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At a conference on animal welfare last year, some staggering figures were revealed. While certain animal rights groups obsess about hunting with hounds, the number of wild animals that die through other means, intentional or otherwise, is mind-boggling.

A major problem here is that if an action is termed ‘pest control’ this apparently is fine in the public mind, yet, as Dr Nick Fox has said, “In pest control, welfare is treated as a secondary priority over efficiency in many cases…it appears, across the board, that ‘pest control’ has been the justification for some of the worst excesses in animal welfare.”

In the case of trapping, inhumane traps are easily available and are in use. The fact is, traps will be employed whether we like it or not, and the use of poison is being scrutinised. A responsible attitude to rodent control is to ensure traps are as humane as possible.

Here, Woody Webster, a director of the Good Trapping Company, gives his view.

In spite of the often hysterical response from animal rights activists that free trade deals with the US will result in factory farmed beef and the like coming into the UK after Brexit, I am going to set out why leaving the EU and the rise of the cost of labour is going to be a fillip to the area of rodent and pest control in the built environment, especially around the issues of poisons and traps.

Wherever humans have lived and built their environment, rodents have followed and it is a simple step to see that within those built environments, rodents including rats and mice will happily set up their homes. In doing so, these rodents cause large amounts of damage from chewing, pooing and breeding in and around the dark corners of our buildings, along with the resultant health risks.

Without going into the details of how pest / rodent control methods actually work, even those that are regulated and licensed by law in the UK and the EU, rest assured there are some phenomenally poor and very cruel practices that are actually encouraged by the EU and happily used in the built environment, notably in the area of rodent eradication.

Large multi-national firms have been built around the service provider of both killing and limiting rats and other rodents within the built environment. A range of methods is available, including ‘glue traps’ that even the industry regards as a product that should be used as a last resort because of the suffering that may be caused. Poison is one of the key tools deployed in the killing process. Rats, mice, moles and squirrels are targeted using poison along with larger animals including rabbits, though via a fumigant.

I’ll spare the reader the graphic way in which mammals die from poison, however it doesn’t require much imagination to understand the suffering caused by the ingestion of a substance that causes internal bleeding.

The irony of animal rights activists is that they corrupt the debate about animal welfare, ignoring that it is likely a weaker wild animal being hunted is caught by a pack of hounds, rather than the horrific poisoning of many more wild mammals all around the built environment. The cognitive ability of a rat is pretty close to a fox and yet the animal rights activists choose to conveniently ignore the indiscriminate use of poison on target species, while running the risk of non-target mammals also being killed.

Why will Brexit will be the catalyst of change? The market forces of higher wages in what is the historically low wage environment of pest control means the industry is adjusting to the higher cost of a post-Brexit labour market. Reloading, self-setting humane traps, which can be left alone to guarantee a quick and certain kill in and around the built environment, with no risk of maiming the animals is an important step forward in welfare terms. They have a lower maintenance cost and keep pressure up on the rodent population without the use of poison. With the growing demands to outlaw poison, in most cases the use of self-loading humane traps is the answer in the pest control field in a post poison, higher animal welfare standard world.

The GoodNature A24 rat trap is a self-resetting, humane, lethal rat and mice trap.  Compact, toxin free, It is easy to install and resets itself after each humane strike, up to 24 times per CO2 canister.

 

GoodNature traps have entered the UK market to offer a more humane and poison free offering to rodent control.
Automatic, reloading and poison free, the GoodNature traps are an excellent alternative to poison.

For further information on the Good Trapping Company see:  www.goodtrappingcompany.co.uk

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According to Chris Packham, those who shoot are part of “the nasty brigade”, while he compares hunting to “slavery, homophobia and racism”. Brian May thinks hunters are “a bunch of lying bastards.” Even those who should know better use inflammatory language, such as academic The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, who says, “Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture.”

In other words, people who support hunting and shooting are beneath contempt; they see animals as little more than something to be killed for fun. Worse than that, hunters are dangerous, evil people and it begs the question why they haven’t all been rounded up and jailed for the good of society? The Conservative Party is just as bad, as it seeks to protect these ‘bloodsports’.

Anti-hunting animal rights groups would have the public, the media and politicians believe this nonsense and it’s all part of a fairly transparent strategy perpetrated by those who are obsessed with banning hunting with dogs and see it as the worst possible form of animal cruelty. No matter what you may do in the field of animal welfare or conservation, if you are in favour of hunting you are the lowest of the low.

The strategy goes something like this:

  1. Ensure that hunting, regardless of any conservation benefit, is always described as “killing for fun.”
  2. It follows that anyone taking part in such an activity must be some kind of pervert and, now that we have the Hunting Act, they must also all be criminals.
  3. It further follows, given that hunting is in the same category as slavery or child abuse and can never be acceptable, that no debate or justification of it should be permitted in schools, colleges or any place of learning.
  4. Once this point is reached, the abuse of people involved in hunting or shooting, either directly or through social media, is legitimised.

