Wildlife in Britain today is under severe threat. A combination of industrial farming, over-fishing, hunting and shooting is wreaking havoc on species and their habitats from farmland to the hills to the coast.

Despite this grim picture, our system of government continues to allow the levers of power to remain firmly in the control of the farming, fishing, shooting and hunting industries that are doing so much damage to wildlife. The impact of putting the interests of these sectors above that of protecting wild species is Catastrophic.

Since 2013, under huge pressure from the industrial farming lobby, the government has wasted an estimated £50 million of public money on a cruel, ineffective and scientifically unsound badger cull.* This failed attempt to stop the spread of bovine TB in cattle has resulted in the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory.**

Despite being one of the most popular pieces of legislation on the statute books, the Hunting Act of 2004 continues to be a target for the pro-fox hunting lobby, who use their political influence to seek to scrap, weaken or sabotage the Act. From the development of trail hunting, which is simply a ruse to mask the illegal hunting of foxes,​1to use of the ‘Research and Observation’ exemption in the Hunting Act as an excuse for the continuation of stag hunts,​2​ the illegal hunting of wild animals with dogs remains all too common across the British countryside.

On eastern Scottish Moorland, culling by grouse moor managers and habitat loss has resulted in a catastrophic collapse in mountain hare populations to less than 1% of the level recorded more than 60 years ago.6With as many as 38,000 mountain hares being killed on hunting estates across Scotland, these iconic and beautiful animals could disappear completely from parts of the Eastern Highlands in our lifetimes.

The annual commercial seal cull in Canada is rightly the subject of huge international concern, but it will come as a nasty shock to many people to learn that hundreds of seals are also shot every year in Scotland to protect fish farms and wild fisheries.7The salmon farming, wild netting and angling industries are worth over £600 million to the Scottish economy every year,8but many of these businesses are unwilling to invest in predator exclusion methods, when it is cheaper to obtain a government licence to shoot seals. 

For a nation of animal lovers the cruelty inflicted on our wildlife is woeful and widespread – so what can be done?

* The last full breakdown Defra produced on cull costs to the tax payer was for the period 2013-2016 (over £23 million).3 However, these figures are incomplete as they do not include the substantial legal costs of defending the policy in High Court and in the Information Tribunal, nor for carrying out environmental impact assessments, which are rising rapidly. Currently there are 32 cull zones, with rapidly rising police, equipment, monitoring and assembly costs. As a recent freedom of information request revealed​, in Cheshire alone in 2017 the police charged the Home Office £831,000 and that was just one of the seven police force areas involved last year.

** A total of 34,103 badgers have been killed since the trials started in 2013, and another 42,100 are expected to be culled in 2018​4, making it the largest deliberate attack on a native protected species in living memory. What’s more, 60% of badgers culled in 2017 was killed by free shooting, a method  judged inhumane by the British Veterinary Association.​5  On eastern Scottish Moorland, culling by grouse moor managers and habitat loss has resulted in a catastrophic collapse in mountain hare populations to less than 1% of the level recorded more than 60 years ago.​6​ With as many as 38,000 mountain hares being killed on hunting estates across Scotland, these iconic and beautiful animals could disappear completely from parts of the Eastern Highlands in our lifetimes. The annual commercial seal cull in Canada is rightly the subject of huge international concern, but it will come as a nasty shock to many people to learn that hundreds of seals are also shot every year in Scotland to protect fish farms and wild fisheries.​7​ The salmon farming, wild netting and angling industries are worth over £600 million to the Scottish economy every year,​8but many of these businesses are unwilling to invest in predator exclusion methods, when it is cheaper to obtain a government licence to shoot seals. For a nation of animal lovers the cruelty inflicted on our wildlife is woeful and widespread – so what can be done?

DOMINIC DYER, ANIMAL WELFARE CAMPAIGNER

References:
1. Cowdrey, M. (2015). Trail of lies. International fund for animal welfare. Available at: 
https://www.ifaw.org/united-kingdom/resource-centre/2015-ifaw-trail-lies-report(Accessed  12/09/2018)
2. Casamitjana, J. (2018). Observed to death. League against cruel sports. Available at: 
https://www.league.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=2a574b6e-c9ad-4e6a-85f3-22aac6a19077 (Accessed 12/09/2018)
3. Giesler, R., Ares, E. (2018). Badger culling in England. House of Commons briefing paper 6837. Available at:
​ http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06837/SN06837.pdf
4. DEFRA (2018). Setting the minimum and maximum numbers in badger cull areas in 2018: Advice to
Natural England. Available at: 
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-to-natural-england-on-setting-minimum-and-maximum-numbers-of-badgers-to-be-controlled-in-2018/setting-the-minimum-and-maximum-numbers-in-badger -cull-areas-in-2018-advice-to-natural-england#annex-a-minimum-and-maximum-numbers
5. British Veterinary Association (2015). BVA calls for change to badger culling method and wider roll-out in England. [online] Available at: https://www.bva.co.uk/News-campaigns-and-policy/Newsroom/News-releases/badger-cull/(Accessed 12/09/2018)
6. Watson, A., Wilson, J.D. (2018). Seven decades of mountain hare counts show severe declines where high-yield recreational game bird hunting is practised.
J Appl Ecol00: 1–10
7. Dyer, D. (2015). Stop the seal’s slaughter on Britain’s shores.
The Ecologist[online] Available at: https://theecologist.org/2015/may/14/stop-seal-slaughter-britains-shores(Accessed 12/09/2018)
8. Scottish Government (2018) Exports hit record £6 billion. [online] Available at: 
https://news.gov.scot/news/exports-hit-record-gbp-6-billion(Accessed 12/09/2018)