Badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire will start within weeks, farmers vowed last night, after a last-ditch appeal by the Badger Trust failed in the High Court.
The Trust had attacked Mr Justice Ouseley’s decision in July to uphold Government proposals for two pilot culls to tackle tuberculosis in cattle in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. The Trust argues that killing badgers will make no meaningful contribution to tackling the disease, described as the most pressing animal health problem in the UK. It claims that the scheme could lead to 40,000 animals being “pointlessly killed” over the next four years.
But Lord Justice Laws, Lord Justice Rimer and Lord Justice Sullivan unanimously rejected the appeal, which was only concerned with statutory construction. After their ruling, rock musician turned animal rights campaigner Brian May – the most high profile of the anti-cull campaigners – vowed to continue fighting against the badger cull, likening the killing of badgers to a witch hunt.
May, who performed at the Olympics closing ceremony with a badger motif on his arm, was in Bristol for the launch of the teambadger.org website, when he heard the judicial review had been rejected.
May said: “Years ago we used to burn witches at the stake when they were thought to be to blame for all problems. Years from now we will all think the same about badgers. I firmly believe all animals have just as much right to be on this planet as we do.”
The Queen guitarist vowed to take the fight to Europe.
David Wolfe QC, for the Trust, claimed the two culls would involve killing an estimated 3,400 badgers in each area – each approximately the size of the Isle of Wight – and the long-term intention was to issue licences for up to 10 culls each year.
The licences for the culls, due to start later this autumn, would be issued under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which consolidated provisions from the 1973 Badgers Act. He said that, in the 1973 Act, Parliament put in place a regime of badger protection with limited exceptions, and it was inconceivable that it was providing a power to undertake widespread culling.
After the July ruling, which was welcomed by the National Farmers Union, the British Veterinary Association and British Cattle Veterinary Association, a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “No one wants to cull badgers but last year bovine TB led to the slaughter of over 26,000 cattle, and to help eradicate the disease it needs to be tackled in badgers.”
The cost of the cattle losses was estimated at £91 million.
A spokesman for Defra yesterday said the two “pilot” culls would commence “as soon as is practical”.
The Government has long eyed autumn 2012 as a start date, and always factored in a lengthy court challenge.
The spokesman said: “We are pleased with the judgement. We will continue to work with the farming industry so badger control in two pilot areas can start as soon as is practical.”
If the culls are successful, they are likely to be rolled out throughout the South West where bovine TB is rife.
Mr May appeared with RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant and Mark Jones, director of the Humane Society International, in front of hundreds of people gathered at College Green in Bristol yesterday.
Mr Grant said: “We are bitterly disappointed that the UK Government in England is ploughing on with plans to kill badgers, but the fight is not over yet. Only today we joined Brian May, a coalition of charities and crowds of protesters at a public rally to put a stop to this cull as the start date draws near.
It is time the Government listened.
“It needs to look at the science and the results achieved in Wales and change their policy to one of vaccination – let’s cure and not kill.”
Mr May added: “You could kill every single badger and cattle would still get bovine TB. It’s endemic in cows, it’s called bovine TB. Cows give it to badgers, not the other way round.”
He vowed to take the fight to Brussels, as EU regulations currently forbid vaccination of cattle, saying: “I’m a rock star. I can open doors.”