Photo credit: Vincent van Zalinge (@vincentvanzalinge) / Unsplash

THE DECISION to launch a major cull of badgers in Northern Ireland is being challenged in the courts by Wild Justice and Northern Ireland Badger Group (NIBG).

The wildlife groups have applied for judicial review of the decision announced last week by Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots.

Wild Justice and NIBG, supported by the Born Free Foundation, say the cull of a likely 4,000 badgers in one year by shooting will be inhumane and will not be effective in getting rid of bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).

The groups say the consultation about whether to go ahead with the controversial programme of shooting badgers withheld vital information so that contributors were not able to participate effectively.

The application for judicial review was filed at the Royal Courts of Justice in Northern Ireland on Wednesday 30 March following Mr Poots’ statement on Thursday, 24 March.

In light of the fact that culling could begin as early as July 2022, the groups have asked for an early court hearing.

The announcement followed a consultation launched in July 2021, when DAERA asked for views on a strategy to eradicate bTB in Northern Ireland. The consultation confirmed that DAERA’s long-term aim was to vaccinate badgers to reduce the spread of bTB and support a healthy badger population, but that it was first necessary to reduce the infection load in the badger population, by culling.

The consultation repeatedly stated that the strategy was underpinned by a “Business Case”, which explored different methods of reducing the disease in badgers prior to a vaccination-only intervention. However, the Business Case was not disclosed as part of the consultation and when requested, it was withheld under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on the basis that it formed part of future government policy. This meant contributors were completely in the dark about DAERA’s reasons for the proposal – or why it had discarded other humane and less environmentally damaging options such as ‘Test, Vaccinate and Remove’ (TVR) followed by vaccination. Mr Poots’ Statement makes clear that the decision is based not just on the Consultation but also on the ‘Business Case’ underpinning it.

Wild Justice, NIBG and Born Free point to recent research which reveals there is no evidence to suggest that badger culling in England has resulted in any reduction in cattle herd bTB incidence or prevalence.

Born Free head of policy, Dr Mark Jones, is also the joint author of the research paper suggesting that badger culling in England has failed to reduce the incidence or prevalence of bTB in cattle herds.

Wild Justice said: “We oppose a badger cull in Northern Ireland because we believe it will be ineffective, know that it will be inhumane and we are advised that it is based on an unlawful, bungled public consultation. DAERA should think again and we hope our legal challenge forces that to happen.”

Mike Rendle of NIBG said: “This indiscriminate badger cull will kill thousands of badgers using a method that has been branded by the UK government’s Independent Expert Panel as ineffective and inhumane. It is disingenuous to claim that shooting badgers will lead to a healthier wildlife population when the majority of those killed will not have TB.”

Dr Mark Jones said: “Instead of blindly following the ineffective and inhumane badger culling policy employed in England, the authorities in Northern Ireland should be following the progressive approach adopted in Wales which is succeeding in reducing the impacts of bovine TB without killing wildlife.”

Wild Justice and NIBG are represented by Carol Day and Ricardo Gama at Leigh Day, with Phoenix Law as agents in Northern Ireland.

Leigh Day environmental law specialist, solicitor Carol Day, said: “Our clients understand DAERA will make an Order to enable the killing badgers as envisaged in the Consultation paper. That consultation was fundamentally flawed – which means that any Order made on the basis of it would also be unlawful.”

* The case is being crowdfunded. More information here.

* Source: Leigh Day