Badgers back in in Court

Did the government forget about Biodiversity?

On Thursday 22 July, in Court no. 2 of the Royal Courts of Justice, London, the latest Judicial Review surrounding badger culling was heard: The Queen on the application of Thomas Langton vs The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England: Case C0/2062/2020.

The hearing was held ‘in person’ but, due to covid-19 restrictions, with few attendees, and with the Honourable Mr Justice Griffiths presiding. Outside the Court, a number of badger-suited campaigners were drawing attention to the ongoing badger cull travesty of England, including stalwart Betty Badger with her friend Mary Barton, Chris Wood and members of the Herts and Middlesex Badger Group and others from Buckinghamshire. They were making the public aware of the hearing going on  inside, giving out leaflets and polite explanations to passers-by, as well as getting a lot of social media attention.  Sadly the court was closed to the public, but online coverage was available to limited number of viewers from both sides of the case.

The government had a number of lawyers and advisors present, with spoken representations made by barrister Hannif Mussa of Blackstone Chambers. Mr Langton had spoken representations by barrister Richard Turney from Landmark Chambers. The case before the court was less complex than the previous ecological impact cases brought in 2017 and 2018. In those, inadequate provisions by Natural England (NE) with respect to European Designated Sites and in respect of Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protection of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) had been successfully exposed. This had caused NE extensive work to remedy failings, having been found in breach of their statutory duty.  This time, the case before the court was simply that there was no evidence at all that the Secretary of State had ‘had regard’ to conserving biodiversity, and specifically the species and habitats listed by  and protected under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. SSSI’s might typically cover a small proportion of badger cull areas, but what about the wildlife interests on the other 80% or more of land? Where is the evidence of monitoring of and safeguard from changes to mammal populations and predatory influences, upon threatened and vulnerable species and habitats in the countryside?

NERC Section 40 and 41

Section 40 of the NERC Act places a duty to conserve biodiversity on public authorities in England. It requires local authorities and government departments to have regard to the purposes of conserving biodiversity and to do so, in a manner that is consistent with the exercise of their normal functions, such as policy and decision-making. ‘Conserving biodiversity’ may include enhancing, restoring, or protecting a population or a habitat.  Section 41 requires the Secretary of State to publish and maintain lists of species and types of habitats which are regarded by NE to be of “principal importance” for the purposes of conserving biodiversity in England. These 56 priority habitats and 943 species are drawn from carefully considered lists of United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species and Habitats and therefore take forward the UK’s response to its international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity (the Rio Treaty). The Section 41 lists are needed by decision-makers in local and regional authorities when carrying out their duties under Section 40 of the Act, and in addition to lists of species and habitats in other legislation. The case looked at whether they had been completely overlooked in respect of the potential impacts of badger culling and the ecosystem changes that may occur, or not?

Biodiversity Impact expert Dominic Woodfield had provided a witness statement to support Mr Langton’s statement on inadequate approaches by Defra, showing the court a comprehensive list of overlooked species and offering examples of the way in which disruption of ecological systems can bring about potential changes to NERCA species and habitats through change in  predation type and extent and via vegetation change, for example in lowland calcareous grasslands.

Defra’s position was that (despite the lack of evidence)  it had ‘had regard’, and that in any case NE considers such matters when issuing badger cull licences. Dr Eleanor Brown, a qualified vet who manages the Bovine TB policy for Defra and the Animal Plant and Health Agency, had made a witness statement mentioning a report on ecological consequences of badger culling, prepared by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in advance of badger culling in 2011, and that refers to the section 40 NERC Act duty. There were some references to legal necessities in the original 2011 badger culling policy, including those regarding the protection of European Designated Sites, but nothing specific on the NERCA species and habitats, with respect to licensing conditions.

The government also sought to claim that “Next Steps” was a policy where intensive and supplementary badger culling was being ‘phased out’ in favour of badger vaccination. But the fact is that intensive & supplementary culling was to continue for five or more years, and ‘epidemiological’ culling, a type of localised intensive (reactive) culling, along the lines of the Cumbria cull is being ‘phased-in’ to replace it. Further, any use of badger vaccination was conditional upon the results of yet more vaccination trials. More badgers are likely to be killed under the new policy than have already died.

The ‘withheld’ 2018 British Trust for Ornithology report

Dr Brown had also mentioned some research commissioned by NE from the British Trust of Ornithology in 2019 to compare  bird recording records made by volunteers inside and around the edge of badger culling areas, before and after badger culling. The study had compared these with bird records from unculled areas. This had given rise to a published paper in 2021, but that was after the policy had been confirmed in March 2020. In the days leading up to the case however, the earlier report completed in 2018 by BTO for NE and used for the policy, was released.

Oystercatcher; now you see them, now you don’t ? One of a number of medium sized waders (such as redshank, snipe and lapwing) at risk from changing predation patterns, but only afforded protective consideration by conditions on culling licences, when nesting on protected sites.

