The Badger Trust’s legal challenge against DEFRA’s proposed cull of badgers is underway in the High Court, London.
If the judge upholds the Trust’s challenge, two pilot badger culls due to begin in Gloucestershire and Somerset in the late summer could be delayed or scrapped.
At the two-day hearing on (25-26 June) the Badger Trust wants the judge to overturn DEFRA’s decision on the basis of three grounds.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the trust, Bindmans LLP, argue that the culls proposed will not meet the strict legal test of “preventing the spread of disease” in areas being licensed, and may in fact increase the spread of the disease.
The trust has also claimed that there was a significant cost risk to farmers and DEFRA’s cost-impact assessment was “flawed”.
Thirdly, the trust claims that the secretary of state had no legal power to give Natural England responsibility to issue licences for the cull.
Badger Trust spokesman Jack Reedy said: “We’ve got a very strong case, which we have worked hard on.
“It’s a legal case, not a scientific one. We’re challenging the legality of what the secretary of state has done.”
But the outcome of the hearing will “not be known for some days or weeks”, said Mr Reedy.
A DEFRA spokesman said: “Bovine TB is a chronic and devastating disease.
“It forced the slaughter of 25,000 cattle in 2010 alone, and is taking a terrible toll on our farmers and rural communities.
“Nobody wants to cull badgers. But no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife, too.”
Bovine TB campaigner Bill Harper said: “We need culling more than anything to control the seat of the infection.
“We have got to look at the problem of bovine TB as a fire. It has a hotspot and the flames are spreading outwards. We need to work on the centre, but we also need to stop the spread of the flames.”
Cornish farmer Mr Harper said the government had a “strong case” for culling, which, if left unchecked, would cost the taxpayer about £1bn over the next 10 years.
But he added: “I’m concerned that DEFRA’s barristers have not been briefed enough by industry leaders on the ground, like myself, over what is happening.
“I haven’t been given the chance to meet barristers, either as someone from the industry, or as a representative of the Bovine TB Eradication Group for England (TBEG).”
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