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The fiasco that followed Natural England’s decision to withdraw General Licences for control of certain species led to a consultation on how this area of wildlife management is conducted. It also allowed Dr Nick Fox to raise some very pertinent issues in his submission, showing how we need a much better approach from our legislators.

 

Introduction

My name is Dr Nicholas Fox, OBE, BSc, CEd, PhD. I have been a professional applied zoologist for 41 years. I farm five lowland livestock farms in Wales, an upland livestock farm in the Northumberland National Park and a lowland grassland farm in Wiltshire. I breed and hunt with falcons. I have specialised in the ethics of wildlife management and welfare since 1995, both in UK and internationally. Through The Bevis Trust http://www.bevistrust.com we try to reconcile the needs of food production and of wildlife in a farming context. I am responding as a private individual who has used these licences since they started.

Historical Background

British wildlife legislation has been a piece-meal patch-up approach since at least 1830. There is no underlying ethical consistency and much of the legislation has been reactive or political with very little understanding of the factors influencing wildlife demographics or welfare. As a result, one class – birds – has received considerable attention whereas other groups such as insects, amphibians and reptiles have had almost none; this despite us losing perhaps 75% of our insects in the past 25 years or so. Currently about 83% of our human population is urban, with little or no practical experience of wildlife management and welfare issues, yet is a voting majority to influence them.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was intended to fulfil UK’s obligations under the EU Birds Directive. If we leave the EU, theoretically we will no longer be under this obligation and will be able finally to undertake the long-awaited review of this out-dated Act. Currently it has massive inconsistencies and presumptions. To manage wildlife effectively requires a science-based approach to factors that both increase and depress populations and an understanding of how species influence one another. Too often our approach targets the wrong priorities by starting with the individual. But to face the uncertain future of climate change we must prioritise the systemic issues before addressing individual issues, thus:
1. Planet Earth and sustainable global systems.
2. Shared regional resources, the ‘commons’.
3. Habitats for full biodiversity.
4. Single species management programmes.
5. Individual animal welfare.

This is not to say that individual welfare or species welfare does not matter, of course they do. But as a simple example, there is no point in getting exercised with a protectionist approach about Otters if another policy has allowed the rivers to dry up or be polluted. We therefore need joined up thinking right from the top, including limiting human impact on wild habitats. For example, a ‘Right to Roam’ might work at low pressure, but at higher pressures the continual disturbance makes an area untenable for ground-nesting species such as Curlews or Lapwings. The birds either give up trying to nest, or if they succeed in laying eggs, constantly being disturbed off their nests exposes the eggs or chicks to predators and the population goes into an irreversible decline. A Wildlife Trust has recently bought two fields neighbouring one of our farms. Now it is used almost hourly for exercising dogs, with the unintended consequence that the Skylarks, Hares, Lapwings and Grey Partridges cannot settle there any more. Our current legislation is failing these species at the systemic level.

An example of unintended impact or by-catch through lack of systemic legislation is electrocution. In our study of electrocutions in Mongolia we found that on average, one Saker falcon is killed per week per 10km of power line. Below is a sample of 600 falcons collected. In Britain I have had six falcons electrocuted yet Britain has no legislation for safety for wildlife on power lines. Most British power poles are lethal.

 

Why kill wildlife?

To address the issue of legislation controlling the direct killing of wildlife, one needs to understand why animals are killed. The General Licences under consideration are based solely on the premise of pest control, for various purposes, yet this is by no means the only consideration. Until now, users have not raised the issues because as long as there was a legal route, their motivation did not particularly matter. Consider the following:

Reasons for killing
P= Population Management
F= Food
R = Recreation

Numbers killed
1 = 10 – 100
2 = 100 – 1,000
3 = 1000 – 10,000
4 = 10,000 – 100,000
5 = 100,000 – 1 million
6 = 1 million – 10 million
7 = 10 million – 100 million
8 = 100 million – 500 million

Reasons for killing, methods and numbers of some wild animals killed annually in the UK.
(from Fox, N. C. and H. Macdonald. 1997. Welfare Aspects of Killing or Capturing Wild Vertebrates in Britain. The Hawk Board.)

 

In these examples above, one can quibble about the exact figures; they are not particularly relevant. The point is to understand why animals are killed. Cross-checking then to the legislation affecting each, it is easy to see that some of the legislation is non-existent or ineffective. Numerically the domestic cat has by far the largest impact on wildlife numbers and welfare. There are no controls at all on cats. Section 14 is ignored. Our small mammal, reptile and amphibian populations are fading, with local extinctions widening to reductions in range, yet the responsibilities of cat-owners are not addressed for political reasons.
Looking at the other species, people who intentionally kill wildlife do so for three main reasons: pest or population control, recreation and food, (or derivatives such as skins or trophies). These reasons are not mutually exclusive, for example Rabbits and Woodpigeons are killed for all three reasons. People have different views on these reasons. For example, Buddhists think that animals should not be killed even as pests. In Mongolia we find Steppe Eagles nesting on the open ground, undisturbed by passers-by. But in Britain we kill flies, wasps, cockroaches, slugs, rats, mice and so on without any controls, and we are happy to dose livestock for internal parasites so that chemicals such as Ivermectin enter the ecosystem.

Other people believe that animals should not be hunted for sport or recreation. Fishing is a major sport in UK and about 35 million gamebirds are bred and released for shooting each year. Proponents quote the commercial benefits or the consequential conservation benefits.

Other people believe that animals, including farm animals, should not be killed for food. Each group vies to impose its opinions onto other groups who think differently and there is then the ethical question of how to decide whose opinion to follow – perhaps using a democratic process (which is in huge disrepute at the moment) – or whether actually individuals should be free to follow their own consciences.

Moving in closer on these issues:

Food. If one accepts killing and eating animals for food then the criteria to bear in mind are sustainability and welfare. Can the population sustain the harvest rate indefinitely and are the methods used humane? Are there inconsistencies, such as halal killing of animals even to supply non-religious markets? In the case of wild animals killed for food, such as some in the current discussion, is there any justification for a legal restriction provided that sustainability or welfare are not compromised? We buy 16,000 Woodpigeons each year to feed to our breeding falcons.

