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RSPCA says we shouldn’t be dressing up our dogs in costumes this Christmas

The following article appeared in BBC’s Newsbeat:

WARNING: The following article contains pictures of dogs in outfits and hats.

Dogs in Christmas costumes

Be honest, the sight of a Jack Russell hopping across someone’s bed in a Santa’s little helper outfit on Facebook does make you crack a smile.

Pepper

Why wouldn’t it? Well, according to Dr Samantha Gaines from the RSPCA, the dog isn’t smiling, or in on the joke.

“The RSPCA certainly doesn’t want to come across as party poopers, we don’t want to come across as the fashion police either,” she says.
“For some dogs being in a costume can be particularly scary, or worrying, especially if there are bits on the costume that the dog isn’t used to that are flapping around.”

“Dogs use signals to tell us what they’re feeling, they use their ears, their tails, body positions and their eyes. If we start to cover those up it makes it very difficult for them to communicate with us and other dogs.”

Samantha claims it’s a seasonal problem, typically around Halloween and Christmas when distressed animals appear online.

“In some costumes where they’re completely covered we can’t see how they’re feeling, and that in itself is a cause for concern.

So what if you briefly put a turkey hat on your pooch for that amusing photo? Apparently that’s not OK either.

Chili

“Putting a hat on a dog still restricts its ability to tell you how it’s feeling. The RSPCA’s general position is not to put costumes on dogs.”

But fear not, what with it being winter and all… it appears dog coats still have a role to play.

“If you’ve got a particularly old dog, a young dog that is ill or particularly short haired, and more susceptible to the cold in winter, then yes, we would expect and hope that people put on an item of clothing like a coat to keep that dog warm.”

In short if it can still use tail, head, ears and show its body position, you’re OK.

So if you can’t give your pet that complete Chrimbo look, the charity has come up with some, if slightly obvious, advice.

In a statement it suggests “playing a fun game or going for a walk” with your pet.

Christmas will never be the same.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35120611/rspca-says-we-shouldnt-be-dressing-up-our-dogs-in-costumes-this-christmas

So. It’s official – we shouldn’t be dressing up our pets, and all those of us who do are evil animal abusers. OK, I may be slightly paraphrasing here… but for goodness’ sake. Yep I admit, I am slightly annoyed that one of the leading animal welfare charities in the UK has now made me feel guilty about showing, what I feel to be, nothing but adoration and glee towards my fluffy companions. The fact they may very well be right… I’m choosing to gloss over that for now.

It’s not just Christmas time, and it’s not just dogs – my array of pets have been dressed up for as long as they’ve been unfortunate enough to share a home with me. I don’t mean to any sort of weird extremes – they don’t waddle around in tutus or anything like that – but birthdays, Christmas, any sort of other themed festivities and you can bet my cat Crumble will be wearing a hat. The fact she looks miserable is not the point. In fact, it’s almost become her signature look.

Crumble expressing joy at her most recent birthday hat

The reason I am not flagellating myself and taking Crumble to therapy following the RSPCA’s statement is because quite honestly, Crumble is one of the most spoiled, pampered, adored and contented animals I’ve ever known. And I would bet a large pile of cat hair – seriously, take it – that for everyone reading this, they feel exactly the same way.

The RSPCA references the fact dogs “use signals to tell us what they’re feeling, they use their ears, their tails, body positions and their eyes. If we start to cover those up it makes it very difficult for them to communicate with us and other dogs.” They also, if they’re anything like the dogs I’ve had, will simply point blank refuse to wear the costume in the first place if they really don’t want to.

Admittedly there is a sliding scale here. If you have a nervous dog and you stick it in an ill fitting Santa outfit, then leave it stuck (literally) in said outfit all day then yes, that’s pretty cruel. But are those kinds of people really the ones RSPCA is aiming their statement at? Surely there are more effective ways to get such a message across to those people as, if a dog is stuck in a miserable costume all day and is clearly stressed, then I would suggest the owners perhaps aren’t as caring towards their pet as they should be. But come on – this does strike me as slightly extreme… what about you?

Do you dress your pet up at all? Does your pet/s love or hate it? Where do you stand on the RSPCA’s comments?