The whole process is underpinned by carefully-worded public opinion polls, designed to convince either naïve or prejudiced politicians that hunting equates to genuine bloodsports like dog-fighting or badger baiting.

The simple fact is, the vast majority who support hunting and shooting do care about animal welfare, but reality is very different to the cosy, utopian picture so often portrayed by antis and animal rightists. It’s in the antis’ interest to argue otherwise and, for a public that’s mostly detached from countryside activities and more and more seems to get its news and information from social media, the means to propagate these views are readily available.

Therefore, it must be uncomfortable for these obsessive antis to hear the recent announcements on animal protection from country sports supporter, DEFRA Secretary of State Michael Gove. We learn that he wants to increase the maximum imprisonment penalty for serious acts of cruelty from six months to five years. Then comes a commitment on banning ivory products and legislation to put CCTV in all slaughterhouses will be introduced next year.

According to some, the Hunting Act is settled and requires no further debate.

Any objective observer, if they bothered to look beyond the propaganda, wouldn’t find it difficult to discount the empty rhetoric of anti-hunting groups and those mainly on the Left who exploit animal welfare for their own political ends, while ignoring facts both past and present.

For example, two of the founding members of the RSPCA – MPs Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and Richard Martin, were hunters – Buxton being the first chairman of the fledgling society and Martin championing the very first animal welfare law. Both were also significant players in the anti-slavery movement, which makes any accusation of their pastime being likened to slavery somewhat ironic, as well as being utter nonsense.

Anyone who has attended a hunt meet will see an array of families with their pet dogs. Hunting friends of mine delight in gardens full of birds hovering around the feeders they diligently ensure are full. At least three hunt masters have told me of the different steps they have taken to prevent the suffering of foxes on particular occasions, actions that would certainly surprise even the most ardent animal rightist. Numerous prominent hunting individuals, like Baroness Mallalieu, President of the Countryside Alliance, are involved in horse welfare groups. A foxhunting friend, who also shoots, just recently gave a very large donation to a dog rescue charity, helping that organisation purchase an overseas centre threatened with closure.

I’ve lost count of the number of hunting people who have agreed with me in saying we need new wildlife protection legislation that outlaws genuine acts of cruelty to all wild mammals, but crucially one that also recognises the need for sensible and humane wildlife management. It’s only their worry about the authorities and politicians misunderstanding management methods – a totally understandable fear – that gives them cause for concern.

A typical hunt meet – complete with “animal hating” supporters.

These are not the actions of people who dislike animals or see them solely as targets of their bloodlust and amusement; nor is it the sort of image or information that antis want the public to see and this explains the new response from anti-hunt groups. At a Labour animal rights group fringe meeting this year, speakers claimed there was nothing left to discuss on the issue of hunting. No one should even be allowed to question the validity of this law, the whole thing now having been settled. Just as in extreme regimes of either the Right or the Left, (or perhaps some mad, fundamentalist cult like ISIS) you simply must not deviate from “The Truth.”

This may also explains the shock expressed by anti hunters when National Trust members voted down a League Against Cruel Sports motion to ban trail hunting on its land. They just can’t comprehend it and now are apparently taking legal advice to get the vote overturned. No, the fact is, despite all the flaws in the Hunting Act, the lack of any scientific evidence to support it, the failure to even examine what its effects on wildlife may have been and the army of people who have criticised it, hunting with dogs is beyond the pale and must never, ever be talked of again. Welcome to the UK in 2017, land of free speech.

Thankfully, not everyone is ready to kowtow to such bigotry and some actually want to hear arguments from both sides, because, unlike many of our blinkered  anti hunt friends, they have minds of their own and prefer to come to their own conclusions.

No doubt this was the view of some students at York University a few months ago when they tried to organise a debate on foxhunting. But try as they might, no one was available to put the anti-hunting case, something that was slightly surprising as we’re constantly told that 80% of the population is supposedly opposed to hunting. Instead, it was agreed that I would give a presentation, which the organisers welcomed. The event was advertised and tickets sold.

But then the keyboard campaigners heard of it, ‘tweeting’ about the talk to other antis around the country who prefer sniping to debating. The event was cancelled on the day it was due to take place, with a failure to arrange security being cited as the reason. The student union organisers stated that they had never had to make a request for security in the past, so such precautions were not the norm. Clearly, on this occasion, the university had concerns about ‘counter protests’ and the safety of those attending. The ‘keyboard activists’ made no secret of their delight in achieving their aim on this occasion, ‘tweeting’ in their usual frenzied manner and often using rude, hateful or obscene language. It’s the same tactic they’ve adopted to force pubs or hotels hosting meets or hunt balls to cancel events; it’s as destructive as it is cowardly…and unfortunately it sometimes works.

