Protesters in London raised their voices for the protection of British wildlife today, in what was thought to be the largest ever demonstration of its kind. Elsewhere across the country, the gunshots of the “Glorious Twelfth” rang out, as the grouse shooting season began.
A coalition of animal protection groups hosted the march, and it came at a key time for wildlife. Today spells bad news for the hen harriers illegally persecuted on driven grouse moors, and the next round of badger culls are due to start within the next couple of months. Foxes are under threat from the autumn hunt, where cubs are targeted.
TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham called for a ban on driven grouse shooting. He opened the speeches outside Downing Street: “Today is the start of the premiership football season. That is sport. Killing animals for pleasure is not sport.”
Chants of “There’s no excuse for animal abuse” drew a crowd of onlookers and the beeping of support from passing motorists, as protesters marched through the streets of London. A banner emblazoned with the words “Kill the Cull” led the march towards Downing Street, where campaigners, naturalists and politicians took to the stage in defence of British wildlife.
The Hunt Saboteurs, responsible for stopping hunters in their tracks, rallied the crowd as they gathered at Cavendish Square: “Today is the so-called Glorious Twelfth, where cruel individuals with shotguns take pleasure in decimating the grouse population up on the Yorkshire Moors.” The group said it has shut down one shoot today, and was in the process of stopping a second.
Both policy change and public awareness were key aims for the organisations behind the march. They called on the UK government to bring an end to the badger cull and strengthen the fox-hunting ban.
A glorious feud
Hen harriers are being illegally shot, as predators are eradicated on driven grouse moors to help red grouse numbers swell for hunting season. The RSPB said that this is the main factor causing the decline of the species.
Chris Packham, who has been heavily involved in the campaign to protect hen harriers, said: “Predators play an intrinsically important role in the ecology of our landscape. Remove them and that is not sustainable.”
A new survey shows that there are now only 545 breeding pairs of hen harriers left in the UK, a drop of 88 pairs since 2010. In England, there are just four territorial breeding pairs remaining, down from 12 in 2010.
A social media campaign calling for the end of illegal hen harrier persecution in the uplands reached over 11 million people, while the hashtags #inglorious12th and #crushcruelty took off on Twitter.
Last week, Hen Harrier Day brought birders, conservationists, and the general public together in honour of the birds, in events across the country.
Campaigners wearing fox-themed headgear, a police-woman escorted by a toy fox, and signs ordering “Hounds off!” spoke out for the familiar British mammal that should be protected by law.
The Hunting Act, a law banning hunting with dogs, was introduced in 2004. The law covers all mammals, with the exception of rats and rabbits in some circumstances. In spite of this, leading charity the League Against Cruel Sports claims that illegal hunts are still happening in vast numbers, estimating that 200,000 illegal hunting incidents may have been committed since the act came into force.
Opposition to hunting for sport in England and Wales has never been higher. An Ipsos MORI survey shows that 84% of the public are in support of keeping the ban on fox hunting, including 82% from rural areas.
A black and white issue
Banners saying, “Vaccinate, don’t exterminate” and “Save Us” were held aloft by anti-badger cull protesters today, who want to see an end to the practice. Badgers are being culled across England as part of a government strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis. The cull is expected to continue this year.
Tris Pearce, a Badger Trust trustee, was at today’s march. The group promotes the conservation, welfare and protection of badgers, and supports local organisations. He said: “We can’t keep spending taxpayers’ money killing badgers with it making absolutely no meaningful contribution to the reduction of tuberculosis.”
He said that since the introduction of the cull, the Badger Trust has also seen an increase in badger persecution: “When you have a legal, licensed cull in a zone, there’s no control over what happens outside that cull zone.”
Some scientists claim that short of limiting the spread of bovine TB, culling is encouraging the badgers to roam further and mix with other groups more, which leads to the spread of the disease.
Chris Packham said: “We stand here secure, because the science says it doesn’t work.”
The latest figures from Defra show that badger culls in England resulted in 10,886 badger deaths between 29th August and 18th October 2016 alone. Reports suggest that the spread of bovine TB may be less to do with badgers, and more to do with cattle to cattle infection.