Some an­i­mals are more equal than oth­ers

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

OPEN­ING a boucherie cheva­line in Tun­bridge Wells is not likely to be much of a busi­ness propo­si­tion. We Bri­tish re­coil in hor­ror at the thought of eat­ing horse. So much so that we have a long-es­tab­lished ex­cep­tion to the rules of the EU Sin­gle Mar­ket, which al­lows us to ban the ex­port of cheap live horses. By in­sist­ing on a min­i­mum value, we pro­tect our trade in blood­stock and en­sure that no pony goes off to the Con­ti­nent to be eaten. It isn’t a ques­tion of cruelty, but sim­ply a dis­tinc­tion of species. We hap­pily eat beef, lamb and chicken, but horse—im­pos­si­ble.

This fun­da­men­tal il­log­i­cal­ity in our at­ti­tude to an­i­mals is en­demic. Even the cur­rent cam­paign against the Korean dog trade is driven much more by our love of dogs than by our ha­tred of cruelty. Thus, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the re­port this month that high­lighted the ap­palling loss of Bri­tain’s na­tive species (page 50) re­ceived much less cov­er­age in the wider me­dia than last month’s story of re­unit­ing Dion, the marathon run­ner, with Gobi, the dog.

Our much-vaunted love of an­i­mals is par­tial and heav­ily weighted by our sen­ti­men­tal at­tach­ments. No won­der the Hunt­ing Act 2004 pro­tected foxes, hares and deer, but no­body wanted to stop dogs killing rats. Har­ri­ers bad, rat­ting good!

Most of the time, these par­tial­i­ties do lit­tle harm. It’s odd that we let horses go for glue but not for the Bel­gian ta­ble, but it’s not im­por­tant. Where we do dam­age is when judge­ment is clouded and pub­lic pol­icy so distorted by these par­tial­i­ties that sup­port is gained for poli­cies that are fun­da­men­tally un­sound. That’s clear, for ex­am­ple, in the case of the badger cull. What­ever the rights and wrongs, log­i­cal dis­cus­sion is im­pos­si­ble now that cam­paign­ers have turned Brock into a cud­dly toy.

Sim­i­lar con­cerns are be­gin­ning to arise in the in­creas­ingly par­ti­san de­bate that’s rag­ing on the grouse moors where the friends of the hen har­rier have cap­tured the me­dia to the ex­clu­sion of all other con­cerns. Their nar­ra­tive is sim­ple: ‘this beau­ti­ful bird is en­dan­gered be­cause the rich own­ers of grouse moors are il­le­gally killing them to pro­tect the grouse chicks and their bank bal­ances’.

Chicks and eggs of other en­dan­gered birds ben­e­fit cru­cially from the pro­gramme of preda­tor con­trol aimed at sav­ing the red grouse—it­self a na­tive species de­serv­ing pro­tec­tion. It’s the pro­ceeds from shoot­ing that fund the nec­es­sary in­ter­ven­tion to limit the foxes, stoats, weasels and crows that prey on the eggs and chicks of ground-nest­ing birds. It’s not just grouse, but other rare species, such as Bri­tain’s largest breed­ing wader, the curlew. Now in sharp de­cline, its only hope is the con­tin­u­a­tion of con­trol and that de­pends on the in­come from grouse shoot­ing. The own­ers of the moors are not en­e­mies of con­ser­va­tion, but friends. Their preser­va­tion of large ar­eas of moor­land by proper burn­ing and the fund­ing of ver­min con­trol en­sures the fu­ture of ground-nest­ing birds.

The only is­sue is how to deal with en­dan­gered rap­tors, par­tic­u­larly the golden ea­gle and the hen har­rier. These are un­doubt­edly be­ing killed il­le­gally and that must stop. How­ever, to ban driven grouse shoot­ing would be to en­dan­ger all ground-nest­ing birds. Be­fore dis­tort­ing sen­ti­ment makes log­i­cal de­bate im­pos­si­ble, landown­ers and cam­paign­ers must come to­gether to use mech­a­nisms to di­vert the rap­tors such as di­ver­sion­ary feed­ing and brood man­age­ment. It can be done if we avoid an­other very Bri­tish case of driven hys­te­ria.

‘We hap­pily eat beef, lamb and chicken, but horse– im­pos­si­ble

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