Badgers and their culling found its way back on to the agenda at Westminster yesterday, where a Westminster Hall Debate took place, thanks to the petition led by Simon King (no relation.)
You can read the debate here and there are some interesting speeches from all political standpoints.
Perhaps the most extraordinary intervention was from one of Dorset’s MPs – Richard Drax, or Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, as he really ought to be named. Drax owns the 7000 acre Charborough Estate in Dorset and has graced these pages before.
This “man of the people” who has campaigned enthusiastically for Brexit, has quietly trousered over Three Million Euros in farm subsidies since 1999, with a healthy £384,351 of single farm payments in 2015.
Drax, who used to be a BBC news journalist, came up with some truly whacky “facts” in the debate. This is what he said, according to Hansard
“I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s excellent speech. Does he agree that those who oppose the cull look at the badger as a friendly, lovable animal, which in effect it is not? Factually, the badger is responsible for destroying bee hives, hedgehogs and ground-nesting birds such as skylarks, grey partridges and meadow pipits. [Interruption.] That is true. It is also responsible for the loss of wood warblers, nightingales and stone curlews. Those are facts. The badger is a danger, and like all wild animals that have no natural predator—just like deer and foxes—it should be culled, so that numbers are maintained.”
Now it’s known that Badgers predate the eggs of ground-nesting birds such as skylarks and grey partridges. Could Mr Drax’s interest in protecting grey partridges be purely altruistic? Perhaps not. His Charborough Estate organises (commercial) shoots of Pheasant and er Partridge.
As to what “Pippets” are, is anyone’s guess. They sound charming and defenceless especially against the remorseless Badgers (with emphasis on the BAD) that inhabit Mr Drax’s rarified world.
Whether badger predation of ground-nesting bird’s eggs is a significant problem for them, as for hedgehogs, is another matter. Populations of ground-nesting birds of farmland have been declining across the country, whether there are large populations of badgers or not. It’s even possible that badgers might take the well-hidden eggs of the wood warbler, though scientific research only found one badger predation out of 28 predation incidents, compared with three by greater-spotted woodpeckers. Did I hear calls for a woodpecker cull? I did not.
But what really stumped me was the suggestion that badgers were responsible for Nightingale deaths. I searched the literature – and found nothing. Until I came across an article by Robin Page in the Daily Mail from 2013 and found this:
“But it is not just hedgehogs that suffer from badger predation. The eggs and young of ground-nesting birds such as skylarks, grey partridge and meadow pipits are vulnerable, as are the nests of the rare wood warbler and nightingale in woodlands.
So there you have it. Page claims, with no evidence, that nests are vulnerable. Drax converts this into “responsible for the loss of”, going way beyond what even Page was claiming.
While other MPs in the debate chose their words carefully and cited scientific evidence, Mr Drax found an old article in the Mail by Robin Page and misquoted it. Apart from the usual “look at Possums in New Zealand” irrelevancies, Drax made no other contribution to the debate.
Sadly, he’s not my MP. Otherwise I might have requested a meeting to discuss this with him. Any readers who are South Dorset constituents can do so. I would be happy to help them prepare for the meeting.