Some animals are more equal than others
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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