Natural England Loses Credibility

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How often will Natural England (NE) be told by judges to release information about the ongoing badger culls?

Last December NE was in court, arguing its case for not releasing information sought by ecologist Tom Langton, and the Tribunal has now judged against it – the second time it has lost, on exactly the same grounds.

Nor will the National Farmers Union (NFU) be pleased, seeing that the culls should be considered as an NFU project.

In 2008, the findings of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial having been made public, the then government respected the conclusion in Professor John Bourne’s report that culling badgers would make no ‘meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain’.

Two years later and a new government saw an unscientific decision to cull badgers, along with further TB testing and cattle controls which Defra had to persuade the farmers to accept. Professor Bourne tackled a senior politician about this, and received this reply:

“Fine John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers.”

A further carrot had already been offered to the Tory Party in 2008 by the NFU and Countryside Alliance: basically give us the cull and we’ll give you the votes.

So NE, supposedly there to protect our natural environment, is tasked with licencing mass killing of a much-loved protected species.

It has received many Freedom of Information requests seeking wide-raging information about the badger culls and routinely refused to release anything of worth, often using EIR exception 12(5)(a), which states that:

 ‘… disclosure would adversely affect international relations, defence, national security or public safety’

Also cited is: ‘The protection of the environment to which the information relates.

Killing protected wildlife will obviously not affect international relations, defence or national security, nor can one argue that wholesale killing of one of our important wildlife species is good for the environment. But ‘public safety’ was NE’s lifeline.

With the NFU providing ‘anecdotal’ evidence of the stress and fear of farmers receiving ‘threats to life and limb’, NE argues that releasing information allows people to more easily map culling area boundaries and then harass and intimidate farmers participating in the cull. They also claim the removal or destruction of cages used to trap and shoot badgers ‘compromises public safety’, though do not explain how.

It thought its reasoning was strong, but it was defeated in an appeal by the Information Commissioner and Anna Dale in 2015, when the judge clearly ruled:

 “Where, as here, Government policy on an environmental issue is a matter of substantial debate and concern, the provision of environmental information, including information facilitating protest, is vitally important. Increased protesting in the cull areas (or better directed protesting) is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society.”

It was concerns about the protection of the environment that led Langton to ask NE for information on the level of assessments they had carried out on protected sites within badger culling areas. He maintains that the information he seeks would allow ‘proper and informed scrutiny of the adequacy of the assessment of the environmental impact of the badger cull’.

They refused his request. Langton went to the Information Commissioner and in August 2017 the Commissioner, using the Anna Dale judgement, ordered NE to comply with the request. Instead it appealed.

The NFU appears to be responsible for the stories about the ‘terrifying’ harassment suffered by farmers which NE uses as the reason to block information. The witness statements and evidence produced for Anna Dale’s case were dismissed by the judge as ‘anecdotal’ and ‘speculative’.

In 2013 there were arrests of ‘badger protesters’ followed by their ‘de-arrests’ and one person has been prosecuted for aggravated trespass. There have also been some arrests for damaging or removing cage-traps, but the only prosecution of an anti-cull supporter for an act of physical violence towards a pro-cull man appears to have been from 2015.

In a film of the incident, it appeared to be the result of a confused scuffle between him and a member of Outlaws, a local motor cycle gang, who rented a unit at a local farm. That the Farmers Guardian called the victim ‘a farmer’ points to the bias of farming media in cases like this, as substantiated evidence-based reports of anti-cullers’ physical violence are non-existent.

Natural England’s Appeal

In NE’s appeal, it again claimed there was extensive intimidation and harassment of farmers. The two witness statements from farmers NE provided were not convincing. One witness tried too hard to portray living in fear, claiming the intimidation went on day and night for the length of the culls. The other was ‘involved in the administration of one of the cull areas’ and suffered harassment via Stop the Cull.

As Ray Puttock, witness for Langton, explained, anti-cull people wouldn’t have wasted their time this way. Nor do they support Stop the Cull’s activities. Had the intimidation really been of this level the police could have taken action, or the NFU sought injunctions. Such statements come from those too closely connected to the NFU and/or cull contracting companies. It is known that the first witness is closely connected to a culling company official. The second admitted that he was.

However, despite NE using their main badger-cull licensing official as a witness, the evidence put forward was shown by Tim Nesbitt, the barrister acting for Tom Langton, to be ‘largely second hand, hearsay, wrong or vague.’ According to Nesbitt, the evidence showed that only around 10 out of 6000 farmers could be said to have been targeted with phone call harassment.

