A couple of weeks ago there were widespread celebrations when Natural England decided that the Beaver family that has been residing on the River Otter, for several years, can stay, at least for another five – if they are found to be clear of the parasite EM. They will be captured, taken to Surrey and tested for EM, then returned to Devon. Let’s hope they all survive the ordeal. Beavers have been extinct in England for hundreds of years.
Wild Boar have reappeared in the English Countryside (especially the West Country, Sussex/Kent and the Forest of Dean) over the past 20 years, having escaped, or been “liberated” from farms. While they are certainly not a common sight, being very shy, they are having an impact. One is supposed to have caused a fatal road traffic accident on the M4 recently; and things really came to a head when Princess Anne, speaking at a farming conference, told the audience that one had broken in to her farm, and killed a prized Gloucester Old Spot Boar. These incidents have led to calls for them to be eradicated, exterminated, removed from England (again.) While there are only small numbers, these are increasing. But they are as nothing compared to the situation in countries where Boar is native, and its population is spreading. In the German state of Hesse, the Green Party has called for the Boar population to be culled, partly, it seems, because they are damaging Maize crops grown for biogas. What irony! Wild Boar respect no boundaries – take the one that broke through a security fence, then ran onto Madrid Airport’s runway.
And then there are our cute cuddly Badgers, which of course aren’t – cuddly. Cute is in mind of the beholder. Our Farming Minister George Eustice reacted to Labour’s announcement they would suspend the cull, which aims to reduce Badger populations by 70-75% in each cull area. He announced that, if the Tories get in, they will roll out the cull to more and more areas. The figure was 40 areas, similar in size to the current ones.
One reason why Boar and Badgers’ populations are so healthy, or growing rapidly, is because they love eating Maize. Maize is the most ecologically damaging crop grown in England; and its popularity is expanding rapidly (partly thanks to biogas subsidies). And it’s fuelling the rise in the population of these meso-mammals.
So, where do we, in England, stand when in comes to Mammals?
The Government view seems to be:
If it’s been hunted to extinction 500 years ago, and there are only a few returning, they are given a 5 year stay of execution (though most, if not all, of the public welcome them). But only as long as they don’t harbour a disease or damage farmland. (Beaver)
If it’s been hunted to extinction 800 years ago, but there are quite a few returning, and they cause road accidents and damage to farmland, they are not welcomed and may be re-extincted. (Boar)
If it’s a native mammal whose population is recovering after centuries of persecution, and they damage farmland, and are implicated in spreading disease, they are not welcomed and their populations will be decimated. (Badger).
To cement this position, just last week, despite the best efforts of the John Muir Trust and Client Earth, the Government, in the Infrastructure Act, reclassified the Beaver and the Boar as “native species no longer normally present” in England and Wales. This means they can be subject to Species Control Agreements and Species Control Orders. These new legal instruments allow Natural England, or the Environment Agency to require landowners to eradicate Beaver and Boar from their land; and if they don’t do so, the Agencies can pay contractors to enter private land and do the extermination.
I think this was clearly a move to subjugate the concerns of the Farming and Landowning Communities, who don’t want medium sized mammals, whether currently native or not, on their land, eating their crops, interfering with their farm animals, spreading disease and what not. It means that a future “Beavers reappear on the Otter” scenario is much less likely. And it does lead to the prospect of Badgers being eradicated entirely from areas of England, then added to the list of “native species no longer present”, such that if any do try to return, they can be killed under a Species Control Order.
I wonder what UKIP’s view of the Badger, the Beaver and the Boar is. Are they Native? Are the Incomers? Are they Aliens?
Of course all this flies in the face of the protection afforded to the Beaver under the Habitats Directive, and I expect a complaint will be being filed with the European Commission very soon. Not that the UK has a very good record of taking much notice of what the European Commission thinks.
Thanks to Sheila Wren at John Muir Trust for help on the Infrastructure Act.
Photo: “Sus scrofa ies” by Frank Vincentz – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sus_scrofa_ies.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sus_scrofa_ies.jpg