The NFU has launched a judicial review challenging the government’s decision not to grant badger culling licences to control bovine TB in Derbyshire.
In September, Defra announced that culling licensee Natural England would not be extending the badger cull to the Midlands county.
Farm minister George Eustice has acknowledged that the decision to pause a cull in south Derbyshire caused “great frustration to farmers”.
But Mr Eustice said the delay would allow Defra to assess how culling can co-exist with the ongoing badger vaccination project in the edge area county.
The government faced accusations of political interference after it emerged that prime minister Boris Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, was “delighted” that the planned cull had been scrapped in the county.
Ms Symonds, a long-standing opponent of the badger cull, held meetings with Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, ahead of the announcement. But she has never spoken publicly about the decision to reject the culling application in Derbyshire.
The NFU submitted its application to the High Court for a judicial review of the Derbyshire badger cull refusal on 6 December. The union has asked for the decision to be reviewed as soon as possible.
An NFU source told Farmers Weekly: “Livestock farmers in the Ashbourne area, where culling was proposed, have had serious problems with bovine TB for at least 10 years.
“Farmers there have been led up the top of the hill twice before with culling. This time, they did everything by the book – a lot of time and money had been invested in the application.
“Just two days before the cull was due to be announced, the traps had been put out, and then the government pulled it.”
The source described the decision as “populist politics” and “point scoring” for the government ahead of the election announcement.
NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “It’s come to light that before the Secretary of State made her decision, her expert veterinary and scientific advisers told her that a licence should be issued to the Derbyshire area, to prevent the spread of bovine TB.
“It remains our view that any policy decisions must be based on science and evidence.”
Last year, 1,230 TB-infected cattle were slaughtered in Derbyshire, compared with 672 the previous year. The annual incidence rate in herds increased from 7.7% to 8.4%.
A recently published Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) epidemiology report for Derbyshire found that, based on probability, 77% of TB breakdowns in the county were caused by badgers.