Who’s living in a fairytale? Gamekeeping, Countryfile and Springwatch

Last time I watched an episode of Springwatch and saw jackdaws taking swallow chicks from the nest it felt pretty real and heart-wrenching to me.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Alex Hogg, head of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has said that television programmes such as Springwatch and Countryfile offer viewers a cotton-wool, fairytale vision of the countryside that doesn’t reflect reality.

I grew up in the countryside, have worked and lived there almost all my life, and many of my family have worked in agriculture. I want the freedom to enjoy a British countryside, rich in our native wildlife.

Yep, things get killed, I can handle that. It’s more the rationale and justification for killing them that matters.

Hogg claims that these television programmes lead people towards emotional responses on issues such as badger culls.

Hogg also claims that the gamekeeping community has been warning of years of the imbalance of nature in the British countryside.

This comes from the man who proudly claims that at a site he is gamekeeper for in Scotland, they have between 100-150 pheasant days a year (watch this video with him). Has Hogg ever wondered what kind of unnatural imbalance it might be causing to chuck 30 million non-native birds into the British countryside every year for leisure purposes. Unless pheasants are a native Scottish species and I’ve been badly misinformed. Now, if releasing these pheasants has no effect on the natural environment, then I don’t have that much of a problem with it. But has he checked?

What’s more, he proudly wants to see buzzard back on the vermin list, even though buzzards only account for two to four per cent of pheasant deaths. It’s Hogg’s English counterparts, the gamekeeping lobby, that convinced Government to issue licences to destroy the nests of ¬†buzzards, a native bird of prey that has recovered from near extinction. Hogg speaks emotively about the poor pheasant poults (chicks) that suffer at the talons of buzzards. I think it’s equally heart-wrenching to think about the death of buzzards or the destruction of their eggs in the name of protecting a species like the pheasant.

In the video interview with Hogg he also manages to pull off that old classic and his evidence against global warming (long-term trends in temperatures across the world) is one cold winter in the UK.

Moving on to the hen harrier. Not every individual in the gamekeeping community is responsible for the fate of the hen harrier, but many are. And illegal persecution means that for the first time since the 1960s, this summer no hen harriers bred in England, when there should be enough habitat for 300 pairs. These birds are on the brink of going extinct as a breeding English species at the hands of gamekeepers. Are these deaths justifiable, particularly when tactics such as diversionary feeding can reduce the impact on game shoots?

Government’s own scientific trials have shown that culling badgers will have very little impact (a 16% reduction at most) on bovine tuberculosis affecting cattle. But they’re ploughing ahead anyway. Reason and science are on the side of those against the cull. It’s Government and those in favour of the cull ploughing on ahead based on emotion, ignoring rational evidence.

Yes, animals die, and sometimes need to be killed. But pain and death inflicted on living animals needs to be justified by the right reasons and evidence that it will work to achieve its end goal. In many of the cases cited by Hogg and others in the gamekeeping or agricultural community economic interest is confused with sound evidence. Conservation organisations rightly call for culls which will preserve the natural balance – such as those of deer. But refuse to sanction culls which merely serve the economic interests of the few and the lives of non-native game birds.

I think I know who’s living in a fairy tale, and it isn’t the producers of Springwatch or Countryfile.

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