Natural England, an interested party in the case, was not represented in court. However, a witness statement had been provided by Dr Matthew Heydon, who works on ‘Species Protection and Wildlife Management’ for Natural England.  His statement opined that protected species and habitats should be considered on a ‘case by case’ basis, but that looking at the whole list of NERCA species was considered too much of a burden. A note that he helped to prepare at the start of badger culling referred to the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but only to NERCA in the sense of it being the instrument by which NE could license badger culling for the Secretary of State. There was no mention of biodiversity duties. Natural England had drawn up some new advice “Guidance for the assessment of fox control practices around designated sites” dated April 2021, showing that NE agree that credible risks are present for which precautions are necessary.

How wide does the challenge reach and when might the ruling be?

The government put a lot of effort into saying the case only related to supplementary badger culling, but Mr Turney refuted this, pointing to the simple wording of the grounds of challenge. Any problem with the approach taken by Defra would ‘infect’ all forms of culling and not just supplementary badger culling, in any case.

The hearing had been expedited and the judge indicated that he would be making his decisions in due course. An exact date is not clear, but within six weeks seems likely and probably before the end of August.

 

Biodiversity Catastrophe

Badger cull case will test UK commitment to wildlife legislation

A High Court Judicial Review in London this Thursday 22 July is a timely test of the extent to which DEFRA has ‘had regard’ to biodiversity protection. The claim is that Secretary of State George Eustice failed to protect wildlife, as is required by the Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, when causing ecological disturbance to the wider countryside by mass badger culling in England.

The biodiversity commitment was made in 2006 in response to the UK signing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, established in 1992. Minister George Eustice in a speech recently however admitted that the UK is “one of the most biodiversity depleted countries in the world.”

The case is particularly important as a New Environment Bill is passing through parliament and amidst claims that proposed targets for addressing the biodiversity crisis may be treated as non-binding, following worries that public bodies have not implemented the NERC Act 2006 adequately.

Concerns have existed since a House of Lords Select Committee in 2018 found the nature conservation agency for England, Natural England, to be run down, ‘hollowed out’, and unable to discharge aspects of its statutory function properly, including when advising Defra.

The case seeks to quash the Government’s 2020 (“Next Steps”) Bovine Tuberculosis policy covering the continuation of badger culling. It is being brought by ecologist Tom Langton supported by a large ‘Badger Crowd’ of Wildlife Trusts, charitable organisations, and the public, including The Badger Trust who helped get the case running and the new wildlife law group Wild Justice.

 

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.

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.

Short piece in April edition of British Wildlife

This short piece picks up on the recent approval by the Court of Appeal for our hearing to look again at (amongst other things) the alleged failure of Natural England to address the potential negative impacts of badger culling on birds within designated sites of international importance (SPA, SAC, RAMSAR). It also mentions how our High court Judicial Review case in March 2019 showed that NE failed to give adequate consideration to the protection of birds and butterflies on SSSIs in Dorset and Gloucestershire.

Another generous donation….

The Badger Crowd had a major fundraising boost  this morning with a generous £5000 donation from a past donor. Now with permission to appeal aspects of last year’s cases, and Court dates of 2/3 July, we have a vital (and possibly last) opportunity to oppose the Secretary of State’s approval of Supplementary Badger Culling and Natural England’s dubious approach to eco-impact assessment. Find out more about other our other current and potential challenges by reading ‘Our Legal Cases’. Please take action and donate now if you can. Tell your neighbours, friends and family. We must make every effort to stem the tide of blood that is the unethical, unscientific failed English badger cull, based on flawed epidemiology.

THANK YOU TO ALL THE GENEROUS DONORS IN RECENT WEEKS. YOU ARE PART OF THE BADGER ARMY.

Please donate here: Donate 

What we’ve been doing……

Last year we brought a High Court Judicial Review claim, that to keep culling badgers after a four-year cull was an unlawful, unproven approach to bTB control. In addition, we claimed that safeguards to nature reserves from ecological damage following badger removal were inadequate. Defra and Natural England continue badger culling in England on an increasing scale, killing 67,000+ badgers to date, based on what we say is wrong advice, decision making and procedure. We ended on the wrong side of the finely based decisions, but with advice that applying to appeal would be worthwhile.

Back in Court in March 2019, we successfully showed how Natural England had  breached their duty under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with many inadequate assessments prior to licensing culls. We showed how Natural England’s systems were at fault and how they have extensively changed their procedures since our challenges began in 2017.

We now have leave to appeal aspects of the 2018 judgments and need to raise £28,000 by July 2019 for this. We are also seeking permission to appeal the March judgment, where the Judge agreed that we were correct in some aspects, but ruled in favour of Natural England..

In addition, we are at various stages of challenge on several other issues including the 2018 Low Risk Area (LRA) badger culling policy, the Cumbria LRA 2018 Licence specifically, other 2018 badger cull licences and regarding Supplementary Culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset pilot areas where bTB rates are increasing. Several thousand pounds for each of these is required to establish feasibility and to determine potential outcomes even before applying to the court. 

Against very difficult odds, sufficient progress has been achieved for this work to continue. Our intention is to seek legal justice for wildlife and people by having all our arguments clearly heard in Court. Financial support has already generously been given by badger groups, trusts, charities and members of the public and together we are a major force for change. We hope that people not already part of The Badger Crowd will read this appeal and spread the effort by joining us and asking others to do so too. Every donation, no matter how modest, contributes to the total required. Thank you for caring and please help us if you can.