Labour targets badger cull and hunting
Opposition accused of ‘dog whistle’ politics as animal welfare manifesto includes crackdown on foxhunting
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 telegraph.co.uk/opinion