Badger cull go-ahead 'as soon as possible'
A controversial cull of badgers looks set to begin this year after the Court of Appeal threw out a legal challenge by an animal welfare group.
The Badger Trust had attacked Mr Justice Ouseley's decision in July to uphold government proposals for two pilot culls to tackle tuberculosis in cattle: one in West Somerset and the other in Gloucestershire.
But, Lord Justice Laws, Lord Justice Rimer and Lord Justice Sullivan yesterday unanimously rejected the appeal.
A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the two six-week "pilot" culls would commence "as soon as is practical".
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The Government has long eyed autumn 2012 as a start date, and always factored in a lengthy court challenge.
The spokesman said: "We are pleased with the judgement. We will continue to work with the farming industry so badger control in two pilot areas can start as soon as is practical.
"No-one wants to cull badgers but last year bovine TB led to the slaughter of over 26,000 cattle and to help eradicate the disease it needs to be tackled in badgers."
If the pilots are successful, more culls are likely to be rolled out throughout the South West peninsula where bovine TB is rife.
The Badger Trust argued that killing badgers will make no meaningful contribution to tackling the disease, which has been described as the most pressing animal health problem in the UK. It claims that the scheme could lead to 40,000 animals being "pointlessly killed" over the next four years.
But the judges were only concerned with statutory construction of the previous decision.
Afterwards, Patricia Hayden, vice-chairman of the Badger Trust said: "We are very disappointed. We don't know what the next step is, but we will not give up."
The ruling by the Court of Appeal followed a frantic day of lobbying by those opposed to the killing of badgers, fronted by Sir David Attenborough and Simon King, President of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts.
But the National Farmers Union (NFU), which alongside the British Veterinary Association and British Cattle Veterinary Association supported the ruling in July, welcomed yesterday's decision.
NFU head of food and farming Phil Hudson said: "Given the public interest in this issue, we always knew that there would be a legal challenge to the policy.
"We are pleased that the judges upheld the High Court's decision.
"This news is critically important to cattle farmers and their families who are blighted with this disease on their farms.
"The NFU remains fully committed to supporting the Government's science-led TB eradication policy to tackle what is a terrible and damaging disease.
"Our end goal is for a healthy countryside and that needs healthy badgers and healthy cattle. This policy, and these pilots, will help to deliver that."
If the pilots prove the culling to be safe, effective and humane – the technique involves licensed marksmen shooting free-running badgers – then up to 40 cull licences could be issued over a four-year period.
The window for a pilot cull will be open until the start of the six-month closed season – the badger breeding season which bans a cull – in February 2013.
Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, yesterday said the result was "disappointing", but called on the public to join its "people power" campaign. Speaking from a rally of a coalition of anti-cull charities in Bristol yesterday, where the star attraction was Queen musician Brian May, he said the cull made "no sense", and said the evidence showed that 70% of badgers would be killed to stop the infection of one cow in 100.
"This is a dirty back room deal which has been done because it's cheaper than a vaccination," he told the Western Morning News. "We will not forgive or forget those politicians who support it."
Guitarist Mr May said the fight against culling badgers would continue despite the defeat in the courts.
The Queen star said: "What you've heard is that the judicial review failed. It isn't totally unexpected.
"What you've got to remember is that judges do not review the scientific evidence, they do not review the ethical considerations. All they do is look at the technicalities.
"The issue was, did the Government break any procedural rules? It was a good thing to try and I am not very much daunted by the fact it failed."
In 1971, the first case of bovine TB in a badger was detected on a farm in Gloucestershire. Farmers have since become convinced that the spiralling badger population is to blame for the spread of the disease.
The 26,000 infected cattle slaughtered each year will cost the taxpayer up to £1 billion in compensation by the end of the decade, ministers claim.
Scientists insist culling has to be carried out over a large area and for a long enough period. If so, it could lead to a 16% fall in TB in cattle over nine years.
The Government is to invest £20 million to develop cattle and oral badger vaccines, but are wary of their effectiveness. An injectable badger vaccine is now available but it is costly to trap and inject badgers.