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Brian May has been culling Bambi... while campaigning to save old Mr Brock

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 28, 2012

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The story about Brian May’s alleged hypocrisy over culling deer but protecting badgers underscores a general confusion about managing wildlife, Philip Bowern believes.

Brian May is more famous among the younger generation for opposing the badger cull than playing lead guitar in Queen. So it was with some glee that TheSunday Times reported at the weekend that he had allowed the deer on his Dorset estate to be culled, in apparent contradiction of his high profile campaign against the badger cull.

"Hypocrisy," the newspaper cried on its front page. And the story, not denied by May, that he had indeed allowed a marksman to cull deer on his 140-acre estate for 12 months, was followed up by other media, all of them homing in on the apparent anomaly of the wildlife campaigner allowing deer to be taken out by a skilled stalker with a rifle while opposing the self-same action against badgers.

Yet is there really any hypocrisy in taking such a position? It is possible a number of estate owners, who cull deer or allow properly licensed stalkers to cull them, are also opposed to a cull of badgers, perhaps on scientific grounds. The difference between a badger cull and the control of deer numbers is significant. Badgers are a protected species and the cull, due to go ahead next summer after a last-minute delay earlier this autumn, is designed to reduce the incidence of bovine TB in hotspot areas, not cut badger numbers overall.

Deer, on the other hand, whether red, roe, fallow, muntjac or sika, have long been considered quarry species and venison is a source of food. Keeping deer numbers under control, through culling with high-powered rifles, is acknowledged – even by the RSPCA, an increasingly strident animal welfare organisation – as "humane and effective". The RSPCA is opposed to the badger cull but supportive of the control of deer.

Where there is, if not hypocrisy, then a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper management of the countryside in Brian May's position, is that he has since stopped the deer cull on his Dorset estate. He wrote on his blog that he had taken over the estate when he had a lot to learn about forest management and initially allowed the culling to continue. "A couple of years ago, having studied the effects, I decided to stop the culling," he said.

Such action risks creating a population explosion among the deer, which could, in extreme circumstances, lead to some of the animals suffering. Fortunately, responsible culling by other estate owners across Dorset will be keeping overall numbers in check. Most land owners, including bodies like the Forestry Commission and the National Trust, allow culling because they know, like the RSPCA, that some form of control is essential if a mammal at the top of the food chain with no predators is to be kept at healthy, manageable numbers.

It is tempting – and perhaps understandable – for the farmers and landowners angry and alarmed at the rising rates of bovine TB among their cattle to want to attack one of the main campaigners against the badger cull when presented with what looks like an open goal. But consistency of argument when it comes to animal welfare and countryside management is essential if it is to be credible. And the control of many species in our heavily managed countryside is vital – from rats and rabbits to woodpigeons, crows and rooks, up to foxes and deer.

Badgers are not on that list – and not because they are rare or in any way endangered – but because, in the eyes of many countrymen, in seeking to put a stop to the appalling practice of digging out badgers and matching them in fights with dogs, legislators went further than they needed to and gave almost unprecedented protection to a mammal that now exists in such numbers it is, anecdotally at least, putting several other wild species at risk, from hedgehogs to some ground-nesting birds.

One farmer in Wiltshire has, reportedly, pulled out of an agri-environment scheme in which he was paid to encourage ground-nesting birds on his farm because badgers – which he is forbidden from controlling in any way – make it impossible for the birds to nest. The badgers, he believes, are taking the eggs and chicks.

Badgers remain, however, much-loved mammals, even by some of the farmers and landowners who believe they are spreading TB among their cattle and want numbers controlled. They occupy a special place in the hearts of many country-lovers, including those who shoot or fish and who see no contradiction in cherishing wildlife and also understanding that some species, like deer and badgers, need to be humanely controlled. That is not hypocrisy, it is common sense.

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  • GilesB  |  November 28 2012, 11:12AM

    Leaving aside badgers it's worth while quoting what Brian May said about people shooting a deer in devon at the same time as he w3as being paid by someone who shot deer for sport on his own land. "I think it's completely despicable – it's beyond belief. The idea that someone can pay to kill an animal, to take pleasure in the killing, and then take a part of their anatomy to hang on their wall as a trophy, belongs in the dark ages with bear-baiting and burning witches at the stake." Maybe Mr May does think that gunning down 23 young deer is acceptable whereas shooting one is not. After all the Exmoor Emperor became like Mr May a bit of a celebrity and we all know that different rules apply to them.

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  • IsBrock  |  November 28 2012, 10:25AM

    May says he put a stop to it two years ago but the contract came to an end in Spring 2012. SO who is telling the truth? The evidence regarding the destruction of hedgehogs by badgers is scientific as well as anecdotal. See, for example, doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00078.x where a study of badger culling and hedgehog numbers found that results agreed "...with results from previous surveys and experimental studies, which found a strong negative spatial relationship between hedgehogs and badgers"- i.e. hedgehog numbers (which have fallen to the extent that hedgehogs are now on the endangered list - badgers are not) increase when badgers are culled. Above a certain badger population density hedgehogs become extinct. According to hedgehog expert Pat Morris, "The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious. It's hard to know what, if anything, can be done to help. But ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn't help at all." [Dr Pat Morris - The New Hedgehog Book. British Natural History Series (2006)]

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  • E_Badger  |  November 28 2012, 10:09AM

    Another outstanding and provocative headline by the ThisIs team; however, there are a couple of inaccuracies in this article that need to be redressed. Brian May inherited shooting rights contract through the land management company when he acquired the land over two years ago (it can be noted historically before he became publically involved in standing against a badger cull). Dr May on advice from his land management company allowed the existing awarded contract to continue and took decision to monitor the outcome for a period of seven months before cessation on conclusion that the current land available was sufficient to support a healthy deer herd - all this has been published on a statement on Dr May's 'Save Me' Facebook campaign page. Dr May DOES NOT currently accept the need to kill deer to protect trees and there is NO current contract on his land to shoot deer. There is also no hypocrisy, an accusation levelled by Jan Rowe of cull management company GlosCon, in relation to the "apples and pears" comparisons as reported by the likes of the Sun and The Times concerning the pending badger cull, because his stance and that of his supporters in relation to the culling of badgers for alleged bTB control has not changed. In fact the NFU have recently shown themselves to be culpable of "hypocrisy" by, and following on from DEFRA's previous statement that "all tools in the toolbox are being used to combat bTB", publishing an article in Farmers Weekly on behalf of South West farmers who believe that the newly imposed biosecurity measures due to take effect from 1 January 2013 should be postponed until the badger cull is underway. Non-controversial methods that could improve the overall health of their business. The deaths of tens of thousands of cattle is also a misleading figure, given that this represents only 1% of the national dairy herd and that many more animals are comitted to slaughter through lameness and diseases other than bTB. The Welsh government and participating farmers in the badger vaccination programme are to be commended however, for leading the way. One should also note that on the FERA vaccination programme enrolment site in repsonse to the question "do you have to vaccinate every badger?" the response is "No, only a proportion of the suseptable population... this is known as herd immunity ...". FERA is of course a department of DEFRA. So whilst Dr May might in some eyes be acknowledged as being naieve [two years ago], something which he has admitted himself, "hypocrisy" is definitely not a correct term. Badgers are badgers and deer are deer and the current attempts by NFU, Countryside Alliance, recycled media et al to confuse the issue of science and personal ethics will ultimately fail, because some of us can actually tell the difference.

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