Ramsgate has been closed since September, when 47 sheep were killed in an incident which led animal welfare charity RSCPA to claim that the port had inadequate facilities to deal with emergency situations.
However, High Court Judge Mr Justice Burton has allowed the port to re-open, acknowledging that closure of the port at this time of year would cause irreparable damage to exporters, who rely on the port to export some 75,000 sheep to France for the festival of Eid.
The RSPCA has condemned the decision, saying that the judge had put too much weight on the Department for Food and Rural Affair’s (Defra) view that it was not necessary to provide emergency facilities at Ramsgate itself, with contingency premises available an hour’s drive away.
RSPCA chief executive, Gavin Grant, said: “This is a black day for all who love animals and care about them. This ruling has put profit above animal welfare. This vile trade will deliver tens of thousands of sheep to their awful fate. We will redouble our efforts to protect these animals welfare and end this trade from Ramsgate when the judicial review is heard.”
The charity said it would monitor the situation at the port carefully and continue to campaign for its closure.
The UK’s livestock industry has welcomed the re-opening of the port. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) chief livestock adviser, Peter Garbutt, said: “We are reassured by this decision, which supports the fact that the movement of animals throughout Europe is a legal activity. The health and welfare of the animals in transit is a priority for everyone involved, and the NFU believes that anyone transporting animals has a duty to use the shortest route they can to reach their destination. This includes cross-Channel movements.”
Trouble first occurred at Ramsgate in September, when a lorry carrying sheep was deemed unfit for purpose by the RSPCA. The livestock were removed from the lorry into a holding-pen until a new travel arrangements could be made, but the holding pen collapsed, leading to the accidental drowning of three sheep. The remaining 44 sheep were then “humanely” destroyed by RSPCA.