It isn’t always like this. I took part in a debate at the student veterinary school at Exeter University a couple of years ago with the RSPCA’s Head of Public
Affairs, David Bowles. A good-natured and informative discussion resulted in a 50/50 vote at the end, which seemed to satisfy everyone. Numerous similar talks and presentations on hunting and wildlife management are always well-received and that should be no surprise when reasonable people with open minds are in the the audience. Just a few weeks ago, a presentation on foxhunting at a London school concluded with a vote in favour of repealing the Hunting Act.

How is it that young people in a suburban area and veterinary students are not only willing to listen to the arguments, but many can be convinced by
them? And that’s the point – they are exposed to arguments that antis don’t want them to hear.

Despite numerous flaws in the Hunting Act, there should be no further debate. Just one of the more repeatable tweets.

If the anti-hunt argument is so sound, it’s puzzling why is there such reluctance to see it put to the test in a live debate. How would relevant questions, such as those raised in a previous blog on starvation, ever be addressed? Far better to close down any discussion by any means available.  It’s therefore regrettable that a university, a place of listening and learning, is put in a difficult position because of concerns about disruption, but it is even more worrying that it appears free speech can be curtailed by a bigoted few who prefer the safety of ‘tweeting’ from their own homes to live debates.

As the French moralist, Joseph Joubert said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”

The question has to be asked, “What are the antis scared of?” The answer would appear to be any view that’s not theirs.

A few days ago, the animal rights group Animal Aid accused the UK’s Royal Parks of “callously” slaughtering tens of thousands of wild animals including deer, squirrels and foxes, calling instead for ‘humane’ control.

It’s puzzling, because when it comes to deer and foxes, such culling would be done via a rifle in the hands of a professional – precisely the method argued to be ‘humane’ by the anti-hunting groups during the debates in the run-up to the Hunting Act.

In tactics that would make the EU’s Chief Negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, look reasonable, goalposts in the animal rights world are constantly moved and new demands wait in the wings. What was humane for foxes, is not so humane for badgers and so the ‘banned wagon’ rolls on.

Normally, animal rights groups are very good at saying what they want banned but not so quick to explain what they actually support. Not so in this rare instance, in which Animal Aid explains that in their view a ‘humane’ alternative would be to limit the available food supply. That may sound feasible to those who rely on saying leave it all to nature, given that in areas of the world pretty-much devoid of human activity wildlife populations do indeed often find a balance dictated by factors such as predation, territorial availability, disease and food supply. But to get to that position from a man-managed environment a dramatic curve has to be followed, which comes down to one thing: starvation. Quite how this can be described as ‘humane’ certainly stretches the imagination, yet this is not the first time an animal rights group has taken a similar view.

Red deer carcass at Oostvaardersplassen

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) argues that wildlife does not need to be managed, its website stating, “Contrary to what hunters often say in defence of their cruel pastime, hunting has nothing to do with ‘conservation’ or ‘population control’…If left unaltered by humans, the delicate balance of nature’s ecosystems ensures the survival of most species. Natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals.”

This statement is full of contradictions. Firstly, “If left unaltered by humans” translates into no disease control, no protection for farming and no saving of vulnerable species. In effect, it means removing humans from the picture. Secondly, what happens when there are no natural predators for a particular species, such as deer or wild boar? I can hear ‘rewilding’ being the response.

Rewilding has its place, but only in particular environments and, importantly, with the involvement of people who have to live and work in the areas with the re-introduced species. Proper planning is crucial, which must include ‘exit strategies’ if numbers become too high.

But, when talking about the re-introduction of predators, can something so abhorrent to animal rightists. i.e. the chasing, terrifying and ripping apart a wild animal be humane? If they claim it’s natural, why then are such groups opposed to hunting with dogs when they operate in a very similar way to those natural predators removing “only the sickest and weakest individuals”?

Presumably it’s the involvement of nasty humans and removing them somehow diminishes the suffering of the animals hunted. And while talking of nasty humans, that description must also apply to most conservation organisations too, such as the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust and RSPB, all of which advocate the culling of various species to maintain properly balanced wildlife populations. It must also include the RSPCA and the Wildlife Trusts, both of which are partners in the Deer Initiative, a body that oversees and co-ordinates culls of hundreds of thousands of deer every year. Its website states, “With a lack of natural predators in the UK, the role of human control becomes more important.”

Leaving the countryside “unaltered by humans” may well be an attractive phrase for those who have no idea of life and death in the wild and do not have to bear the responsibility of managing any land, but for those who do, even some who might be regarded as natural bed-fellows of groups like Animal Aid and PETA, harsh realities soon arise.

