It’s not easy to admit, but in the past few days I found myself in the invidious position of agreeing with both Clarissa Dickson-Wright and Robin Page.
Ms Dickson-Wright, the TV cook and larger-than-life personality with a gung-ho approach to rural life and foxhunting; Mr Page, well known to Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail readers for his “Why oh why oh why?” articles on how much better life in the countryside was in the good old days and the evils of modern farming. My agreement with either on anything is usually nil.
But I agree with Ms Dickson-Wright’s recent criticism of the RSPCA for its overtly aggressive approach to field-sport, and other, prosecutions – and more or less with Mr Page’s views on the shooting of about 5,000 badgers now taking place as a first step towards controlling the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.
Both are dealing with subjects where hearts rule heads, and which now overlap with a warning by the Charity Commission to the RSPCA not to try and “name and shame” or otherwise intimidate farmers who gave permission for a badger cull on their land.
There is no doubt that since Gavin Grant became chief executive of the RSPCA, the society has taken a much more aggressive approach and in the view of many, including me, has exceeded its remit. Prosecuting clear cases of animal cruelty and monitoring treatment of animals with its team of inspectors is one thing. For Mr Grant to say in a TV documentary that the spotlight would be on those who gave permission for the cull to take place and that they would be “named and we will decide as citizens of this country whether they will be shamed” is another.
There are fears that a charity depending on public donations believes its own publicity as a super-hero righter of perceived wrongs.
A number of its recent allegations on badgers, fox-hunting and live sheep exports have been rejected not only by farmers’ unions, but in the courts. Ms Dickson-Wright, rightly, criticised the RSPCA for that.
Mr Page pointed out that most of us think of good old gruff, reliable Badger in “Wind In The Willows” or sensible, good natured Bill Badger in “Rupert The Bear” comic strips. We think they’re goodies with an engaging stripy face. In fact, badgers are carnivores that eat, among other things, hedgehogs and birds’ eggs, and have been linked increasingly to the spread of bovine TB. It is not conclusive evidence, but in the past 30 years the number of badgers in Britain has risen from about 50,000 to an estimated 900,000. In the same time, the number of TB cases in cattle has risen from 235 to 38,000. The idea of shooting badgers in an attempt to control that spread has been argued over for at least 10 years. A trial cull is now taking place and Mr Page believes that is right. I agree it’s worth a try.
Concerning hearts versus heads and emotions over-ruling common sense, there is a dilapidated, falling-down, farm steading just north of Morpeth on the AI. It boasts an anti-wind farm sign along the lines of “No Blight On The Countryside.” Neglected buildings don’t count then?