In March 2019 the Wild Animal Welfare Committee (or WAWC) held a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was framed around the question: “Who are the guardians of wild animal welfare?”
I was invited to the conference by Libby Anderson, WAWC Secretary and animal charity OneKind‘s Policy Advisor, and we recorded the following conversation the next day which looks at the origins of WAWC and why so many wild animals (as separate from farmed, research, or companion animals) are not – at the moment anyway – protected by welfare legislation.
Yesterday the Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC) Conference was held in the rather splendid Main Chamber of the City Chambers in Edinburgh – a room that boasts a huge clock (it’s always useful for speakers to be able to see their allotted time ticking away in front of them), a viewing gallery, and the sort of august environs that thoroughly suited the august group that the WAWC had gathered together to discuss ‘Who are the Guardians of Wild Animal Welfare’).
And what a group! The speakers alone included a number of Professors and Doctors, plus leading vets and campaigners (all of whom, I should add, were extremely friendly and happy to discuss concepts and ideas that ranged from the naive to the extremely complex). The delegate list included government officials, chief-executives, more vets, more campaigners, and me…a jobbing podcaster with a microphone and a gathering sense that what I’d come up to Edinburgh to do wasn’t really going to be possible!
Let me explain. My intention had been to record a ‘live’ summation of the day, with soundbites from delegates, short interviews with speakers, and perhaps even shorter extracts from their talks. I’ve done something similar before (eg the OSME Summer Conference) and it worked very well.
However, while I thought I’d researched and read up about ‘wild animal welfare’ I wasn’t quite prepared for the deluge of new information and science that was liberally poured from the main stage.
Unwrapping the premise of ‘Who is responsible for the welfare of wild animals?’ (as opposed to farm and companion animals) in a world of shooting for ‘sport’, widespread rodent control (the abomination that is glue traps deserves a conference of its own), predator ‘culling’ and ‘management’ of wild animals etc turns out to be like peeling an onion with tardis-like dimensions (as of course the members of WAWC already knew hence the charity’s formation).
From issues of sentience in cephalopods and marine mammal welfare in increasingly crowded seas, to how the welfare of wild animals is enacted in legislation, the ‘7 Principles of Ethical Wildlife Control’, and Animal Welfare Guardianship during Conservation Activities, this was a fascinating, challenging, and thought-provoking conference.
Two hours in and I was tweeting that:
This @wawcommittee conference is like being in a room with people who think like you do and say the things you talk about only they think way more clearly and they are far more erudite! Genuinely inspiring and a little daunting at the same time
Perhaps it’s because I’m new to this forum but @wawcommittee conference feels like we’re still at the beginning of a long (but utterly vital) process of legislation, recognition of sentience, deeper understanding of ‘welfare’ etc. Fascinating and incredibly valuable day
Judging by discussions at lunchtime, I wasn’t alone in thinking this way. It was everything you’d hope a conference of this type would be, only with many more moments along the lines of ‘Oh, I didn’t know that‘ (eg no country in the world recognises ALL animals as sentient) or ‘Okay, that’s an interesting way of thinking about it‘ (eg does the stress of capture prior to translocation for conservation purposes justify the stress and welfare concerns of handling a wild animal) than (I’d) expected.
Which while a ‘good thing’ in many ways, did mean I was facing a dilemma. I just couldn’t see that there would be an audience for a future podcast of soundbites from enthusiastic but slightly overwhelmed delegates alongside bursts of information from speakers who’d been asked to reduce an already extremely taut twenty-minute discussion into the audio equivalent of half a page of A4.
But I was at the conference to make that same podcast at the invitation of Libby Anderson, WAWC Secretary and Policy Advisor at excellent animal charity OneKind (now run by former RSPB Head of Investigations Bob Elliott who I interviewed just last month about his new role). As prickles of cold sweat began to trickle down my back I was facing the awkward realisation that I was on the verge of failing to do my job (and ‘accidental’ or not, I like to do my job).
This personal mini-crisis was perhaps understandable under the circumstances, but far from ideal. However an alternative proposal was beginning to take shape…
I figured that instead – if Libby and the WAWC folk approved of course – I would interview as many of the speakers as possible over the following six to eight weeks. I’d then release those recordings as a much more informative and considered series of podcasts. That would give all those involved time to digest what had been discussed and fedback at the conference and time to plan their next steps. And give me time to gather my thoughts too.
Which fortunately made sense to all concerned. Given that I already have a number of interviews lined up (see the right-hand column on this page) it will mean finding more days in a week than most weeks usually contain, but better that than letting someone down I respect by providing sub-par content. Plus Lush do fund these trips of mine and I do want to ensure they get good value too.
So that’s the plan, and while recordings still have to be scheduled with some already extraordinarily busy people, it seems to me to answer the requirements of covering the conference and giving anyone interested the sort of information that is hard to find anywhere else. Hopefully they’ll all be online in fairly good time.
However I was determined not to leave Edinburgh without some sort of recording, and I asked Libby if she’d be prepared to give me an hour the next morning (on her day off!) for an ‘overview’ interview – explaining the origins and objectives of WAWC, for example, and her thoughts of how the conference went.
Which is what she did, and very interesting it was too. I will start editing as soon as I finish writing this.
In the meantime though I’ve driven three hours north to Speyside and the Boat of Garten (aka ‘The Osprey Village’ as this is the area where in the 1950s ospreys established a foothold in the UK after being persecuted out of England by the 1830s and Scotland by the early 1900s).
I’m here to meet Allan Bantick OBE tomorrow for an interview (as I wrote in an earlier post) which I’m really looking forward to (to be honest I look forward to all of them, but in a misquoting of George Orwell, while all interviews are enjoyable some are more enjoyable than others…)
But that’s tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow morning I’m hoping to reacquaint myself with a bird I’ve not seen for (gasp) about twenty-five years: Crested Tit*.
Yes, this podcasting stuff – it’s not all about microphones, cold sweats, and fumbled questions: occasionally you get to go birding as well.
[EDIT TO ADD *No Crested Tit sadly. Apparently they are in sharp decline for reasons no one is quite sure of – as explained in the podcast I did indeed record with Allan Bantick OBE]