Author: Charlie Moores

Wales | No to badger culling

While Wales is more famous for the endless hordes of sheep that lay waste to its hills and vallies (there are around three times as many sheep in Wales than people), Wales also has substantial numbers of cattle – and not insubstantial numbers of badgers. Here in England that would mean the NFU nodding across the table to their colleagues in Defra to wave through more badger killing to allegedly tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a respiratory disease of cattle of course. But in Wales they have different ideas. Fortunately. In fact, Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has recently set out a clear plan of attack to tackle bTB, which puts the blame on cattle – and farmers – for spreading the disease. Highlighting the Welsh Labour Government’s commitment in its election manifesto, which is now confirmed in their ‘Programme for Government’, Mr Drakeford stated on the floor of the Senedd that ‘Culling of badgers will not happen in Wales’. The Programme itself states that the Government ‘forbid the culling of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle.’

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Great news – it’s becoming too risky to buy a grouse moor

As the evidence has mounted up, as the wildlife crime, the climate issues, the deliberate targeting of predators, the wanton slaughter of grouse, and the campaigning has become impossible to ignore, the tide has turned against grouse shooting. Governments are looking at licencing estates. Land owning utilities and local councils are banning burning and looking for more environmentally-friendly ways to use moorland. Rewilding grouse moors so that they do public good and function as intact ecosystems, working for the climate rather than against it, looks increasingly viable. The upshot is that potential grouse moor owners are becoming more reluctant to invest in grouse farming. It’s always been difficult to make a profit from killing Red Grouse, but now buying a grouse moor is becoming risky too. Would-be owners simply don’t know what new laws might be brought in before they’ve been able to take money out of the moor. It could become harder to sell your ‘look at me’ asset in the future as well. Grouse shooting is buckling under the pressure…

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Update | Help stop badger culling adding to England’s Biodiversity catastrophe

Excellent news from the desk of one of the UK’s busiest ecologists – Tom Langton. Tom was recently given permission (after much pushback from Defra), to challenge the so-called ‘badger cull’ in the High Court and set up a crowdfunder. After a slow start the fund raising is going really well, and the challenge has been moved forward because of the government’s plans to move forward with supplementary killing of protected animals across large areas of the country. And the bit about England’s ‘biodiversity catastrophe’? Astonishingly for all our self-congratulations about being a ‘country of animal lovers’, we have lost so many of our animals (and plants) that the UK as a whole is one of the most nature-depleted countries n the world and a recent report from the RSPB, using data compiled by the Natural History Museum, published ahead of last week’s G7 Summit, found that the UK is the worst nation in the G7 for the volume of wildlife and wild spaces lost due to human activity. Which is yet another reason why we need to be protecting what is left of our biodiversity.

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Equipment Fund – next steps

As we wrote last week, we were recently offered a donation to help tackle the war on wildlife. As we explained in that post, we felt that the best way to use this generous donation might be to set up an ‘equipment fund’ to help smaller groups (many of which we know from experience are made up of a handful of highly-committed individuals often having to fund their extraordinary work themselves) buy items to use in the field like video cameras, trail cams, night vision scopes, GPS Units, recording equipment etc. We pitched that idea to the internet and (we’re pleased – and excited – to say) it’s received really positive feedback. So that’s what we’re going to do. The next step, then, is to give you some more details and a few T&Cs, and – if you feel they are right for you or your group – for you to apply.

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WCL | DEFRA fails to set target to halt decline of nature

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the government’s plans for the Environment now that we have left the EU and No10 is redrawing itself as wildlife-friendly. Last month, George Eustice, the current Environment Secretary promised a “Net Zero equivalent for nature” through a “legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature”. This ‘promise’ followed an apparently successful campaign for a “State of Nature” target to halt nature’s decline by 2030, which was supported by 70 organisations and over 180,000 people who signed an e-petition. Halting decline seems like a reasonable step to take, doesn’t it? We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, after all, but apparently that is imposing too many demands on business for Defra, which has slid an amendment into the Bill requiring the ‘slowing’ of decline instead. What does that mean? Slowing to half of what it is now? 99% of what it is now? 1% of what it is now? That doesn’t seem to be clear but ‘slowing’ is one of those ‘kicking the can into the long grass’ phrases, that are pretty much open to interpretation.

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Defra’s ministerial farming and shooting merry-go-round

The rumour mill suggests that George Eustice MP will not be running Defra for much longer, as Carrie Johnson apparently thinks that he is too close to the farming lobby (ironically he has received criticism for being too close and (from the NFU) for not being close enough), and is not taking sufficient action on animal welfare. Downing Street hasn’t commented yet, but surely, now, with even world leaders beginning to glimpse how the world might look with runaway climate change and public opinion more strongly against slaughtering protected animals than ever before, if Eustice were to be demoted he would be replaced with someone with genuine environmental credentials? You’d think, but the most likely candidate appears to be Chief Whip Mark Spencer, MP for Sherwood, who has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change and in 2018 told a rural conference that “shooting should be proud of its contribution to the countryside and the environment. It is a positive story that deserves to be told” – this despite the widely reported wildlife crime underpinning shooting and its environmental impact (from lead shot to burning, flooding, and the release of over 50 million non-native birds every year).

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How would you use a small grant to help tackle the war on wildlife?

That was the question we were asked recently: if the War on Wildlife Project were given a donation, how would you use it to help tackle the war on wildlife? What a question! So what would we do? Make a one-off lump sum donation, perhaps – many organisations are desperate for finance after lockdown after all. Or perhaps break up that money into smaller grants, spreading it across a number of smaller organisations or groups to help them fund their work? We’ve obviously thought long and hard about what to do, and while there are numerous charities/sanctuaries we would always like to help, we think that setting up an ‘equipment fund’ to help smaller groups buy items to use in the field like video cameras, go-pros, recording equipment etc would be the most effective way to distribute the money we’ve been given. We would really like to know: would an offer to buy equipment be useful to you or your group? What items do you need? Do you have a better idea? Please let us know in the comments or on social media.

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NatureScot | Judicial Review over beaver killing licences

Trees for Life, the charity that campaigns to rewild the Scottish Highlands, has accused NatureScot (the government agency who (allegedly) “work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it”) of failing to protect beavers. NatureScot has been issuing hundreds of licences to farmers and landowners to kill beavers from newly-establishing populations in Tayside, where they were illegally or accidentally released in 2006 and have spread widely along waterways. Trees for Life say that beavers should be humanely trapped and relocated to other parts of the country rather than killed under licences issued by NatureScot to placate famers and landowners who in turn insist that “the right to lethally control species that damage crops, stock and farmland has to be defended”. What these lobby groups really mean is that they want to defend a system that essentially allowed landowners to eradicate species like Wild Cats, Pine Martens and White-tailed Eagles because in their ossified opinions there is no room in the lowlands or uplands for any wildlife that threatens profits or the heavily-subsidised industries they manage. This intransigence has already led to dozens of licences to kill beavers blamed by farmers in Tayside for damaging crops and prime agricultural land. By the end of 2019, it’s reported that 87 beavers had been shot under lethal-control licences issued by the agency.

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