DEFRA's English Badger Cull decision breaches Bern Convention, says Humane Society International UK
Humane Society International/UK is submitting a formal complaint to the Bern Convention against the United Kingdom in response to the announcement by Caroline Spelman, DEFRA Minister for Agriculture, that the government will proceed with two pilot studies next year to slaughter badgers in England. HSI/UK believes proceeding with a badger slaughter breaches the international convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats because it lacks 'legitimate purpose' and poses a significant threat to local badger populations. In addition, HSI/UK does not believe that alternative strategies for controlling tuberculosis in cattle (bTB) and badgers have been sufficiently explored.
"For DEFRA to blindly push ahead with a pilot badger slaughter, despite compelling scientific evidence that it will be ineffective, hugely damaging to local populations and cruel, is an absurdly misguided decision and one that appears to be in clear breach of the Bern Convention," said Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of HSI/UK."The Coalition's reputation on animal welfare is already in tatters and now it risks being remembered as the Government that brought institutionalised cruelty back to the countryside. Badgers are supposed to be a protected species so plans to decimate them surely cannot be reconciled with an international Convention on wildlife conservation."
HSI/UK's complaint to the Bern Convention Secretariat in Strasbourg , states that the UK as a Contracting Party is in breach of the Convention on three main grounds:
* Legitimate purpose: The Government claims a badger slaughter will prevent livestock damage by reducing the spread of bTB. However, the proportion of cases of bTB in cattle attributable to badgers is very small and the Government itself admits that the slaughter is likely only to achieve a 12-16 per cent reduction in bovine TB cases in cattle after 9 years.
* Satisfactory alternative: The Government has given insufficient consideration to alternative non-lethal solutions including cattle movement/testing controls and the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle. The Convention should not allow a slaughter of badgers in preference to alternative options such as stricter cattle movement controls, which have a potentially greater chance of reducing the spread of bTB, solely because it is more convenient for farmers.
* Detriment to the badger population: There is no recent or precise data on English badger populations either nationally or locally. This means that estimates of the minimum and maximum numbers of badgers to be killed in order to reduce populations by 70% as the Government intends, will be based purely on guesswork, and it is entirely possible that some populations of badgers in designated control areas could be completely wiped out. The pilot studies will involve the 'free shooting' of badgers at night which is likely to result in massive welfare problems as well as increase the chances of local population perturbation. The Convention's requirement that any control measures must not result in local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, badger populations, cannot therefore be met.
The slaughter of badgers as a means of controlling bTB has been widely criticised by scientists and conservation experts including members of the Independent Scientific Group  commissioned to assess the results of the 10 year Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) completed in 2007; Chairman of the Royal Society's Science Policy Advisory Group Lord Krebs ; the Medical Research Council ; and a host of conservation and animal welfare experts .
More than 100,000 signatures of public opposition have been gathered on petitions conducted by groups such as the League Against Cruel Sports, RSPCA and 38 Degrees, and more than 5,000 HSI/ UK supporters have written to DEFRA expressing their opposition to the Government's plans.