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Thousands of badgers face slaughter after bid to prevent cull fails


Thousands of badgers are facing slaughter following the failure of a High Court bid to halt the killings.

A judge has upheld as lawful Government proposals for two pilot culls to tackle tuberculosis in cattle - one in West Gloucestershire and the other in West Somerset.

The highly controversial scheme could eventually lead to culling in up to 10 areas per year.

Today's decision at London's High Court was a blow for the Badger Trust, which said England now faced the prospect of 40,000 badgers being "pointlessly killed" over the next four years.

Mr Justice Ouseley rejected the Trust's claim that the killings would be unlawful. An appeal to the Court of Appeal is being considered.

The judge dismissed the Trust's argument that Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was misusing her statutory powers by allowing landowners and farmers to carry out the cull.

A Defra spokesman said later: "We are pleased with the judgment.

"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." Cost of the cattle losses was estimated at £91 million.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) welcomed the ruling.

NFU director of policy Martin Haworth said: "This news is critically important to cattle farmers who are blighted with this disease on their farms."

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) also welcomed the judgment, saying "we must tackle the disease in wildlife alongside cattle controls if we are to get on top of it".

But Badger Trust chairman David Williams said killing badgers "can make no meaningful contribution to tackling the disease, and cattle measures in themselves are sufficient if properly applied".

Mr Williams said Scotland was officially TB-free, and the Welsh Government had decided to vaccinate badgers and step up its "cattle-focused measures" rather than kill badgers unnecessarily.

He added: "However, despite a constant stream of evidence that culling will make matters worse and growing consternation from many farmers, the coalition Government intends to press ahead with its expensive and pointless policy."

David Bowles, RSPCA director of communications, expressed "bitter disappointment" with the judgment, but said the fight was not over.

He said: "We believe culling is not a long-term, sustainable solution and will be of little help in reducing the disease - perhaps even making things worse in some areas."

Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of the Humane Society International/UK described the ruling as "a devastating blow for badgers and for the protection of our wildlife."

Mr Jones said the badgers' "last hope" may now be the society's complaint at the Council of Europe's Bern Convention.

He said: "As signatories to Bern, the UK has an obligation to keep the badger population out of danger, an obligation that is undeniably abused by the plan to shoot and kill the vast majority of these magical animals in local areas."

Joe Duckworth, chief executive of The League Against Cruel Sports, said: "We are extremely saddened and frustrated that, despite the lack of scientific evidence and welfare concerns raised, the decision has been made to still go ahead with such a barbaric and unnecessary procedure, one which will see thousands of badgers slaughtered.

"Today's decision fails to recognise that badger culling is an unsupported approach to tackling bovine TB and one that will leave the majority of the TB problem present, even if it reaches its most optimistic targets."

He added: "The method of controlled shooting of badgers has never been tested and serious welfare concerns remain about such practices.

"The League and our other coalition partners remain committed to supporting The Badger Trust in seeking to ensure that the indiscriminate culling of badgers is not allowed to go ahead in England."