Countryside mismanagement

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

The hunters and the shooters have at least one thing in common and that is their claim to be managing the countryside and its wildlife. They make that claim without even pausing to wonder about the stunning arrogance of it and without the evidence to back up their claims in relation to national objectives that we the public are bought into.

The hunters and the shooters equate their misspent effort and money with management, and mistakenly claim to be managing the countryside on the nation’s behalf. It is worth looking more closely at their claims.

The week’s most glaring example of dysfunctional decision making with regard to countryside management are the badger cull trials in Wales. The science shows quite clearly that a badger cull that falls short of species extinction will make matters worse rather than better in relation to the transmission of tuberculosis (TB).

The effect of taking out badgers by culling is that the survivors move about more, either to exploit the vacant territories or possibly to escape from the area of the cull. The science also shows that as a consequence other animal populations, where there was previously territorial competition, will exploit the territorial changes. In particular there will be a radical increase in the fox populations.

At the same time as effort is being devoted to culling badgers in the mistaken belief that it will solve the problem of TB in cattle, the chances are that insufficient attention will be paid to dealing with the problems associated with cross contamination on farms and at markets. Only restrictions on livestock movements and contacts will cut down the spread of disease.

The tragedy is the refusal of the farming industry to accept that they are wrong in calling for a cull. And whilst all this is going on, the financial consequences of compensating farmers for the costs of culling infected cattle will fall on the taxpayer. This cannot continue: future policy proposals that farmers should pay the costs of their own compensation schemes may eventually lead to some changes of attitude.

Fox hunting is another such wasted resource and cruel enterprise. The science shows that years of misguided persecution of foxes has had minimal effect on the fox population. The Burns Inquiry showed that while farmers thought that the culling had a beneficial effect in reducing losses, the economic and scientific evidence did not back that up. Other research has shown that eliminating the fox population in a local area simply vacates fox territories and creates competition between incomers in the fox population, which can actually make matters worse rather than better.

Common sense dictates that if there isn’t much water in the well it doesn’t take many people to drink the well dry. With slow growing Caledonian pine it doesn’t take many grazing animals, be they small or large, to nibble off the succulent green shoots. Likewise with suitable trees for knocking the velvet off antlers, in a forest full of options some trees are going to be used for the purpose however many deer are out there. The only answer for regeneration of the forest is not culling, but fencing – either of enclosures or by protecting individual trees.

The reality with deer populations is that they rise and fall with the available feed and the condition of the female deer at conception and when the young are born. If populations are marginally reduced by culling, deer condition improves and more survive. The hunters and killers are actually increasing the population by their actions, albeit marginally. If the real objective was to minimise the deer population, they would stand aside and let the population resume its normal cyclical pattern of boom in numbers followed by starvation and bust. That is nature’s way of ensuring the long term survival of the fittest. Human meddling for sport and trophy hunting or ‘management’, just gets in the way of the Darwinian process of natural selection.

When it comes to looking at the population of hares and rabbits the same sort of scientific considerations apply. Habitat and feed provide the real population drivers. The absence of natural predators will also play its part in determining the population size.

With apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller who famously spoke out against the Nazis:

First the farmers, the gamekeepers and the hunters came for the mice and the rats, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what the country folk said about them being a pest and them eating their grain.

Then they came for the stoats and the weasels that take game bird eggs because they said they were a pest too, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what they said about managing the countryside.

Then they came for the hares and the rabbits that the foxes and stoats had kept under control, because they said that they ate their grass and their cereals, and the young heather shoots that their grouse might otherwise eat, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what they said about pest control in the countryside.

Then they came for the foxes and the badgers because they said they were a pest as well and the countryside had to be managed to safeguard farm livestock, but I didn’t speak out because I believed what they said about countryside management and the need to control wild animal populations.

Then they came for the deer and the wild boar because they said they were a pest too and had to be controlled because of the damage that they did to the trees, but I didn’t speak out, because I believed what they said about pest control and wildlife management.