Embarrassingly, for both NE and the NFU, the licensing official could not explain why there were no police incident numbers or police witnesses, or written statements to support the alleged harassment detailed in the evidence, even though there were copious references to the number of times police were contacted.

In dismissing NE’s appeal, the Tribunal was scathing about the lack of evidence for the claim they were making – that releasing the information would increase the intimidation. Certainly there was no increase after the Dale judgement.

Nor did their argument that ‘protesters’ would have more accurate maps of culling areas hold up. NE appears to think the maps put out by Stop the Cull are relied on by everyone. Puttock disagreed, saying people knew their localities and used that knowledge to guide their actions.   In fact the Tribunal said Puttock was ‘an impressive and reliable witness, knowledgeable about the anti-cull movement and its ways of working on the ground’. They had no such kind words for NE.

NFU county and cull contracting company officials are lax regarding public safety

The ex-chair of Dorset NFU and North Dorset’s culling company’s CEO was reprimanded by Dorset police in both 2015 and 2016 for harassing anti-cull people, using vehicles to block access to paths and to block people’s cars in, so they could neither get out nor drive away.

The director of Hereford’s culling company FAPC Ltd., was filmed by a lone female trying to ensure that a combine harvester did not damage a badger sett, while he subjected her to threatening and abusive language.

Devon’s NFU Chair is also the Director of culling company JRD West Country Ltd. His farm was the site of an example of illegal shooting. Hunt saboteurs also highlighted cull biosecurity regulations being ignored there, finding blood (presumably badgers’) all over the bonnet of the cullers’ vehicle.

In 2013 Gloucester’s ex-NFU chair ran over and injured a 50 year-old woman involved in badger protection. The incident was witnessed by several people, but he got off with a simple warning. When GABS posted this on their website they received a poorly composed threatening letter from NFU lawyers. This man had run Council-backed school trips at his farm, and was jailed last year for sexually assaulting a boy.   I doubt the NFU made much effort to defend him this time.

Though the police seemed unwilling to support Natural England’s evidence, some forces are still too close to the NFU.

Both Avon & Somerset and Gloucester police forces started with the attitude that all anti-cull activity was illegal. They still claim to have no knowledge of the boundaries of culling areas, so cannot log any illegal shooting outside those boundaries. NE reportedly refused to inform them, so they were depending on the NFU, who they thought were ‘in charge’.

People in every culling area have observed police vehicles escorting shooters, despite police denials.   In 2013 people were outraged to find that in Somerset, the NFU had a presence in the police control room and, because they could hear incidents being reported by anti-cullers, informed and directed their gunmen accordingly.

Yet in 2017 that close relationship was still in place. The policing in both Devon and Cheshire has been very pro-farmer, a repeat of what it was like in Gloucester and Somerset during 2013.

In Devon, police often gathered at Stannaway Farm, not out on lanes or land but sitting in the farmhouse. Two middle-aged ladies were walking back to the road on a footpath running along the edge of Stannaway farmyard when no less than 8 policemen came from the house, stopped them, questioned them and searched their bags – all very aggressive and wrong as they were on a legal path.

Rural violence

Some rural people supporting fox hunting can react violently towards hunt monitors and saboteurs.   But neither they nor pro-cullers appreciate the fact that wildlife protectors, particularly hunt sabs, now record acts of violence and illegality. So what has been recorded over four years of badger culling?

As with policing, the actions of farmers/cullers during the first year of culling are repeated in any new area. So in 2013 both Somerset and Gloucester reported dangerous driving, tail-gating, damage to cars, wing mirrors torn off and tyres slashed. Vehicles repeatedly sped past walking badger patrols while the occupiers shouted abuse.

Mud and muck was thrown at cars or smeared over parked vehicles. Farmers covered stiles on public footpaths with slurry, or tried to illegally block paths with electric fencing.

Guns were deliberately and illegally fired close to patrollers. Fireworks and crow scarers were thrown at walkers. On occasion farm vehicles were driven at patrollers walking on public footpaths through fields.

All this was threatening, dangerous, and childish.   What makes it more so is that last year, in Cheshire’s first experience of badger culling, every single incident above was logged by anti-cull people.