I’m not berating the RSPCA for their standpoint on this issue, really I’m not. I support the organisation enormously and think good for them for raising issues which are seen as less popular as the usual fluffy puppy campaigns. I just think we have bigger battles to wage here in the fight against animal cruelty, and I think rather than blanketing all pet owner who dress their beloved companions up, it could perhaps have been more effective had they offered some simple advice, based on a sliding scale of costumery.

Can your pet breathe?

  • Yes – well done.
  • No – bad pet owner.

Is your pet twitching, crying, or looking like it wants to lamp you one?

  • Yes – you need help, get it out the bloody costume now and stop being so stupid. Then give it a hug.
  • No – good stuff.

Is your dog wagging its tail or cat purring while wearing said costume?

  • Yes – wonderful, see if you can stick a hat on.
  • No – hmmm. Perhaps not your audience.

And at the end of all of this I would suggest never, ever leave a costume on for more than a few minutes. In the case of Crumble, the hat stays on her head literally long enough to take a photo – and after five years, she is well used to the routine. Don’t leave the outfit on your animal all day. Just use some common sense, and think how you’d feel. Especially in the case of the dog above in the giant turkey.

Most importantly, have a lovely festive season. May you and your fluffies wear as many ridiculous outfits as you want to, and as few as your collective reputation can stand.

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New figures show UK animal cruelty on the rise

Today, the RSPCA announced the disturbing news that in England and Wales, animal cruelty cases are at their highest level to date.

It is reported that in 2014, nearly 160,000 incidents were reported and investigated by the charity. That’s over 400 incidents a day. The RSPCA go on to list some of the cases, which are as horrific as you can imagine. Over 20,000 of them involved ‘deliberate and often violent’ cruelty.

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Despite this rise in numbers – up from just over 150,000 in 2013 – convictions have actually fallen. Just over 1,000 people were convicted last year. The RSPCA reports a 100% conviction rate, but this is still clearly nowhere near enough.

The area with the highest number of complaints was Greater London at 12,202, followed by West Yorkshire with 8,440 and Greater Manchester with 8,069. Overall, West Yorkshire saw the highest number of people convicted at 93, followed by County Durham with 83 and the West Midlands with 64.

It’s hard to believe that in 2015 we are still seeing more and more people abusing animals. Despite all the campaigns, appeals and improvements in legislation, idiots up and down the UK are still carrying out heinous acts on sentient, defenceless creatures, with RSPCA saying more ‘innovative’ methods of cruelty are being revealed all the time. Lovely.

Clearly, we’re simply not doing anywhere near enough. Time and time again, research has shown that cruelty to animals is linked to cruelty to humans. Many convicted murderers for example, have been found to have started out by practicing violent acts on animals. In the US, the FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appear in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers. Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46% admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents. Studies have also found that men who abuse their domestic partners often target the family’s companion animals as well. An abused dog or cat often means there’s a bruised child, spouse or elder in the same home. One US review, entitled Understanding the Link between Violence to Animals and People: A Guidebook for Criminal Justice Professionals suggests those working in criminal justice should pay more attention to reports of animal cruelty. It poses that, ‘When someone harms an animal, the important question to ask is, “Who will be next?”’ A key point and one which is all too often overlooked by authorities, much to the detriment of us all.

So, despite decades of research and documented evidence of the indisputable link between animal cruelty and violence towards humans, the number of people abusing animals and getting away with it is rising.

It’s time to take a long hard look at how we in the UK see our four legged friends. We need to start by showing people what special, unique personalities animals have and how vital it is that we treat them with the empathy, compassion and care they deserve. We have a responsibility to animals in the same way as we do to children, the elderly, those with limited physical or mental abilities and all the other groups on the spectrum of vulnerability which is part of our world. This has to begin by teaching our children about how it is their duty, not their choice, to treat every animal they come into contact with with gentleness and care. In return, the rewards they will receive will be unparallelled. We need to call on the government to once and for all include animal welfare in the National Curriculum now, before it is too late. The government’s own post-legislative scrutiny of the Animal Welfare Act concluded that there is a lack of public awareness surrounding the core responsibilities of pet owners. PDSA /YouGov research conducted in 2012 found that only 31% of owners felt they were familiar with the Animal Welfare Act.

