Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting at the House of Commons

Even as a glamorous podcaster (*cough*) I don’t get to go to all that many receptions at the Mother of all Parliaments, which is a shame as while I’m defintely not comfortable in a city (any city), there is something to be said for being right at the heart of the action (however peripheral your presence may be to the actual moving and shaking that’s going on).

So how did I get to be at a reception for the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH) on the 3rd of July? My invite came about because I know it’s founder Eduardo Goncalves (photo below) from our time at the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), when Eduardo was CEO there and I was on the board of trustees. We’ve kept in touch, which I’m really pleased about because Eduardo is not only a force of nature he’s a thoroughly good man as well. Which is a commendable combo…

Quite what reserves of energy Eduardo has been drawing on in the last eighteen months or so, I’m not sure. He stood down from LACS when he became seriously ill (‘stood down’ may not accurately reflect his feelings on that, but that’s a whole other subject) yet somehow he’s pushed CBTH to a point where it has almost as many followers on social media as the far longer-established LACS and he can bring a seriously impressive range of politicians, activists, and ‘celebrities’ (a word I loathe, but as shorthand for ‘people who are well-known to the wider public’ it’ll have to do) to the Commons for a ‘where we’re at right now’ meeting.

What do I mean by seriously impressive?

Well, short speeches slamming the vile trophy hunting industry and demanding the closure of the loopholes that allow the import of bits and pieces of dead animals into the UK were given by Zac Goldsmith MP (if he was a Green Party MP he’d be almost the perfect politician), Sir Ranulph Fiennes (the craggy erudite explorer in the photo above), Sue Hayman (the Shadow Environment Secretary), and Alison Philipps (the editor of the Daily Mirror who’s backed the campaign to the hilt).

Among the good and the great in attendance were activists and campaigners of the calibre of Peter Egan, Marc Abraham (sporting a new fuzzy beardy look), Kevin Pietersen (the charismatic former cricketer who is doing remarkable work fighting rhino poaching in South Africa – the ‘Beast of Man’ podcasts with him and Five Live’s Sarah Brett are absolutely superb), Bill Bailey, Jan Leeming, Kerry Mcarthy MP, Tracey Crouch MP, Annette Crosbie, Vikki Michelle, and a host of representatives of organisations all tackling trophy hunting and animal abuse.

I also spent part of my time catching up with former friends and colleagues from various sectors of the animal rights world. It’s a fairly small pond we’re all paddling around in, but it does contain some of the very best people!

As well as put on a suit and mix with the famous, the plan had been to record the speeches and grab some interviews afterwards. Plans, eh, ‘gang aft agley’ as we all know. The Commons was mysteriously unable to find a lectern to place my recorder on (I tried waving a microphone around from a few feet away but the audio quality was dreadful), and Eduardo himself was rushed off to do live interviews with Sky and Channel Five. Once the reception sort of formally finished (these things tend to taper off rather than just stop) most people were out of the room pretty pronto and onto other things – but I’m delighted to say that Eduardo has offered to meet up again in a few weeks for a face-to-face chat for a podcast which I’m really looking forward to.

In the meantime, the aims of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting couldn’t be much simpler: to end the slaughter and trade of some of the planet’s most magnificent and endangered animals (by some of the planet’s least likeable egocentrics). if that’s not worth supporting I have no idea what is…Check out the aims of CBTH right here

Podcast uploaded: Mark Avery | The Common Pheasant

Uploaded to Lush Player June 2019: Mark Avery | The Common Pheasant

A short while back, Dr Mark Avery (friend, colleague, renowned conservationist, author, blogger, and pragmatist) gave me a heads-up about an article he’d written for the prestigious monthly journal British Birds. It was on the pheasant, that utterly familiar but non-native bird released in staggering numbers every year by the shooting industry. It would be called: “The Common Pheasant – its status in the UK and the potential impacts of an abundant non-native”.

Would I like to do a podcast? Do bears etc etc…especially bears that are passionately opposed to the slaughter of wildlife for fun by an industry that patently doesn’t give a damn about the consequences (my words, not Mark’s who is actually quite relaxed about some forms of rough shooting).

Understandably, the resulting interview was embargoed until the magazine had been printed and gone out to subscribers. And that has now happened.

But why the fuss about pheasants? They’re common enough, they’re not under threat, they’re really not especially noteworthy. That’s an interesting question because it suggests we’ve become so normalised to the casual killing of millions of virtually tame birds that we’ve almost stopped questioning it. At least that’s possibly what the shooting industry hopes…

Here’s the intro I wrote for the finished podcast:

“Pheasants. Most birdwatchers or birders barely glance at pheasants anymore they’ve become so ubiquitous, and while non-birders may not know a mallard from a Mandarin, a Kite from a Kestrel, a Blackcap from a Black-throated Diver, the chances are very high that they’ll know what a pheasant is.

Pheasants are everywhere, walking around fields or lying dead by the side of the road, painted on signs and cards or hanging by the throat in shop windows. Remarkably though, pheasants aren’t native to the UK, they’re introduced. Their original range was predominantly China and western Asia – they’re only here, and here in staggering numbers, because some people like to shoot them.

