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Archive for May, 2019

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.

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