BBC Wildlife Magazine
Two judicial reviews relating to badger culling policy in the UK are due
Campaigners have taken out a Judicial Review against Natural England, which questions the processes that the public body followed in relation to the badger cull.
In mid-July, High Court judge judgee will hear two Judicial Reviews relating to the Government’s policy of culling badgers in certainrtain areas of the country to reduce levels of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. What’s at stakee is more than the decision, which has courted controversy, to allow farmers and landowners to shoot badgers across 211 areas in the south and west of Englandd in 2017. It could also potentially impactct on the reputation of Natural England (NE), the official agency charged with protecting wildlife in this country.
The campaigners who are taking Natural England to court believe it hass failed to follow rules laid down under both European and British legislation.. Court scrutiny will also examine what some professional ecologists describe as a “culture of secrecy” within the organisation that forced them to take the matter to the Information Commissioneroner (ICO) and a regulatory court in order for certain evidence to be released.
Documentation was originally supplied plied in a heavily redacted form. Before a hearing with the ICO tribunal where he won access to the detail, ecologist Tom Langton said, “For all the use these documents are, the blacked-out assessments frankly might as well have ve been carried out in complete secrecy.” ”
In order for NE to grant licences for badger culling, it had to carry out Habitats Regulations Assessments, or HRAs, in any areas where proposed activity might impact on wildlife in a protected area such as a Site of Special ial Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area ea of Conservation (SAC), or Special Protection Area (SPA).
From the autumn of last year Langton, ton, who is heading a move to make NE’s processes more transparent, has been n working with Dominic Woodfield, who is the managing director of an ecological consultancy called Bioscan. . He has carried out thousands of impact act assessments, including HRAs, on behalf half of commercial clients. “I wasn’t involved ved in the anti- anti-badger culling campaign at the time,” he recalls, “other than having a general misgiving about it not being run on scientific principles.”
Langton asked Woodfield to help because of his HRA experience, and they set out to discover what NE had done in its HRAs to assess the possible side effects of badger culling.
“I was horrified by what I saw,” says Woodfield. “Appallingly bad practices, and it was clear to me that what I was seeing was a rubber-stamping exercise, and that came out especially in relation to the impact on birds.”
As an example, Woodfield cites the HRA carried out on the Dorset Heathlands SPA, which is protected under the European Birds Directive. The citation for the SPA specifically mentions the presence of both overwintering hen harriers – an estimated 20 individuals, representing 2.7 per cent of the British population – and 15 merlin.
Badger culling began in that area of Dorset from 2017, but before it did