Labour tar­gets badger cull and hunt­ing

Op­po­si­tion ac­cused of ‘dog whis­tle’ pol­i­tics as an­i­mal wel­fare manifesto in­cludes crack­down on fox­hunt­ing

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Harry Yorke PO­LIT­I­CAL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Labour faces ac­cu­sa­tions of “class war” as it con­sid­ers plans to end the badger cull and crack down on flouters of the fox­hunt­ing ban. The pro­pos­als are likely to be in­cluded in the party’s An­i­mal Wel­fare Manifesto later this month. It fol­lows sug­ges­tions that Labour could con­sider ban­ning grouse shooting. The Glo­ri­ous 12th yes­ter­day her­alded the start of the shooting sea­son, but events were can­celled at Bal­moral, the Queen’s es­tate, be­cause of a short­age of birds.

LABOUR was ac­cused last night of “re­vert­ing to class war” af­ter it emerged it is con­sid­er­ing plans to end the badger cull and crack down on peo­ple who flout the fox­hunt­ing ban.

The Daily Tele­graph has learnt that the pro­pos­als are likely to be in­cluded in the party’s new An­i­mal Wel­fare Manifesto, to be pub­lished later this month.

The row came less than 24 hours af­ter Labour clashed with game­keep­ers over sug­ges­tions it could con­sider ban­ning grouse shooting as part of a gov­ern­ment-led re­view if it won power, hav­ing de­scribed the start of the shooting sea­son as the “In­glo­ri­ous Twelfth”.

Ac­cord­ing to a se­nior Labour fig­ure, the party is plan­ning to toughen up the Hunt­ing Act in­tro­duced by Tony Blair in or­der to ad­dress con­cerns that foxes are still be­ing hunted il­le­gally. The manifesto will also set out con­cerns that the badger cull has failed to stop the spread of bovine tu­ber­cu­lo­sis (TB) and call for a “science-led ap­proach” in­volv­ing more re­search into vac­ci­na­tions.

It fol­lows re­ports that the slaugh­ter of bad­gers was mas­sively ac­cel­er­ated dur­ing Michael Gove’s ten­ure as en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, with more than 32,000 killed in Eng­land be­tween Septem­ber and Novem­ber last year.

The source said Labour in­tended to “strengthen” the Hunt­ing Act and fo­cus on the is­sue of po­lice su­per­vi­sion at hunts and en­force­ment of the law through the courts. On the badger cull, they claimed that the cur­rent pol­icy was “in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive” and that the ev­i­dence from re­cent years sug­gested that “it doesn’t work”.

Tim Bon­ner, president of the Coun­try­side Al­liance, ac­cused Labour of “pan­der­ing to the ex­tremes” of the an­i­mal rights move­ment.

“We can’t get any straight an­swers on what the prob­lem (with fox­hunt­ing) is or what solutions Labour have, other than they seem to des­per­ately want peo­ple who wear red coats and ride horses in court.

“I’m afraid this is Labour re­vert­ing to the class war agenda. They don’t care about foxes – they want to get rid of hunts… This has al­ways been a dog­whis­tle is­sue for the Left.”

Last night, min­is­ters dis­missed Labour’s calls for a re­view on grouse moors, ar­gu­ing that they pro­vided “many ben­e­fits to the ru­ral econ­omy” and played an im­por­tant role in the con­ser­va­tion of wildlife and habi­tats.

How­ever, a Labour Party in­sider in­sisted there was a “huge ap­petite” among vot­ers for tougher ac­tion.

“The badger cull is in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive, but on the key ra­tio­nale of why it is be­ing done, it’s not de­liv­er­ing be­cause it’s not stop­ping the spread of TB,” said the source.

How­ever, the Na­tional Farm­ers’ Union ar­gues that the cull plays an im­por­tant role in lim­it­ing the spread of TB, which led to more than 33,000 cat­tle be­ing slaugh­tered in Eng­land last year.

A spokesman said: “The Gov­ern­ment’s vets say that we must ap­ply a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy which uses all avail­able op­tions – cat­tle test­ing, cat­tle move­ment con­trols, on-farm biose­cu­rity, vac­ci­na­tion of bad­gers in ar­eas on the edge of dis­ease spread, and con­trol of bad­gers in ar­eas where their pres­ence may con­trib­ute to the spread of dis­ease.”

The press re­lease de­tail­ing the Labour Party’s pro­posed re­view of grouse shooting de­serves a place in the Na­tional Ar­chives. It will speak to gen­er­a­tions to come as an ex­am­ple of how pol­i­cy­mak­ers liv­ing in posh Lon­don post­codes can get so many ba­sic facts about the coun­try­side spec­tac­u­larly wrong.