‘Sanctuaries’ purchased by the League Against Cruel Sports since the late 1950s have long suffered from wildlife management problems, from deer with lungworm to a massive outbreak of bovine TB on the Baronsdown sanctuary in the mid 2000s. Even now, with cases of bTB having dropped significantly, there appears to be very low breeding success for the red deer on this land. And yet the LACS have the audacity to put a motion on trail hunting to the National Trust, telling them how to manage their land.

Elk in the absence of predators had a devastating effect in Yellowstone National Park

What Animal Aid, PETA and others are advocating cannot be compared with rewilding projects, such as the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, which is a natural wilderness. Wolves had been mercilessly exterminated over decades, the last one being killed in the 1930s. Elk numbers then rose to such a point that they ranged over wider areas and were destroying their own habitat, which of course was also habitat for many other species. The knock-on effect was that the condition of the herds became very poor. In the mid-1990s after careful planning, wolves were re-introduced and started to reduce the elk numbers, taking out the old, weak and injured, leaving a much smaller, healthier elk population. In addition, the undergrowth was allowed to recover, providing rich habitat for many other species.

No, what is being advocated here by these animal rights groups, although they probably wouldn’t admit it, is an experiment.

Wolf re-introduction project leader, Doug Smith, shows regenerated habitat in Yellowstone

A different type of rewilding has been taking place in Holland, in a 15,000 acre reserve that might be described a re-established wilderness called Oostvaardersplassen. The aim is to recreate a Paleolithic landscape and to bring back much of the wildlife, or as much as possible, that would have lived there at that time. Red deer were imported from Scotland and other animals – old breeds of cattle and horses – were brought in from various countries to help rebuild a stone age world, but, as in the wild, these animals would have to fend for themselves. Some meso (middle) predators, such as foxes, moved in naturally, but no apex (top) predators, such as wolves, arrived that were of sufficient size to control the growing numbers of large herbivores. Filmed images of starving, dying and dead animals, caused by over population, limited resources and harsh winters, outraged the public and the Dutch government had to form a special committee to deal with the situation. They recommended selective culling.

While the Oostvaardersplassen experiment continues in the hope that wolves do eventually reach the reserve and reduce the deer population, it cannot be denied that many animals have suffered, sometimes eating things like reeds, branches and bark because of severe hunger. It is, therefore, even more bizarre that an animal rights group would want to repeat it in the UK, where the re-introduction of natural predators such as wolves or lynx is hardly likely in Royal Parks.

As ever, in debates and arguments over hunting, shooting, culling and wildlife management, it is imperative to look beyond the clamour of animal rights groups’ demands and ask what do they actually stand for and where do their policies lead?

Little wonder there is reluctance to give answers to those questions once we get a glimpse of the real consequences.

The vote at the forthcoming National Trust AGM to prevent the organisation from issuing licences permitting trail hunting on its land is reminiscent of previous actions taken by anti-hunting activists that go back to the 1990s.

That last attempt concerned a motion put forward by the then League Against Cruel Sports director, demanding that dates and times of hunting activity be published in order that they could be ‘monitored’. Another motion on the same occasion tried to prohibit the use of hunts to search for and dispatch wounded deer, despite operating under the exemptions in the Hunting Act. The motions were voted down.

Exemptions were regarded as necessary for conservation or pest control reasons and were written into this law by anti-hunting MPs pushing for this measure. They were advised by the coalition of anti-hunting groups, including the LACS, during the passage of the legislation. In other words, this is legal hunting based on a law drafted by anti-hunting groups and sympathetic politicians. And yet they still weren’t satisfied, because the Hunting Act hasn’t turned out to be the death knell of all hunting with dogs.

That frustration continues and could easily apply to Helen Beynon, the proposer of this new motion. There is no law preventing the hunting of a trail with hounds, yet because antis tend to see actual hunting at every turn, the accusation has been made that this form of legal hunting is just a front and a smokescreen for live quarry hunting. Ms Beynon says she was under the impression that hunting was illegal, indicating that she does not understand the various exemptions under the Hunting Act and at the same time revealing a serious lack of knowledge about what has been happening since this legislation came into force in over 12 years ago.

In support of this motion, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has produced a report containing numerous unsubstantiated incidents which, they claim, support this charge. A similar document was produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I wonder how many times these ‘breaches of the law’ have been reported to the police or the National Trust and, if so, what was the response? Anti-hunt ‘monitors’ can hardly be regarded as unbiased, so their ‘evidence’ must always be questionable, yet both reports have been quoted as if somehow their findings are fact.

A further report has been produced by Professor Stephen Harris, someone who makes no secret of his anti-hunting views. In what is presumably supposed to be a scientific document designed to impress the National Trust council, Harris uses ‘evidence’ that clearly comes from anti-hunting groups. Furthermore, while he attempts to draw a line between drag hunting and trail hunting, the only conclusion that can be reached is that both are detrimental to wildlife. Indeed, the Harris report raises concerns about the effects dogs generally might have on wildlife, which chimes very well with the Hunting Act; both appear to be very anti-dog.

