on evaluating the ecological consequences of badger culling on European Sites.” Legal challenges since 2017 have forced NE’s to accept as real the potential impacts resulting from removing badgers from large parts of the English countryside and to try to develop a system that reflects just a few of the issues; those related to SSSIs and internationally designated sites. While HRAs improve in extent and detail, they remain reliant on conditions which are loaded with points of potential failure and which may not be effective in protecting the integrity of European Sites.

This matter has just become even more important as the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention in Strasbourg has formally adopted, at its Bureau meeting of 15 – 16 September, a complaint against the UK for its mass badger killing in England. This includes the extent of unknown ecological change and damage, and placed the compliant on ‘stand-by’ for future scrutiny. This requires, straight away, new communications and reporting by the UK government with a report next summer.

This is a huge international embarrassment for Westminster, as knowledge of the potential UK infraction becomes more widely recognised across Europe and the world. The UK claims there is no evidence of any ecosystem damage, yet, in accepting the possibility, have failed to undertake any credible measurement of this at all. Other than in a 2018 report that is (probably for legal reasons as it exposes them) being kept secret between NE and the British Trust  for Ornithology. They think controlling information upon which public decision making has been done is acceptable behaviour. Would the UK ever consider breaking international law?

There is no evidence at all that shows that conditions to safeguard internationally important sites and their rare species have actually taken place.  Where is the monitoring (annual monitoring reports?) promised to the High Court in 2017 and 2018? NE have a duty to establish the extent that the conditions imposed on these licences are actually adhered to on the ground. Are the conditions easily understandable and accessible to the shooter on the ground? Who has been checking? Might shooting contractors possibly overlook the conditions on these licences?

One  example is the condition to protect Hen Harrier on Salisbury Plain. This states:  Before commencing licensed activities each season, operators must confirm with the owner/occupier the location of any communal roost locations supporting significant numbers of Hen harrier. Except on existing roads and tracks, there shall be no access within 500 metres of any such locations from 1st November to 30th April, inclusive“. Now the cull should normally be over by 1st November but what if an extension is allowed or in time supplementary culling extends into January? The workability of this condition assumes a) that the operator asks this question, b) that the owner/occupier answers it, c) that the owner/occupier is in a position of knowledge about hen harrier roosts on their land, d) that they convey this information to the shooting contractor fully (what if they want their badgers ‘gone’ ?), e) monitoring is good enough to be able to pinpoint roost sites and define a 500m radius from them and lastly f) if all of the aforementioned happens, shooters duly obey the 500m standoff restriction.

Further, this condition only bites in respect of “communal roost locations supporting significant numbers of Hen harrier” (emphasis added). What does this mean? Presumably a communal roost must be more than one hen harrier, but at what point does ‘significant’ bite? That this is a flawed approach is rendered obvious by two considerations: firstly, the wintering population of hen harrier at this site (five year peak mean =15.2 between 2010-2015) is so low that a single bird would represent >1% of the site population and would therefore be significant. Secondly, the SPA is cited as representing 1% of the UK population therefore any reduction from that 1% (which could be displacement of a single bird, or a single roost) would represent a significant effect on integrity.

It would be a huge undertaking to check what Natural England are sanctioning and is actually secretly happening in the countryside. There seems to be little or no intention by them to look at what might be happening beyond the secret studies of one or two sample areas. So nobody will ever know how many Hen Harriers or other sensitive animals have been disturbed by people killing badgers. That’s the way NE has handled it and the way that it wants it to remain.

 

Freedom of (some) Information – recent release by Natural England in full

Here are the recent FOI releases from Natural England, provided in 4 Zip files, responding to a query regarding the following Twitter post by Tony Juniper. We asked what the mentioned Natural England ‘advice’ regarding the badger cull was.

In their reply, NE said:

“You asked for:

  1. Please make available to me a copy of advice given by Natural England and Tony Juniper to Ministers, Defra and others, relating to Tony Juniper’s response to a tweet (copied below) by Badgergate, regarding a ‘shift in policy towards vaccination’ Specifically this should include a copy of all communications, memos, notes, comments, reports and formal and incidental advice regarding ‘the shift in policy’ and Natural England’s role in its development, including but not limited to badger culling, supplementary badger culling, Edge Area badger culling, reactive culling, badger & cattle vaccination and cull efficacy.

You appear to have misinterpreted Mr Juniper’s tweet, which was making two separate points. The first sentence was a general comment relating to the relationship between Natural England as the Government’s Nature Conservation adviser and its sponsoring department. The second sentence queried whether “Badgergate” was happy with DEFRA’s shift in policy toward a greater role for vaccination. Mr Juniper was not, in his second sentence, making any claim that Natural England was responsible for, or had provided advice giving rise to, a shift in DEFRA’s policy.

