15 June 2013

As an ex-employee of the Beeb, I've always been very supportive of everything the Corporation does.  But its attitude to badgers is very disappointing - and misguided.

Brock opera: Act II

Mr Brock

Two pilot culling schemes are under way, but the BBC still won't face the truth: our out-of-control badger populations is causing havoc.

I have a very strange Diary this week.  It starts off with an alliance between the BBC and badgers, and casts doubt on both the BBC's objectivity and its impartiality.  For the organisation that is supposed to be our public service broadcaster, this is a very strange state of affairs.

My story begins with a member of the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT), living in Lowestoft, complaining to Countryfile that he never sees the CRT  on that programme - a valid moan.  The series producer of Countryfile, Teresa Bogan, then responded via BBC Complaints with a few sentences of self-justification - at which the BBC is extremely good.  Her best sentence was: 'In reality the combination of stories is determined by a while range of editorial and logistical considerations including presenter availability, geography and the overall mix of items on the show.'  Please note that Countryfile is a 'show', not a 'programme'.

Then came an angry telephone call from a Devonian CRT farming member; 'Did you see Countryfile on 5 May?'  I had to explain that I do not normally watch 'the show', and I don't know any real country people or naturalists who watch it.  The whole thing is too homogenised and sanitised for me - and them.

Mrs Tiggywinkle
'You must see it.  I've just seen John Craven interview a woman from Ely.  They did an item on hedgehogs.  The woman blamed the decline of hedgehogs on road casualties and the removal of hedgerows.  They made no mention of predation by the booming badger population.'

So I turned to BBC iPlayer. I could hardly believe it.  What did Teresa Bogan say earlier?  Stories are determined by 'logistics, geography and the availability of presenters'.  Oh yes. So what did that edition of Countryfile feature?  It was a special programme from Cambridgeshire.  And where is the CRT's HQ?  Cambridgeshire.  And where is the CRT's best-known farm? Cambridgeshire.  And where do I live? Cambridgeshire.  And where does the CRT's brilliant tenant farmer Tim Scott live? Cambridgeshire.  And did the CRT get a mention in its 20th anniversary year?  No, it did not.  And one of the items was indeed about a hedgehog release.  And was it the CRT's hedgehog release, as described in my last Diary?  No it was not, it was another one, at Ely Cathedral.

Shapreth Wildlife Park
The woman talking about hedgehogs to John Craven was the excellent Rebecca Willers from the Shepreth Wildlife Park - she too was featured in my last Diary.  On the programme she attributed hedgehog decline to road kills and loss of hedgerows, and then it was clear to me that she had been edited.  I know that Rebecca believes badgers are serious predators of hedgehogs as she would not let the CRT put hedgehogs on Lark Rise Farm because of the local badgers.

I telephoned her.  'Yes,' Rebecca said: 'I mentioned that predation by badgers was an important factor in hedgehog decline several times and it was edited out.'  So there we have it - Countryfile changing the story to avoid the facts, or so it seems.  Did John Craven sit idly by as this was edited out?  If he had doubt about the impact of badgers while he was in Ely, he could have walked to Topping and Company - surely one of the best bookshops in Britain - to Badger by Prof Timothy Roper, or The New Hedgehog Book,  by Prof Pat Morris (Whittet Books).

In my view, this is highly selective editing.  I will leave it up to readers - is the badger omission simply a matter of 'editorial discretion' or is it the Disneyfication of nature?  I would love to read your views.  In my view it is not objectivity; it seems to little short of animal-rights propaganda.  What is the BBC, hierarchy going to do about this unacceptable situation?

After my last badger-centric Diary I was inundated with stories concerning the impact of the huge badger population, growing from 50,000 to more than 1,000,000 in 30 years.  At the same time, the hedgehog population has plummeted from more than 30 million to less than 1 million.  Yes, Mr Brock finds Mrs Tiggywinkle a delicious meal.  

Hedgehogs are not the only sufferers; ground-nesting birds, from grey partridges and lapwings to nightingales and the rare wood warbler, have also been hit - so why is the RSPB in a state of denial?  In addition to birds, leverets and hibernating dormice are in danger, as well as frogs, toads, bumblebees and honeybees.  I am not being 'anti'-badger.  They are beautiful animals - there are simply too many of them.

Red Partridge
Last week I visited a farm in the Cherwell Valley where they produce honey, cereals, rape and sheep.  It has wild-flower headlands, pollen and nectar strips and bird seed banks.  There are 47 beehives, producing more than 1.5 tons of honey a year - but there is a constant battle with badgers trying to break into the hives.  There are large badger setts on the farm, including one with more than 40 entrances.

Similarly, there is some wonderful wet pasture by the River Cherwell, part of a Breeding Wader Project.  There are breeding curlew, lapwing and redshank and they are allowed to control foxes, crows and magpies - but can do nothing about the badgers, kites, buzzards and sparrowhawks, not even disturb them.

Another thing.  Results from Ireland show that with badger culling, bovine TV can be significantly reduced.  Cattle on a closed dairy farm in Dorset - 'closed' meaning that no cattle have moved onto the farm (it has been closed for 99 years) - have suddenly got TB.  Since autumn, more than a third of the herd has been slaughtered.  And the strain of TB?  A virulent form usually found on Exmoor.  

This almost certainly means that animal rights campaigners are trapping badgers in the Somerset cull area (illegal) and releasing them in Dorset (illegal) with no concern for the consequences.  This also means that healthy Dorset badgers will get TB.  It's an act of stupidity and cruelty, as bad as when those misguided hooligans released mink from mink farms into the general countryside several years ago.

Simple common sense shows that in the unnatural landscapes of Britain it's impossible to get a balance between predator and prey or to control disease without active manipulation of species.  

Those at the sharp end of farming and conservation know this - but it is those at the top of the tree who make the public statements.  It all goes to show how far modern Britain has drifted away from the land, nature and reality.  I believe Countryfile is encouraging this process.

From an article by Robin Page in the Telegraph, Saturday 15 June 2013.  Robin's profile is on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/robin-page/.

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