Lawyers acting for the Save Me Trust today sent a letter before action to Natural England requiring them to revoke the licences to kill badgers held by the cull operators in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.
Badgers are a protected species. Unless an exception applies, killing a badger is a criminal offence under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. One exception is when the badger is killed for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease, and the killer has a licence issued by Natural England. The Government has not sought to repeal or amend the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, so Natural England has to comply with it. It justifies issuing the licences on the grounds that the cull is for the purpose of preventing the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle.
The scientific consensus is that a badger cull can lead to a slight reduction in the incidence of bovine TB, but only if the cull is carried out professionally and thoroughly, using experienced field staff to trap the badgers in cages before shooting them. Anything less cannot be relied on to reduce the spread of bovine TB, and may well increase it, because the badgers that survive move around more and so have a greater opportunity to catch bovine TB or to pass it on.
Natural England has licenced contactors to shoot badgers in the field. In Gloucestershire and Somerset the contractors have entirely failed to carry out the kind of cull that could be expected to slightly reduce bovine TB, and there is a significant chance that their efforts have caused infections in farmers’ herds, not prevented them. There is no reason to believe that their performance will improve this year, nor that the contractor in Dorset, who has just been issued with a licence, will fare any better. This means that the annual cull planned to begin in a matter of days cannot in any rational sense be said to be serving the purpose of preventing the spread of disease. It is therefore unlawful. Natural England has thus far done the Government’s bidding when it comes to issuing licences. The letter from the Save Me Trust sets out the reasons why the cull as it has licensed it cannot with any confidence be said to prevent disease. It also sets out ways in which Natural England has failed in its duty to consult the public before issuing licences.
The Save Me Trust calls on Natural England to do its duty under the legislation and revoke these unlawful licences to kill. This will stop a cull that has so far killed thousands of badgers for no good reason. If Natural England does not revoke the licences, then the Save Me Trust will take legal action to require Natural England to act within the law. Savemetrust.org