Recreation. If one accepts killing for recreation then, in addition to the criteria of sustainability and welfare, it makes sense to make it as ‘efficient’ as possible. This means maximising the number of people/days of recreation while minimising the impact or numbers of animals killed. Under recreational criteria one kill per person/day is more ‘efficient’ than 10 kills per person/day. Driven shooting is less ‘efficient’ than rough shooting, which is less ‘efficient’ than falconry, which is less ‘efficient’ than photography. Cat-keeping is the least ‘efficient’ in recreational terms because the deaths involved do not accrue significant enjoyment to the owner, more likely the reverse.

The WCA is inconsistent in that it acknowledges that certain species are hunted recreationally – as ‘game’. The game species are treated less restrictively than other species. Thus one can shoot a Blackcock in season without a licence, but you cannot shoot a Carrion Crow or a Starling without a licence. This raises huge anomalies. When the legislation was drawn up, the needs of the shooting sector were considered but other sectors weren’t. Falconers hunt corvids and some gulls recreationally as well as for pest control. The Woodpigeon is a major recreational species for shooting, but not acknowledged as ‘game’. We therefore need to rid ourselves of the old 1830 Victorian concept of ‘game species’ and consider ‘huntable species’ as a whole. The ‘Wild Justice’ intervention was on the basis that General Licences are being used to kill some birds recreationally, and yet paradoxically, Wild Justice did not address the species which can be killed recreationally, the game birds.

Pest control. Before 1981 there were few legal restrictions on pest controls. To this day there are no restrictions on hunting Rats and Mice. In 1981, to comply with the Birds Directive, pest birds were protected, then General or Species Licences enabled them to be killed in certain circumstances. These restrictions were not applied to ‘game’ species. You do not have to prove that a Snipe was pecking the eyes out of your sheep or decimating your wheat before killing it. We thus have an absurd legal situation. Cat-owners don’t need to comply with any of it; they can just let their cats kill anything they like, anywhere, at any time of year.

Under the conditions of the General Licences for pest control, one is restricted to certain situations: to ‘protect’ farm livestock, or air safety for examples. Let’s look at the ‘pest’ concept:
Animal pests, unlike plant pests, can move around quickly. They can be a pest in one place but not in another. In Britain it is illegal to set a Larsen cage trap for Magpies in a garden because a garden is not agricultural. You must set it on the other side of the hedge in the field, because Magpies can only be killed for ‘agricultural purposes’. There is also the question of density. Woodpigeons in low numbers do not do significant damage, but in hordes they can devastate a crop, so people kill them. The situation thus merges from ‘pest control’ to ‘population management’.

Knowing that a Woodpigeon can devastate crops, isn’t it better to kill them before they damage the crop? Isn’t a pre-emptive strike the best strategy? The whole point of the exercise after all is to grow a good crop, rather than to kill pigeons. Or should one wait until the crop is ruined, and then kill the pigeons? That seems a bit futile. Or maybe scare them away so that they raid someone else’s field? But not all the pigeons are feeding on your own field; should one only kill the pigeons that you catch in the act right there, on the field? If you had to apply to a civil servant for a licence to kill the pigeon, how long would it take for the licence to arrive and in what way is the civil servant better placed to make the decision than you are? The civil servant has not even seen your field.

What if you go to town and build a massive pigeon ‘cliff’, full of human apartments. And when the pigeons come and make a mess, first you decide to deter them so that they go to someone else’s pigeon ‘cliff’, but then when there are too many to deter, you decide to kill them. But you are too squeamish to do it yourself and you don’t want the tenants to see either, so you employ a professional pest controller to do it for you. So, legally, did you kill the pigeons, or did he? After all, like the prison guard at Auschwitz, he was simply doing what he was paid to do. If you hire someone else to do your work, does that exonerate you? And then, when you look at the pile of dead pigeons, some have got rings on; they were owned by someone, private property (different legislation). And some are clearly phenotypically rare, protected Rock Doves. Same species, but killing them is illegal (The WCA glosses over their scientific classification). The Rock Dove, like the Scottish Wild Cat, is being lost through uncontrolled genetic introgression with domestic species.

Who has broken which law? If we shift the time baseline back a hundred years, maybe the site where you built the block of flats was a field, producing food, or an area of woodland hosting wildlife. If you go back further, maybe it was a wetland, alive with wildlife. Britain has lost about 85% of its wetlands now, so that humans could use the land. If we shift the baseline forward fifty years instead, will the block of flats still be there? Few high rise buildings, however ‘sustainable’ survive that long. Who, really, is the pest? And, referring back to my list of priorities, what does this portend for the future of our planet?

In pest control, as in hunting for food, the efficiency strategy is one of minimum effort for maximum gain. The difference being that in hunting for food, retrieving the prey is essential, whereas in pest control it isn’t. The aim of pest control is to eliminate the pest, as quickly and cheaply as possible. It is critical to understand this, because it affects the ‘ethics’ of the hunter. When hunting for food he will minimise risk and only shoot where he has a good chance of retrieving the body. Pigeons are good to eat. But in pest control, people will shoot at long ranges, in the forlorn hope that a stray pellet may cause the prey to die later. Obviously this can create a lot more suffering. I have seen people shoot at foxes with No. 5 shot in shotguns at 80 metres. There is no way this will kill outright; there is insufficient penetration. The pellets will lodge under the skin and may get infected because each pellet pulls in a little tuft of fur in with it. We saw this in our fox shooting study; while people imagine ‘skilled marksmen’ killing cleanly, this is a fantasy. In pest control the prime motivation is to get rid of the pest. Welfare is secondary, or not at all.

What if, despite our best efforts to control the pest, their numbers do not go down or their ‘pesty’ activity does not decrease? Maybe instead of reducing the total population, we are just creaming off a harvestable surplus on a sustainable basis? Or maybe our efforts are insufficient and too localised and as fast as we kill off the pest on our patch more flood in from elsewhere. Maybe we should focus our efforts on late winter when the population is at its lowest and our impact will be maximal? In some situations pest control might be a waste of time and effort, or financially unjustified. But in others, such as Mice and Rats in the house, it is a question of keeping our fingers in the dam. Wild boar were re-introduced into the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border a few years ago. Their numbers increased year on year until local people started complaining about them. But others wanted them left alone. The Forestry Commission carries out a low profile culling operation but it is failing to meet its targets for a balanced population. So gradually the pigs are destroying the forest ecosystem because the wildlife management regime is not robust enough. It is our human demographic planet problem in microcosm.