Meanwhile in 2014, a survey of teachers revealed over 95% say teaching children about animal welfare would help make them more compassionate and socially aware.

 

In 2013, the House of Lords debated the issue, with Lord Nash concluding that:

It is not the role of the national curriculum to prescribe everything that might valuably be taught to children. We are slimming down the national curriculum to focus on essential knowledge in core subjects. The draft primary science curriculum requires pupils to be taught about the needs of animals, including food, water and so on, and the care of animals is something that we would expect all good schools to cover in their wider curriculum as part of the soft skills.

Following this, a coalition of animal welfare organisations joined forces in 2013 and lobbied the government to include animal welfare on the new National Curriculum. This was ‘considered’ – and then promptly rejected. In 2014 Lord Nash piped up again, this time stating:

We feel that it is very helpful for young people to learn about animal welfare in the national curriculum, but we do not think it is right to include it, certainly not at this stage. We have a long way to go to make sure that the majority of pupils in this country have an education in core academic subjects first.

This isn’t good enough. Of the 160,000 incidents last year – how many of the perpetrators will we soon be reading about committing murder, rape, or child abuse? Enough is enough. We’re not only letting down our animals, we’re letting down our children – in a big way. The government needs to pull its head out of the sand and realise this isn’t just about teaching kids to stroke fluffy bunnies. A whole myriad of future problems could be prevented if politicians would wake up and realise the intrinsic value animals hold. Sadly, they couldn’t seem less interested if they tried.

However, there is some hope for our children – even if, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is having to be led by the third sector as opposed to our government. In Scotland, the Scottish SPCA’s Prevention through Education programme is now in schools and available to book. The organisation’s free, groundbreaking interactive programme fits into the four capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence, most notably helping children develop into responsible citizens within their communities. Similar schemes are run by RSPCA and SPANA in England.

If you or any of your friends have children, why not find out whether their school would welcome a visit from animal education officers? The lessons the children will learn will stay with them forever and hopefully foster a lifelong love of, and dedication to, animals of all shapes and sizes.  In the meantime, let’s never stop fighting for better education for our children – whether that comes from the curriculum and schools, or ourselves educating the children we know wherever we can.

You can also write to your MP and ask them where they stand on the fact animal welfare is still utterly overlooked in the National Curriculum and if they would consider implementing a more rounded system to teach care and compassion for all sentient beings.

Until that day, we all have an important part to play on our own doorstep, in doing all we can to report on and prevent cruelty to animals. If you see or hear anything, or suspect someone may be heading towards acting violently towards an animal, speak up now.

To report animal cruelty you can call the following numbers:

  • Scotland – SSPCA: 03000 999 999
  • England and Wales – RSPCA: 0300 1234 999
  • Northern Ireland – USPCA: 028 3025 1000
  • Republic of Ireland – ISPCA: 1890 515 515

It’s also worth sticking these in your phone so you always have them to hand.

The fight is not over. Together, we must do all we can to ensure more convictions are delivered to perpetrators of animal crime, more children see the beauty to be found in caring for animals and more four legged creatures live the safe, happy lives they deserve. Let’s stamp out animal cruelty once and for all.

Related articles:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-32399989

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-32403495

 

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Buying a pet – from Gumtree to pedigree, where do you stand?

A petition has been created calling on Gumtree to stop the sale of pets through its UK website. Currently sitting at nearly 24,000 signatures, it’s gaining increasing attention as more people sit up and listen to the issues it raises.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about pets sold through Gumtree. Billed as a network of unscrupulous breeders out for no other reason than to make a profit, the stories which make it into the news are as worrying as they are heartbreaking. Pets are passed from pillar to post with illnesses, diseases and even deformities. Puppies are frequently separated from their mothers at far too early an age and families up and down the country are left devastated when the beloved pet they purchased in good faith passes away all too early. Most recently, we had the awful story of Kai, the gorgeous Shar Pei cross who was dumped at a railway station as he didn’t look the way the buyer expected him to. Undoubtedly, the Gumtree pet trade is simply not working.

The petition can be found here. It specifically cites the fact that pets are sold to order on what is ultimately an unregistered website, while many more languish desperately in shelters up and down the UK. It also suggests that many of the pets purchased could potentially be used for horrific acts such as dog fighting or live baiting, such as we discovered a few weeks ago in Australia.

