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UK: Ruling due on badger cull challenge

11:49 29 August 2014

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The High Court will rule today on an 11th-hour challenge to a government decision to let the latest badger cull go ahead without monitoring by a panel of independent experts.

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The Badger Trust is seeking a ruling to block “controlled shooting” of free-roaming badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset unless a panel is put in place.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is testing whether the shooting method can be rolled out to other parts of the country to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.

Last year an independent expert panel (IEP) said in a report on the first year of the four-year pilot schemes that controlled shooting could not deliver the level of culling needed to bring about a reduction in bovine TB and was not humane.

Defra decided to continue the scheme this year without an IEP in place, leading to accusations by the Badger Trust that there had been a breach of “legitimate expectation” that a panel would monitor the entire pilot cull.

David Wolfe QC, appearing for the Trust, argued at London’s High Court last week that Defra had not simply “moved the goalposts” but was also “sacking the referee”.

James Eadie QC, appearing for Defra, argued that there was no legitimate expectation of the kind alleged and Defra’s intention had always been that an IEP would only be in place for the first year of the pilot schemes.

Mr Eadie told Mr Justice Kenneth Parker there was no promise to maintain an IEP “for ever after”.

But lessons had been learned and the recommendations of last year’s panel had been “taken on board and will be used going forward”.

Earlier this week it was announced that Natural England has authorised the latest round of culling.

The authorisation letters require companies carrying out the licensed culls to kill a minimum number of badgers - some 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset.

The maximum number has been set at 1,091 in Gloucestershire and 785 in Somerset.

Six weeks of culling between June 1 and January 31 each year are allowed under the licences, with those carrying out the cull deciding on the start date.

The Government and farmers insist that culling is necessary to tackle TB in livestock, which saw more than 26,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year, but opponents say it is inhumane and ineffective and alternatives such as vaccination should be pursued.

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