Last December a controversial pilot plan was announced that called for thousands of badgers to be killed in Somerset and Gloucestershire later this year as a means of stopping the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The Badger Trust requested a judicial review, but the High Court ruled against the challenge this week leaving thousands of badgers to face high velocity rifles when they emerge at night this fall.
Acting on behalf of local badger groups, the Badger Trust argued that the decision to kill badgers would break a law that only allows culling to prevent the spread of disease, that the cost-impact assessment was flawed and underestimated, since it was based on shooting badgers, rather than trapping them in cages, and that the job of licensing was inappropriately given to Natural England, a government wildlife watchdog, according to the Guardian.
“The Badger Trust emphatically did not ask the court to adjudicate on the science around culling. That remains exactly the same as it has been for a decade. Although the Secretary of State has tried to interpret the science to her advantage nothing has altered the basic finding that while badgers are implicated, killing them can make no meaningful contribution to tackling the disease, and cattle measures in themselves are sufficient if properly applied,” said David Williams, the chairman of the trust.
In addition to arguing that the National Farmer’s Union had too much influence over the policy’s development, opponents claim that the cull will not only be cruel, but ineffective in reducing the spread of bTB.
A seven-year study completed in 2007 found that killing badgers on a large-scale and disrupting their behavior caused groups’ survivors to pack up and move to a new area, a process is known as perturbation. The study also found that the cull only reduced bTB by 16 percent.
DEFRA argues that the cull is necessary and bTB has already resulted in killing 26,000 cows in 2011 and will cost it will cost taxpayers around ￡1 billion over the next 10 years if it’s not dealt with now, but the government acknowledged that the culls could cost farmers more than doing nothing.
The same legal challenge was used at the Welsh Assembly earlier this year and won, resulting in a vaccination program in lieu of killing, but DEFRA believes that vaccinations would be too slow.
The Badger Trust has a week to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, the Humane Society International (HSI) filed a complaint with the Council of Europe, on the grounds that the cull contravenes the Bern Convention that protects wildlife.
“This may now be the badgers’ last hope and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this bloody and pointless slaughter,” said Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of HSI.
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