Recently, I visited a well known Edinburgh pet shop which was selling gorgeous kittens at only eight weeks old. By the time I got there only one kitten was left, mewing pathetically from its cage on the cold floor. I asked the shop owner where the kitten(s) had come from and she told me proudly that she had bought them off Gumtree. The owner genuinely believed she was doing the cats a favour. She said that she bought them, wormed them, de-flea’d them and then sold them on to her customers who she ‘always met face to face’. She told me she did this to ‘rescue’ the cats from being sold on elsewhere.

The tiny kitten found in the Edinburgh pet shop

The tiny kitten found in the Edinburgh pet shop

At the time I couldn’t decide whether she was the cats’ saviour or their downfall. Undoubtedly the fact she looked after the kittens in her care and vetted any prospective buyers was preferable to the fate which undoubtedly faced them otherwise, but I couldn’t help feeling that by buying the kittens, she was simply encouraging the breeders to produce more to increase profits even further. Where there is a market, people will fill it. I personally do not believe all pet sellers on Gumtree care where the litters end up – whether it’s a well meaning pet shop swooping in to ‘save’ them or just someone wanting a cheap pet, it’s all the same to the breeder. Each animal comes with a pound sign.

As I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to hear, I am wholly supportive of the call to ban Gumtree from pet trading. Any operation which has zero vetting policy and enables absolutely anyone to sell live, sentient animals without any checks or monitoring is abhorrent in my mind. Slightly separately, I was encouraged to see that in Maryland an outright ban on puppy farming has recently been introduced, with pet shops being forced to sell rescue animals only from now on. I can think of very few people who wouldn’t welcome such a move in the UK.

At the same time, I am acutely aware that – after a lifetime of giving a home to some of the sweetest rescue animals I’ve ever known – today I own two purebred, pedigree Ragdolls; both of which I paid for. Neither cat came from a shelter. Is purchasing a pet really any different whether it’s from a shelter or a website?

Personally, I would suggest that it is – and not just because I’m their owner. Both my beloved cats were purchased at no earlier than 16 weeks – strict GCCF rules – from registered breeders in the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (the official registration body for pedigree cat breeders in the UK). Both cats were acquired following full checks, conversations, photo exchanges, meetings to ascertain the environment they were being raised in, and visits to meet both parents of each cat. With both my cats, I had to sign various contracts to ensure I would adhere to the strict rules they came to me with. I had to register these adorable critters in my name once I got them home and I had to promise that, within the next four months, I would both microchip and neuter them. I also was encouraged to remain in contact with both breeders and to send regular updates as to how my new kittens were settling in. In the end, I have ended up with two wonderful, loving, loyal cats who I’d chop my arms off before live without. I specifically chose the Ragdoll breed as it suited my lifestyle – it meant cats I knew would fit right in with me and the quirky little life we’d live together.

For various reasons at this point in my life, rescue cats were simply not appropriate.

Crumble and Puff - my ridiculous Ragdolls

Crumble and Puff – my ridiculous Ragdolls

But it’s easy for me to defend pedigree cats as I have the two faces above staring down at me first thing in the morning and last thing at night. What about you? How do you feel about purchasing your pets? I’m sure you’re with me in supporting the Gumtree ban – but where do you stand on the wider issue of paying money, any money, for an animal? Is there a difference if you carry out extensive research, planning and care as opposed to clicking a link online? Or is a purchase a purchase?

t shirtThis morning I came across this t-shirt and it made me think about this whole issue even more. I wholeheartedly agree you can’t buy love – in any form. Yet I know, hand on heart, that I made the right decision in choosing my Ragdolls. Every day they make me smile – and I hope I do the same for them. My older cat, Crumble, is a registered Therapet and has made dementia patients cry tears of happiness. Both cats can be fully trusted left at home all day long with my ever increasing menagerie of 13 other animals. We currently share our little home with a plethora of birds, rodents and fish – yet what would be perfect miniature morsels for normal cats, Crumble and Puff couldn’t care less about. My budgies fly around the room and neither cat bats an eyelid. When my hamster recently escaped, Crumble found him and sat with him, mewing, until I collected his bedraggled but breathing heap from behind the sink. To me, my cats are perfect – and their pedigree has nothing to do with it. I haven’t ‘bought love’, but in making the decision to go to a registered breeder I have ensured that the cats I share my home with are healthy, happy and fully protected by both myself and the breeders I chose.