Every year the shooting industry releases vast numbers of pheasants into the countryside. No one is exactly sure how many, or how many survive the so-called shooting season. No scientifically robust studies have been done to properly understand their impact on the environment, their impact on native wildlife which has to compete for scarce food resources, their impact on populations of predators that also kill or scavenge pheasants – the very predators, of course, that that the very same shooting industry claims they need to control to protect their…pheasants.

I spoke with renowned conservationist, author and birder Dr Mark Avery on the publication of a lengthy article he’s written for the prestigious monthly journal British Birds titled ‘The Common Pheasant – its status in the UK and the potential impacts of an abundant non-native’. In our discussion we covered a wide range of the issues that Mark raised in his article – from pheasant ecology to predators, lead shot and Lyme’s Disease and just how many pheasants there are in the UK (answer: no-one really knows…).

Mark’s articlecan be found in the July 2019 issue of British Birds, the monthly journal for all keen birdwatchers. ‘BB’ as its affectionately known has an excellent website which you can find at britishbirds.co.uk. Mark’s equally excellent website, which includes his must-read blog is at markavery.info – he is also a founder member and director of Wild Justice, which, in a neat knot that ties this particular package together, recently took Natural England to court over the General Licence, which – illegally as it turned out – allowed for the ‘control’ of some bird species – including those that gamekeepers and the shooting industry claim threaten their…pheasants.”

Sponsored cycle ride for Shark Trust

I don’t normally write about things that aren’t related to thinking about/making/uploading podcasts – but I’d like to appeal to the goodwill of the visitors to this blog.

I’m doing the Bristol Nightrider 2019 for the Shark Trust on July 6th (next weekend as I write this) and I would really love some extra sponsorship.

Now I know most of us already donate to various charity stuff (heck, this year I’ve given to Hen Harriers and badgers, supported judicial reviews, and I pay my monthly subs to a bunch of charities etc ) and I know most of us don’t end the month with much left to spend from our salaries (many of us flirt with our overdrafts I’m sure), nevertheless, if I don’t make this pitch I don’t give you the opportunity to perhaps support something you’ve thought about supporting – like, sharks!

So, the Nightrider. It’s – er, at night, and it’s around Bristol. Which if you don’t know the city is a pretty hilly place (not Buxton or Edinburgh hilly, but way hillier than Cambridge or Peterborough). I’ve opted for the ‘blue route’ 100km/65 mile route, rather than the ‘red’ 50km route which (and no offence to non-regular cyclists) is a training ride or commute for many cyclists. The ‘blue route’ takes in both loops and the organisers seem to have looked for every incline within miles (see the image below)…

Now, I know that 100km is NOT Lands End – John O’Groats (which is around 2000km). It’s not especially difficult if you ride bikes a lot (and I do) but that’s what I’m being asked to do, so that’s what I’m doing. To be honest, I’ve never ridden at night before, so that should be an extra element. And it traverses Bristol city centre on Saturday night, which might be – er, interesting when the clubs spill out…

But Bristol is hardly downtown Caracas or Bogota. There’ll be hundreds of other riders, it’s well signed, the organisers even lay on biscuits. So it’s not going to be life-changing or dangerous. It should be fun though, and a different way to spend a Saturday night (my start time is 23:50 so I’ll be finishing sometime around dawn on Sunday hopefully). The important point is though that any/all funds raised will go to the Shark Trust. They’re a small charity, and every penny counts. (I made a podcast with them last week which you can find at Paul Cox | Shark Trust if you’d like to know more about them)

And – seriously – every single penny would help.

So if you feel like chucking a single penny into the hat (as it were) please have a look at https://www.sharktrust.org/fundraisers/charlie-moores-shark-trust-fundraiser

And thanks!

Podcast Uploaded: Paul Cox | Shark Trust

Uploaded to Lush Player June 2019: “Paul Cox | Shark Trust”

It occurred to me recently that while I’ve recorded numerous podcasts on birds of prey, badgers, foxes, bees, plants (see the Menu options above) – I’ve barely mentioned sharks, one of the planet’s most threatened, most beautifully evolved and most important predators, a group of animals that are so misunderstood that according to some polls I found online, a large number of respondents didn’t know that sharks were fish, thinking that they were mammals like dolphins.

But leaving taxonomy to one side for a moment, let’s get straight to the shark-sized elephant in the room. When I said the word ‘shark’ I’m willing to place a small wager that the image that popped in to your head will be pretty much the same image that will pop into the heads of many of the people around you: a big, scary, sinister, dangerous animal. With sharp teeth.

The truth is, of course, like most things in nature, far more interesting. Sharks are actually an incredibly varied group of animals. There are around 500 extant species, with new species being discovered almost every year – in fact, roughly a fifth of current living sharks and the closely-related rays have been described since 2002. The smallest shark is less than 20 cm long – the largest, the Whale Shark, can grow to around 12 metres, weigh 19000kg, and feeds almost exclusively on plankton. Sharks are curious, in many cases highly social, occupy many different aquatic zones, and feed on everything from shellfish to seals – but are they dangerous?

