Badger Trust legal threat to halt culls on hold

The Badger Trust has delayed any decision to launch a fresh legal bid to stop the pilot badger culls in England after securing a “high-level meeting” with senior DEFRA officials.

The outcome of these discussions could be pivotal over whether the trust decides to launch a fresh judicial review at the High Court to try to stop culling going ahead for a second year in the pilot counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire.

DEFRA, the NFU and most farmers and landowners insist that culling badgers would have a major impact in the fight against bovine TB.

See also more on the badger cull

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has repeatedly stated that no other country has successfully eradicated TB without bearing down on the reservoir of disease in wildlife, insisting that he wants to see “healthy cattle, alongside healthy badgers”.

But the Badger Trust wants the culling to end and the government to focus instead on introducing stricter cattle controls, rolling out a national programme of badger vaccination, and to lobby the EU for a derogation to bring forward cattle vaccination in the UK.

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust and policy adviser to animal welfare charity Care for The Wild, told Farmers Weekly that the Badger Trust would be raising three areas of concerns with DEFRA over the pilot culls. These include:

  • The bond and payment system – who will pay for the extra costs if the use of cage trapping and shooting becomes more prevalent than free shooting – the NFU, farmers or the taxpayer?
  • How will the absence of an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) in year two of the pilots affect the government’s ability to monitor the culls if it intends to implement the recommendations the panel made after the first year of the scheme
  • Badger numbers and monitoring the impact of culling on the badger population in the cull zones.

Mr Dyer summed up the trust’s concerns, saying: “The three areas are: Who pays? Who monitors? And, how many badgers?”

Depending on the discussions, the Badger Trust would then decide whether to go ahead with its plans to launch a fresh legal bid to derail to culls, having failed to overturn the policy at the High Court once before – and also on appeal in the same proceedings.

“We have been offered the opportunity to meet with DEFRA officials and we are going to take this up,” Mr Dyer said.

“We will try to get answers to some of these questions as to whether we take legal action or not. These are the questions we want answered.”

Mr Dyer said the meeting was due to take place in the next few days, but any decision to launch a judicial review would be taken within the next 14 days.

“If we are going to get on top of this disease, we need to work together and not fight all the time. The politics of the cull have got in the way and there are other ways forward,” he added.

“We could take decisions based on more targeted steps. There is investment in blood-test technology at Trent University, which could help us identify infected badgers rather than reducing a large population of healthy badgers.

“We would have to decide how we could use this technology going forward. We could also form solutions by not having to cull badgers in the long-term.”

Mr Dyer also accused the government of not doing enough to seek an EU derogation to allow cattle vaccination field trials in the UK.

“We keep hearing cattle vaccination is a 10-year timetable, but Wales’ chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop said we could be vaccinating cattle within the next couple of years and we need to get on with it.”

A DEFRA spokesman said the department would be commenting on the story later on Thursday (1 May).