I bring up my kitties safe in the knowledge that if anything happens to me both warm, friendly breeders have informed me they’d happily, and genuinely, take the cats back in a heartbeat. I’m not sure you can say the same for Gumtree.

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Happy New Year – here’s to the best year ever for animal welfare

Wishing all the readers of this blog the best wishes in the world for 2015. 2014 was a tough year, but we didn’t stop fighting. Let’s hope 2015 brings the best possible results for animals across the world – from cosmetics testing to the Taiji slaughter to the horrific dog meat trade, we have a lot of battles ahead of us. Meanwhile here in the UK, the government want to repeat the Hunting Act and refuse to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Yep, this year’s going to be a challenge – but luckily we’re  always well up for one of those.

Have a fantastic 2015, to you and your furry friends. Let’s do all we can to make the next 12 months a resounding success for the voiceless creatures who share our world. And in the meantime, take a minute to enjoy some of the most heartwarming stories from the past year.

One Green Planet: 20 Times People Did Amazing Things for Animals in 2014 – http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/people-doing-amazing-things-for-animals/

Happy New Year everyone.

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Merry Christmas, animal warriors.

As 2014 draws to a close I’d like to wish all the readers of this blog a very merry Christmas and a fantastic festive season.

Puppy-Christmas-Gift

It’s been a hell of a year for animals – from the nonsensical badger cull to MPs’ pathetic attempts at bringing back the Hunting Act, animal rights warriors have been on full alert doing all we can to stamp out injustice to our furry or feathered friends.

It can be tough fighting the cause of animal welfare, as we all know. Major UK campaigns such as the petition to install CCTV in all slaughterhouses, or the call to action asking people to ban wild animals in circuses, have dominated headlines and divided opinion across the animal welfare spectrum. The fight continues, and up and down the country horrific abuse of animals sadly continues. People carry on shooting pets and wildlife with air guns, foie gras continues to be sold and produced as some sort of laughable ‘delicacy’ and crimes against wildlife from snares to shooting seems to be increasing at an alarming rate. Yet despite all the horror stories and depressing headlines, our fight continues and we stand stronger than ever.

Indeed, we’ve also seen some major successes this year. In March, hundreds of people took to the streets of Inverness and marched against wildlife crime, carrying huge white ‘ghost raptor’ replicas as they fought to make Parliament stand up and listen to the call of the wild. In December, major NGOs joined forces and marched in front of Westminster to raise awareness of nature and its lack of representation in current government legislation. Meanwhile every day prosecutions are made, animals are saved and less and less people close their eyes to the horrors animals suffer.

The fight is far from over, but it also shows no signs of stopping. We’ll be there every step of the way, joined in arms against any and all injustice to the creatures who can’t speak for themselves.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate Christmas and all that comes with it. Religious or not, Christmas is a time of year for being glad for what we have and reminding ourselves what’s really important in our lives. Our animals need us more than ever and personally, I’m going to be squeezing my cat just a little bit tighter today. Christmas is a time to be with loved ones and if you’re like me, that will almost certainly include, if not entirely constitute, your pets. Give them a massive hug and let’s vow for their sake in 2014 to be stronger than ever.

Merry Christmas guys. Thanks for paying this site a visit in 2014 and I hope you, and all the special creatures who share your world, are well and truly spoiled today.

Here’s to 2015.

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PS. Top 12 tips to keep your pets safe this festive season: http://www.aht.org.uk/skins/Default/pdfs/festive_pet_tips.pdf

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Manchester Dog Home Fire, 15 Year Old Boy Held in Custody

You will have no doubt by now heard the horrific news on the Manchester dogs home fire, where a 15 year old boy is being held on an arson probe following the death of an estimated 53 dogs.

