The fate of the badger cull could be decided within days as the challenge to Defra’s pilot cull begins in the High Court on Thursday (21 August).
The Badger Trust launched a judicial review over what it claims is a lack of independent monitoring of the trials, which are due to enter a second year on sites in Gloucester and Somerset this autumn.
The initial phase of the trails in 2013 was monitored by an independent expert panel (IEP) which was commissioned to review the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the cull.
The panel’s report, published in April, said the cull failed to meet targets for effectiveness and humaneness and that Defra needed to make several improvements before culls could begin again in 2014.
Soon after the IEP made its recommendations, the then Defra secretary Owen Paterson said the panel would not be reconvened to oversee the second phase of the pilot culls.
Instead the Animal Health and Veterinary laboratories Agency and Natural England decided they would monitor the trials.
But in a statement released in July, the Badger Trust said without an IEP there would be no proper assessment of the cull’s safety or effectiveness.
It said the IEP was needed to oversee the collection and analysis of data and that this would be the focus of its bid to prevent further trials from going ahead.
Without a review panel, there could be no sound basis on which to make a lawful decision to extend culling around the country, it added.
Thursday’s High Court challenge is expected to be attended by hundreds of anti-cull campaigners.
Dominic Dyer, Care for the Wild policy advisor, said protests would continue across the country until the cull stopped, regardless which way the High Court decision went on Thursday.
A Defra spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings, but added that no country with a significant TB reservoir in wildlife had successfully controlled the disease in cattle without tackling its presence in wildlife too.
“Doing nothing is not an option and culling badgers is one part of our broad strategy to rid the country of this terrible disease,” he added.
“We cannot succeed in this without using all the tools available.”