If the National Trust does indeed ban trail hunting on the basis of Harris’ views, there can be no excuse for drag hunting either. Of course, if the ridiculous demands made by the LACS are ever accepted by a future government and the Hunting Act is amended in the manner they wish, that will mean the end of drag hunting as, in their words, the artificial trail must be laid in an area of countryside where there are no wild mammals. If anyone can point out where this fictitious part of the countryside happens to be, I’m sure the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association would be delighted to know. As usual, however, this report, like so many other anti-hunting documents, refrains from examining any consequence of a hunting ban and the effect it has had on wildlife – something that is typical of people and groups obsessed with banning hunting at all costs.

If certain activities are to be banned on National Trust land, or indeed any area of the countryside, it would be good to know what methods of wildlife management are advocated by these groups, who appear very reluctant to explain their alternative vision of the countryside and what sort of relationship we should have with wildlife. A review of another LACS document shows their preferred policies seems to be little more than a list preventative measures, such as fencing, disturbance or, oddly, “blocking” rabbit burrows when empty. They avoid any possible form of lethal control, though amazingly refer to ‘No control’ as one viable option, saying it is “reasonably efficient”. That would no doubt please many supporters of LACS who would repeat that well-worn phrase, “Leave it all to nature”, conjuring up an image of a kind of wildlife utopia. Such a view fails to recognise that this means no disease control, no protection for vulnerable species and no means to prevent livestock or crop losses; animal welfare would certainly not be improved.

Even so, I doubt any of these ‘alternative’ methods will be included in the written motion to the National Trust. Were that to be the case, at least there might then be the opportunity for a sensible debate at the trust’s AGM on the merits of the evidence supporting each of the various options. The LACS and their anti-hunting colleagues are very good at telling other organisations how to manage their land and yet when land in the hands of this group is examined, a very unsavoury picture emerges.

For years, the LACS’ Baronsdown sanctuary has been the subject of criticism. Deer were encouraged to enter the land by feeding, resulting in an unnaturally high concentration of the animals. Various diseases, including lungworm, were reported in deer around the area and wounded animals were sighted, some being involved in road traffic accidents, which, according to local reports, were due to the animals being in such poor condition that they could not respond quickly enough to oncoming vehicles.

The latest LACS report includes another allegation, which is that is hunts and their hounds spread disease, one being bovine TB and this really is ironic, as explained below. Dogs, by the way, are regarded as a ‘dead-end host’ as far as being a risk is concerned. As Dr Lewis Thomas of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management states, “The suggestion demonstrates ignorance of how bTB transmits between animals and humans. It requires protracted exposure to high challenge doses which, clearly, is not the case with hunting hounds.” Deer can be placed in the same category, as they tend to avoid humans and cattle.

Somehow, maybe through badgers, bovine TB entered Baronsdown, perhaps in the 1990s. However, due to the unusually high concentration of deer in the sanctuary, the disease could pass easily from one deer to another because of ‘nose-to-nose’ contact – something that generally does not happen in normal sized herds. It was directly due these almost unique conditions that such an extraordinary outbreak of bovine TB occurred – something that scientist examining the health of the red deer on Exmoor regarded as one of the largest they had witnessed. The disease has diminished since its high point in the early 2000s, but there are continuing effects on the deer on Baronsdown that concern experts and conservationists to the present day.

So before the National Trust takes advice from supporters of the League Against Cruel Sports, perhaps they should take a very close look their version of conservation.

See: http://www.countryside-alliance.org/full-guide-voting-national-trust-agm/

 

 

Land of Plenty

LAND OF PLENTY
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIELDS AND FOODS OF MODERN BRITAIN

Charlie Pye-Smith

 

Our farmers are facing the most uncertain future for a generation given the decision to withdraw from the European Union and its Common Agricultural Policy. In Land of Plenty, Charlie Pye-Smith travels the length and breadth of Britain to provide a rich and timely portrait of an essential aspect of our national heritage: farming.

 

No other walk of life possesses such a diversity of people and enterprises and Charlie Pye-Smith spends time with all of them. From lowland estates which use the latest computer-based technologies to remote hill farms; from ultramodern indoor dairy units producing millions of litres of milk a year to small, old-fashioned farms making cheese with 20 or 30 cows; from tenants who have just joined the industry to landowners whose families have farmed the same bit of land since Norman times.

While interest in the natural world is flourishing, most people have to go back several generations or more before they can find an ancestor who worked on the land. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority are ignorant about country matters and have only the haziest knowledge about the people who are supplying us with the most essential thing in life: our daily bread and butter, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables. Travelling around Britain during the past year, Charlie Pye-Smith shines a light on this most vital national industry.

