Badger cull challenge in High Court as ecologist claims Government fails to protect biodiversity

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

Case claims that ongoing badger cull shows failure to consider environmental impact required by NERC 2006 when making policy decisions

A High Court Judicial Review at the Royal Courts of Justice will today hear another challenge to the badger cull through a claim that the Defra Secretary of State, George Eustice, has failed to protect wildlife as required by the Natural Environment & Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006. The case states that the ongoing badger cull causes ecological disturbance to the wider countryside and will test whether the Government failed to have regard to its statutory duty to protect biodiversity in England under Section 40 (1) of NERC (2006), prior to instructing Natural England – a Government quango – to commence operations to enable the badger cull.

The government-sanctioned cull is set to run until 2025 under mass badger culling licences that will see 280,000 badgers slaughtered, almost 60% of an estimated badger population of 485,000. The biodiversity commitment was made in 2006 in response to the UK signing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, established in 1992. A recent report from the Environmental Audit Committee stated that the UK is the most wildlife-depleted country out of the G7 nations, and concern is growing about the lack of tangible targets and measurements in the Environment Bill, which returns to Parliament in September.

Dawn Varley, Acting CEO of Badger Trust, said:

‘This challenge highlights the lack of joined-up thinking from the Government on environmental matters in general, and in particular on how badgers have been consistently forgotten about, scapegoated and failed, time and time again.

Our ecosystem is just that – a system – and it needs to be thought of in the round, and on a decent timescale. The NERC Act (2006) puts specific responsibility on the Government to actively and appropriately consider biodiversity, and they need to show their due diligence in terms of the badger cull. We believe they have failed to consider what the mass cull of badgers, on an unprecedented scale, means for this protected and iconic native species and the wider ecosystem. Badger Trust, with Born Free and EuroGroup for Animals, also has an active complaint against the Government under the Bern Convention at this time.’

She continued: ‘The Government’s own scientific studies show that badgers are not a key source of bovine tuberculosis, and culling them will not provide a long term solution to reducing bovine TB in cattle. It’s clear that attempts to eradicate the disease through lethal control of badgers on a massive scale makes no sense.

Failing to consider the impact of removing badgers from our landscape, in numbers that can lead to local extinction, will have a devastating effect on them and on our ecosystem as a whole.

We commend Tom for his ongoing efforts on this matter and look forward to hearing what Defra has to say in response. Hopefully, it's a good day for badgers – they certainly deserve one.’

The case is being brought by ecologist Tom Langton, supported by the badger community at large, including Badger Trust which funded the initial stages of the work and continues to support work on the matter. Over £24,000 was raised through a dedicated crowdfunder for the case, which seeks to quash the Government’s 2020 ‘Next Steps’ Bovine Tuberculosis policy, and thereby bring about an end to badger killing as a means of disease control.

Tom Langton is supported in the High Court challenge by expert witness Dominic Woodfield of Bioscan, a leading authority on biodiversity assessment. The legal Team is Lisa Foster and Hannah Norman at Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law and Richard Turney and Ben Fullbrook at Landmark Chambers.

Update: 10th August 2021

Judgement in this case was handed down on 10th August 2021 from Mr Justice Griffiths. Unfortunately, he dismissed the claims made against the Secretary of State. More details can be found on the Badger Crowd blog dated 09/08/21 and the full judgement can be read here.

Badger Trust was a key funder of the initial stages of the case, and supported the successful initial and then stretch crowdfunding for the case, as agreed with Tom. Badger Trust thanks Tom Langton for taking action on this matter, and for all those within the badger community who contributed to the crowdfunder.