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Photo: Badgers in the wild by Tim Brookes via Flickr.
Photo: Badgers in the wild by Tim Brookes via Flickr.
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Badger Trust claims victory in the court of public opinion

The Ecologist

3rd November 2014

The Court of Appeal last month ruled that England's Badger cull is lawful despite the lack of independent supervision. But on the eve of a fresh Parliamentary debate, and with public opinion backing the badgers all the way, the Badger Trust is the clear winner where it really matters - in public hearts and minds.

The message from the public to the government is clear - stop the killing, and focus on something that actually has a chance of beating this disease.

A Parliamentary debate will take place tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday 4th November) over the issues surrounding bovine TB and the badger cull, chaired by Maria Eagle, Shadow Environment Secretary.

And as MPs come under growing pressure from constituents over the cull, the timing could not be worse for the government, already beleaguered on many fronts.

Things had been looking good for Environment Secretary Liz Truss after the Badger Trust lost its judicial review over the English trial badger cull last month at the Court of Appeal.

Judges ruled that when the Environment Secretary (initially Owen Paterson) refused to re-appoint the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) to oversee the monitoring and analysis of the results of the 2014 pilot culls, they were not breaking the law.

The judgment was a blow for the Badger Trust, but its Director, Dominic Dyer, says it was always going to be an "uphill struggle to win the case on tightly defined legal grounds."

Opinion polls support the badgers

"However," Dyer continued, "by taking the Government to the High Court the Badger Trust has focused the attention of the public, politicians and the media on the lack of independent monitoring of the badger cull and its disastrous failure on scientific, humaneness and costs grounds."

"We might have lost our case in the High Court but we have most definitely won the case in the Court of public opinion and this is where it matters most in the run up to the next election."

And public sentiment is sure to be foremost in MPs minds in the Westminster Hall debate tomorrow, following two recent opinion polls. First a MORI Poll shows that more than half of MPs are regularly contacted by their constituents about the badger cull.

In addition, opposition to the badger cull has been the 5th most common issue of complaint to MPs in the last 12 months - ahead of issues such as unemployment, childcare and taxes.

Second, the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild commissioned a poll with COMRES which showed nine out of ten people believe the cull is cruel and ineffective. It found that:

  • Eight out of ten (78%) believe culling is a cruel way to reduce bTB
  • More than eight out of ten (84%) believe there are better ways to reduce bTB
  • Seven out of ten (70%) believe the cull should be stopped immediately
  • Fewer than four in ten  (37%) agree that badgers must be culled if we are to reduce bTB among cattle.

Cattle-based measures have halved bTB in Wales - so why not here?

The poll also showed strong public support for Wales's strategy of TB reduction, based on annual testing of cattle, tighter movement controls, and badger vaccination - which is currently being rolled out in 'hotspot' areas. The Welsh approach has almost halved bovine TB incidence in four years.

"There's no doubt that the British people want to see the back of this cull", said Dyer. "Nine out of ten is a stunning endorsement of the Welsh government's no-cull policy, and a strong rebuke to the British government. There is a clear majority against the cull, and there is a clear mandate for the path the government should take.

"We know that the bTB test misses one in five infected cows, meaning there are potentially thousands hidden in herds passing on the disease. We know that one in every four new cases of bTB is only found when the cow is slaughtered. And all this is backed up by the situation in Wales, where they are beating the disease by focussing on the cattle.

"The message from the public to the government is clear - stop the killing, and focus on something that actually has a chance of beating this disease."

Leaked figures show signs of trouble in the 2014 cull

The Badger Trust is now calling on the Secretary of State to confirm she will not roll out culls more widely given the failure of the pilot culls.

​​Jeff Hayden, who led on the Judicial Review, said that if "leaked figures regarding effectiveness are correct, then contrary to the suggestions of the National Farmers' Union, she cannot yet again move the goalposts, particularly when she has refused to have an independent referee."

​​"If the second year of the pilots has not met the standards determined by the Secretary of State, she must acknowledge that the pilots are a failure and culling cannot be rolled out more widely.

"Instead, DEFRA should commit to rigorous cattle control measures as employed in Wales where a reduction of 48% in bovine TB (bTB) has been achieved during the last five years. The small threat from badgers should be dealt with by vaccination rather than inhumane and ineffective slaughter."



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