  1. Please include any other material that relates to the Defra response to the Godfray Review of 05 March.

Please find in the attached zip file (here, here, here and here). Please note that in the email of 25 September 2019 there is a statement regarding ‘…our response to the Godfray review’. This statement is incorrect as no such response was provided.

We have withheld, under regulation 12(4)(d), an email exchange between DEFRA and Natural England in which Natural England was provided with advance sight of a draft of DEFRA’s response to the Godfray Review and provided a number of comments on that draft.”

We are not allowed to see NE’s comments. Wonder what they said?

 

Fundraising Target Reached, Thank You

The Crowd Justice fundraiser for Badger Crowd’s legal action has seen a flurry of donations over the last few days. And so it  is very pleasing to be able to tell you that, together with a number of offline donations, we have now reached the £18,000 target necessary to enable our lawyers to complete the required work. A huge thank you to all have donated.

If permission is granted for Judicial Review, we will launch a further appeal according to the stages and procedures.

We must hold Defra and Natural England to account for the cruel, unscientific,  damaging and wasteful badger cull. With your help we will try to do that.

Killing badgers is a scandal. It can do nothing to address inadequate cattle testing and movement control, and the regular spread of bTB by cattle, between farms and into the far corners of England.

Renewal required for “Next Steps” High Court challenge

There has been a flurry of activity in recent days. Following notice from the High Court and detailed considerations by the legal team this week,  representatives will today apply for a ‘renewal’ hearing. This is in order fulfil the aim of progressing to a full Judicial Review hearing as soon as possible. Other aspects of the case, against culling outside the High Risk Area – in the Edge and Low Risk Areas – are being worked on too.

There is a little over a week to go on the Crowd Justice crowd funder, which is ticking along quite nicely. We have had some very generous online and offline donations, including several from Badger Groups around England and Wales, and Born Free.  Lots of individual members have given generous personal donations. Several Badger Group members continue to help with the backroom work and Badger Trust support has been essential too. Many people have phoned, texted  and emailed with support and it is fantastic to find that despite all the pressures of the lockdown, there is still a very strong and powerful mood within the badger and wildlife conservation world that the cruel, unscientific and failing  government policy must be fought.

A huge thank you again to all of you making this possible. We get the sense  that the public at large are overwhelmingly outraged against a bovine TB  and badgers policy that is effectively out of control and counter-productive. Many people are shocked to learn that the government spin implying that culling has ended or will end any time soon is false. We are united to try to improve the situation for badgers, our wildlife, countryside and rural economy. I sincerely hope that we can help to bring about change and an end to badger culling as soon as possible.

 

Update on Fundraiser Progress

Thank you so much for all your kind messages of support and generous donations over the first few days of the appeal. In addition to the Badger Trust’s generous donation to get the challenge started, we have had several ‘offline’ pledges, so we  are now over half way to our preliminary target. The Badger Trust has issued a statement about the two new legal cases, the humaneness challenge from Wild Justice (now fully funded) and the policy challenge from Tom Langton, and emailed it out to its supporters. Hopefully this will reach the attention of more people who care for badgers and wish to support the essential legal work.  However it is really important to also get the appeal out to the public at large. You can help by alerting your friends and contacts to Badger Crowd’s donation page, and by letting any suitable social media networks know too. If you are a member of a nature conservation organisation, you may consider writing to them suggesting they draw the fundraiser to the attention of their members.

Earlier this week we had a lot of ‘Freedom of Information’ material sent to us by Natural England regarding their consideration of the future of badger culling  and their reaction to the ‘Godfray Report’ and ‘Next Steps’ policy guidance. It has been sent to our lawyers as it clearly shows the terrible disarray surrounding the governments approach. There is much uncertainty, and there are many gaps in the evidence regarding this horrible policy.

A team of volunteers is working hard to make these legal challenges possible, as are the lawyers. It is an uphill battle, but we will do all we can to pass the milestones ahead and make our case for a court hearing.

Badger Trust Statement, 9th July 2020

Government faces two new legal challenges as it seeks to expand controversial badger cull policy

Permission for two Judicial Review legal cases is being sought against the government as it seeks to expand its highly controversial badger cull policy in 2020.

 

Wild Justice legal challenge

The first case is being taken by Wild Justice, the non-profit organisation formed in 2018 run by wildlife experts Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Ruth Tingay to ‘fight for wildlife’. The case against Natural England (with Defra as an interested party) concerns the manner in which badgers die from ‘controlled shooting’, whereby individuals are licensed to shoot badgers following a single, short training course.

In 2014, the government’s own Independent Expert Panel advised that badgers should not take more than five minutes to die in more than 5% of cases. Natural England has been observing levels above this yet has taken no action, despite the level of suffering caused. Shooting into the small heart of a badger from a distance can be difficult and the British Veterinary Association has also previously concluded that the method is inhumane.

