From the Western Morning News (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset) comes this piece about the lost, floundering, and entirely leadership RSPCA:
You don’t have to go back very far to the days when the RSPCA’s most generous and vocal supporters were those involved in farming, the hunting fraternity and other country sports. No one, in those days, complained of any hypocrisy with that – because there was none. The proper running of the countryside, the correct care of working animals and domestic livestock and the efficient and organised management of wildlife goes hand-in-hand with good animal welfare. There are no contradictions in rearing cattle and sheep for their meat and caring about the welfare of animals; no question marks about the morals of those who manage wildlife, through conservation and culling, and their concern for the countryside.
It is only a modern, urban squeamishness or a basic lack of understanding that believes animal welfare is about trying to save the life of every animal or bird; that rearing livestock for food is wrong or that hunting, shooting or fishing are ‘cruel’. Of course cruelty is possible in farming, as in any other activity involving animals. The problem for many who purport to be animal lovers is that they link killing with cruelty and so condemn the countrymen and women who are, for the most part the real proponents of animal welfare.
Most genuine conservation organisations understand that. The RSPB controls foxes, deer and even some birds when they pose a risk to species it is working to preserve. The main reason Lundy is a stronghold of the endangered puffin, for example, is because of the RSPB’s and island authorities’ ten-year programme to eradicate black and brown rats which were predating on nesting puffins.
There are dozens of other examples of sensible wildlife management for conservation purposes. Most National Trust estates employ deer stalkers; conservationists working to bring back the red squirrel are working hard to exterminate the non-native grey. In our rivers American signal crayfish are targeted because they threaten native white-clawed crayfish. Reports this week from Orkney reveal island authorities are looking for volunteers to help track stoats, which are threatening the bird life. And all across Britain game shoots provide the perfect habitat for woodland birds, as the RSPB once acknowledged; grouse moors are home to many threatened species of upland bird and it is shooting estates that are bringing back the grey partridge while wildfowlers do a huge amount of environmental work on the saltmarsh and below the tideline.
Many conservation bodies, seem shy of making too much of their animal management policies for fear that might be off-putting to their members. And that general reluctance to be honest and upfront has much to answer for. It leaves room for extremists, such as those who have gained a foothold at the top of the RSPCA, to fill the gap and style themselves as the true voice of welfare and conservation. It means TV presenters such as Chris Packham can pounce on the persecution of birds of prey on grouse moors – clearly wrong and unacceptable – and use it to condemn a whole group of people, who manage the moors and do so much for wildlife, calling them the ‘nasty brigade’.
There will always be organisations and individuals with an extreme view of conservation, wildlife and animals. Those who make it their life’s work to avoid harming even a fly deserve some respect, if only for trying to match strong personal beliefs with a lifestyle that cannot be easy to manage. Most of us, however, live in the real world. We believe that humankind should take primacy over the rest of the animal kingdom and humans must exercise responsibilities towards all other living creatures. Most people eat meat, many keep pets and a sizeable minority hunt, shoot or fish. All of us benefit from the work that goes on to keep pests under control and manage wildlife.
The RSPCA’s founding fathers knew that. Yet they seem a million miles away from today’s leading members of the RSPCA council, who are trying to recruit a new chief executive. According to reports the council is dominated by hardline activists one of whom compared farming with the Nazi Holocaust, and another who wants people to pass an exam before being allowed to own a pet.