An ecologist bringing a High Court challenge against extended badger culls claims they risk making the bovine TB epidemic worse.
Badger culls were introduced in 2011 in a bid to reduce the spread of the disease, which results in the destruction of infected cattle herds.
Government guidance issued last year expanded the existing badger cull programme to new areas in England and allowed “supplementary culling”.
Tom Langton, an ecology consultant and member of the Badger Trust, is asking the court to quash both the Government’s policy and the licences issued under it by Natural England – arguing they are “unlawful”.
Mr Langton claims there is not enough scientific support for extending the culling and says the Government has not considered the ecological impact on widespread badger removal from the countryside.
He said: “This case is 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, taxpayers and our precious wildlife and will make the bovine TB epidemic worse.
“All will continue to suffer unless we can focus the necessary expertise and resources on proven cattle-based measures to reduce the spread of bovine TB in the national herd, which may again be heading for destruction.”
Measures to reduce bovine TB were introduced in 2011 and included the granting of licences to shoot badgers, which can act as a “reservoir” for the disease and transmit it to cattle.
But Mr Langton’s lawyers told the court on Monday that the guidance issued last year was a “significant departure” from the Government’s previous policy on culling.
His barrister Richard Turney said: “It is aimed at maintaining rather than reducing the badger population, and it effectively enables lower-intensity culling to be continued over a significantly longer period than previously envisaged.
“It is to continue for five-year periods regardless of its efficacy – indeed, it will only be reviewed if the incidence of bovine TB ‘drops significantly’.”
Since the guidelines were issued, Natural England has issued licences for “supplementary culling” in Somerset and Gloucestershire and new licences for culling have been granted for parts of Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire – although the exact locations of the cull zones are not known.
Mr Turney told the court that a 2007 report following a series of badger culling trials concluded that culling could not “meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain”.
He also said badger culling is a “scientifically, politically and morally controversial” means of preventing the spread of bovine TB – which can also be transmitted through other animals and is mainly passed between cattle.
He added: “Even the destruction of the entire badger population would not eliminate the disease, since it is not just badgers that are capable of transmitting it.”
The Government and Natural England are contesting the case, which will be heard over three days.
Mr Justice Cranston is expected to give his ruling at a later date.