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PRESS RELEASE: Information revealed under Access to Information on the Environment legislation shows Minister Heather Humphreys failing in her duty to protect badgers

PRESS RELEASE: Information revealed under Access to Information on the Environment legislation shows Minister Heather Humphreys failing in her duty to protect badgers
The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) is a national organisation concerned with the conservation of Ireland’s natural heritage. For many years we have campaigned against the policy of culling badgers in order to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle (bTB). This policy sees around 6,000 badgers snared and shot every year by contractors from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), including during the breeding season when cubs are left to starve. The badger is one of Ireland’s most recognisable animals and is protected under the Wildlife Act as well as internationally, as a listed species in the Bern Convention (to which Ireland is a signatory). As such culling must take place under licences issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). Minister Humphreys, under whose remit the NPWS falls, is therefore responsible for the conservation of the badger as outlined in national and international law.
 
Badger culling in Ireland has been on-going since the late 1980s and the IWT has calculated that over 120,000 badgers have been snared and shot in that time. Despite this bTB continues to be a problem for farmers across Ireland and as such culling has failed utterly in its stated aim of eradicating TB in cattle. The manner in which it is carried out has been cruel and inhumane and we believe it is having serious repercussions on the badger population.
 
Throughout 2015 the IWT, working together with An Taisce and supported by an eNGO team in the ELIG[1] initiative made a series of requests for information on the cull and licencing process under AIE legislation. It had always been assumed that the NPWS executes a supervisory role in ensuring the cull had the minimum impact to badgers and, in carrying out its statuary function in issuing licences, would ensure that culling only takes place where strictly necessary. However this is not the case and licences are instead issued en masse once a year for all regions – and not on a case by case basis, and with little or no feedback or compliance with the conditions imposed on the licences. Rather than placing strict checks and balances on the execution of the cull in fact the NPWS has no such role.
 
Licence conditions ignored
 
The following are conditions of the current licences:
· Condition 6: “the relevant NPWS Regional staff must be informed in good time, of the details (including grid reference) of any action proposed to be taken on foot of this licence, prior to it taking place” [their emphasis]
·       Condition 8: “Each DVO [District Veterinary Office] shall provide the NPWS with a comprehensive list of its FRS staff” (contractors undertaking the actual culling work)
·       Condition 11: “the provisions of the Bern Convention shall be adhered to”
 
However correspondence revealed under the AIE request showed these conditions were being systematically ignored throughout the years we looked at (from 2011 to 2015)
 
Up to 2012 conditions 10 & 11 of the licence specified that culling should not reduce populations of badgers to below 40% in chronic areas, or below 60% in non-chronic areas. In 2012 NPWS staff highlighted concerns that reductions have been greater in some parts of the country, thereby contravening the licence conditions. One staff member says in an email “I do not see any evidence in […] my dealings with DAFF [Department of Agriculture] personnel that any attempt is made to ascertain population size and thus comply with these conditions.”
 
However, after 2012 Conditions 10 & 11 were mysteriously dropped from the licence to be replaced with a new condition that “the provisions of the Bern Convention shall be adhered to”. Under this Convention the Irish Government agreed to provide annual reports to its secretariat on the status of the cull but this has not happened since 2005.
 
The Government also agreed with the secretariat that culling would not exceed 30% of agricultural land. However even this rather meaningless figure has been under strain in recent years. In one exchange it was shown that staff at DAFM threatened NPWS with introducing new legislation so that badgers could be culled ‘as necessary’ were their demands to exceed the 30% limit not met. In May 2012 NPWS expressed “significant concerns about the potential impact on local and national badger populations” should an increase in culling area be allowed.
 
Emails from NPWS field staff show that information on culling activity is rarely forthcoming, with one feeling “they [the contractors] really resented having to comply with our licence”. In another exchange it was shown that snares had been set on Coillte land (the state forestry company) without the knowledge of Coillte or NPWS staff and which resulted in complaints from the public.
 
No oversight
Supporters of the cull had always maintained that it was carefully monitored and controlled by the NPWS but the information we have gathered has exposed that argument as nonsense. In not providing the resources to the NPWS to carry out their functions Minister Humphreys is failing in her duty to ensure the conservation of the badger.
 
No vaccine after 25 years
Since 1991 it has been Government strategy to replace the cull with a badger vaccination programme, however we are told this is still some time away. The AIE information shows that the NPWS do not participate in the vaccination trials and receive no information on it. Indeed one NPWS staff member complains that staff get no information on the “scientific basis” of the cull. Repeated queries from staff on the status of the vaccination programme, and why there has been so little progress after 25 years of research, go unanswered.
 
Concerns for badgers
The lack of information held by NPWS means they cannot fulfil their duty in protecting badger populations. Indeed in 2010 NPWS admitted “we have very limited data on badger population dynamics other than what DAFM are producing themselves. Even that data would suggest that the culling programme is having wider landscape impacts on the badger population beyond the areas being culled.”
 
One NPWS staff member refers to the cull as a “huge animal welfare problem” which causes animals “unnecessary suffering” i.e. culling during the breeding season which sees lactating mothers shot and cubs left underground to starve.
 
IWT Campaigns Officer Pádraic Fogarty says “the last vestige of respectability has been stripped away from this gruesome and pointless cull. Minister Humphreys is asleep at the wheel when it comes to executing her duties to protect the badger and the cull should stop immediately. bTB is a very serious disease for farmers and needs to be eradicated. Wasting public money in the persecution of our wildlife however is not the way to do this.”

[1] ELIG – Environmental Law Implementation Group – is a joint initiative of the Irish Government, An Taisce and the Environmental Pillar whose objective is the protection of the environment through the proper transposition and implementation of environmental law.
CONTACT:  Padraic Fogarty - IWT's Campaigns Officer - irishwildlife@iwt.ie for further details.  
 
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Photo Credit: Badger photo thanks to Sarah Glass