Funds for this legal challenge have been donated in record time in an outpouring of public disgust and concern over the rapidly expanding badger cull policy. The challenge comes in advance of a further increase in culling with up to ten more licences to be issued by Natural England in September

Wild Justice opposes the entire badger cull policy, but its legal challenge aims to force the government to stop the use of controlled shooting as a culling method on humaneness grounds.

An end to the use of controlled shooting, could also force the government and the farming industry to recognise that now is the time to move towards badger vaccination – a non lethal means of lowering bTB in badgers, on both cost and humaneness grounds.

Tom Langton Legal Challenge

The second case by conservation ecologist Tom Langton, challenges parts of the Next Steps Policy, a response to the government’s bTB policy review in 2018, carried out by Sir Charles Godfray. The key grounds for the legal challenge are as follows :

Supplementary culling and a failure to expand vaccination

‘Supplementary culling’ follows a four year cull licence for a cull area and is usually carried out by ‘controlled shooting’ methods. This means that culling in any area can continue, with little to no monitoring for up to nine years. The grounds for this new legal challenge fall into five areas, including:

The case seeks to show that continuing the supplementary cull policy (which is not supported by the available evidence) is not rational and should be phased out by gradual replacement with vaccination as the government’s own review detailed.

Defra is also failing to apply a two year break in culling or a move to vaccination in 50% of the post intensive cull areas, despite recommendations to do so in the Sir Charles Godfray TB Policy Review and public statements claiming the government is phasing out badger culling in favour of vaccination.

Low Risk Area culling

Low Risk areas form all areas of the country that are not considered to be high risk or edge areas (between the two). The Next Steps policy seeks to cull in these areas, wherever ‘epidemiological evidence’ suggests that there may be a reservoir of the disease in the area. In practice*, this means wherever badgers are present and the source of repeated breakdowns has not been identified. The Godfray Review made clear that poor tests are missing large reservoirs of disease in the cattle herds themselves.

Despite this, evidence from Cumbria suggests that Defra is carrying out proactive type culling in the low risk area that does not even conform to the evidenced approach of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) and has no basis in veterinary science. A widespread adoption of this type of culling in low risk areas might result in permanent collapse of the badger population across many areas of England.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Defra is failing to carry out an appropriate assessment of the impact of badger culling under the Habitat and Species Regulations 2017.

Over the last three years, Tom Langton has led two legal challenges against the government, supported by The Badger Trust and the Badger Crowd.

His first challenge in 2017 against Defra exposed the fact that supplementary culling may hold no value at all in the fight against bovine TB (bTB) in cattle potentially making eradication of the disease more difficult, with no way of directly measuring whether it works or not. The second case required Natural England to concede a national breach of duty, regarding monitoring the potential impacts of culling on internationally important nature areas where culling has been allowed.

Although failing to bring an end to supplementary culling, the two legal challenges have enabled a deep insight into secretive government planning and have exposed areas of deficiency including the experimental and poorly monitored nature of the government’s interpretation of legislation, protecting badgers and natural communities.

The latest legal challenge in 2020 is again supported by the Badger Trust and the Badger Crowd.

Badger Trust

Dominic Dyer, CEO Badger Trust said: “ In the past, The Badger Trust has taken legal action preventing badger culling in Wales and has fought a number of legal actions in the High Court since 2013 seeking to stop or limit the cruel, destructive and unnecessary killing of our iconic badgers in England.

We welcome the involvement of Wild Justice to the cause of badger welfare and support their efforts. The legal case we have helped to fund this year with Tom Langton is equally important and we hope that they both get permission in the weeks to come so that non-lethal bTB control methods in badgers prevail, as the Sir Charles Godfray bTB policy review expert panel has recommended” .

Wild Justice

Dr Mark Avery from Wild Justice said: “We’re very grateful to over 1100 individual donors who have funded our legal challenge. We wish Tom Langton and the Badger Trust all the best with their separate legal challenge. Badgers are wonderful creatures and they need all the friends they can get these days.

We believe Gandhi was right to say you can judge the greatness of a nation by the way it treats its animals, and by that measure Defra and Natural England are doing a very poor job.”

* Critical evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency report: ‘Year End Descriptive Epidemiology Report: Bovine TB Epidemic in the England Edge Area – Derbyshire 2018’

Further Information:

The Badger Crowd

Crowdfunder link and information on case here:

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/help-stop-defra-plans-to-extend-badger-culling/

Blogpost here:

https://thebadgercrowd.org/blog

Wild Justice

Extract of Wild Justice pre-action letter to Natural England

https://wildjustice.org.uk/general/extracts-from-our-pre-action-protocol-letter-to-natural-england/