There have also been incidences of targeted physical assault by farmers/shooters:

Somerset, 2013 – teacher Chris Tasker attacked by two cullers, who tried to claim he had attacked them. Gloucester – a woman run over.   Gloucester 2017 – an anti-cull woman beaten up by a man while his friends egged him on. West Dorset 2016-17 – more than one assault on anti-cull people, who hold a lengthy list of police incident numbers for outbreaks of violence and intimidation, unlike Natural England which could provide none.

And all of the above have one thing in common: despite witnesses, recordings and films, and (in some areas) the best efforts of the police, not one person involved in culling badgers has yet been prosecuted for intimidation or assault.

The misuse of guns is worrying

Dorset found evidence of shooting across public footpaths. GABS has recorded many firearms offences. Peter Martin, Chair of the Badger Trust, is particularly concerned about contractors’ disregard for safety regulations. “Have the shooters been trained in safety procedures or is it that they just don’t care?” he said, citing issues such as lack of backstops when the bullet from a missed rifle shot could travel several hundred metres and still be lethal.

There is little monitoring of shooters by NE; most act alone and unobserved. When Martin asked the Deputy President of the NFU Minette Batters about the competence of the shooters, she said they all received a single day’s training.   “Then how do you ensure safety in the field?” he asked. “We don’t,” was the reply.

In its Appeal, NE showed itself to be ignorant about England’s ecology; clueless about the legal activities of anti-cull folk, even calling a demonstration in a town an act of intimidation; and apparently oblivious to the behaviour of some farmers and shooters. The NFU also appears to condone violence among those backing the cull, with a don’t-care attitude towards the way the cullers ignore safety regulations.

So here’s a thought: NE wanting to withhold information about impact assessments perhaps implies their inadequacy.

NE was told to release the information in August, before the 2017 culling started. Had it done so and the information exposed a lack of proper assessment, thus breaching its own regulations, that could have halted the culling, at least for 2017.   By immediately appealing, it delayed the inevitable decision by the Tribunal until the killing had taken place.

With that thought in mind, all badger supporters will be anxiously waiting to see what Langton makes of the information he has fought so hard to obtain.

With thanks to all those from different counties who have, over the years, supplied information. Keep it coming!

Lesley Docksey © 28/01/2018

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The 2017 Dorset Badger Cull has ended…

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At last the unscientific 2017 badger cull is over.

So now, if you see any badgers that have been shot, or sett interference, with please report to the police and get an incident number.

We would like to thank all the people who have supported us through this hard time. It makes it harder when the proper experts and scientists keep trying to get the message across to the government that the culls do not help with reducing Bovine TB in cattle… in fact it seems to make it worse… but still the badgers are the ones to die. Cattle get slaughtered too but with improved testing, bio security and better restrictions on livestock movement, things could improve!

We have so many people to thank… the ones that spent time walking, driving and watching, the ones that donated to keep us moving, the ones that manned the control phone 24 hours a day, the ones that provided supplies to the camps, the ones that cooked for tired people getting back from patrols, the members of the public that called in if they saw anything happening, the ones that wrote to the newspapers, MPs, local councils, the ones spreading the word on social media making sure people realise what is going on. It seems so many more people are getting aware of what is actually happening to badgers and most don’t like it! If I have forgotten anyone… many apologies… everyone did their bit!

We fight on to try to get culls stopped… we will not rest, now the work of checking setts to see if still active or not. This is a good time of year to get out walking and recording badger activity so if you do see a sett you can report it (would be nice to have 10 digit grid refs if possible).

Dorset is a beautiful green and pleasant land, it makes us sad that it is tainted with the blood of badgers. We are a big tourist county and know that some people have said they won’t come here again because of what has been happening which is sad too, there is so much to enjoy here.

Take care out there… and remember to care for the badgers!

We will never forget the thousands of badgers that have been slaughtered for no proper reason… they had the right to live.

DBBW & Dorset Badger Patrol

Picture above © Sam Cannon Art

The Dorset badger culls have started (again)…

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We are deeply saddened to report that the badger culls have started again here in Dorset (September 2017).

Up to about 9,000 badgers may be slaughtered.

If you can help on the Badger Patrols please contact the Dorset Badger Patrol Office on 07469 189606 and you will be linked with other people in their area to join up with, and someone will sort out where and when you can help.

Thank you in advance… on behalf of our badgers…

UPDATE: The Dorset Badger Cull has now ended in October 2017 read more here.

