Public access to information on culls

Two weeks ago a list was leaked of farms and farmers said to have signed up for the cull in south Devon. An NFU spokesman called the leak ‘reprehensible’ and speculated that it could lead to harassment and intimidation of farmers.

This has brought up discussion of a case brought to Tribunal in September 2015. Natural England had appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling that it should disclose information requested on the badger culls in 2013. These requests did not include names, but the final judgement in November 2015 recognised that ‘Increased protesting in the cull areas (or better directed protesting) is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society’. It noted that there is strong public interest in transparency that facilitates public participation and debate in matters of environmental concern.

The judgement also found that ‘the vast majority of protester activity was peaceful and lawful’. The Tribunal clarified that contrary to Natural England’s argument that there had been substantial criminal activity that threatened public safety, most of the incidents described to it seemed to be ‘perfectly lawful protester activity’, including marching and demonstrating, or lobbying participants using largely lawful methods through social media, phone calls and letter writing.

In response to Natural England’s argument that information leading to the aborting or holding up of the culls could ‘adversely affect…the protection of the environment’, the Tribunal stated that there was a counter argument, supported by many scientists, that alternatives to the badger cull were a better way of protecting the environment.