Action has begun in the High Court today to try and ensure that the government’s plans for large scale slaughter of wild badgers do not go ahead. The Badger Trust is asking the court to declare the cull as illegal and unscientific.
Despite other trials over the years since large scale gassing of badgers in their setts were stopped there is conflicting evidence as to whether a badger cull is effective at controlling the spread of Bovine TB. While some evidence suggest that bovine TB incidents drop within a trial area the incidence of Bovine TB increases outside the trial area as badgers seek to escape being killed.
A comprehensive Government-backed study found that a large-scale cull of badgers reduced the rates of cattle herd infections overall by 12% to 16%.
The benefits are greater inside the cull area, but movement of badgers as a result of culling can increase incidence of the disease in the surrounding areas in the first few years – prompting attempts to cull within boundaries such as coasts, rivers or roads to limit badger movement.
Trust solicitor Gwendolen Morgan, of Bindmans LLP, said: “The Trust’s arguments are three-fold. First, the proposed badger cull will cause rather than prevent disease in cattle. This fails the legal test for licensing. Second, in terms of its cost-benefit analysis, Defra made a decision on basis A, when in reality the plan may well be rolled out on basis B. As a matter of public law, that is unlawful. Finally, the guidance to Natural England is legally flawed.“…More at Badger Trust in anti-cull case plea – The Press Association
The biggest concern for this trial is that the government has opted for the cheapest method of killing badgers and that is through free-shooting. This will lead to injured badgers being left to die painfully and slowly if they are not killed out-right with the first shot. Previous trials have used a cage and shoot policy which leads to a quick and humane death.
The Badger Trust will argue that free-shooting is not just inhumane but also dangerous to the public as shooter could be firing shotguns in open countryside.
Caroline Spelman supports the proposed policy of free-shooting badgers in order to try and prevent the spread of Bovine TB in cattle, however there are concerns that the policy is more one that has been devised and initiated by the National Farmers Union than by politicians as reported in the Guardian…
Cull opponents are also attacking the “undue influence” of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in the decision to go ahead with the shooting of badgers across England. In a February letter to the Badger Trust, seen by the Guardian, officials at the environment department (Defra) argued that “advice from the NFU was so integral to the development of the cull policy” that it considered the NFU to be a part of the government in this instance, and would therefore not release its “internal” communications with the lobby group.
, the fact remains that they are an external, unelected, unaccountable lobby organisation. Defra’s argument goes against accountability, transparency and good governance.”…More at Badger cull ‘not legal or scientific’ – The Guardian
The fact that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) were not willing to release details of the arguments submitted by the NFU has to raise questions of whether the decision to undertake the cull was based on science or political lobbying and after-dinner drinks.
Many farmers are ready and eager to get on with the cull that will see thousands of badgers shot across the two trial areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset. for the trials to be effective proponents says that at least 70% of the badgers in the trial areas will need to be killed over a 6 week period.
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, will 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).“…More at Tension rises ahead of badger cull review – FarmersWeekly
Trying to hit the 70% figure is going to be difficult as an article in Nature pointed out. The problem is with counting the badgers. There’s no effective way of counting the population of badgers in a defined area. This is needed if the cull is going to result in the death of 70% of the badgers in an area. If the shooters only kill 50% of the badgers then bovine TB will not be controlled and if the shooters kill all the badgers in the area then the UK would be in breach of the Bern Convention for eraidcating a species which the UK is the predominate host nation for.
Two of the UK’s foremost experts have a letter published in the scientific journal Nature today arguing that our poor knowledge of existing badger populations presents a serious problem. That’s because the culls have to wipe out at least 70% of the animals to avoid making matters worse, but it’s impossible to know whether you’ve hit this target if you don’t really know how many there were to start with.
Christl Donnelly and Rosie Woodroffe, who both worked on the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trial that remains the gold-standard research in the field, say uncertainties over badger populations mean a cull could result in anywhere between 50% and 100% of the creatures being killed.
If “only” half of badgers are taken out, there is a significant risk that fleeing survivors will increase TB rates in cattle in neighbouring areas, the so-called peturbation effect. On the other hand, if all the badgers are killed, the cull will have broken the Bern wildlife convention which forbids local extinctions and to which the UK has signed up….More at Badger cull is a U-turn-in-waiting – The Guardian (blog)
Even if the High Court allows the cull to go ahead there is not guarentee that it will still be able to go ahead in an effective manner. A number of farms in the cull trial areas are on council owned land and there is moves to prevent the shooting of badgers on that land.
Members of the Liberal Democrat party have written to the leader of Gloucestershire County Council condemning this autumn’s cull.
The letter to Councillor Mark Hawthorne, from both the leader and deputy leader of the county’s Lib Dem group, asks the council to prohibit the cull from taking place on any land owned, managed or controlled by Gloucestershire County Council.
If DEFRA wins the case then the badger cull is expected to begin in September and last for 6 weeks.