Crows have pecked out the eye and torn the udder of this ewe, then ripped out the tongue of the lamb before it was born. I had to shoot her. Should I have shot the crow before it attacked the sheep? How would I have known which crow to shoot? Or should I be trying to grow soya on a Welsh hillside instead of sheep?

 

Similarly, at the end of July each year, we thin out the young Canada Geese just before they fledge. In this way we keep a tolerable number of geese, but prevent them getting out of hand. Is this pest control? Or population management? What – exactly – are we ‘protecting’? It’s a job I hate doing, but let it slip and the Canada Geese start to crowd out the other waterfowl species.

Non-lethal Methods

There are lots of non-lethal methods for deterring wildlife pests. One can shout ‘BOO’! Or cover your garden with concrete or polythene. Or put up a scare crow. Or use bangers. Or falcons. Or drones. Or distress calls. Nets. Lasers. Even running around a field waving a piece of paper labelled ‘General Licence’ might do the trick! The concept is clearly ridiculous. Would one need to prove that one had used just one of these methods, in which case shouting ‘Boo’ would do? Or all of them? This aspect of General Licences must have been dreamed up by someone in an office. It is a completely and utterly unenforceable farce. By all means employ deterrents, but you don’t need licences for that. How would you know which birds are the ex-deterred ones and which ones are the yet-to-be-deterred ones?

Welfare

The welfare of individual animals is a criterion running through much of our wildlife legislation, sometimes at the expense of the welfare of populations or of habitats. But often, even at the individual level, legislation misses its target because welfare issues are not properly understood. There is also a common misunderstanding of the difference between ‘suffering’ and ‘cruelty’. Briefly, suffering is about pain experienced by an animal, whereas cruelty is about another deriving enjoyment from that suffering. When licensing certain methods for killing wildlife, British law is totally inconsistent. For example it is legal to kill a Rabbit with a dog, but not a Hare.


 

A comparison of the methods and criteria

Again, one can quibble over exact figures (the data are for 1997), but the overall picture is indisputable. If you are interested in natural predation look at column 1, at enforcement, column 2, and if you are concerned about animal welfare, look at the last four columns. Our current legislation has little significant bearing on animal welfare. The Hunting with Dogs Act ignored fox welfare in favour of political prejudice, despite the high rates of suffering entailed in alternatives such as shooting.

(see Fox, N. C., N. Blay, A. G. Greenwood, D. Wise and E. Potapov. 2005. Wounding rates in shooting foxes [Vulpes vulpes]. Journal of Animal Welfare 14: 93-102.)

Enforcement

A large amount of wildlife legislation is unenforceable and a waste of time. In rural areas the police will not investigate burglaries, thefts, squatting or fly-tipping, let alone wildlife offences. I had a falcon shot by a gamekeeper, on film, in front of 20 witnesses including a JP, and the police would not prosecute. How many prosecutions have resulted from the existing General Licences and statistically, what impact have these had on the species in question? Anything at all? It is a paper exercise tying people up in the red tape which politicians periodically announce they are going to get rid of, but never do. Look at UK’s procrastination on International Humane Trapping Standards. Look at the muddle of species and trap designs. But Rats and Mice, not being fur-bearing mammals, are still trapped at all times of year in huge numbers without restrictive legislation of any sort, in houses throughout the land. Is a Rat less sentient that a ‘fur-bearing’ Stoat? Who cares?

The Hunting with Dogs Act damaged wildlife legislation almost terminally. Everyone knew it was a political move. It is therefore widely ignored. Because police are virtually inactive in rural Britain it has always been peer-pressure encouraging people to broadly keep within the law. When the law is clearly politically motivated, respect is lost, peer-pressure falls away and the whole legal edifice crumbles. If the General Licences fail to provide the cover that is needed, for example for a gamekeeper to protect game birds, then the obvious option is for the keeper to have a few chickens as well. The he can ‘protect’ them as livestock.

The reality is that these licences were brought in to provide a let-out clause for our obligations under the Birds Directive. They are totally unenforceable and incomprehensible, and the current legal challenge has arisen over a back-door attempt to impact game bird shooting. This is not the way to approach wildlife legislation. Wildlife deserves better than to be a political football, a victim of who shouts loudest on the social media. The Natural England civil servants meanwhile, rather than facing the legal challenge themselves, passed the legal hot potato straight on to the thousands of end-users, potentially criminalising everyone while saving their own skins.

Action

Given the pointlessness of the whole General Licensing situation, but bearing in mind our obligation to comply with the Birds Directive, I would either re-instate the General Licences as they were, on the basis that by the time a legal challenge has ground its way through we will have left the EU, or move the affected species across into the ‘Game Bird’ box, as Huntable Species. If this requires changes in statute law, then perhaps now is the time for a proper review of the WCA. Whichever you do, it doesn’t really matter. Events have gone too far. Respect has been lost. People will ignore the carefully worded Licences, or not understand them. Who’s going to enforce them anyway? Will Crows become extinct if they lose all protection? Of course not! Could we for once, instead of agonising over points of law which are beyond the concern of almost everybody, focus on legislation that will have significant benefit for all wildlife and the entire planet?

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Last week, I attended an event in Parliament aimed at highlighting ‘A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife’, a series of essays focussing on wildlife conservation, food production, landscape protection and education. The project was conceived by TV presenter Chris Packham, who spoke at the event.
(see http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/a-peoples-manifesto-for-wildlife)

I have a dislike of anything that begins with the word “People’s” this or that, which implies a united voice of the entire population while in reality it is often nothing of the sort. But putting that to one side for the moment, Packham’s manifesto bought together the thoughts of an interesting group of writers, perhaps some more qualified than others, to express views on the countryside. This is a smart move, as serious issues and realistic suggestions are mixed together with the views of those with more extreme agendas – the former giving credibility to the latter.

