Conservation charities are not always what they seem

 Beware the word “conservation” when supporting charities.

When it comes to supporting or donating money to animal charities we all have our own perspective on what we want our money spent on whether it is conservation of wildlife, welfare of animals, re-homing of animals, animal rights, help for animals abroad or saving endangered species – the list is endless. But if you want your money and support to benefit all animals without causing harm to others it can be a problem because many charities do cause harm or kill animals in the name of conservation.

The aims and principles of animal conservation charities are often at odds with those supporters of animal welfare and animal rights and animal lovers in general. Not all conservationists believe in the right of animals or groups of animals to survive if in their opinion they are getting in the way of preserving other “more important” species and habitat.

What is conservation?

The meaning of ‘conservation’ varies in interpretation dependent on the context it is used in and can concern preserving buildings, cultural sites, resources and artefacts, but we mostly associate it with preserving wildlife and habitat. For this reason many charities regardless of their true intent try to put the word conservation somewhere into their title or literature, because  most of us associate it with general good ideals.

We are often drawn to those which use the word conservation as it is like a badge of guarantee that the money is used for the best interest of animals or habitat in line with our wishes. But we should make sure that they do not have ulterior motives for their “conservation” activities which could be based on preservation for selfish reasons such as commerce and sport, particularly for hunting and other so-called country pursuits.

Thousands killed at a cost of £800 per duck

The creed often followed by conservation organisations is that there is a hierarchy whereby certain animals are more important than others and if necessary they  can be eradicated for the common good or conservation of others. It is a fraught area which most of us seem to take little interest in. The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), a well-known and loved UK charity, has often been criticised for having this attitude.

Many of us mistakenly believe they are there to protect all birds, but this is not the reality and never has been. In 2014 they decided to support the culling of all the Ruddy ducks in the UK, despite their alleged ethos discouraging the ‘wanton destruction of birds which caused outrage. Ruddy ducks were viewed as an invasive or alien species interfering with native ducks by mating with them. Thousands were killed at a cost of £5 million or £800 per duck by marksmen of the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency (AHVLA). Graham Madge of the RSPB commented:

“It was a hugely difficult debate for the RSPB and a very dark day when we had to concede a cull was the only way forward. It’s not being ruthless, its being careful. It is not a cause for celebration. It is a relief. We stand up for biodiversity internationally and sometimes you have to make very hard decisions.”

RSPB appear to support pheasant shoots.

The RSPB were again in trouble when they appeared to support pheasant and partridge shoots as being beneficial to wildlife, even though 60% (21 million birds) die before they have a chance to be shot. Martin Harper their conservation director stated on their website that shoots offer ‘beneficial habitat management for wildlife’ increasing the number of some species.

Pheasant in field

Each year 40 million hapless and inexperienced pheasants are released of which, according to the industry’s own figures, only 37.5% are shot while 46.5% die before the shooting season by predators, in road collisions or illness leaving only 16% to survive the shooting season and an unknown fate.

Recently there was consternation at the Society using Larsen traps to catch magpies and cull them which involved placing a live bird in a cage in all weathers and unattended as a lure. The well-being of the caged bird was questioned, particularly the stress caused in trying to escape.

There was a crazy situation when some online forums had posts from people who believed the traps were illegal and  were advised to contact the RSPB to investigate their use! Strangely none of this though stops us from donating £140 million to them every year.

The word “conservation” can be misinterpreted.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) could be viewed as an example of using the word conservation to muddy the waters as they describe themselves as a leading UK charity conducting “conservation science to enhance the British countryside for public benefit by promoting game and wildlife management as an essential part of nature conservation“.

Although this might sound a sensible aim, it involves certain actions which animal lovers might flinch at, as their real intention is to guarantee a supply of game animals for hunting and shooting by removing nuisance predators which get in the way. Their definition of a nuisance predator appears to be any wild animal or bird that cannot be profitably hunted or shot or which eats animals that could be profitably hunted. They believe that game and wildlife management is the basis of good conservation and that humane and targeted predator control is an essential part of effective wildlife conservation.

On this same subject there is a government-funded organisation called Natural England which handles the Governments’ efforts of wildlife and habitat conservation in England but according to some campaigners they also issue licences to kill some 70,000 wild animals and birds. 65 species are involved including such species as barn owls and swallows. We are all involved in this as it is our tax money funding this organisation. Read more.

