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Wildlife Watchdog In Court This Week to Defend

Woefully Inadequate’ Protection of Special Sites.

The Government’s wildlife watchdog, Natural England, is in the High Court this week defending the way in which it carries out its responsibilities to look after England’s most precious natural places of interest and importance.

The case has been taken by Tom Langton a consulting ecologist with extensive experience in ecological processes. The case rests in part on detailed witness evidence by Dominic Woodfield an environmental assessment specialist. It concerns Natural England’s decisions to grant licences to kill thousands of badgers across large parts of the West of England, as part of the Government’s controversial programme to try to control bovine tuberculosis, a serious disease of cattle. It cites omissions in Natural England’s assessments of ‘collateral damage’ to valuable areas and species.

The court will hear how it is claimed Natural England (who licence culling and determine the side effects) has failed in its duty to adequately consider the potential impacts of removing badgers from the landscape on the precise sites and species that it has a statutory duty towards and was set up to conserve. NE was found to have failed in its duty in 2018 by an action brought by the claimant in relation to European sites.

Of particular concern are the effects of culling operations such as driving vehicles, firing rifles and shotguns and the digging-in and daily inspection of cage traps, upon Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Further, studies have shown and Natural England now accept that removing a top predator can alter natural systems by changing relationships between species and this may add pressure to already declining species, struggling to recover numbers.

 

Natural England now accepts the need to consider ecological impacts of culling within and up to 20 km outside culling areas.

 

Disturbance from badger culling activity in out of the way places may harm sensitive wildlife, such as rare birds, mammals, reptiles and, insects that the UK has a responsibility to conserve. This can lead to changes in habitat structure. Prior assessment, study, precautions and monitoring may all require specialist commitments in order to properly manage the effects of badger culling. This is much more costly and time consuming than assuming few or no impacts, and with poor documentation of essential scrutiny.

 

The case shines the spotlight on a systemic problem of under-resourcing of Natural England by the government, a problem that creates real risks and consequences for wildlife conservation. Despite repeated and ongoing attempts by Natural England to withhold information, enough has been learned to suggest that past assessments have been woefully inadequate.

 

Part of Natural England’s defence is to say that they only need to consider effects on one or two species or features of a protected site when assessing the potential for damage, not the site as a whole. This undermines the very basis of site protection in the UK. If that approach were to be found lawful, then it would open up a loophole that could threaten the future of all SSSIs in this country.

 

The case is to be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice over two days on 28th February and 1st March 2019. Natural England has also come under intense criticism for continued delay in releasing information. This is despite three sets of Judges ruling that NE’s reasons for withholding information are unproven and misguided. Withheld information includes key information such as cull area boundaries. If known, the public, police and welfare experts could make better sense of the mass badger killings, including testing their value. In addition to checking whether wildlife protection is being upheld within the process by Natural England.

 

Further Information

 

The Badger Crowd is a support and fundraising coalition including Badger Groups and Trusts around the UK. Ecologist Tom Langton has fronted recent challenges with support from ‘The Badger Crowd’. Dominic Woodfield of the ecological consultancy Bioscan UK working extensively on the case is a national authority on ecological impact assessment and has provided expert witness evidence on ecological assessment including impacts on SSSI’s. The legal team is Richard Turney and Ben Fullbrook from Landmark Chambers (London) and solicitor Lisa Foster of Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law (Cambridge).

 

The Badger Crowd believes that legal challenges are an important fight, not just for the badger but also for the future of our countryside and the farming industry. The badger cull policy is failing farmers, tax payers and our precious wildlife and will make the bTB epidemic worse.

 

Contact Point

 

For press enquiries and arrangements for interviews and further details, please contact ideally initially via text: The Badger Crowd: 07969 864641 The @badgercrowd twitter account operates on #justiceforbadgers

 

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