Chris Packham at the House of Lords last week

That style was very obvious when Packham spoke to MPs and parliamentary staff, following what must have been a busy few weeks for him. He began by referring to an abusive letter sent to him following the legal action taken against Natural England by his group Wild Justice. This resulted in three general licences to control corvids and pigeons being revoked, as they were deemed illegal. This occurred at a time of year when many lambs, and the young of songbirds and rarer birds such as curlew and lapwing, are born. All can fall prey to predator/scavenger birds like corvids. It led to an angry response from farmers and other land managers.

Dead crows were hung on the gate of Packham’s New Forest home, unpleasant substances were posted to him and it was reported that he received death threats. All very nasty and while few would justify such actions, it must be said that this is no different to similar tactics, and worse, employed for decades by some anti-hunting groups against pro-hunting people and the Countryside Alliance offices. The publicity sparked off by the general licence fiasco was considerable. Packham was understandably aggrieved, but it was strange that he should solicit a response on Twitter from the Countryside Alliance, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and other bodies as though they were in some way responsible. It’s a bit like a postman who has been bitten by a dog hoping for an apology from the Kennel Club.

No one can disagree that humans are currently consuming far more of the earth’s resources than the planet can tolerate – some countries being far worse offenders than others – and in doing so humans are destroying eco-systems and the life within them at an alarming rate. Putting aside the abusive letter, Packham continued in a vein that highlighted the need for change if we are to avoid destroying the planet. Some of his views on what measures need to be taken are sensible and achievable.

The variety and amount of pesticides purchased in the UK may well be known, but that does not necessarily tell us how much is actually used in the countryside and Packham is justified in calling for better data. Making it clear he is now a vegan, Packham nevertheless praised those farmers who take animal welfare seriously and are looking after their farms in a sustainable and conservation-minded fashion. Many would agree that something should be done to curb the supermarkets, who have enormous power and squeeze farmers’ profits. We all know that cheap, poorer welfare products from other countries undercut our farmers. All worthy stuff and delivered in a very convincing manner.

I am slightly unclear which methods of wildlife management Packham supports and for what precise reasons. He condemns the use of snares “to kill animals” (something for which they should not be used, as they are designed for holding an animal). But one could argue that he should have known that their use would probably rise following the ban on hunting with dogs. At the same time he admitted that there is a necessity to manage wild animals and spoke of the need to cull deer near his home. But this is where the obfuscation starts to kick in.

Although the Hunting Act wasn’t mentioned in his talk to Parliamentarians, one wonders why he is happy to promote this law when there is no scientific research to show that the use of dogs in wildlife management is inherently cruel and should be banned. The data that he rightly calls for is a bit scanty regarding the fox, deer and brown hare following the hunting ban. However, the figures and information we do have – none of which was commissioned by the anti-hunting groups – is disturbing. Fox numbers are down by about one third. We know that thousands of hares were shot out as a direct result of the hunting ban. And some of the herds of red deer in the West Country are now threatened because of a change in their status. At the same time, Packham is happy to include hunt saboteurs in his events and promote the League Against Cruel Sports.

I doubt he talks very much about culling deer or other animals at the rallies and other meetings he attends when animal rightists are present. His language will be different too. In that environment shooters are “psychopaths”, those culling badgers are “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds”, fox hunting is compared to “slavery, homophobia and racism.”*

This aggressive tone is clear in Packham’s introductory page about Wild Justice, the new group which recently took Natural England to court. Last week, following questions from two Peers about the anger and frustration caused by the revocation of the general licences, Packham said that it was never his intention to see them immediately revoked. But when considering this legal action did the possibility not cross his mind? Certainly, Mark Avery, one of the founders of Wild Justice,  appeared delighted by the revocation of the licences.

Did Natural England offer to amend the three general licences some time back if Wild Justice agreed to halt their legal action? It’s a question Andrew Gilruth, Director of Communications at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, asked via social media. At the time of going to press, there has been no answer. Is it wrong to assume that a high-profile legal action would give Wild Justice a significant publicity boost? It wouldn’t be the first time that conflict has been shown to be more beneficial than compromise.

Such is the anger over the revocation of these general licences that Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has now removed the power of Natural England to issue such licences to shoot birds that fall into the pest category. Defra will now be responsible for doing so.

Packham says on the Wild Justice website, “The message is clear . . . if you are breaking the law, if the law is weak, if the law is flawed – we are coming for you.” Just think about this for a moment. If you are breaking the law, evidence should be legally gathered and passed to the police or Crown Prosecution Service. It will then be for the legal process to decide if anyone is guilty. If the law is weak or flawed, no matter how much you may dislike the situation, the correct route is to lobby Parliament for change, not to threaten to become some sort of vigilante.

If Packham genuinely believes a wide range of organisations and individuals need to cooperate if we are to successfully tackle the problems of climate change, pollution, the destruction of the earth’s resources and what he calls a war on wildlife, he should realise that there are some people with extreme views who will use him and these important causes for their own ends.

Knowing who can effect change and who your real friends are is of paramount importance.

 

*Protest march to Downing Street 12th August 2017, tweet 26th August 2013 & Evening Standard 12th August 2017.

Much publicity was given to the launch of a new wildlife protection body that not only seeks to challenge the legal process when it thinks it is failing, but also become a prosecutor. Many might see this as a positive move, along the lines of previous prosecution attempts by organisations like the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports. But is this really necessary and are there underlying issues of privacy and fairness that need to be understood? Here, author Matt Cross takes a closer look and highlights some uncomfortable aspects of this new group and the worrying environment that it aims to create.

For a while now I have been aware that Chris Packham, Dr Ruth Tingay and Dr Mark Avery had registered a company called ‘Wild Justice’. Ironically, given what follows, I decided to say nothing about it, because I was worried about potential invasions of their privacy. The reason for my silence was that they accidentally registered the company to their own home addresses and I had no desire to direct anyone to that information. Some things should remain private. With a little help they got that information expunged from Companies House and have now ‘launched’ Wild Justice.

