To cull or not to cull

As I reported last weekend, this week’s court case in Swansea was a matter of life and death for badgers in Wales. To cull or not to cull, that is the question which Mr Justice Lloyd-Jones must now decide upon, after listening to the arguments put forward by legal representatives acting for the Badger Trust and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG).

The Badger Trust had its day in court on Monday. It was a day which had been a long time coming. The Trust’s first move towards launching a Judicial Review took place early in 2008, after the WAG Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones announced that the establishment of an “intensive action pilot” (including a targeted cull of infected badgers) would be prioritised. Lawyers acting for the Badger Trust sent Mrs Jones a letter before action, only for her lawyers to respond by saying that no final decision had been made regarding if, when, how or where a badger cull would take place, so there was no decision which could be subjected to a Judicial Review. As the Badger Trust reported at the time, Elin Jones had NOT decided to cull badgers.

Although Elin Jones’ announcement in 2008 was apparently not a decision, her direction of travel, as it were, was perfectly clear. A decision to kill badgers, one which could be challenged in court, would eventually be made. And so it was, prompting such media headlines as Badger cull to go ahead in Wales to counter ‘dramatic rise’ in bovine TB. It also prompted the inevitable pro-cull opinion pieces such as Welsh farmers will be relieved that the badger cull is going ahead, which in turn generated many excellent anti-cull comments.

Brian May. Photo by Thomas Steffan. Image used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2The Badger Trust’s day in court was not only a long time coming, it was also covered by the media to a much greater extent than might otherwise have been expected. This was of course due to the presence in the courtroom of Brian May, who was interviewed by journalists at various points during the day and who even wrote his own account of his battle for Welsh badgers.

Naturally, Brian’s decision to publicly support the Badger Trust’s action in this way brought a certain amount of criticism. The Farmers Union of Wales branded his appearance in Swansea as a cynical publicity stunt and accused him of having “no idea of the desperate need to control this disease.” The FUW’s position could be summed up as “keep your nose out of something you know nothing about and which doesn’t concern you.”

The irony is that Brian May is a scientist as well as a rock star and, like the Badger Trust, he has read the scientific evidence and does know about the problem of bovine TB – and of the futility of culling badgers as a ‘solution’ to the problem. Like the Badger Trust he will also be well aware of the huge impact of the disease on farmers and their livelihoods. No doubt he knows of the huge cost of bovine TB to the public purse too. As a UK taxpayer, and especially as a man who cares deeply about animal welfare, Brian May has every right to be concerned about plans to slaughter thousands of badgers in Wales and to speak out against those plans.

Not only did Brian May speak out, he did so very eloquently in my view. In an interview with the BBC (which you can watch online) he spoke with intelligence, understanding and compassion. A worthy champion of badgers and other animals everywhere.

Of course, compassion will play no part in the decision which is to be made by Mr Justice Lloyd-Jones, for his job is not to make a moral judgement but purely a legal one. The Badger Trust reports that his judgement will be delivered either before the end of the legal term next Wednesday (March 31) or at some point in the first half of April.

Brian May this week described the Badger Trust’s legal action as a David and Goliath scenario: “A small team leads the challenge to the decision to kill thousands of badgers this year, based on mistaken, and misunderstood advice. This little team’s efforts are paid for by the limited amount of cash that the tiny Badger Trust can scrape together – virtually bankrupting themselves to try to save the lives of these furry creatures.” But as the Trust’s Chairman Dave Williams said: “We know the costs of this action will run into many tens of thousands of pounds but, whatever the outcome, this was one challenge the Trust simply had to take up.  Legal action is expensive, unpredictable and time consuming, but to have failed to fight this battle when the law provided the opportunity would have been a terrible dereliction of our commitment to conserve and protect badgers.”

To cull or not to cull? Whatever the outcome of this week’s Judicial Review, we can be sure that the debate will not end with Mr Justice Lloyd-Jones’ verdict – the Badger Trust will have many more battles to fight on behalf of Britain’s badgers. Thankfully, one other thing we can be sure about after the events of this week is that the Badger Trust, with our support, is more than up to the challenge.

Foraging badger cub. Photo (c) Steve Jackson.

Brian May photo by Thomas Steffan, from Wikimedia Commons. Image used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

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