The great British countryside has changed immeasurably over the past century. Land of Plenty explores its past, present and future alongside topics such as agricultural labour, self-sufficiency in food production, farming subsidies and Brexit. Covering the dairy industry in Somerset and Gloucestershire; beef in the Scottish Borders; sheep in North Yorkshire; pigs and poultry in East Anglia and Hampshire; vegetables in Norfolk; fruit in Essex and the West Country, Land of Plenty captures an industry with a remarkable ability to adapt and embrace innovation.

Before taking up his place at university, Charlie Pye-Smith spent a year working on a mixed farm in the Yorkshire Dales and farming remains his first love. He reports regularly on global farming and environmental issues for international research and development agencies and the media. He has written numerous books, including The Facts of Rural Life, Trees for Life and The Subsidy Scandal and co-authored Working the Land and The Wealth of Communities.

 

 

Reviews

“This book is a quest. A couple of years ago, the writer and broadcaster Charlie Pye-Smith set off in a Dormobile around the British countryside in search of British agriculture. I know, I know – I’ve already lost my younger readers…But we need to take where our food comes from seriously. As well as health, ethics and cost, there’s the matter of sustainability – how much food will we grow in these islands after Brexit and what are the implications for security of our supply? Pye-Smith’s investigation is thorough and at times remarkable.” The Times

“If you want to know the countryside, get out into it. Charlie Pye-Smith did just that for his book Land of Plenty and the result is a brilliantly well observed story of the British countryside, its history and its future.” Western Morning News

“Charlie Pye-Smith has done his work thoroughly and produced a welcome corrective to the kind of hysterical, ill-informed rubbish spouted by the like of Chris Packham on the issue of badgers and bovine TB. The story he tells is full of hope and trepidation. We can make a better, cleaner job of producing the food we need. We can repair the land. We can clean the rivers. We can bring back birds and mammals and butterflies. But we need the farmers to do it.” Literary Review

“Charlie Pye-Smith’s lifelong love of agriculture, and the countryside, is self-evident in his timely new book… It’s not just recommended reading for all those who have a special affinity with rural Britain, warts and all, but it should be top of the summer reading
list for every Cabinet minister. If Brexit is to work for all, the country needs a farming and food policy that is fit for purpose.” Yorkshire Evening Post

“Land of Plenty by Charlie Pye-Smith is a much needed exploration of farming in the UK today… In writing this he returns ‘ownership’ of food to us all and suggests that domestically grown food is too valuable to take for granted. It is up to everyone, urban or rural, young or old, Brexiteer or Remainer, to support our food producers (and by default landscape managers) by buying British, helping to ensure out rural communities remain resilient long into the future.” http://www.thinkingcountry.com

“Interested in how your food gets to you in Britain? Then Land of Plenty is a must-read…This accessible introduction to farming is a nuanced account of the countryside that is neither romantic or damning but refreshingly balanced. Its closing message is hard to forget, shining a light on our collective responsibility for the resilience of our farmers and security of our food: “Living in a land of plenty should be a reality, not just an aspiration, and we consumers have as much of a part to play as our farmers.””  http://www.farmdrop.com

 

LAND OF PLENTY
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIELDS AND FOODS OF MODERN BRITAIN
CHARLIE PYE-SMITH
Pub date: 27 July 2017
Price: £20 Hardback

Land of Plenty is published by Elliott & Thompson Books and can be bought from
amazon.co.uk, Waterstones or hive.co.uk

For more information, contact Ollie Dewis at olliedewis@icloud.com or
07531 803 375 http://www.eandtbooks.com / Twitter: @eandtbooks

Dr Nick Fox OBE is Director of International Wildlife Consultants.
He is a raptor biologist who has worked on research projects around the world, involving breeding, conservation, heritage, event management and education. As a farmer and author, Nick is interested in rural issues including farmland restoration, re-introductions, animal welfare, access, fieldsports and low impact leisure activities. Here, with his first-hand experience, he argues the case for allowing beavers to once again become established as part of Britain’s fauna.

Our native beaver is back and it’s here to stay! Current estimates put the population at about 800 in Scotland, 300 in England and 50 in Wales. The question now is: how to manage them? Having been absent from our countryside for the best part of 400 years, the beaver comes back to us with a clean sheet. It is up to us to make this species a shining example of wildlife management rather than a whipping boy of polarised prejudice. We are a nation which has got itself into a complete fiasco over the management of foxes, and of badgers and bovine Tb, which has gone completely over the top on legislating for dormice and great crested newts, and yet is prepared to let cats roam uncontrolled hunting and, in some cases, exterminating precious wildlife.

Eurasian beavers have been extinct in Britain for about 400 years.

