The Countryside Alliance held its fringe on wildlife management at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on Monday 29th September. The panel, chaired by Johnny Heald of polling company ORB International, included Lord de Mauley, Defra minister, Neil Parish MP, Chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, former Environment Secretary the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP and our own Tim Bonner. Lord de Mauley started off the meeting praising his former boss, Owen Paterson, and then set the agenda on achieving a proper balance for wildlife management in the countryside and made the point that it is our responsibility to manage wildlife. Neil Parish opened by talking about hunting, its infrastructure and its role in the countryside. Neil went on to say that shooting contributes hugely to the rural economy. He made the point that we need to ensure that unnecessary cruelty is stopped outright, but that the Government must repeal the hunting ban. Owen Paterson made a passionate speech about the importance of wildlife management in the countryside. Owen noted that there is a dislocation between countryside and urban understanding of what management is required. Owen talked about his time as Environment Secretary and how he ensured that anyone receiving public money through forestry grants had to also manage grey squirrels. Owen made the point that it is essential to manage wildlife, but we also need to manage disease with reference to controlling bovine TB. He went on to say that he could not understand the attitude of wildlife organisations who do great work, but refuse to acknowledge the need for disease management. Owen finished by saying that the government needs to be clear on its wildlife priorities, but should not be distracted by animal rights pressure groups. Tim Bonner, Director of Campaigns for the Countryside Alliance, opened with an analogy about managing wildlife on golf courses, how it is hidden away and large conservation organisations know it happens, but won’t recognise the importance of management. Good point made well because how else are those greens maintained so well… Tim cut to the chase and said that we all talk in euphemisms and talk about wildlife management, but in reality we are talking about killing things. Tim went on to say that nobody argues against killing healthy deer but get irrational over killing any other animal. Real cruelty is refusing to take responsibility for managing wildlife. The League Against Cruel Sports had a policy of not managing the deer on their ‘sanctuary’ on Exmoor. Their own stalker walked out after 107 deer were found dead or dying in just 300 acres. That is real cruelty. The debate on managing wildlife isn’t just about hunting – it is about conserving the countryside and having an honest debate. Questions from the audience included the importance of outdoor education, management of bovine TB and repeal of the Hunting Act , which was put to Lord de Mauley. Lord de Mauley responded saying the government would give a free vote, but the time is not right.
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