Guitars signed by rock legend Brian May to be auctioned to help Badgers

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Legendary Queen guitarist Brian May has signed 11 guitars made by Badger Guitars, owned by Mark Badger, which are to be made available to buy on the eBay auction website from Saturday 26th August.

 

All proceeds will go to badger charities in areas around the country most affected by the cull policy, listed below, as well as May’s own Save Me Trust. The guitars have been donated by Philip White, founder of Red Badger records, who proposed the auction as a means of benefiting badger groups in the UK and to support the work of charities who believe the government badger cull is ineffective and inhumane.

 

The eBay auctions get underway Saturday 26th August at 12 noon and continue through to September 5th. Each auction runs for 7 days.
Dorset Badger & Bovine Welfare
Auction Date: Thursday 31st August to 7th September 2017
eBay Auction Number- 253086458813

 

Dorset Badger & Bovine Welfare is so pleased to have been included in the auctions of these super guitars signed by the wonderful Dr May. Dorset will sadly witness badger culls on all of its green and pleasant land. The funds raised will go to good use: we have set up an independent Camp Badger for people coming into the area to help patrol. Fuel will be our biggest need as ours is a huge area to cover.

Defra’s latest ‘public’ consultation on killing badgers

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The proposal to issue supplementary licences, in the complete absence of any evidence that culls conducted over four years have yet resulted in any benefit and without any evidence from the RBCT or elsewhere that culling beyond four years is warranted is completely at odds with Government commitments to evidence-based policy making. Humane Society International UK (HSI UK)

Submissions to Defra’s latest public consultation on badger culling closed on February 10th. This time they were seeking opinions on their plans for ‘supplementary badger disease control’. What they mean by that is that any badger cull which has completed its allotted four years could be licensed to simply go on killing badgers.

How many consultations have been held over this thorny issue? Three or four? Or more? I’ve lost count. What is clear is that not once have environment or farming ministers listened to (or perhaps even read) the responses, whether from ordinary members of the public or, importantly, from scientists, vets, ecologists and wildlife organisations.

In The Fate of the Badger author Dr Richard Meyer, a member of the Consultative Panel when the government was planning to cull badgers in the 1980s, quoted from a 2009 paper Intractable Policy Failure , which said that one minister asserted that the CP:

 ‘… plays a major role in allowing us to demonstrate that all shades of opinion on badgers have been taken into account before we kill them.’

Consultations are there as fig leaves. Opinions contrary to the government’s desired policies have never been taken into account.

Concerned organisations responded with science

With each consultation the barrage of science against badger culling gets stronger, as yet more studies are published (some of them government-led as in Northern Ireland) demonstrating that it is not badgers that are to blame for bovine TB in cattle, but poor testing, even poorer biosecurity and cattle management.

As before, Defra’s Consultation document is full of cherry-picked poor science, science that has been proven wrong by later (or even previous) studies and proposed actions based on fanciful assumptions presented as facts. Defra still maintains, despite ongoing research to the contrary, that disease spread from badgers to cattle is an important cause of herd breakdowns. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is politely scathing about the way ‘evidence’ is presented:

“Such documents should equip the reader to provide informed comment on the government’s proposals… it misrepresents the level of certainty associated with the action proposed…   there is thus far no evidence of any disease control benefits from industry-led culling and no evidence as to whether continued culling would prolong such anticipated benefits.”

Lack of evidence of any reduction in cattle Tb is an issue raised by several organisations. Using Defra’s own figures they point to the drop in new incidents before culling started, caused by the implementation of tougher testing and cattle movement controls. Defra then added something else, the use of another bTB test (IFNy) which gave more accurate results and identified more infected cattle. This would lead to fewer new incidents of bTB. But the drop is being claimed as proof that the badger culling is working.

“Unfortunately, Defra has undermined its own ability to use this measure, by deciding to use the IFNy test on cattle only in areas where badger culling has been undertaken. Hence, ongoing attempts to estimate the impact of badger culling on cattle TB will be confounded by improvements in cattle testing in cull (but not comparison) areas.” ZSL

‘Evidence-based Success’

This is Defra’s justification for continuous culling, but both the ‘evidence’ and the ‘success’ have been queried. Defra claims that the first two culls, in Somerset and Gloucester, “have now completed successfully their fourth and final year”. What do they mean by ‘success’?