Yesterday evening, around 7pm, the boy deliberately sparked a blaze at the shelter, which engulfed the kennels, collapsed part of the roof and gutted a third of the complex – horrifically, the key area where the majority of dogs were housed. Not a single one of the 200 dogs living in the shelter have escaped unharmed. Of the survivors, most are suffering burns and smoke inhalation. Local people have reported hearing the devastating yelps of the dogs as the fire ripped through their kennels; the sheer terror these poor animals will have experienced is incomprehensible.

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Manchester Police managed to save 150 dogs from the blaze, and has urged for people to remain calm. Supt Marcus Noden says, “We are in the very early stages of the investigation and have a young boy in custody, however we would ask if anyone was in the area and remembers seeing anything suspicious around the dogs’ home that they call police. As a dog owner myself, I understand many people will feel angry and upset, but I would ask that they let the police carry out their investigations and not take matters into their own hands.”

Easier said than done when you think of the unbelievable pain and suffering these poor creatures, many of whom will have had pretty horrible lives up until this, were forced to endure all because of some little moron with a firelighter. At times like this it’s so difficult to wrap your head around how this situation could possibly have occurred, and what could ever possess a 15 year old boy to take such drastic, irreversible action on defenseless, harmless animals like this.

Sadly, the punishments for cruelty to animals in the UK remain pathetically low. The fact he has been charged with arson alone is simply another testament to how helpless we are within our existing legislation to protect our four legged friends. In the UK, even for more direct, violent acts of cruelty or severe neglect such as stabbing a cat or allowing a dog to starve to death, the maximum prison sentence available to magistrates under the Animal Welfare Act is only six months’ imprisonment. Yet of course, reduced sentences for pleading guilty and good behaviour mean offenders rarely serve even this measly amount. It is truly pitiful that a calculated, sustained attack on a scale such as this can be carried out in the middle of Manchester and the boy gets carted off and given a slap on the wrist for playing with fire. You have to wonder when the UK is finally going to realise that its total lack of legislative deterrents, or appropriate enforcement of maximum sentences for carrying out barbaric acts like this, mean the fear of being caught or held accountable to these people simply doesn’t exist. Acts like this will be carried out again and again and again, and we’ll learn nothing. These are not the dark ages and in theory at least, we live in a civilised, developed country. Let’s start acting like it and show enough is enough – we need to use the ‘anger and upset’ we’re being asked to contain, and start effecting real change for our beloved animals up and down the UK.

There are various ways you can show your support for these poor dogs and so many more like them:

  1. Take the RSPCA’s survey examining public attitudes to flimsy animal cruelty laws: https://www.surveymonkey.com/survey-thanks/?sm=K894evTfwKn6I%2bm2goWH6rJ3Fu23cnS4smwyrQ7CaRo%3d
  2. Donate to the Manchester dogs fire appeal: https://www.justgiving.com/ManchesterDogsHomeMEN
  3. Sign the e-petition to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty in the UK: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/61926

Related post: https://catdraggedin.co.uk/2014/08/18/rspca-campaign-survey-should-uk-have-harsher-sentencing-for-cruelty-cases/

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‘Favourable’ prospects for annual grouse slaughter as hen harrier numbers fall

You may have noticed an increasing focus in the UK media over the past few weeks surrounding the current grouse shooting season, which began yesterday. Regardless of where you sit on the game shooting fence, you can’t have failed to spot the various stories swirling around as conservationists, politicians and supermarkets line up to offer their position, opinion and recommendation for effective management of the industry.

Red-Grouse-in-heather-2-HRTIFF

If you haven’t yet made up your mind how you feel about game shooting, or raptors, or even ethically sourced meat, the various news stories which have come out in recent weeks can be contradictory and confusing. Primarily however, the common focus for both NGOs and the media has been less around the actual shooting itself, but more on the fact that through poorly managed grouse estates, illegal persecution of birds of prey – such as the critically endangered hen harrier – has resulted in dwindling numbers of raptors across the UK.

