The NHS, employment, taxation, and immigration top the agenda for debate and analysis in the run-up to the general election 2017, unfortunately, however, the culling of Britain’s wildlife should a Conservative government be elected remains largely ignored.
Albeit a topic of much controversy in the U.K., hunting foxes with dogs became unlawful in 2005 when a free vote in the House of Commons passed the Hunting Act of 2004. Although there are some exceptions, the Act prohibits the hunting and slaughter of foxes with dogs in England and Wales. Countryside campaigners, however, have been vocal critics of the hunting ban and in an attempt to sure up rural votes, former Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to give House of Commons MP’s a free vote, in order to repeal the Hunting Act should he win a large enough majority at the 2015 general election.
At the time of his statement, the Conservative government was in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who overwhelmingly oppose fox hunting. Alas, the Conservative majority at the 2015 election was too small to consider a free vote. Nevertheless, it is once again on the agenda should the Conservative Party manage to increase their majority sufficiently. Once a member of Oxford’s Heythrop Hunt, David Cameron claimed that hunting foxes was no more inhumane than any other method of culling. Writing for the Countryside Alliance, Cameron defended his pro-hunting stance.
“It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act and the way it was brought in by the last government.”
Until 2014, the eggs and nests of robins, starlings, and wagtails were protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, which prohibited the removal or destruction of eggs and nests. Anyone found in breach of the Act could be fined up to £5000 or face a custodial sentence of up to six months. Natural England, the government body that is tasked with protecting Britain’s wildlife, issued a consultation paper in 2014, proclaiming that robins, starlings, and wagtails posed a public health and safety hazard. However, the paper did not elaborate further in relation to how, exactly, the eggs and nests posed any risk at all.
Natural England initially sought amendments to the existing bill which allow for the blanket removal and destruction of nests and eggs without a special permit. Later, when critics of the proposed amendments voiced their concerns, the Act was amended to permit removal and destruction of the eggs and nests where a health and safety risk was evident. As there is a great deal of ambiguity around what exactly the risk is, a loophole has been created which allows for the indiscriminate destruction of nests and eggs.
Although, frankly, Natural England’s assertion without evidence that the eggs and nests pose a health and safety hazard left many commentators scratching their heads, it later emerged that a new chair of Natural England, Andrew Sells, had been appointed by the government. Mr. Sells does not come from a conservation or environmental background, he is a former accountant, and also a very generous Conservative Party donor.
Andrew Sells is also a venture capitalist and linked to Linden Homes, the residential property developers. Nesting birds can be a thorn in the side of property developers. Before the Act was amended, developers were required under the law to holt their construction until the birds had finished nesting and breeding. These beautiful birds are also known to build their nests in the developer’s machinery, and the Act specifically prohibited the destruction or removal of nests from commercial equipment and machinery. Should Theresa May and the Conservative Party increase their majority in the forthcoming election, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that further amendments could be made to the Wildlife and Countryside Act. A vote for the Conservative Party is a vote to further cull Britain’s wildlife.
[Featured Image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]