I have been wondering for some time what Wild Justice was for. My best guess was that it was way for them to limit their own liability when they brought cases through the civil courts, asking for example for the courts to scrutinise government decisions. But I was wrong. On Farming Today, Chris Packham said, “We are interested in crime and in making sure the crime is punished” he went on to say about Hare Coursing “If we can catch people” and in their official launch statement, “if you are breaking the law, if the law is weak, if the law is flawed – we are coming for you. Peacefully, democratically and legally. Our simple premise is to work with the laws we’ve got to seek real justice for our wildlife”

From all of this, it seems that at least part of the self-appointed task for Wild Justice is to prosecute wildlife crimes. Incidentally the thought of the three of them dealing with a gang of coursers is worth reflecting on, purely for its comedy value!
So why, when we have a police force and prosecution agencies, would any private company want to prosecute crimes? The answer, I suspect, lies in three things, a number of recent legal decisions, where either prosecution has failed or been withdrawn, moves by the Police to marginalise the RSPB in prosecuting wildlife crime offences and the option of using civil courts with their lower bar of proof to effectively ‘punish’ crimes.

In three recent cases there was what appeared to be strong video evidence of a crime being committed. In two videos suspects could be seen setting what seemed to be illegal traps and in a third a suspect appeared to shoot a Hen Harrier. All three videos were filmed by RSPB covert cameras. In one case the Judge threw the prosecution out and in the other two prosecutors dropped the case because they reckoned the evidence was inadmissible.

There were several reasons why the evidence was judged to be inadmissible but crucial among them was the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). RIPA (RIP(S)A in Scotland) is the law that allows the police to put you under surveillance. It is designed to do two things; to give the police the power to surveil you and at the same time to protect law abiding, innocent citizens from being inappropriately surveilled. It does this by allowing the police to put you under surveillance to prevent or detect crime, but only with an authorisation from a senior police officer. It’s an indication of how seriously the law takes the business of surveillance that a sergeant can authorise your detention, but it takes a Superintendent to authorise you being put under surveillance.

In the case of R v Hartley, the RSPB had filmed a suspect (Hartley) appearing to trap a Peregrine Falcon (which is a crime). Their video was not allowed to be used as evidence in court because the judge said that as the RSPB work closely with the Police they should have got a RIPA authorisation. Otherwise the Police could subcontract all their surveillance to other agencies and get round the protections of RIPA.

This is what Dr Tingay was referring to when in ‘The People’s manifesto for Wildlife’ she wrote, “We must urgently address and resolve issues concerning inadmissibility of evidence pertaining to the use of covert cameras to monitor wildlife crime committed in remote areas”.

Strangely there is no requirement for private companies or NGOs to get any permission to conduct surveillance, they can just do it off their own bats, nor is there any need for them to record what surveillance they conduct or any method of the wrongly surveilled seeking redress. RIPA with all its protections only applies to public authorities not to companies, charities and private individuals. The problem comes in when they surveil in concert with the Police. So how could you cut out the Police entirely? Well you could gather the evidence yourself and then conduct your own prosecution, then you don’t need to worry about RIPA at all. Strange but true, if the police want to put you under surveillance they have all sorts of legal hoops to jump through. If Chris Packham wants to do so, he can just do it.

There is of course no need for Wild Justice to conduct their own surveillance, the RSPB already has an active surveillance team. At one time the RSPB’s investigations team were heavily involved in wildlife crime detection but recently they have been distinctly marginalised.

In March last year a tranche of emails from DI Nevin Hunter at the National Wildlife Crime Unit were released following a freedom of information request. These gave us an insight into how dim a view the Police took of the RSPB investigations team. In one particularly ferocious passage DI Hunter wrote to an RSPB officer, “You trespass on the estate for around 6 years, you conduct surveillance, you find and handle evidence. You then ‘assist’ on the warrant and actually direct officers to evidence? RSPB then interview suspects and want to direct the CPS as to who and what they get charged with. It appears that you wanted to give ‘expert and impartial’ evidence about the contents of text messages between gamekeepers. Irrespective of what you think, that evidence could only be your interpretation. How could that possibly be impartial or even expert? ”

They also show a determined effort to marginalise the RSPB investigations team, at one point an officer at the National wildlife Crime Unit wrote, “One thing I am mindful of is cutting the RSPB out completely and I do think on occasions they have something to offer. I think that on occasions it can be justified in taking them on a warrant, it is certainly catered for in the WCA, but their attendance would have to be justified, their expertise would have to be required and most importantly the Police must keep control. Perhaps this may be a token olive branch. Or then again we could just say ‘F*** them” A Scottish Police officer wrote, “The RSPB will kick and scream as the transition takes place but ultimately they cannot change the demands of legal opinion. They are – and always will be – simply an NGO and cannot expect to manage wildlife crime”

Frankly there are huge civil liberties concerns about the way the RSPB has conducted itself, surveilling people, abusing police processes to obtain home addresses, asking police if they can read their target’s private correspondence. But that is an issue for another day.

The launch of ‘Wild Justice’ was welcomed in tweets by the RSPB, Bob Elliot (former head of RSPB investigations) and Ian Thomson (head of RSPB Scotland Investigations). It would be no surprise at all to see Wild Justice playing self-appointed prosecutor to the RSPB’s self-appointed police officer. This can all be conducted without any oversight, restriction or remedy for anyone who is survielled without justification.

I ran all this by a very considerable expert in Scots criminal law who pointed out a simple flaw. His view was that this might fly in England, but in Scotland it plain won’t work, because private criminal prosecution is effectively impossible in Scotland. There have been two private criminal prosecutions in Scotland in the last 100 years. I can’t believe this has just escaped the notice of Wild Justice and their legal advisers. I suspect that their approach to crime in Scotland is going to be quite different.

In January 2017 two footballer were ordered to pay £100,000 in compensation to a woman called Denise Clair who they had raped. What is striking in this case is that they were never prosecuted, the whole matter was dealt with in the civil courts. No Police or COPFS (like the CPS but Scottish) involvement. The Police had investigated the initial claim of rape, but on the basis there was not adequate evidence, there was no prosecution. So, the victim brought her own action for damages through the civil courts and won.

The big difference between civil and criminal courts is that in a criminal court a charge must be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, in the civil courts a claim is assessed ‘on the balance of probability’. “In other words, is it more likely that Ms Clair was unable to give consent and was therefore raped, than the opposite side, which is that she freely and willingly gave her consent”

It may well be that Wild Justice actually intend to seek compensation for a ‘victim’ of wildlife crime through the civil courts with their much lower bar of proof. The problem with that will be convincing the court there has been a human victim who requires to be compensated. In the past, however, an ASBO was granted against an egg collector on the basis of the fear and alarm he would cause certain bird lovers by coming to Scotland, so human ‘victims’ of crimes against birds are not unknown.

