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Grouse More for the Sake of our Green and Pleasant Land - 13/02/2008
 
Three gamekeepers admitted last week that they had used baited traps to catch protected birds of prey that might attack grouse and partridges on an estate in North Yorkshire.

1. Three gamekeepers admitted last week that they had used baited traps to catch protected birds of prey that might attack grouse and partridges on an estate in North Yorkshire (The Guardian, 9 Feb 2008). Scarborough magistrates heard that RSPB inspectors had found 5 traps baited with live pigeons on the Snilesworth estate near Osmotherly. Such traps may be used legally, but only to catch birds such as magpies and crows, and only members of the crow family can be used as bait.

2. James Shuttleworth, 40, head keeper of the Snilesworth estate, pleaded guilty to 5 charges of permitting the use of traps and was fined £250 on each. Charles Woof, 23, a beat keeper of Swainby, North Yorkshire, admitted one charge of using a trap and was fined £100. David Cook, 18, an underkeeper of Ingleby, N. Yorks, admitted 2 charges of using traps and was given a 12-month conditional discharge. The 3 were also ordered to pay costs of £43 each. All the charges were brought under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A farmer reported finding a baited trap on the estate last May and the RSPB gathered further evidence from then. The owner of the estate was not named in the report.

3. After the hearing, Guy Shorrock, an RSPB investigations officer, described the case as “a shocking indictment” of practices on the estate. “This is a disgraceful practice and is a huge problem across the whole of upland Britain. There are large areas of the country where very rare and charismatic birds are either absent or in very low numbers because of illegal trapping, shooting, and poisoning.” The upland estate offers grouse shooting as the main sport, but there is also a lot of partridge and pheasant shooting there. All birds of prey are fully protected and have been for 50 years. The traps were intended to catch birds of prey, principally sparrowhawks and goshawks, but other birds of prey such as buzzards could go in them. Shorrock says: “You set the trap, put the pigeon in it, feed and water it a wait a few days.”

4. The RSPB, like the RSPCA, is confused in its varying protection of animals, great or small, ugly or pretty, herbivore or carnivore, and in some ways their activities cast doubt on the commitments of their royal patrons. However, the two societies are reminding the public of the cruelties perpetrated by the guardians of this green and pleasant land and their competence to uphold the standards of life in the countryside. These are also standards with corollaries in food production and farming diversification, and accordingly attracting attention by DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency; and by voters in the constituencies most affected where unsavoury “sports” and food production linger as relics of hunting unworthy of modern standards of care for the environment and wildlife.

5. These matters must engage all citizens in practicable expressions at political meeting and at cash points in shops. The spread must include all taxpayers too, for the Queen and owners of great estates are the “fat cats” who are among the biggest winners from this year’s payment of farm subsidies. The Duke of Westminster who owns most of Westminster and also Grosvenor Farms Ltd, was paid about £562,786, while the Duke of Marlborough, a members of the Churchill family, was paid about £452,944 in subsidy for the Blenheim Farm Partnership based in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

6. One of the largest payments went to the Mormon Church, which has become one of the biggest foreign landowners in English farming. The Church collected a payment of £1.59 million from the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Queen’s Sandringham Farms were paid £408,970 in subsidies; half of the land is let to tenants and the rest is turned over to two studs for her racehorses, forestry, and fruit farms, which produce apples and juice for the Windsor farm shop.

7. The single farm payment scheme was introduced in 2005 as the first stage in a radical reform program to overhaul the CAP, which takes up 40% of the £76bn EU budget. Long term reform has been balked until 2013 owing to strong opposition by the farming lobby in the UK and Germany to capping payments according to size. The EU Agriculture Commissioner Marianne Fischer Boel is proposing to reduce subsidies above £100,000 (£75,000) by 10%; above £200,000 by 20%; and above £300,000 by 45%. The Commission is also planning to scrap the compulsory practice of set-aside, according to which farmers have to leave 10% of their land idle; it was introduced in 1988, with provision of corridors for wildlife and therefore with “green” intentions, which face increasing pressure as the price of land in the UK rises.

8. Subsidies due to be paid by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) were delayed in 2005 amid outrage by farmers denied what could have been their only source of income deriving from custodianship of the land, but information tardily adduced by the RPA now reveals, for instance, that the Thurlow Estate owned by the Lord Vestey family trust was paid about £858,134 in 2005 (Lord Vestey died last year; in many ways the Vesteys had been Barons of Beef, with big interests in South American meat enterprises and refrigeration, as well as in Europe).

9. The biggest subsidy went to the Coop group, which manages 16 estates with a turnover of about £21m, among them Britain’s biggest commercial farm group, Farmcare Ltd. The Coop was paid £2.4m in subsidies. Mrs Thatcher bewailed the cost of the CAP’s subsidies and now a Labour MP, Harry Cohen, continues the objections with calculations that “the CAP costs a family of 4 nearly £11 a week and it is going to fat cat landowners for no useful purpose”. The Coop professes “ethical” principles; the Coop Bank is included within the Group.

It is therefore incumbent on all citizens of “green intent”, many of whom bank with the Coop, to remind all customers buying organic, free range, and environmentally friendly with the welfare of all animals in mind, to ensure that foods carrying the RSPCA’s Freedom Foods accreditation or the Soil Association’s exclude all the nasty aspects of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’, from our countryside. This campaign must urgently impress the markets and politicians (which would include candidates for all elections). The anti-hunting laws and Animal Welfare Acts must be supported by lively constituencies of committed citizens/customers/consumers.  

 
 

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