We tend to think of ‘dangerous’ only in terms of what’s dangerous to us, but just three or four species account for the vast majority of shark attacks and according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), between 1958 and 2016 there were just 2,785 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world. Of those 439 were fatal – and while of course it won’t seem that way to the families concerned, that’s a remarkably low figure considering how many of us are in the ocean at any one time. And given that we are responsible for taking some 100 million sharks from the ocean every year, it’s far more accurate to say that it’s us humans that are dangerous to sharks, not the other way around.

I went to speak with Paul Cox, managing director of the UK-based charity Shark Trust, to learn more about protecting and promoting these fascinating animals. Paul is a marine biologist by training, and in the blurb on his Shark Trust ‘who we are’ page he says that he is “fascinated by how we communicate as well as what we communicate”.

Which seemed to me to be a really good basis for a conversation. While we covered welfare vs pragmatism, sustainability, fundraising, and the Trust’s links with a somewhat controversial Swimming with Sharks experience, we began by discussing how the Shark Trust helps a terrestrial species like us connect with the ocean and connect with sharks…and how might the way he communicates help with one of the major problems facing sharks today – overfishing….

Podcast Uploaded: The Badger Cull | Judicial Reviews 2019

Uploaded to Lush Player June 2019: “The Badger Cull | Judicial Reviews 2019

From the spoken intro to this podcast:

“Back in December 2011, the Government announced that it intended to go forward with trial badger culls in two 150 km2 areas. These would take place over a 6-week period with the aim of reducing the badger population by 70% in each area. Two years later Pilot badger culls commenced in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

A cull of one of the UK’s most protected mammals, it was hoped, would control (according to government estimates) by up to 16% a year the spread of bovine tuberculosis (or bovine TB) – a disease of cattle, that in the year 2010/11, when the cull announcemnet was first made, had led to the slaughter of 25,000 diseased cattle in England with compensation to farmers costing taxpayers £91 million.

25,000 cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB sounds high, but it’s worth remembering that every year around two million cattle are slaughtered for their meat in the UK anyway, tens of thousands of cattle are culled annually because of mastitis, lameness, and infertility problems, bTB has been almost completely eradicated as a threat to the public by the pasteurisation of milk (pasteurisation kills the bacteria that causes bovine TB), and the evidence is pretty clear that it’s poor biosecurity and the movement of diseased cattle between herds – and indeed regions of the country – that is the main cause of its spread.

In the meantime, driven by government policy and, as ecologist Tom Langton explains in the following discussion, an unwillingness by academics to admit to previous oversights and the implications of new findings, badgers are dying at a huge cost to them – and to us. By the end of 2018, the government had spent over £50m of public funds killing over 67,000 badgers – 32,000 of them in 2018 alone.

More badgers are slated to die in 2019, but while the slaughter of badgers appears to be expanding the cull is facing a number of legal challenges and judicial reviews, and Tom Langton has been one of those at the forefront of taking the government to court.

I spoke with Tom in late-May this year to understand more about the basis for the challenges, about the ‘carnivore release effect’ which ludicrously has led to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ordering in some areas the shooting of foxes as a result of the removal of badgers to protect cattle, ‘low risk area’ culling, and – most controversially perhaps – Tom’s opinion that it’s the responsibility of academics to now admit that the cull is a ‘nonsense’.

We begin though with Tom explaining about two upcoming legal challenges…”

  • Since I spoke withTom, supplementary badger culling has been authorised in Gloucestershire, Somerset and for the first time in north Dorset. Tom emailed me in mid June to say that the government is busy announcing that badger culling is working, based upon a secret report unavailable to the public. Ministers are busy saying  badger culling is working, as they did when misquoting the report of the first two years of badger culling in 2017.

These are strange times indeed.

If you would like to see this ‘nonsense’ – as Tom labels it – stopped, you can help the legal fight against badger culling by visiting thebadgercrowd.org website and following the ‘donate’ button to the Badger Trust Sussex crowd fund page.

Tom also has a new scientific paper on the Randomised Badger Culling Trial in the current journal of Dairy and Veterinary Sciences.

I uploaded a podcast recently recorded at the country’s first badger vaccination symposium which considers badger vaccination as an alternative to culling – it’s not a route everyone agrees with but the podcast is on Lush Player and can be found by typing badger into the search bar (this will bring up a slection of six podcasts on the cull)

Finally, following a Tweet I put out saying this podcast was on its way, someone messaged me to say; ‘Night follows day, but will Gove follow May‘? Will Michael Gove be pulled out of Defra in a few weeks time and sent to the back benches when Boris Johnson takes over as prime-minister?

lf so, who will be prepared to take on the slaughter of so many wild animals?

It will perhaps be difficult to find another two people like Theresa May and Michael Gove quite so willing to kill and injure so many badgers, but the feeling amongst activists does seem to be that many people in positions of power simply want badgers killed – no matter what science, conservation, or even morality says…