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

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