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Why the UK government’s badger cull infringes the #BernConvention

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Bovine TB is a major problem for the UK dairy and beef livestock industries. Since 2010, approximately 300,000 test-positive cattle and their direct contacts have been removed in England under the statutory test-and-slaughter scheme introduced in 1950. The cost to the taxpayer was estimated at £44 million for 2017-18, and the financial and emotional impacts on affected farmers are very significant, write the Badger Trust, Bornfree Foundation and Eurogroup for Animals. 

In December 2011, the UK government published its controversial policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England.  The policy laid out conditions under which farmer-led culling of badgers would take place under licence, as part of the UK government’s strategy for controlling bovine TB in cattle. Culling began in the first two zones to be licenced in September 2013. ​By the end of 2019, more than 100,000 badgers were reported to have been killed across 43 licenced zones in England​. According to ​leaked information​ believed to have emerged from the licencing authority Natural England, the government intends to grant four-year licences for an additional 11 new culling zones in 2020, bringing the total to 54 zones across 15 counties, covering an area in the order of 8,000 square kilometres​. This could see in excess of 60,000 additional badgers being targeted by the end of 2020.

Badgers are a protected species under UK law, and are listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention ​(a binding international legal instrument in the field of nature conservation). ​Under Article 7, Parties to the Convention are therefore committed to taking appropriate and necessary legislative and administrative measures to ensure their protection, and to regulate any exploitation in order to keep badger populations out of danger. Article 9 permits contracting parties to make exceptions to the requirements in Article 7 to, ​inter alia ​ , “prevent serious damage to livestock”, albeit only when there is no other satisfactory solution and where the action will not be detrimental to the survival of the population.

The UK government has thus far relied on this exception in Article 9 to justify its policy of badger culling.

The grounds for complaint

In August 2019, Born Free Foundation, The Badger Trust, and Eurogroup for Animals jointly submitted a complaint to the Bern Convention against the UK government, on the following grounds:

Breach of Article 7:

● There is clear evidence to show that the measures undertaken by the UK government for the exploitation of badgers jeopardizes the population concerned.
● There is clear evidence to show that the exploitation is not adequately monitored by the UK government.
● The exploitation of badgers has a negative impact on other species that are protected by the Convention.

Breach of Article 8:

● The exploitation of badgers is indiscriminate, and capable of causing local disappearance of the population.

Breach of Article 9:

● The UK government has failed to choose the most appropriate alternative, among possible alternatives, and has failed to be objective and verifiable in its reasoning for this decision.
● The UK government has failed to base the policy on current data on the state of the population, including its size, distribution, state of habitat and future prospects.
● The UK government has failed to demonstrate that the measures undertaken involving the exploitation of badgers is in place to prevent serious damage to livestock.
● The UK government has failed to submit biennial reports to the Secretariat in connection with the exceptions The complaint documents can be found on the Council of Europe ​website​.

Additional evidence

Born Free Foundation, The Badger Trust, and Eurogroup for Animals provided additional evidence in support of the complaint in March 2020, and again in July 2020.

This included:

Evidence refuting the UK government’s consistent claim that badger culling is resulting in significant disease control benefits.
Evidence demonstrating the likely scale of undetected infection among cattle, resulting from the poor sensitivity of the current testing regime and the impact of increased cattle testing intensity on reported bovine TB incidence and prevalence in cattle, which is currently being blamed on wildlife.
Evidence for concerns over badger population viability resulting from the continued use of ‘controlled shooting’ as the primary method of culling.
● Strong evidence that the current system of risk pathway identification and reporting, which identifies badgers as the default likely source of infection for cattle herd breakdowns in the absence of other evidence, is deeply flawed and biased towards justifying the current policy.
Evidence of serious biosecurity breaches on cattle farms and Approved Finishing Units, which could be exacerbating the spread of bovine TB among cattle, and could place some farms in breach of badger cull licencing criteria.
The failure of government to promote badger vaccination as a viable, non-lethal, and effective alternative to badger culling, in spite of its promises to phase out badger culling in favour of vaccination in its response to the Godfray Review published in March 2020. ​

Brexit

Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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EU

Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas

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At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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Economy

Lagarde calls for swift ratification of Next Generation EU

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Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, shared the conclusions of the monthly Euro Governing Council. The Council has decided to reconfirm its “very accommodative” monetary policy stance. Lagarde said that the renewed surge in COVID had disrupted economic activity, particularly for services. 

Lagarde underlined the importance of the Next Generation EU package and stressed that it should become operational without delay. She called on member states to ratify it as quickly as possible.  

The interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.50% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present or lower levels.

The Governing Council will continue the purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) with a total envelope of €1,850 billion. The Governing Council will conduct net asset purchases under the PEPP until at least the end of March 2022 and, in any case, until it judges that the coronavirus crisis phase is over. It will also continue to reinvest the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the PEPP until at least the end of 2023. In any case, the future roll-off of the PEPP portfolio will be managed to avoid interference with the appropriate monetary policy stance.

Third, net purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) will continue at a monthly pace of €20 billion. The Governing Council continues to expect monthly net asset purchases under the APP to run for as long as necessary to reinforce the accommodative impact of its policy rates, and to end shortly before it starts raising the key ECB interest rates.

The Governing Council also intends to continue reinvesting, in full, the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the APP for an extended period of time past the date when it starts raising the key ECB interest rates, and in any case for as long as necessary to maintain favourable liquidity conditions and an ample degree of monetary accommodation.

Finally, the Governing Council will continue to provide ample liquidity through its refinancing operations. In particular, the third series of targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO III) remains an attractive source of funding for banks, supporting bank lending to firms and households.

The Governing Council continues to stand ready to adjust all of its instruments, as appropriate, to ensure that inflation moves towards its aim in a sustained manner, in line with its commitment to symmetry.

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