Warwickshire Farmer: Call of the wild
PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 November 2011 | UPDATED: 12:07 28 February 2013
The clamour to 'reintroduce' native predators like the wolf, lynx and sea eagle, is a big mistake, says John Brigg
Many of those who live in the country have moved in order to enjoy a better lifestyle and still commute to the town to work and, unlike born and bred country people, often have little idea of the realities rural life. A majority of the population, while sensible and well informed on a variety of subjects, is woefully ignorant when it comes to how their food is produced and the management of the countryside and its associated flora and fauna.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field, if you will pardon the pun, of what can be loosely termed the wildlife industry. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) claims a membership of one million or more, so Governments naturally sit up and take notice of pronouncements from RSPB as they are the collective voice of a million voters.
Together with the quango Natural England (formerly English Nature how much did that name change cost in sign writing, letterheads etc ?) and other assorted and specifically targeted charities, it all adds up to a large and influential constituency. Not only do these bodies, collectively, enjoy the broad support of the general public but much of their thinking is translated into legal requirements with which farmers and landowners have to comply.
While much of this is sensible, unfortunately, for a living countryside, much is counter productive. For example, birds of prey whose numbers were, until they became protected, kept in check by farmers and game keepers allowing their prey, e.g. smaller songbirds, to thrive.
This is just one example of a collective failure to realise that in a managed landscape such as we enjoy in England where man has, over the centuries, farmed the land, a balanced wildlife population needs human intervention to maintain this balance. RSPB sometimes refer to farmland birds. These are species that have thrived, over time, because farming methods have suited their feeding and breeding habits.
When changes in farming practices, for instance a switch to Autumn sown cereals rather than Spring sown, for economic reasons, the farming industry is blamed for the adverse effect on the numbers of some species, conveniently forgetting that had man not farmed the land in the first place, these birds would be far more scarce.
A worrying trend that is emerging is recurring calls to introduce alien species. I say alien, on the grounds that wolves, beavers, lynx and so on have been absent from this country for so long that it is totally unrealistic to call it re-introduction of native species.
The release of Spanish Red Kites in the Chiltern Hills has been claimed as a success, conveniently overlooking the fact that they still have to be hand fed. The proposed introduction of Sea Eagles to Norfolk has raised alarm among sheep and outdoor pig producers in the area.
The suggestion that the public purse should be used to compensate for losses is totally unacceptable. Apart from the fact that there is already enough predation from native species, foxes which farmers are allowed to control and badgers which they are not, livestock keepers strive to make their animals lives as comfortable as possible.
Any unnecessary and avoidable predation by the introduction sea eagles, wolves or lynx, for example, would, in my book lay the perpetrators open to prosecution for causing animal cruelty.