Then the countryside I used to love fell silent, there was no wildlife left to see, and because at last I spoke out, and because there was nothing else left for them to hunt and chase and kill for sport; they came for me.

There comes a time when all people who care must speak out, before it is too late! With an election looming which could lead to the clock being turned back to cruelty to animals for sport, now is the time to speak out and to make it clear that we don’t want that to happen.

Please don’t stay silent and let it all happen. Please get your friends and family working as hard as they can, pointing out the dangers to the nation’s wildlife and helping us to

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    gilesbradshaw said,

    I have an area of woodland. Deer fencing the wood is impracticable for the following reasons:

    1) It would be prohibitively expensive

    2) It would restrict my free access to the wood to gates

    3) Completely excluding deer from the wood would cause the undergrowth to grow up to much and it would become inpenetrable. Deer are essential to keeping pathways through the wood.

    4) Deer slow down the regeneration of the coppice providing a window for woodland butterflies.

    5) The wood is a thoroughfare for deer as they roam across the countryside.

    However deer can also cause problems because they can prevent the coppice regenerating at all.

    I manage the deer in a non lethal way. It may not work for everybody but it does for me and it is also great fun.

    I simply take my dogs down to the woods, hunt for the deer when I find them I flush them out and use the dogs to pursue them.

    The Hunting Act states that flushing out of cover is exempt hunting but only if certain conditions are met.

    Unless I use a raptor capable of hunting the deer I have to limit my dogs to two and take reasonable steps to shoot the deer as soon as possible.

    Both these conditions are absurd and the law should be changed.

    I greatly enjoy pursuing deer with my dogs and I refuse to stop.

    I have invited LACS down to my farm to witness my humane albeit illegal deer management methods.

  2. 2

    gilesbradshaw said,

    Also in the absence of control through predation and/or hunting the deer population will expand until it reaches the maximum carrying capacity of its environment. This has a significant negative effect on the bio diversity of their habitat and you also end up with a weakened and diseased herd.

    There is incidentally a similar situation with badgers amongst whom TB is now endemic.

    Douglas’s solution for the ‘natural management’ of deer and badgers is to let the population spiral upwards until ecological break down occurs and the population crashes through disease and starvation.

    This would entail huge amounts of animal suffering. Animals dieing from diseases such as TB is absolutely sickening and involves massively more suffering than either being hunted, caught and killed or being shot.

    Moreover such a death is not particularly natural because Deer would naturally have predators so that a diseased animal would be picked off as it became weak and would not suffer unduly nor be so likely to spread disease.

  3. 3

    gilesbradshaw said,

    How are these two statements compatible?

    “The hunters and killers are actually increasing the population by their actions, albeit marginally”

    “Then the countryside I used to love fell silent, there was no wildlife left to see, and because at last I spoke out, and because there was nothing else left for them to hunt and chase and kill for sport; they came for me”

    This article is pure drivel.

  4. 4

    claireharrissmith said,

    ‘Drivel’ is reading the repetative crap that Giles Bradshaw posts EVERY single time an artcle is published here. Suggest you get a new hobby Giles? We all know you have a slightly larger than average garden. Yawn.

    Anyway, despite that I actually agree that lethal deer management is vital (unlike badger or fox controll). Allowing animals to get to a level where starvation and disease are the limiting factors in the population is not acceptable and frankly I’m surprised that an organisation that campaigns for animal welfare is advocating this. There is a balance needed as the british countryside is not a ‘natural’ environment any more, between allowing animal populations to manage themselves and doinf what we can to limit their suffering.

    The badger cull has been scientifically proven to be a stupid idea. I wish farmers wouldn’t alwsys go for the ‘quick fix’ solution to everu problem they face. We know they have a difficult job, but controls over cattle movements as much as is practical would be the best solution hgere.

  5. 5

    gilesbradshaw said,

    Claire that’s exactly the point I was making so I am not sure you need to be quite so rude.

    However I was also pointing out that in some localised settings non lethal methods of management should also be considered and it is a little stupid to only allow these if the deer are then shot.

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