Zoos and game ranches like to append themselves to the conservation fraternity. Game ranches in Africa and elsewhere breed animals on the pretext of preserving habitat, but make money by charging for big game hunting. Zoos for all their trumpeting of breeding endangered species and being ‘arks of the future’, seem to fail dismally in this activity. Most animals contained in zoos, estimated at 90%, are not endangered at all and successful re-introductions to the wild are as rare as the animals, but they do manage to kill a lot of animals along the way which some estimate at 3-5000 per year.

Unfortunately it would seem that we are incapable of preserving animals without the collateral damage of causing the deaths of thousands of others. Whether it is worth all the carnage depends on everyone’s subjective point of view, but for those who do not wish to see their money spent in this way it is advisable to check the true aims and policies of those charities they give to.  Perhaps the best conservation charities to support are those that are welfare orientated and save animals for the animals’ sake not ours.

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Boxing Day Hunts still attract crowds & violence.

Boxing Day Hunts still attract the crowds, demonstrators and violence, but why?

Sixteen years after hunting was banned the unnecessary Boxing Day Hunts gather and take place on the pretext of preserving rural tradition and these attract the inevitable controversy and conflict which has accompanied them since the Hunting Act 2004 was introduced.

The Act was supposed to stop hunting and settle all the arguments once and for all, but as with most animal protection law it has failed dismally and we still must put up with all the nonsense caused by the red-coated individuals who use every excuse to continue their hobby and flout the law and escape prosecution.

One such “hunt” gathers each year in the picturesque Kentish town of Tenterden, once my childhood home, where every 26th. December at around 10 a.m. I had a birds-eye view of the hunt from my bedroom window  when they noisily assembled outside 70 High Street where we lived above my father’s shop.

The annual day of chaos has economic benefits for the town and is therefore welcomed.

Although an extremely picturesque sight it also caused chaos as thousands of people from all over the district piled into the usual sleepy town and gridlocked it for two hours or so until  the Hunt, suitably imbibed with drinks from the Vine Inn Public House next door, cantered through the melee to the sound of horns like the charge of the Light Brigade to cheers and waving from the onlookers. This annual chaos is of course welcomed by the town because of the economic benefits involved.

I watched this annual event from about 1957 until I left home in 1975 and it was noticeable that its attraction never wavered, while my attitude against hunting became more established despite being countryside bred. During my informative years as a youngster demonstration was almost non-existent and little thought given to the ethical and moral issues of hunting as it was just a lot of fun the day after Christmas.

Four decades on, it is clear that the popularity of these festive hunts is on the increase with more people than ever attending, but why do the hordes continue to descend in this way. Is it to support the Hunt or because they are purely viewed as family entertainment?

The Hounds have always been the biggest draw

From my bedroom it was always obvious that the hounds were the biggest draw with everyone including me wanting to get close to pet them even though they smelled rank due to the poor conditions they are kept under, something most of us were unaware of. They were noisy, boisterous, cheeky and naughty and appeared to be having a great time.

The horses were also a draw, but in hindsight it is difficult to understand why we all stood around, often in freezing weather, for an hour waiting for a group of red and black-coated horsemen and women to finish a morning drink outside a pub.

Hunting hounds, fox hunting, cruelty to dogs
The hounds are usually the major draw for crowds at Boxing day Hunt meets.

Boxing Day hunts attract the crowds in ever-increasing numbers.

I no longer have any real association with Tenterden and rarely if ever visit because my father’s shop closed in the late eighties and both my parents have died, but the scenario shows that nothing has changed over the last four decades and despite all the campaigning and hunting ban we are even more happy to support such events despite what they stand for.

The Boxing Day Hunts are just a spectacle for most, but for hunt supporters they are an important way of keeping the debate in the public eye until that Nirvana in the future when hunting is legalised again.

Lets take the hounds out of the equation.

The law makers missed a golden opportunity to put an end to all this violence and mayhem towards both humans and animals on both sides of the debate. All that was needed was to make it illegal to participate in a drag hunt and to own, breed, keep or let loose packs of more than two dogs onto any land whether private or common for any purpose.

Arguments that the dogs (and horses) would all be killed as they are unsuitable as pets was always groundless as there will always be an animal lover on hand to devote their energies into saving them if required.

There is no reason why the meeting up of hunts cannot continue in order to maintain the postcard images and spectacle. There is no harm in allowing them to meet up outside a local village pub on horseback for a few drinks dressed in their red and black finery for the sightseers to clap and cheer as they ride off at the sound of the horns. They can still continue enjoy an exhilarating gallop across the countryside in search of wildlife, but let us dispense with the hound pack and drag hunting and the use of the poor creatures as bargaining chips to continue hunting.

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