Ex­hibit one. It claims that grouse moors are put­ting the en­vi­ron­ment at risk by dry­ing out moor­land. Only one prob­lem with that: game­keep­ers make huge ef­forts to keep the moors wet, be­cause grouse love the heather that flour­ishes in damp con­di­tions. A ba­sic Google search re­veals dozens of ex­pert sources on how grouse moors are be­ing “rewet­ted”. And if Labour’s en­vi­ron­ment team doesn’t trust ex­perts, they should try walk­ing on a grouse moor. Ev­ery time their Is­ling­ton loafers plunge knee-deep into the boggy ground, they can con­sider it ev­i­dence that they have been mis­led. The moors were drained

50 years ago be­cause the gov­ern­ment told moor own­ers to do this. Then the pol­icy was re­versed. Labour is merely a few decades out of date.

Ex­hibit two. Labour says that grouse moors re­ceive £3 mil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money for grouse shooting. Not so. The vast ma­jor­ity of this money is for the sheep farm­ing which takes place on moor­land used for shooting.

Ex­hibit three. This is my favourite. The press re­lease says that driven grouse shooting should be re­placed by “sim­u­lated shooting”, which would be a “vi­able” al­ter­na­tive for the ru­ral econ­omy. But why would peo­ple travel for hours to the re­mote up­lands to shoot clay pi­geons when they could do that on the out­skirts of any big city? Why would own­ers spend mil­lions on the up­keep of our heather-clad hills? They would sim­ply be­come eco­log­i­cal deserts for want of in­vest­ment.

Labour’s pro­posed ban on driven shooting would sim­ply drive up un­em­ploy­ment. It would im­pov­er­ish work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties which rely on shooting to keep the lo­cal ho­tels and taxi com­pa­nies go­ing when the sum­mer tourism fades away.

How has Labour got this so wrong? One clue in its press re­lease is its re­liance on the RSPB. The char­ity has form for twist­ing the facts. A team of sci­en­tists were so con­cerned about this that they wrote a pa­per for the Royal So­ci­ety, say­ing that the char­ity’s claims about grouse moors car­ried only a “pass­ing re­sem­blance” to the facts.

The RSPB is a cam­paign­ing busi­ness run by ac­tivists who hate shooting. For ev­i­dence, look no fur­ther than their vice president, Chris Pack­ham, who has called grouse shooting “sa­tanic”. He is the man who ear­lier this year used lawyers to force Nat­u­ral Eng­land to ban preda­tor con­trol dur­ing the height of the breed­ing sea­son. That meant farm­ers and game­keep­ers were un­able to shoot crows. The re­sult was the death of thou­sands of song­birds, as well as count­less lambs hav­ing their eyes pecked out by crows.

There’s an­other rea­son the RSPB loathes grouse moors: they are awash with birds. Game­keep­ers are so good at keep­ing preda­tors un­der con­trol that ground-nest­ing birds breed in huge num­bers. New­cas­tle and Durham uni­ver­si­ties es­ti­mated that if game­keep­ers stopped work – as Labour’s pol­icy im­plies – the re­sult would be 87 per cent fewer curlew chicks and 95 per cent fewer golden plover.

The RSPB has long ac­cused game­keep­ers of killing not just foxes and crows but also hen har­ri­ers, which eat grouse. Yet that ex­cuse has run out. Last week­end, Nat­u­ral Eng­land re­vealed that a record num­ber of hen har­ri­ers had fledged in Eng­land – 47 chicks, most in nests on land man­aged for grouse shooting.

Yet what about on RSPB reserves, where little preda­tor con­trol hap­pens? Gov­ern­ment fig­ures show that hen har­ri­ers do less well on RSPB land than else­where. If Labour wants to en­cour­age birdlife, it could ask the RSPB to say how many birds it has on its 200 reserves. It stopped pub­lish­ing the num­bers in 2012. I won­der why.

Given that grouse moors have be­come Bri­tain’s best bird sanc­tu­ar­ies, you have to ques­tion why Tony Ju­niper, the chair­man of Nat­u­ral Eng­land, has called for grouse-moor own­ers to be charged for crimes com­mit­ted by game­keep­ers. He thinks so­ci­ety should as­sume own­ers would know about il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity by their game­keep­ers on re­mote hill­sides. As­sum­ing guilt is never a good idea. Yet Mr Ju­niper is a for­mer leader of Friends of the Earth. So ide­o­log­i­cal pos­tur­ing goes with the ter­ri­tory.

Nature does best when it is man­aged by prag­ma­tists who live in the coun­try­side. Ev­ery farmer and game­keeper knows that it is full of un­avoid­able choices. We ei­ther have fewer foxes or fewer curlews. Fewer crows or fewer song­birds. I would like to in­vite Labour’s team up on to a moor, with welling­ton boots on, to dis­cuss th­ese choices. We could then sit down for a de­li­cious lunch of grouse – a bird which will have spent its en­tire life in the wild be­fore be­ing shot, un­like the chicken sold in an Is­ling­ton su­per­mar­ket, which would have lived just six weeks in des­per­ately cramped con­di­tions be­fore be­ing slaugh­tered.

FOL­LOW Ian Botham on Twit­ter @Beefy­botham; READ MORE at tele­­ion

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