THE Government has defended its controversial policy of culling badgers after wildlife charities lodged a complaint with a European wildlife protection body, claiming it could be “catastrophic” for other species.
The Humane Society International UK, Care for the Wild and Badger Trust claimed culling is breaking international rules to protect wildlife because of the negative effects on other species.
They are challenging the policy, aimed at tackling tuberculosis in cattle, claiming officials failed to conduct sufficient risk assessments on the impacts it could have on protected wildlife.
They claim the policy breaches the Bern Convention on conserving European wildlife and habitats.
In a complaint to the convention’s secretariat, they said the badger cull could have a negative impact on birds and small mammals affected by the removal of badgers from their ecosystem.
The groups also said the cull was unnecessary because bovine TB could be controlled in cattle without culling.
Research showed removing badgers could affect other predators - for example increasing fox numbers, which can damage protected species such as ground-nesting birds, they said.
The Government has pushed ahead with two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, claiming culling is necessary as part of a package of measures to tackle TB in cattle.
But opponents say it is ineffective and inhumane and that other approaches, such as tighter measures on farms and developing vaccines for cattle and badgers, should be pursued.
Mark Jones, vet and executive director for HSI UK said the groups were taking their challenge to the Bern Convention with evidence to show badger culling was “potentially very bad news for the wider ecosystem”.
“Removing or displacing large numbers of badgers from nature’s delicate balance could be catastrophic for some of these species and habitats, so we’re asking Bern to intervene and protect all of our wildlife from this disastrous cull.”
Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: “We hope that this is the beginning of the end of badger culling in the UK.
“The UK government has cut corners and turned a blind eye to the damage this policy will do both to the badgers themselves, and the rare birds and other animals which will be affected when badgers are culled.
“The badger cull has been a shambles from the start, but it’s so unnecessary. Improved farming controls and tightening up on cattle movements have already led to big reductions in the disease.”
A Government spokesman said it was determined to combat the “devastating” disease of bovine TB.
“Our policy was reviewed by the Bern Secretariat in 2012 and again earlier this year - and on both occasions they were satisfied that we complied with our obligations under the convention.”