Will it all work? Dunno and definitely yes. Whether they will ever get a conviction or secure a penny in compensation is a matter I can’t comment on, that needs a lawyer. But I strongly suspect that is not the point. The point is to generate publicity and expose their version of the evidence. Which is exactly what RSPB surveillance has long been intended to do. Losing is winning, because it allows campaigners to press the case for more powers and more draconian restrictions.

That, I suspect, is the real game.

 

This article first appeared athttps://countrysidecontroversial.wordpress.com

 

 

The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt saw one of the largest crowds ever at the Boxing Day meet just a few weeks ago.

It brought back memories of a meet in 2005 at the same venue when the mood was very different. The Hunting Act had just passed into law and if anyone had said at the time that in 2018/19 support for hunting with hounds would be even stronger, I suspect they would secretly have been regarded as a little over -optimistic, despite many in the hunting world always showing a defiant face.

While the pro-hunting world remains strong and confident, anti-hunting groups continue to have less than satisfactory times. The League Against Cruel Sports, despite having initially claimed that the Hunting Act was good legislation, finally accepted that this law they and their supporting MPs had drafted was indeed flawed and now call for it to be strengthened. Constant internal disagreements have caused turmoil within the organisation for years, fuelled mainly by frustration over the lack of prosecutions under the Hunting Act. Different approaches were needed, all of which underline the failure of this law.

“This has nothing to do with animal welfare – this is for the miners.”
Labour MP Dennis Skinner

The obsessive nature of the antis compels them to attack hunting with dogs at any level and every way possible. We see ridiculous statements from Members of Parliament, such as that from Labour’s Dennis Skinner, who said in 2004, “This has nothing to do with animal welfare – this is for the miners.”  The fact that his own party closed 303 mines compared to the 162 closed by the Conservatives is, like so much evidence that doesn’t suit the anti-hunting case, conveniently ignored. We see pseudo-scientific reports claiming to show that hunting dogs cause disturbance to wildlife or that they spread disease, yet these reports are rarely validated by peer-review and published in scientific journals. Hunts are accused of causing havoc on roads and railways, which indeed may unfortunately happen on occasion, but can the actions of hunt saboteurs, who remarkably are often present to record the event, be seen as totally irrelevant in such circumstances? One might think that such incidents are unique to hunting hounds alone, when sadly the reality is that animals are killed on roads every day. Fake negative comments are posted on the internet about pubs and hotels that host hunting events with the aim of having a detrimental effect on these businesses; sometimes the comments have a threatening tone. Conservation organisations like the National Trust are targeted and motions put forward attempting to ban hunts on the land such bodies own, once again conveniently ignoring the fact that all such bodies employ wildlife management systems that involve culling wild animals.

In Scotland, the SNP government is happy to cherry-pick the findings of the Bonomy Report that itself commissioned and look for any reason to further restrict hunting with hounds. Recent scientific research on the benefits of using a full pack of hounds is simply overlooked.

Now the latest tactic is to pressurise local councils to use health and safety regulations to prohibit hunts meeting in places that they have used for decades. It’s a strategy that has worked in some cases, including the New Year meet of the Beaufort Hunt, which was due to meet in Tetbury. In admitting that safety reasons were not the only concern, Tetbury Town Council revealed that it was “conscious of the reputational damage associated with public protests and the risk of disorder.” So now all that is needed, it would seem, is for any group to threaten disruption of a legal event for it to be cancelled or forced to move. A couple of years ago, a petition to Atherstone Town Council was launched by hunt saboteurs with the aim of banning the hunt from the town square. On closer inspection, some of the signatories were not locals as one might normally expect. In fact, some came from quite a distance, actually about as far as possible – Australia. Some petitions are certainly worthwhile, some causes are definitely important enough to support regardless of where you might live, but does a local matter such as who meets in a town square justify international concern?

Even when the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox MP was filmed by saboteurs hosting a meet of the Lamerton Hunt, this was portrayed in the local press as something controversial, seeing it as more newsworthy than the disruption the hunt saboteurs had caused while trespassing on private land. The story provided an opportunity for a gullible Labour MP to raise the matter in the House of Commons, obviously trying to score a few political points by attempting to link the Attorney General with what the saboteurs will always see as illegal hunting – basically, trying to show guilt by association. Cheshire Police are concerned about statements and the use of selectively edited film shot by saboteurs and placed on social media. The force was prompted to issue the following warning, “Many comments are based on inaccurate information that do not reflect a balanced view of the matters discussed. Frequently, video footage does not reflect the full scenario.”

Attorney General The Rt. Hon. Geoffrey Cox QC MP

It’s hardly surprising that Jeremy Corbyn’s version of the Labour Party could let a Boxing Day pass without leaping onto the class war bandwagon. True to form, his shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman tried to grab the Christmas headlines by announcing that her party would tighten the Hunting Act, if ever it reached power, by jailing those found guilty of breaking this law. Despite the absence of any scientific evidence to support the Hunting Act or any research by those who support it to ascertain what effect this legislation has had on the wild animals involved, the obsessive antis and class warriors are not deterred. We have the lamentable  sight of Corbyn’s Labour Party threatening to burden the national police force and the prison service, both already under strain, with treating the most natural, selective and certain method of killing a fox as a major crime with a custodial penalty – all in the vain hope that the ignorant, the naïve or the bigoted will vote for him.

There never has been just one single anti-hunt argument – the attacks have always come from numerous sources and for different reasons – but a genuine concern for animal welfare clearly isn’t one of them.

Shortly after the Hunting Act was passed, a significant number of people felt it important to record the process by which this legislation had come to change the activity of hunting with hounds. The result was a book written by environmental journalist Charlie Pye-Smith that revealed a catalogue of duplicity, fabricated evidence and bigotry at both government and activist level. Here, John Parkes revisits that book and reminds us of the falsehoods on which the Hunting Act is based.

