Thursday 29 May 2008

Tough on squirrels, tough on the causes of squirrels

I'm all for shooting grey squirrels, trapping mink and ripping up himalayan balsam, but you have to laugh at the language that politicians resort to when they're launching any new initiative. Check out the statement from Scottish environment minister Michael Russell in this press release, as he launches the grandly-titled Invasive Non-Native Species Strategy for Great Britain.

Scotland's "rich natural heritage" is "at risk from a number of threats." Mink (but not badgers presumably) are "voracious," grey squirrels (but not pine martens?) have an "aggressive nature" and "harbour disease." A cynic might say that these species' success is an example of Darwinism in action. And I know a few "invading" humans who fit Russell's description of squirrels et al.

Ah well, if we have to mangle the English language to get politicians to support what we all know needs doing, then it's a price worth paying.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Ferret is an F-Word

Did you catch Gordon Ramsay and his son Jack ferreting on The F-Word on Channel 4? Blink and you'd miss it, but my two ferrets put in a brief appearance - the C4 website has some photos, including this one of the jill fitted with the FerretCam.

It made a good segment for the programme - and Ramsay's enthusiasm and down-to-earth honesty is great news for the sport. The full episode is available to watch for the next few days here. Below is a clip of the ferreting part of the programme.

Gordon Ramsay goes ferreting

Make sure you catch Gordon Ramsay's F-Word on Channel 4 at 9pm tonight - in this week's episode Gordon takes his son Jack ferreting. Watch closely and you might just see one or two of my ferrets lending a hand...

Ramsay has already come under fire for introducing young Jack to the realities of where food comes from - see this story at the Scotsman. Apparently Jack was dispatching a rabbit with gusto, and the head came off.

My favourite quote from that story: "If I ever have a son-in-law that's a vegetarian I'd rather run around Ibrox, stark bollock naked." And what about the Advocates for Animals spokeswoman's comment: "this must have been a very distressing and upsetting experience for an eight-year-old to go through." Has this woman ever met an 8-year-old boy?

Ah well, we'll never win over people like that. Enjoy the TV programme!

Is Godalming the new Brighton?

I used to live just outside Godalming in Surrey. It was a nice enough place, the usual mixture of people, with perhaps a slightly higher than average proportion of bunny-huggers thanks to it being the HQ of the WWF.

Now Godalming seems to be heading for the title of animal rights capital of England. In addition to the usual collection of wildlife hospitals, cat rescue homes and the like (nothing against them per se) it's also home to Compassion in World Farming and now the League Against Cruel Sports (no doubt their swanky London premises got too expensive as support dwindled).

The League is advertising for a new Head of Campaigns & Communications to work in Godalming - salary £33-£38k and a brief that includes "Development and implementation of effective campaigns concentrating on our core issues of hunting, bullfighting, shooting and greyhound racing".

Not bad money for what is basically flinging mud about in the hope that some sticks. Plus you get 28 days hols a year, flexi-time, a season ticket loan, and can wear casual dress.

The charity industry is just like any other - the only difference is they take your money without actually having to make and deliver a product!

I don't think I'll be sending them a C.V. all the same!

Friday 16 May 2008

Why did the chicken... the lead shot - or was it pushed?

The lead-eating chickens story is beginning to smell fishy.

Apparently the post-mortem shows that one of the chickens had 58g of lead shot in its gizzard. Think about that for a minute. That's 2oz of lead - two whole cartridges full. And this bird is supposed to have picked that lot up just scratching around its field next to a clay shoot. I don't buy it.

So how's this for a theory... Just suppose I ran a chicken farm, and I was getting cheesed off with those pesky clay shooters making a racket next door, putting my hens off laying. Being an honest sort of chap, I wouldn't be tempted to ram a few spoonfuls of lead shot down the necks of a few poor layers, now, would I?

Meanwhile, everyone involved is stonewalling. The truth will come out eventually - but by then all the public will remember is some vague association between lead shot and dodgy eggs.

Monday 12 May 2008

Squirrel pasties prove popular

We've mentioned various squirrel recipes before. Now it seems one Cornish butcher is doing a roaring trade in squirrel pasties. Story here »

Another blow for lead shot

Waitrose has recalled thousands of free-range organic eggs because they're contaminated with lead - after the hens picked up pellets from a nearby clay shoot. Story on the BBC website here »

The Daily Mail reports: "Free-range birds from one flock wandered on to a field being used for clay pigeon shooting and ate lead shot. A vet was called after some of the chickens became ill and it was discovered they had higher than normal levels of lead in them."

Another nail in the coffin for lead shot? Time will tell.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Now that's recycling!

This coots' nest, at Little Venice near Paddington in London, struck me as a wonderful example of recycling. The parents were constantly fussing round, fetching bits of litter from the pool and adding them to the nest.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Shooting in Markham Square

Off-topic: incident in Kings Road

Within the last few minutes police have closed off the Kings Road, large number of police and vehicles in attendance, including dog section and firearms team. Witnesses report hearing three shots.

Lead ammo under attack

If you thought the debate over lead shot was over, think again. In the US, conservationists are organising a conference on Ingestion of Spent Lead Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans, starting 12 May.

Basically they're saying that shooting animals leaves small amounts of lead in the meat. Rare birds (eg condors, eagles, ravens) eat the meat and offal, and get lead poisoning. Maybe humans could get sick too.

This conference is all about lead residues from shooting deer with rifles. But the argument holds true for shooting rabbits, foxes, etc too, since they may end up as food for corvids, raptors and others. And you can bet it won't be long before lead shot cartridges are in the spotlight too.

Packages of venison, with alleged lead fragments circled. Apaprently North Dakota
state health officials recently ordered food banks to discard donated venison

The American Bird Conservancy has put out this press release showing x-rays of venison meat containing lead fragments, and claiming that "new studies suggest that humans who eat game shot with lead ammunition may be at risk". It goes on to make wild guesses at what the effects might be: "Recently published research suggests that even very low levels of lead exposure in children can cause learning disabilities, and in adults may increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease and death from stroke or heart attack. Lead is also associated with impaired visual and motor function, growth abnormality, neurological and organ damage, hearing loss, hypertension and reproductive complications."

Deliberately emotive stuff, and sufficiently vague to give lead a bad name without actually proving anything. It's the old trick of flinging mud at the wall, so some sticks.

Is lead really a danger to wildlife and humans? My view is that in the end the truth won't matter. If people believe it's a danger, that will be enough. We won't win the argument by shouting "prove it" – especially if it turns out they can!