  1. Marks and Spencer have announced it will not stock grouse this year because it can’t secure sufficient numbers of what it calls “responsibly sourced and third party accredited” red grouse. The company has said it wants to see more than just a ‘bare minimum’ of game suppliers complying with legislation. It is insisting that all grouse suppliers operate to the shooting industry’s Code of Good Shooting Practice and the DEFRA Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Game Birds. M&S have also said they are now working with RSPB and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, to develop and implement their own responsible sourcing code for the industry which they claim will be ‘truly transformational’.
  2. Landowners and gamekeepers across Scotland meanwhile are reporting that the prospects for this year’s grouse shooting season are “unusually favourable“, due to the mild spring and warm summer which have resulted in high grouse numbers,  as reported by the BBC. The landowners’ organisation, Scottish Land and Estates, said: “We got a nice dry spring, then no horrible weather through the hatching period in May. Everyone is optimistic for a very good season.” How lovely. Scottish Land and Estates and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association have repeatedly condemned raptor persecution, but environmental groups are saying they still have to do more to stamp out the practice.
  3. A network of conservation NGOs are coming together this month to speak out against the issue, using the start of the season to highlight the illegal persecution of birds of prey and claiming sporting estates and politicians could do more to end the practice. The coalition Birders Against Wildlife Crime, made up of former Conservation Director and leading activist Mark Avery, broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham, the RSPB, and the North West Raptor Protection Group, has announced 10th August as ‘Hen Harrier Day’; an opportunity to raise awareness of the trapping, shooting and poisoning our raptors face as a result of badly managed grouse shooting estates and practices.
  4. The Lush cosmetics chain has been inviting its customers at stores across Britain to sign a postcard to the Queen, calling for action to protect the hen harrier.
  5. The Scottish government is introducing a range of measures designed to tackle wildlife crime, including restrictions on the use of general licences where wildlife crime is suspected. The environment minister, Paul Wheelhouse, told BBC Scotland News: “The model of a shooting estate is changing in the 21st century and there is considerable potential for closer alignment of conservation and sporting interests than in the past. This is why we support the independently accredited Wildlife Estates Scotland scheme which, I hope, can in future signpost those intending to participate in a shoot to the growing number of estates that manage their grouse shooting or other sporting rights in harmony with wildlife, such as raptors – and steer away from the small number of operators who continue to harm our wildlife.”

I wholeheartedly condemn the appalling abuse of our incredible birds of prey. As someone who works for a number of wildlife conservation charities, I completely support every effort which is being made to try and protect our majestic raptors. Every day we are faced with harriers, eagles and buzzards being trapped, shot, poisoned and bludgeoned and it is both heartbreaking and unbelievably frustrating. The arrogant few who carry out these barbaric and illegal acts are a stain on our countryside and, I fully accept, do not represent the majority of estate managers who act within the law and with full respect for protected raptors.

However, despite fully supporting efforts to introduce more ethical, sustainable methods for game shooting, I can’t help but feel the real victims are being missed here, and the real debate overlooked: the moral question over whether we should or shouldn’t be shooting game in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for one minute suggesting the raptor issue isn’t both topical and critical. Of course it is. I just find it disappointing that in all our anger and uproar towards the poisoning, shooting and trapping of birds of prey, both us and the media are giving little, or no, attention to the suffering experienced by the grouse, partridge and other game we repeatedly slaughter for our own entertainment. The League Against Cruel Sports, possibly one of the only major charities actually concerned with the grouse in all of this, recently called on the tourism agency VisitScotland to end the promotion of Scotland as a destination for driven grouse shooting. In response, VisitScotland refused, saying it must remain impartial and could not “discriminate” against one section of the tourism industry. Heaven forbid. So while, we continue to be up in arms about the birds of prey being decimated up and down our countryside, the fact remains that we’re not really angry about the suffering they are going through. After all, this isn’t an animal welfare issue, it’s a conservation one. An ideal world for most of those concerned would see more sustainable, ethical and effective game estate management, raptor numbers on the increase… and then we’d have no more issue, right?

Except of course we will, as millions upon millions of birds will continue to be bred and butchered in the name of sport. While game estates do keep detailed records, these records are rarely made available to the public or even to the industry. An estimate by Animal Aid, however, puts the number each year at around 40 million. You have to wonder how the hell this cruel ‘sport’ can still be allowed to flourish up and down our countryside.

But then, I guess the reason for that is simple. It can be seen right there in the BBC article in point 2. “The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is highlighting research which suggests the sport is worth around £32 million to the rural economy.”

Says it all really, doesn’t it.

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