I was at a meeting in Nairobi some years ago for CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Us Brits were earnestly preaching to the African
nations on how they should manage their elephants. All good stuff, after all there are so many species, such as elephants, that really need help to survive into the future. But in four of the African countries, the elephant populations had increased to the extent that they were not only destroying farming and livelihoods, they were wrecking their own habitats, on which a whole trophic cascade of other species also depended. A the end of a long and heated debate in which the western nations pressed the third world nations, the delegate for Botswana came up to me in frustration and said ‘Nick, this is all very well but we are over-stocked and we have 10,000 surplus elephants. Will you take them?’ I had visions of 10,000 elephants being off loaded from jumbo jets (what else?) at Heathrow and marching down Slough High Street. Imagine if we had just one elephant on the loose living wild in Britain! How can we have the gall, the arrogance, to tell impoverished nations how to manage wildlife when we have made such a comprehensive cock-up ourselves?

Of course elephants need saving. So do tigers. And all the rest. The hypocrisy is not our desire to help elephants, it is in our inability to tackle our own wildlife management issues here at home. We pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers, we love individual animals, especially cuddly ones or ‘under-dogs’. We call in vets and welfarists to deal with individual animal welfare. But population management requires a different professional mind-set, and must take priority over individual animal welfare. Our priorities should go like this:
1. Entire ecosystems. 2. Habitats. 3. Populations. 4. Individuals.

That is all pretty simple and obvious, surely? And yet time and time again we focus on what is in front of us – an individual – and lose sight of the bigger picture. We rescue an injured seagull and show a vet doing something heroic to save it, and at the same time have no effective methods of dealing with burgeoning urban gull populations. The pest control companies have to operate clandestinely for fear of upsetting people who don’t want to face facts. And how good we are at ignoring facts that are inconvenient! Our mouse traps that we use despite them not meeting International Standards for humane operation. Our millions of cats that at this time of year are killing and torturing young birds and mammals because we don’t want to control our pets.

Nature’s water engineers: beaver dams hold back water, slowly redirecting it and in doing so create wetland environments for other species.

The beaver is the first mammal in all our lifetimes to be given back to us to resume its rightful place amongst the British fauna. It is a unique opportunity for us to show the world how we can welcome and accommodate this iconic keystone species. Will we let the media exploit it as a ping pong ball of prejudice that sells copy? The media love to portray itself as the epitome of fairness by ‘telling both sides of the story’. Stirring up ill-informed and polarised attitudes not only sells newspapers, it also puts off weak politicians and civil servants from making any decisions. Social media send people rushing into opinion corners like super-charged flocks of sheep.

So despite the UK government having signed up to the Habitats Directive, Article 22, which commits us to at least assessing the return of endemic species that we have exterminated, and despite the five year Scottish Beaver Trial having been completed in 2015 at a cost of £2.2m, the beaver still has no protection in law and devolved governments have shown little sign of managing.

But make no mistake, beavers are back. We are talking King Canute here. Biology trumps politics. While politicians sit on the fence with both ears to the ground, beavers are, well, beavering away. Here at the Bevis Trust in Wales we have three families of beavers breeding naturally on the farm so that we have been able to study their effects and enable others to visit and get first-hand experience of the species. Beavers are really good engineers of wetland habitats creating opportunities for a myriad of other species. Where we once had just rushes, we now have small pools and ponds, reed beds and dragonflies, reed warblers, kingfishers, dabchicks, water rails, water voles, the list goes on increasing each year. They reduce the downstream flooding by holding back water in peak flows, and they filter farm slurry and organic sediments. Beavers have many benefits, but they can also be inconvenient. Like children, they can be messy and need management. They can block culverts or cut down prized trees. Management techniques for beavers are well-known and thoroughly tried and tested in Europe and America. There are handbooks on what to do and how to do it. Other countries have long since led the way and there is no need for us to re-invent the wheel. Politicians love to call for more research to avoid making decisions, and universities are quick to claim grants for research. But the reality is, this is all old hat. Many have been there before us and got the tee shirt.

What we don’t have in place is sympathetic legislation to manage the species. Beavers in the wrong places need managing. This may entail trapping them and moving them elsewhere. In the long term it could entail killing unwanted beavers, and this is what happens in other parts of Europe where populations have peaked and there are no longer any wolves or bears to provide natural controls. We need to learn our lessons. We have over-protected some species making legal management impossible. We have under-protected other species and tried to ignore their suffering. Can we make a balanced approach for the beaver, one that will ultimately ensure a stable, healthy population? And can it be tied in with environmental payments to farmers hosting beavers?

Dr Nick Fox releases a male beaver after a check-up.