Even after four years of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset, there is no evidence, or indeed any suggestion of any beneficial effect on TB in cattle.” HIS UK

The Badger Trust goes further and asks whether badger culling is actually legal:

“More specifically there is a fundamental omission from the licencing process that has existed from the beginning of the 2013 ‘pilot’ culls, namely that there is no requirement for licencees to produce any evidence of bTB infection in badgers or to establish any credible risk to known populations of cattle. That is to say there are no safeguards within the process to ensure that 10,2(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992 (… for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease …) is being met and thereby ensuring that any culling is actually legal under the Act.”

And they point out that “All criteria mentioned with regard to the ‘success’ (or failure) of culling, or the conditions needed to be met before renewing ‘supplementary licences’ refer only to numbers of badgers killed.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) commented: “It appears the only criteria being applied to define success of the prior culls is number of badgers killed, not a visible reduction of bTB within cattle herds.”

One reason for disputing Defra’s idea of ‘success’ and its plans for the future is the inability to produce any believable badger population figures. ZSL has a lot to say about this. It had taken a lot of hard field work to produce the badger population figures for the first year of culling in Somerset and Gloucester, and even then it was wrong. But now, says ZSL:

“These concerns arise because Defra attempted to estimate badger numbers without conducting any field surveys in the cull zones… Without reliable estimates of initial population size any estimate of population size reduction is likewise unreliable. Unfortunately, now that culls have commenced in these areas the initial badger population size is unknowable.”

They conclude: “it is not at all clear how Natural England could be expected to set target numbers of badgers to be killed in follow-up culls…”

“There is no conclusive evidence that culls carried out to date have resulted in significant disease control benefits, nor that extending them will result in or prolong any such benefits.” Born Free Foundation (BFF)

And even Defra admits that there is no evidence on the effects of longer term badger control. The desired benefits are no more than an assumption.

Welfare is left to the killers

Defra wants to continue the use of ‘free’ or ‘controlled’ shooting, which was found to be inhumane by the Independent Expert Panel in the very first year of culling. Since then even the British Veterinary Association has condemned free shooting. Just about everyone has called for its ban.

Farmers want shooting for two reasons. Cage-trapping badgers is much more expensive, time consuming and involves physical labour. And – let’s be brutally honest here – shooting is much more fun, more macho.

The lack of monitoring, supposedly under the control of Natural England, which is the only way to prove the inhumaneness of shooting, is also called into question. “Wholly inadequate” was BFF’s response, and quoted Natural England’s own figures. Only 2% of the badgers shot in last year’s cull were observed by monitors, and only one badger was autopsied, this out of a total of 8639 dead badgers.

“Entirely inadequate”, said HSI UK, and added: The increased reliance on self-reporting by culling contractors is inappropriate and liable to lead to erroneous data; for example in 2016 contractors reported a level of missed shots one tenth of that observed by NE monitors.”

Both the Badger Trust and BFF said that Defra appeared to rely on the Chief Veterinary Officer’s belief that “the level of suffering in badgers is comparable with other forms of culling, currently accepted by society”. So that’s okay then. Hang on – I seem to remember several explosions of public rage over proposals to cull – beavers and buzzards to mention just two.

Defra’s ‘cost analysis’ doesn’t add up

“Plans to extend the culls in this way nullify the original cost benefit analysis.” IFAW

“Like every other government department, DEFRA and therefore Natural England, have been subject to continuous cuts in budgets and human resources so it is reasonable to assume that much of what is expected of it under the proposed scheme will be beyond its capacity to deliver.”   Badger Trust

“The Government claims to have shown that the culling policy will have a positive cost benefit. This is at odds with numerous independent economic analyses and relies on the reduction in TB in cattle shown by the RBCT, which is unlikely, and has not yet been demonstrated.” HIS UK

As the Badger Trust points out, TB eradication is being used as an excuse to slaughter badgers, not a reason.

“…it is possible for significant portions of the cull zones to be made up of land where no cattle exist and where any risk from badgers (diseased or otherwise) is non-existent. The process allows for landowner/farmer participation in the culling exercise to be based simply on their ‘desire’ to cull badgers regardless of whether they keep cattle or not.”

But will Defra listen?

I said that opinions contrary to the government’s desired policies have never been taken into account. So does it surprise you that, just 11 days after the consultation closed and before Defra has had any time to consider the large holes in their science (if indeed they would), the Environment Minister Andrea Leadsome told the NFU conference:

“Last summer we rolled out the cull to seven additional areas – all of which were successful. And this year, I want to extend that even further.”

Lesley Docksey © 23/02/17