Badger groups plan legal challenge to latest cull licences

Anti-badger cull groups, the Badger Trust and Wild Justice, are planning legal action against Natural England over its decision to licence supplementary badger culls as part of its policy to reverse the spread of bovine TB.

On 3 May 2024, Natural England issued supplementary licences for badgers to be killed across 17 existing and nine unnamed new zones.

The culls commenced on 1 June and the Badger Trust estimates it could lead to the death of up to 30,000 badgers by 2026.

See also: Badger Trust slams Labour’s backpedalling on badger cull

The Badger Trust and Wild Justice have now joined forces to send a pre-action protocol letter to Natural England, suggesting its decision was contrary to the scientific advice its own director of science, Peter Brotherton, and therefore unlawful.

The two organisations claim Dr Brotherton had found “no justification for authorising further supplementary badger culls in 2024 for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease” and recommended against doing so.

This was based on the view that badger vaccination can be effective in previously culled areas.

The Badger Trust and Wild Justice believe this expert advice was overridden in favour of maintaining farmer confidence in Defra’s control programme and “not upsetting the farming industry”.

The pre-action protocol letter, sent by legal firm Leigh Day, gives Natural England until 15 July to respond.

“If we consider the response to be unsatisfactory, we may consider launching a request for a formal judicial review,” said a Wild Justice statement.

Natural England said it was unable to comment on any specific cases.

However, it indicated that all relevant factors are taken into consideration when making decisions on whether to issue licences for badger culling, including the necessary legal requirements, Defra’s policy and its guidance issued to Natural England.