The Government has today announced an end to badger culling – which Boris Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds has campaigned against for years.
No new licences will be issued for badger culling after 2022 and all existing permits will not be extended beyond 2028 at the latest, Environment Secretary George Eustice told MPs.
The ‘contentious and divisive’ cull, introduced in a bid to eradicate bovine TB, has cost around £60million and seen the deaths of approximately 140,000 badgers.
The decision will be seen as a major victory for the Prime Minister’s fiancée Ms Symonds, 32, an avowed opponent of the badger cull, and conservation groups.
No new licences for badger culling will be issued from 2022 and all existing licences will not be able to be extended beyond 2028, Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement to MPs
The decision will be seen as a major victory for Prime Minister’s fiancée Carrie Symonds (pictured), an avowed opponent of the badger cull, and conservation groups
It comes after Ms Symonds said she was ‘delighted’ when a badger cull in Derbyshire was called off following a ‘direct intervention from the Prime Minister’ in September 2019.
The U-turn sparked a judicial review into how the Government came about the decision, with questions raised about the influence exerted on the PM by Ms Symonds.
But in May, the High Court rejected farmers’ claims that Mr Johnson decided to ban the badger cull because of Ms Symonds as it refused an attempt to overturn the decision.
Lawyers representing the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said the September 2019 ban was ‘irrational’ and the real reason for the decision was because Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a ‘personal interest’.
WHAT IS BOVINE TB?
Bovine tuberculosis is a disease of cattle that can also infect badgers, deer, goats, pigs, dogs and cats.
The disease is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis.
This is related to the microbe that causes tuberculosis in humans.
Bovine tuberculosis is typically transmitted aerially through coughs and sneezes.
It causes fever, coughing, weight loss, pain, diarrhoea and ultimately death.
Badgers are the most significant wildlife reservoir for the bacterium.
In the United Kingdom, most bovine tuberculosis outbreaks occur in the South West and the West Midlands.
They told Mrs Justice Andrews that lobbying by Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer included meeting Mr Johnson’s partner, Ms Symonds, in Downing Street.
Mr Eustice disputed the claims, denying that the decision was irrational and said the challenge should be dismissed.
Badgers had previously been culled in an attempt to stop them spreading bovine tuberculosis (TB) but the Government called a halt to the practice following campaigning by anti-animal cruelty activists and said it would vaccinate them instead.
Mrs Justice Andrews, who analysed arguments at a High Court hearing over Skype last April, ruled in his favour.
She dismissed the NFU challenge and concluded that the decision was not irrational.
Ms Symonds, nicknamed the Duchess of Downing Street, was thrown into the limelight again in November, when she was accused of playing a central role in having Lee Cain’s promotion to chief of staff blocked.
His subsequent departure was the culmination of a bitter power struggle inside Mr Johnson’s top team, with rival factions battling for supremacy.
Mr Johnson’s long-term adviser Dominic Cummings did not want the job himself, but had pushed for his ally – the Director of Communications – to be appointed.
This allegedly prompted warnings from the PM’s fiancée – herself a former Conservative Party head of media – that it would be ‘a mistake’ given how the campaign against the pandemic had gone so far.
She is said to have complained that the No10 operation was being run in an ‘uncollegiate’ way and the PM was not getting ‘good advice’.
Today, Mr Eustice said the Government was clear that killing badgers ‘infinitely… was not acceptable’.
The Environment Secretary also revealed more than 27,000 cattle have been killed in a bid to stop the bacterial infection in the last year alone.
‘This causes devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities and is damaging our reputation as world leaders in high standards of animal health and welfare,’ he said.
Pictured: Ms Symonds with the Prime Minister on Remembrance Sunday in London
Boris Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds stood outside Number 10 as her partner gave his first speech in Downing Street after the election victory in July 2019
‘Our current policy enables four-year intensive cull licences in defined areas with scope for a further five years of supplementary culling.’
The consultation sets out proposals for Natural England (NE) to stop issuing the current intensive cull licences for new areas post 2022 and enable new licences issued to be cut short if the Chief Veterinary Officer considers this acceptable.
‘Furthermore, I am proposing to restrict any new supplementary cull licences to two years and cease re-issuing such licences in any areas in which supplementary culling has previously been licensed,’ he added.
Mr Eustice also today announced that an ongoing project to create a cattle vaccine against the disease is ‘on track’ for completion within the next five years.
‘Our goal is to deliver on the significant investment we have made to date in developing a candidate diagnostic test to detect infected animals among vaccinated animals to enable use of the vaccine,’ he said.
‘Although a cattle bTB vaccine will not be the single solution to the problem of bTB, it will be a strong additional tool at our disposal.’
It comes after Ms Symonds said she was ‘delighted’ when a badger cull in Derbyshire was called off following a ‘direct intervention from the Prime Minister’ (pictured) in September 2019
The decision will be seen as a major victory for the Prime Minister’s fiancée Carrie Symonds, an avowed opponent of the badger cull, and conservation groups
Mr Eustice said the cattle vaccine will allow for the badger cull to be halted while still reaching the government’s goal of eradicating bovine tuberculosis by 2038.
Dominic Dyer, Policy Advisor at Born Free and former CEO of Badger Trust, said: ‘The badger cull policy has increasingly become political poison for the government.
‘To date over 140,000 badgers are believed to have been shot under cull licences since 2013 at a public cost of over £60 million in areas of England stretching from Cornwall to Cumbria.
‘A majority of these badgers have been killed by a controversial controlled shooting method which the government’s own independent expert committee found can result in badgers taking over five minutes to die of blood loss and organ failure.’
He continued: ‘The government has dithered and delayed on finding on finding an exit strategy to badger culling… however the statement by Defra Secretary George Eustice today confirms that from 2022 onwards we should now see a significant reduction and phasing out of badger culling in favour of badger and cattle TB vaccination and cattle based disease control measures.’