Labour’s wildlife culls

With one week to go till the election and the two main parties neck and neck, the mood on social media is starting to become frenzied and more and more people are saying we have to vote Labour to save wildlife.

The reasons given are twofold. Firstly to protect foxes because the so-called hunting ban may be repealed if the Tories get in. Second, to save badgers from a further cull. The myth that the 2005 Hunting Act works has already been comprehensively demolished in a number of posts here.

As for badgers, it’s true that Labour says it will end the cull. But can it be trusted? It’s always more revealing to look at what parties do in government, rather than in opposition when they’ll say anything to get your vote.

So what was the record of the Labour government when in office from 1997-2010 as regards wildlife? In a word terrible! There were numerous attempts to wipe out a wide range of species – some successful, some not. This included ducks, geese, deer, cormorants, seals, hedgehogs, pigeons, rats and of course badgers too. All these attempts were either directly carried out or supported by Labour.

Most famous of these was the badger cull of 1998-2005, which in true New Labour style was spun into a “field trial” to endow it with a spurious scientific justification. In fact over 10,000 badgers had already been killed to control bovine tb since the seventies and the facts were well known. The disease isn’t caused by badgers but by the appalling abuse suffered by cows in the dairy industry. Nevertheless another 11,000 died on Labour’s watch before a consensus was reached that it did nothing to control tb in cattle and could even make the situation worse.

Perhaps the next famous cull was that of the ruddy duck. In May 2003 the government announced it would destroy the entire UK population of ruddy ducks. Their crime was flying to Spain to mate with endangered white headed ducks, who were themselves almost hunted to extinction.

The decision came after a “trial cull” had run from 1999-2002 – a ruthless exercise which led to the slaughter of 2,651 ruddys. A further 6,000 were earmarked for destruction which continued until the end of Labour’s term of office and carried on under the Tories until the last survivors were shot in 2014.

In 2002 Labour gave the go-ahead to a cull of ship rats who lived on the island of Lundy off the Devon coast. This was backed by English Nature and the National Trust, which owned the island, to counter a threat to puffin and manx shearwater populations, as rats were blamed for taking the birds’ eggs. 40,000 were wiped out. The native birds did increase but the rats had kept the rabbit population down. After the cull this grew from a few hundred to tens of thousands and in turn the rabbits were killed as well.

From 2003 over 600 hedgehogs on the Scottish island of Uist in the Outer Hebrides were given lethal injections because they were said to pose a threat to the eggs of rare wading birds. A coalition of local animal rights groups opposed the cull and Scottish Natural Heritage eventually backed down ion 2007. The rest of the hedgehogs were relocated.

Pigeons are unfairly regarded as pests and killed throughout the country. When Labour’s Ken Livingstone ran for mayor in 2000 he said he planned to declare London “a cruelty-free zone”. That didn’t include Trafalgar Square, however, and his attempt to get rid of the Trafalgar Square pigeons became a national news story.

Livingstone, who once claimed to believe in animal rights, wanted to remove all the pigeon’s food in one go. This would have resulted in slow, lingering deaths for the birds. A group called Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons proposed reducing the food gradually. Members of STTSP took to feeding the birds but they were subject to harassment from wardens and a harriers hawk was introduced to kill and frighten away the pigeons.

Eventually STTSP reached an agreement with the Greater London Authority in which feeding was allowed every day at 7.30am. The number of pigeons did decline dramatically but in 2007 the mayor and GLA banned their feeding.

There are herds of wild goats in Wales, Scotland and the West Country. In 2006 A cull of some of the wild goats in Snowdonia was carried out with up to 40 animals shot. Their crime was damaging saplings in protected woodland and residents’ gardens. Gwynedd council said the goats were not a “pure breed”.

As well as badgers, ruddy ducks, rats, hedgehogs, pigeons and goats, a plethora of other species were indiscriminately killed, such as deer, geese, gulls, raptors, cormorants, corvids, stoats and weasels.

So that’s Labour’s record on wildlife protection while it was in office and it is a pretty miserable one. In 2007 Animal Aid published a booklet called With extreme prejudice: the culling of British wildlife. This was 10 years into Labour’s term of office and was a reaction to the alarming rise in the number of animal populations deemed a nuisance or danger and hence wothy of destruction.

Its judgement was damning:

Intolerance of other species is now so great that mass killings are rarely even commented on. Animals and birds are persecuted for daring to feed themselves and rear offspring; or for being introduced to, or abandoned in, an area where they naturally would not live.

They are shot, poisoned, trapped and snared for living in what is left of their fast-dwindling habitat or for adapting to a landscape that – thanks to human intervention – is changing rapidly. They are killed because they are considered noisy, messy or unsightly.

But most of all, they are persecuted because they pose a financial threat to industries and ‘sports’, many of which have as their primary objective the killing of other animals or birds. These are the shooting, sea fishing, angling and farming industries.

Labour was the driving force behind the extermination of a myriad of species who were viewed as inferior. At the same time the party was doing all it could to support and appease the shooting, fishing, angling and farming lobbies who love killing wild animals when they come into conflict with their profits and pastimes.

In short,  Labour in government was a party of mass animal destruction or to use that more anodyne term, culling. Just because it says it’s now on the side of wildlife , it should not trusted.

Anima Aid’s report is here: