High Court judge decides that Defra 2020 badger cull policy does not trigger protection of biodiversity under the 2006 NERC Act

Today, Mr Justice Griffiths handed down a High Court judgement on the most recent Judicial Review on the ecological impacts of badger culling in England. He dismissed the claims made against the Secretary of State George Eustice, concerning the need for consideration of measures to protect species and habitats in the wider countryside, under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERCA). This follows the decision to keep on culling badgers with changes in culling methods, including the wider introduction of reactive culling.

The claim had been brought in early 2020 by conservation ecologist Tom Langton, with support from the Badger Crowd, the broad affiliation of badger trusts, groups, and wildlife charities fighting poor science and decision making surrounding the badger culls in England. The ruling today for Judicial Review CO/2062/2020 suggests that despite the lack of evidence of the defendant recording any considerations, the Minister did not need to do anything “to have regard… to the purpose of conserving biodiversity” when the “Next Steps” policy was published in March 2020.

The judge indicated that so far, badger culling had been done “…with the benefit of all the evidence available about ecological impact and biodiversity. There was no new evidence that might even potentially have caused Next Steps to take a different turn.”

A ‘do-nothing’ approach was lawful?

However, Tom Langton’s earlier cases in 2017 and 2018 had exposed Natural England as being in breach of its duty for lack of protective measures for habitat and species features protected by Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Measures needed, which NE then hurriedly put in place via a new set of guidelines, requiring a wide range of practical precautions.

The recent case addressed species and habitats across an average of 90% of badger cull areas; on land beyond SSSI boundaries and protected by the NERC Act 2006.  In a statement provided to the court, Natural England, who license badger culling, stated that protection imposed on badger culling licences “…are not necessary outside protected sites in order to comply with the purpose of conserving biodiversity.”

The 2018 Godfray Review conclusion to continue culling had stated that ecological studies of the consequences of reducing badger densities on other species should be undertaken. The Godfray review recommendation on ‘periodic culling’ involved a five-year badger cull cessation period with associated badger vaccination, and was considered the most ‘promising’ future approach. But this was not adopted by the government in March 2020.

An application to the Court of Appeal is now under active consideration.

A Badger Crowd representative comments:

“This is obviously a disappointment and blow to all those concerned with the biodiversity crisis in nature-depleted England, and who wish to see the potential cost, and damage to our environment from badger culling properly addressed. Ecological impact and potential impact from badger culling are accepted processes that are under-researched and not properly monitored. The need to address them was established by legal action in 2017 and 2018.  If addressing these problems outside SSSIs is too difficult, as has been suggested, or perhaps too time consuming and expensive, then badger culling should stop.   Freshly extracted evidence shows how government has improperly withheld information, that now needs to be fully examined. But, except for a few SSSIs, by his own admission, the Secretary of State has decided not to protect 90% of the countryside from scrutiny of the potential ecological effects of badger culling. England’s wildlife and the public deserve better. Thanks are extended again to the legal team and experts, and to the 700 individuals and organisations who have donated so generously and given support over the last 18 months to try to bring government to account.”

The Judgement may be read in full here.

Funds urgently needed for Badger Cull High Court challenge

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