 

When the Saxon kings reigned in England every man was entitled to hunt. This was mainly for the pot to add meat to the diet on a more regular basis. Then the Normans came and after the Conquest, brought with them formal codes for hunting which was restricted then to the King and the nobles to whom he had granted ownership under the crown of large swathes of the country. This was backed up by draconian Game Laws, where contravention was subject to punishment up to death. These laws remained in much the same form until the 19th Century when transportation to the colonies was an additional punishment for poaching. The effect on countryside dwellers was severe.

The industrial revolution in the late 18th and then 19th Centuries saw migration from the countryside to the towns where people sought employment that offered more than their low standard of rural living. They took with them the feelings of resentment towards their feudal masters who, among other things, deprived them of their ancient rights to hunt. Country dwellers continued to exist but still saw poaching as a way to supplement their diets. This led to a disconnect between urban and rural dwellers in their attitude to those who they each looked on as an oppressive class. As political consciousness grew among the working classes in urban England, this attitude hardened, particularly towards those who continued to live well and to hunt freely, exacerbating the class divisions that were growing and which to an extent still exist today.

Hunting was latched on to by the Labour Party after its emergence as the representative of the working poor and it was held as a useful political tool when stirring up class resentment. At the same time early animal welfare was becoming an issue in the Victorian era, largely devoted to the protection of horses, which were the main mode of transport and agricultural working power available in the country.

The 20th mid-Century saw the emergence of a variety of animal welfare and animal rights organisations that offered their services to the growing middle classes who in latter days were shown in film and television broadcasts images of animals, wild and domesticated that stirred feelings of sentimentality that have become widespread. This too has become a useful political campaigning tool which is used by those seeking support for their own interests. The Labour Party in particular exploited what it proclaimed was a Tory pursuit to death of defenceless wild animals for their immoral personal gratification. This reached its peak when the Blair Government decided to use hunting as an issue for electoral advantage.

Legislation for a Hunting Ban

Blair misjudged the policy that he thought would only affect a small minority of the population so he decided to go ahead to legislate for a ban on hunting. This became effective in 2004 and he assumed, wrongly, that hunting would wither and die and thus remove a long-running political sore as a sop to the Labour Left.

The story of this unhappy affair has been thoroughly investigated and reported in the 2006 publication RURAL RITES: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice. This 96 page survey commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group was written by the impartial professional journalist Charlie Pye-Smith.

Chapter One entitled `Outlawing Your Enemies` describes the skilful way in which those who hunted were demonised on a regular basis by a small band of Labour MPs who were determined to use a hunting ban as `payback for the miners`; a matter of revenge for the way in which the Thatcher government defeated the miners` strike and their attempts to bring down the Conservative Government. There was no question that the ban would be relevant to animal welfare or its possible effects on the lives of those creatures. It was a political tool to be used in a cynical attempt to gain political ends.

Chapter Two is called `Corrupting the Evidence`. This shows in detail the way sympathetic scientific academics manipulated what they described as `incontrovertible evidence` to support the justification for a ban. Pye-Smith quotes chapter and verse to show how misinformation and falsification were employed when presenting cases to government enquiries and he names those involved. The ban was achieved by a government that was more interested in justifying its legislative plans than to create laws that would offer protection to what it declared were endangered species.

Chapter Three, titled `Lobbyists or Liars?` shows the way in which the animal rights lobbies added their weight to the `scientific evidence` put forward by their tame academics. It reveals the way in which political favours were sought in return for cash so that Parliamentary support for a ban could be bought. The questionable content of the lobby groups` assault on hunting proved successful and was thus utilised in an enhanced form in the social media blitz that took place during the campaign before the most recent general election.

In Chapter Four, Pye-Smith writes about `Searching for Solutions`. The summary he draws from his study is that hunting plays a crucial part in wildlife management and that the current legislation has adversely affected the welfare of the wild animals it said it aimed to protect. He outlines the way in which new Wild Mammals Protection legislation should be introduced to replace the existing raft of laws that are now inadequate for the task. He shows clearly how hunting under licence, strictly controlled by legislation can make a positive contribution to the wild population of the British countryside. This masterly publication deserves to be read again even more widely and used as a model for the future so that there really can be a solution to a long-running problem that can be resolved with the agreement of all those who have a genuine interest in this subject.

John Parkes has been closely involved in hunting with hounds for 70 years and since his early teens has taken a keen interest in natural history and the welfare of our wild creatures. As a professional soldier and then farmer he has been well placed to observe the way in which attitudes have changed and the way in which our urban population has become separated from countryside matters. He believes that better information and education will help close that gap.

RURAL RITES: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice by Charlie Pye-Smith (2006) is available to be read and/or downloaded free of charge at: http://charliepyesmith.com

On 6th November, the recently ousted League Against Cruel Sports committee member and somewhat fanatical Corbyn supporter, Chris Williamson MP, secured a Parliamentary debate on the badger cull, possibly timed to coincide with the publication of the Government commissioned Bovine TB Strategy Review chaired by Sir Charles Godfray.

Mr Williamson hit the headlines recently when he revealed that there had been moves by the LACS to illegally hack into the e-mails of Tim Bonner, the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance. The revelation came after he had been removed from that organisation following an internal dispute and prompted the Charity Commission to investigate the allegation.

During the debate, Mr Williamson, well-known for his support for animal rights as opposed to animal welfare, repeated his view that the culling of badgers to curb the spread of bovine TB was totally unjustified, was unscientific and was not working. On this occasion, he stopped short of giving his bizarre explanation that the cull was simply a consequence of the Hunting Act preventing Tories from killing foxes, so having to turn to killing badgers instead – a laughable statement he made in front of students at a mock debate in the House of Commons some years ago.

Nevertheless, this debate was peppered with the usual self-assured comments about the efficacy of vaccination of badgers, how the badger population was now threatened and why the Government was on the wrong path – all delivered with the absolute confidence of someone who can never see the worth of any argument that doesn’t fit his animal rights philosophy. Mr Williamson stated in response to George Eustice, the DEFRA minister, “My conclusion from what he says is that it is pretty clear that the only way in which the badger cull will be brought to an end is with the election of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Government.”

Testing for bTB: arduous, time-consuming and expensive

Fellow MP Luke Pollard joined in by claiming “Labour is the party of animal welfare”, as ever citing the “landmark Hunting Act” while conveniently ignoring the detrimental effects this law has had on wildlife. The Conservative Government’s announcements to increase sentences for animal cruelty convictions to up to five years and making CCTV compulsory in all slaughterhouses appear not to have registered with Mr Pollard, who continued, saying, “We need animal welfare policies that are based on science, not ideology.” Very honourable, but it’s a pity he and his party don’t follow that advice.

