Ecologist loses High Court challenge against extended badger culls

An ecologist who claims extended badger culls risk making the bovine TB epidemic worse has lost a High Court challenge against them.

Badger culls were introduced in 2011 in a bid to reduce the spread of the disease, which results in the destruction of infected cattle herds.

Government guidance issued last year expanded the existing cull programme to new areas in England and allowed "supplementary culling".

Tom Langton, an ecology consultant and member of the Badger Trust, asked the court to quash the Government's policy and the licences issued under it by Natural England, arguing they were unlawful.

His lawyers argued at a hearing in July that the guidance was a "significant departure" from the Government's previous policy on culling and that a consultation carried out before its introduction was flawed.

His case, brought against the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Natural England, was dismissed by Mr Justice Cranston in London on Wednesday.

The judge said the consultation was "in some respects unimpressive", but added: "However, it does not meet the high threshold of being so clearly and radically wrong as to render it procedurally unfair and thus unlawful."

Measures to reduce bovine TB were introduced in 2011 and included the granting of licences to shoot badgers, which can act as a "reservoir" for the disease and transmit it to cattle.

The new guidance extended culling and allowed it to be continued for a longer period, without being reviewed.

Since the guidelines were issued, Natural England has issued licences for "supplementary culling" in Somerset and Gloucestershire and new licences for culling have been granted for parts of Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire - although the exact locations of the cull zones are not known.

Mr Langton's lawyers told the court in July that a 2007 report following a series of badger culling trials concluded that culling could not "meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain".

They also argued badger culling is a "scientifically, politically and morally controversial" means of preventing the spread of bovine TB, which can also be transmitted through other animals and is mainly passed between cattle.

Mr Justice Cranston said the Environment Secretary's chief scientific adviser and the Government's chief veterinary officer supported the extended culling.

He added: "Against this background, a policy of maintaining a reduced badger population through supplementary culling cannot be said to be irrational when coupled with the commitment to change tack as evidence became available."

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