The Countryside Alliance held its first fringe meeting at this year’s Labour Party Conference on the issue of wildlife management. The meeting was chaired by Johnny Heald of ORB International and speakers included Angela Smith MP, Shadow Defra Minister, David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs RSPCA, Jim Barrington, Animal Welfare Consultant and our very own Tim Bonner.
The meeting entitled ‘Let’s Get Real About Wildlife’ covered a wide variety of issues from fox hunting, shooting to bovine TB. Angela Smith MP opened the meeting by touching on shooting, and how she felt it was a legitimate activity, adding some £2bn to the rural economy. Angela Smith raised concerns about heather burning, bird of prey persecution and habitat degradation. Angela wants to see a shooting industry which is environmentally responsible and to address people’s concerns, but she was keen to work with the industry and share best practices. Angela also restated the Labour Party’s opposition to fox hunting as there was ‘no place in a modern democracy’. She also emphasised the Labour Party support for tackling Bovine TB, but not through culling trials which would be cancelled if they were elected. It was stated that they would recommend the Welsh approach to tackling this disease which includes strict controls on cattle movement, strict bio security and vaccination.
Tim Bonner made the point that public attitudes to management of animals was not being challenged and we need to focus on what we can agree on. Tim hilighted the conclusions of the ORB polling which showed that substantial numbers of people would protect even rats and mink. The fact that a substantial number of people felt that deer should not be controlled is a worrying indication of the publics lack of understanding of deer management. One of the problems is the management of the countryside and wildlife progressively becomes harder the more restrictive legislation becomes.
David Bowles of the RSPCA stressed the importance of working together to tackle issues and that the RSPCA bases its work on firm evidence and science. David went on to say that if the Kreb’s report on bovine TB had supported a badger cull then the RSPCA would have supported the cull. The RSPCA are happy to debate the issues surrounding wildlife management and control, recognising that the need to kill animals is appropriate in certain cases, including foxes and deer. RSPCA are keen to debate with us and work together where we can and he welcomed the fact we have been doing so on issues such as fly grazing.
Jim Barrington, Animal Welfare Consultant, started out by emphasising the need for sensible wildlife management and this is little known by the general public. We often hear what people dislike but not what their preferred alternative is. There is confusion over what constitutes a sport which only serves to muddy the waters. Hunting serves a useful purpose and sport is just one aspect of the process. This and other issues will not be resolved until there is a sensible and principled solution and one way to achieve this is the proper explanation of wildlife management coupled with the proposal put forward by Lord Donoghue to prohibit genuine wildlife cruelty.
Questions and contributions from the floor were constructive and positive and with one delegate saying how he welcomed this debate bringing together two opposing sides.
Johnny Heald concluded the meeting by stating that while appears much is to be made of animal welfare issues influencing voting intentions in reality polling has shown it has virtually no sway.