Williamson and his erstwhile LACS colleagues were no doubt delighted during the Labour Government’s Portcullis House Hearings on hunting in 2002 when openly anti-hunting Professor Stephen Harris cited the research of American scientist Dr Terry Kreeger, which ‘proved’ that hunted foxes suffer as much, if not more, than being held in a leg-hold trap. The only problem was that this was not what Dr Kreeger had discovered and indeed he wrote to British politicians, and the UK media stating that Harris’ conclusion was incorrect as he had combined two separate studies to give the results he desired. Indeed, Harris had been informed of his misuse of this information years previously, but still repeated it in the Parliamentary hearings. Nevertheless, the falsified science had done its job as far as the Government ministers were concerned, giving them their ‘scientific’ basis for a hunting ban.

During the subsequent parliamentary debate once the Hunting Bill had been introduced, Alun Michael, then the minister in charge of handling this legislation, had a sharp response from the late Professor Sir Patrick Bateson who had undertaken research into the physical effects of hunting deer with hounds. Mr Michael had argued that the evidence to ban deer hunting outright was incontrovertible, yet in an e-mail Professor Bateson said, “Only somebody who is scientifically illiterate could argue that evidence from a new area of research was incontrovertible.”

Even with recently published scientific research into aspects of the Hunting Act showing that the two dog exemption does not work as efficiently as when a full pack is used, the Labour Party announced that they will tighten up this law if they ever take power.

So much for policies based on science, not ideology.

That attitude hasn’t changed, as MPs in this debate who disagreed with the badger cull were happy to praise organisations such as the Badger Trust. It’s worth remembering that this body’s chief executive is not beyond ‘bending’ the truth about the success of vaccination and its cost, while misinforming the public rather than relying on science. Simon Hart MP, rightly pointed out that claiming vaccination of badgers is cheaper than culling is misleading, as having to repeat such actions year after year will inevitably increase the costs.

An extract from The Facts of Rural Life by Charlie Pye-Smith

During the debate there were calls for the Godfray Report to be published, well it is now available (see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/review-of-governments-bovine-tb-strategy-published ) and while it argues for better bio-security on farms and more accurate testing, it confirms that badgers do transmit the disease to cattle and “contribute to the persistence of the disease.” The report accepts that culling badgers has a role in the range of methods currently being used to combat bovine TB, while having concerns about perturbation (the disturbance of badger family groups, thereby spreading the disease to other areas). One suggestion contained in the report is that if culling is to continue, “then carrying it out over sufficiently large geographic areas to reduce the relative effects of perturbation and utilising natural barriers to badger movement, as is done at the moment, is in our view correct.” Importantly, the Godfray Report confirms what many have thought, which is that the effectiveness of the whole badger vaccination process is not proven and further research is required. Comparison of areas that only vaccinate with areas in which badgers are culled should be made and whichever is found to be the most effective, then adopted. It would be hard to see, therefore, how these views equate with many of the claims made by those opposing the badger cull.

The trouble with Williamson and his kind is that they see things in purely ‘black and white’ terms (no pun intended). His views, like those of so many animal rightists, are always accurate and any opposing argument, by the very nature that it is different, must therefore be wrong. Strange that his deep concern about badgers doesn’t extend to those animals that suffer, often for months, with bovine TB. He concluded by saying, “I repeat that there is no scientific evidence to support the Government’s position.”

But these views are simply not borne out by the Godfray Report, which correctly addresses the economical, ecological, farming, trading and animal welfare aspects of this awful disease. Williamson’s simplistic views on this difficult situation may supply ammunition for his political point-scoring friends, please animal rightists and confuse the public into believing that his is the only answer, but it will do nothing to help resolve this complex and costly problem.

 

 

 

 

Wild animals are killed for a variety of reasons – wildlife management, pest control, food and sport – and by numerous methods, some intentional, others unintentional. Here, Woody Webster of the Good Trapping Company raises some relevant points. 

Fluffy photographs of cute animals is something adults use for children as learning tools around the world. Most people, of course, know the reality is not as depicted in cartoons or adoring animals living in harmony with each other. Rather it’s a messy and chaotic world animals live in and that is the way they like it.

Animal rights groups fully neglect animal species that they cannot catch on film or are unattractive to the eye, and which haven’t been glorified by Disney.

The brown rat – often ignored by animal rightists.

Not once has the League Against Cruel Sport ever protested about the killing of rats for either pest control or sport and their hypocrisy was made clear when hunting a rat with dogs was excluded from the Hunting Act.

Not once has the League Against Cruel Sports stood up against the use of poisons on mammals, especially the rat.

Rats may be small, often out of sight and at times surprising and unnerving, but mostly harmless when kept away from the build environment. Rats have a higher cognitive ability than most large mammals including foxes, badgers and deer.

But the poor rat hasn’t been glorified by the media or taught to 4-year olds as a ‘cute pretty thing’.

So how is it that the League and other animal rights groups conveniently forget that poison is used throughout the country in and around the built environment, often by low paid pest control technicians, to kill rats and inevitably causing a slow and agonising death.

How is it that dogs are used with great effect in catching rats and killing them promptly, aided by the thrill of the chase from the huntsmen – both for pest control and for enjoyment. How is it the League has not once fought to protect the lowly rat?

It is clear. They prey on the fans of Disney who hold on to what they were told as children. They appear to be prejudiced towards thinking those who are rich should be punished and banning hunting with hounds seems a plausible way to do it. Nothing to do with animal welfare.

Animal rights activists claimed success of the Hunting Act 2004 in preventing foxes to be hunted with dogs. These same activists hate laws that allow ‘Disneyfied’ animals to be left happily in the wild and the managed sensibly through sport. Their hatred is built on fantasies of Disney, fake news and class prejudice. The animal rights activist never stands up for the rat. The lowly, but highly intelligent rat will never be protected as long as the animal rights activists think Disney is real life.

Woody Webster, The Good Trapping Company       http://www.goodtrappingcompany.co.uk