Badgers in England and Wales are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
But since a cull pilot began in 2013, 300,000 badgers have been killed across 43 areas in England as part of a government initiative to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, according to the Wildlife Trust.
In September, the environment secretary intervened in the permit process, blocking a proposed badger cull in Derbyshire – the first intervention of its kind. A four-year vaccination trial is in place in the county, which the environment secretary argued should be continued instead of culling.
Protection of Badgers Act 1992
11 Apr 2011
The NFU has now applied to the High Court for a judicial review of that decision, which it believes contradicted the advice of DEFRA’s chief veterinary officer, recommending Natural England approve the permit. The NFU believes that Villiers did not follow “current scientific evidence” surrounding the badger cull regime and therefore acted unlawfully.
An anonymous source quoted in The Times newspaper said that Villiers’ intervention had been brought about by interference from the prime minister’s partner Carrie Symonds, who has ties to the Badger Trust.
The trust’s chief executive Dominic Dyer said he knew Symonds. “She’s come to Bedford to support the trust and I’ve helped write a speech with her. I’ve also raised my issues with Zac Goldsmith and others in Westminster.”
He added: “The NFU challenge gives the impression that the NFU are running the policy.”
The Badger Trust and other environmental organisations such as the Wildlife Trust believe that tuberculosis disease spreads mostly from cattle to cattle as a result of “dirty agricultural practices” rather than interaction with badgers.
But the NFU disagrees.
NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “We think that what the secretary of state did is unlawful, and that is why we’re launching this legal challenge. Alongside the Derbyshire farmers, we’re asking the court to rule that the direction issued to Natural England should be overturned.
“It’s come to light that before the secretary of state made her decision, her expert veterinary and scientific advisers told her that a licence should be issued to the Derbyshire area, to prevent the spread of bovine TB.
“It remains our view that any policy decisions must be based on science and evidence.”
A DEFRA spokeswoman said that bovine TB remains one of the “greatest animal health threats to the UK” and that the decision to pause the cull programme in Derbyshire would allow it to look at how the cull and existing vaccination projects in that area have worked together.
She said the department had been notified about the legal challenge but could not comment on ongoing judicial proceedings.