The turmoil of Brexit means that politicians have other things to think about. But maybe Michael Gove will have more courage than his predecessors? Civil servants see no benefit in sticking their heads above the parapet. The Bevis Trust and others are approaching NGOs ranging from the National Farmers Union to the Country Land and Business Association, the Countryside Alliance, The National Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts to see if stakeholders, the people who at the end of the day will have to manage the species, can come to a consensus for a strategy plan for beaver management. We are calling for protection of the beaver and its lodges but with a Class Licence system in place so that managers can carry out various practices without needing to apply for individual licences. Those practices are in a hierarchy, starting with educating land-owners about managing beavers, to physically removing dams, to trapping and translocating beavers away from sensitive areas, to ultimately killing beavers where there is no other solution. These beaver managers would function only with the permission of the land-owner and the licence would cover actions for a number of specified purposes, such as public safety, flood prevention and so on.

If key NGOs can agree amongst themselves a Management Plan, then we are in a good position to approach the devolved governments, and politicians, seeing an open door, are more likely to walk through it. It will be a win-win. If, on the other hand, we all squabble and fight, egged on by the media, nothing will be done, we will have another wildlife mess, and people, like my friend from Botswana, will look at us and… well you can guess what he will say.

 

Anti-hunters are not averse to believing their own propaganda, but the claim that the recent general election result swung away from Theresa May in favour of Jeremy Corbyn because of foxhunting really is a classic case of self-delusion.

Ignore Brexit, national security, the NHS and blatant uncosted bribes to the young and naive, apparently just one method of managing the fox population – something that affects fewer than 99% of the public – somehow rose to the top of the list of issues that affected how the country voted.  Never mind that when it comes to issues influencing voting intentions, only a handful of people raise hunting as a reason (a recent ORB poll showed that 8 out of 2038 people interviewed mentioned hunting). Even the media, as well as every politician who mentioned it, couldn’t get it right; it was not a “vote on bringing back foxhunting” – it was a vote on the future of the Hunting Act, which means an opportunity to see how effective this law has been in improving wild animal welfare…or not.

It might be argued that a letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph signed by 26 veterinarians may have had a bearing on a relatively small number of people. It stated that repeal of the Hunting Act would be wrong for a variety of reasons, but closer examination of their arguments reveal far more of an old anti-hunting prejudiced position than a scientifically-based view.

The first questionable point made was, “Studies suggest that since the introduction of the Hunting Act, fox populations in Britain have remained roughly stable” No reference was given. This is puzzling because the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has just released results of a 2017 survey which found that the fox population had dropped by 34%. Either the BTO finding is correct or the anti hunting vets’ view is correct – it cannot be both. At the very least, the BTO has based its results on work undertaken, while these anti-hunting vets appear to have no evidence to back up their statement.

Secondly, that well-worn phrase from the Burns Report is quoted, “hunting with dogs has serious welfare implications for quarry animals”, conveniently ignoring the accompanying statement, “None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications.” Lord Burns and the members of his committee of inquiry have said on a number of occasions that their findings cannot be taken as showing hunting with dogs to be cruel and more recently Lord Bonomy, when asked to examine foxhunting in Scotland, reported that the use of a full pack of hounds was necessary to allow fox control to be effective. It’s a pity these “veterinary  professionals who are committed to upholding the highest possible standards for animal welfare” don’t appear to be too concerned about the methods that have filled the vacuum in the absence of hunting.

Fox hunting, as explained by Lord Prescott: “Freddie the fox is saved !”

Thirdly, the veterinarians suggest that hunting hounds are spreading bovine TB, a view that is refuted by Dr Lewis Thomas of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, “The proposal by Ian McGill that hounds infected with bovine TB running around the countryside might be spreading the disease is clearly self-serving nonsense. Even supposing they were, which is highly improbable, the proposal demonstrates a profound ignorance of how bovine TB transmits between animals (and humans).” According to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), there is no evidence of dogs spreading bovine TB as they are regarded as ‘dead-end hosts’.

Finally, for scientists to use the results of selectively-worded public opinion polls as a basis for continuation of a law that has had very little examination as to its effect on wildlife, is shameful. I would hope that the wider veterinary profession will look more closely at what is happening in this post hunting ban period and, importantly, take into account those BTO fox population figures.

Fox hunting, as explained by the LACS. Watch the full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqPQwcQUxNE

At the other end of the campaigning spectrum, maybe the sight of John Prescott holding up a toy fox and claiming, “Freddie the fox is now safe” will be enough to convince you that the hunting ban means foxes are now living in some sort of vulpine utopia. Or you might be the type of person who doesn’t see the need to bother with scientific evidence at all and instead is convinced by a crowd  of adults prancing around like rejects from a children’s TV show.  If so, then the League Against Cruel Sports’ “Votes for Vinny” bus tour is for you, though I suspect film of this campaign stunt will leave most normal people speechless.

The very different ways in which the anti-hunting argument is put; one making pseudo-scientific statements, another hijacking the issue for a pathetic class war and the other…well, quite frankly it’s difficult to find the right words.

Surely a serious debate about conservation, wildlife management and animal welfare deserves better.