Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Fleas have rights too!

The other day the Telegraph carried a story saying that members of the BBC's Gardeners Question Time panel were receiving threats from animal rightists.

It seems a bizarre sort of thing to happen, because experienced gardeners are usually eco-friendly and wildlife-aware sort of people - especially Bob Flowerdew (picture Mail) who many will know is a committed organic gardener.

He was the one who was thought a bit whacky when he built towers of old tyres for vegetables. He was the one who advocated using bits of carpet for clearing weeds instead of a chemical quick-fix cosh. He would never, ever use chemicals, and he always glories in the rich and varied wildlife of his Norfolk garden. But best to use Bob's own words
I moved to this plot of just under an acre twenty five years ago planning to grow every fruit, vegetable and scented plant possible, for my own and family's home consumption, and have done so to the highest Organic Standards.

As well as the multiplicity of crops I've also kept chickens, ducks, geese and bees.

So, what happened? What heinous crime did the team commit?

The GQT panel was asked a question about four-legged vermin control and answered it. They didn't condemn the questioner. These gardening experts simply explained how to control over-populations of creatures such as rats, moles and grey squirrels.

Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid, didn't like what they did, and didn't like what they said. The Telegraph article lets him set the animal-rightist ball rolling in the best, emotive, up-to-date-speak, way possible. Something Mrs R will respond to from her own point of view - an extended view that doesn't relate solely to his emphasis on grey squirrels. He said,
"The whole premise of gardeners killing squirrels is hateful and bigoted. It's the worst kind of intolerance."
Notice not only the 'hate' but the addition of two recent buzzwords, frequently used by those to the left of the political spectrum to give added credence to their, "I'm right, you're wrong!" argument. It's nasty name-calling and a big case of, "I want to have my own way, and to make sure I get my own way I'll call you names!". It's nothing more than that, but it can be intimidating, and it can be seen as threatening by some.

Let's see - "Intolerance". It's a peculiar sort of word these days because it's used so often. Mrs R thinks it's more often used to refer to people with differing lifestyles, so perhaps it is the right word to use here, although it's a bit skewed. Being 'intolerant' is pushing your own agenda, and not letting other people be, do or think what they are happiest at being, doing, or thinking. Intolerance has been the basis of whole rafts of legislation to force people to be 'tolerant'. Unfortunately 'being tolerant' isn't necessarily the right thing to say about how humans relate to some animal species, and it would appear that Andrew Tyler himself lacks a not only a certain tolerance, but also demonstrates a whole heap of ignorance.

Would he condemn an arachnophobe for being 'intolerant' of spiders, or would he recommend counselling to help them overcome their debilitating fear? Or would he, maybe, recommend they go and buy one of these, or some of this? Mrs R uses one of these and a sturdy envelope!

What about the slug hiding deep inside that organic lettuce? Would it be released into the wild, put in the bin or down the plughole?

Would a parent whose child comes home from school with head lice be criticised for de-lousing, and would a pet owner whose animal has become infested with fleas, perhaps picked up from a hedgehog, a fox or even another dog or cat, be called 'intolerant' when they use a flea spray to kill these biting insects, fumigate their carpets and prevent any eggs from hatching - or would they be called wise and health conscious?

Don't fleas have rights too? Aren't they only doing what comes naturally?

Or do people such as Andrew Tyler only claim to represent the feelings and life-values of furry creatures with faces? The ones that have been increasingly anthropomorphised ever since Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame wrote their children's stories.

Using his terminology, Mrs R will admit to 'tolerating' most creatures - but not rats, mice and squirrels, or fleas, not when they invade her and her family's immediate space.

None of the Rigbys has ever lived in a brand new building, so each successive "Rigby Towers" has had air gaps a-plenty. Where there are air gaps then nature, in all its' glory, will soon follow - sometimes with unpleasant and potentially health-threatening consequences. Fortunately these things tend not to happen either all at once or in quick succession, but during Mrs R's lifetime she's experienced the following :-

Mice in kitchen cupboards.
Mrs R challenges anybody who finds trails of mice faeces on crockery and around food packets to say, "Aww, cute mice!" and leave them to their games.

Anybody faced with this scenario will resort to using either poison, traps, or a cat. Not doing so will put their own, and their family's, health at risk. If humane traps are used and the mice are released nearby they'll find their way back remarkably quickly. Releasing them into a strange area means releasing them into another animal's territory where they will have no idea where to find either food or shelter from predators - something that could be almost as cruel as a gin trap.

Mice in the bedroom!
It takes a few mice less than a fortnight to destroy wardrobes full of clothes by tucking into a sleeve here, a hem or a neckline there. It takes a few mice less than a fortnight to munch and defaecate their way through drawers full of undies, socks, tee shirts and jumpers. For a family of humans to return from holiday to discover that all their clothing, bar those in their suitcases, has been destroyed by a small mammal results in instant, and dire, repercussions for the culprit(s) - either the cat, fresh home from the cattery, is released to do its' worst, or a trap is set.

Moles in the veg patch.
Molehills might look fine on a roadside verge, but when the beasties erupt a mound of soil in the middle of the carrots something needs to be done. Plant deterrents such as euphorbias don't work, nor do bottles buried in the ground. Electric deterrents work a bit, but a determined, and burgeoning population of moles can only be resolved by either permanently raising the water table so they move next door (which is impractical), by something more fatal or a thick layer of concrete.

Grey squirrels in the attic.
Yep, those too. These creatures can't tell the difference between a plastic-coated electricity-carrying cable and a twig. They like to strip the bark from twigs with the intention of eating it, and try to do the same with the plentiful supply of wires in the roof space. It is not only dangerous, but also very expensive to fix.

Rats in the garden.
Even though they say we're all at most a few yards away from a rat, because they frequently live in the sewers, we Rigbys won't tolerate them living above ground in our garden. Not with a garden pond and with pets and children sharing the space. Rats can carry Leptosporiosis, otherwise known as Weil's Disease and also Hantavirus. Because cases of infection are, apparently, rare the symptoms are not well-known and not always picked up by a GP.

Having had a family member laid low by reluctantly, and late-diagnosed, Lyme Disease we Rigbys are aware of the devastating impact of an infection by something so small. We simply won't take the risk.

There are lots of rats. Rats are increasing in numbers ever since councils were ordered to encouraged to allowed to relax the frequency of household waste collection (originally brought in by legislation to protect the public's health) and street cleaning and gully clearing became an occasional rather than regular occurrence. At the same time councils were, umm, encouraged, to rake in as much as they could charge for non-essential services, so 'pest control' (including first call-out) for non-council tenants and/or non-recipients of state benefits became chargeable, and expensive. We Rigbys and our neighbours have seen rats in the garden for the first time ever. Because there are only a few Rigbys compared to the numbers of rats we've seen, the garden of Rigby Towers and neighbouring properties are now protected by bait. You can even buy the stuff from Tesco these days - but these guys are good.

Call us selfish, if you will, but it's our family and our health. You want rats - then keep them in your own garden!

Likewise, if a squirrel ever moves into the attic of Rigby Towers it will be trapped by a licensed expert. The law says that it is legal to trap a grey squirrel, provided you have a license. The law also says it is illegal to release a trapped grey squirrel into the wild - which means that once trapped the creature must be humanely dispatched. (see DEFRA) Which moves neatly onto the next quote from Andrew Tyler.
"People should cherish them. But there is a concerted attempt to characterise them as vermin and a threat to the red."
Oh believe me Mr Tyler, we Rigbys enjoy seeing a grey squirrel jumping and running up the garden in search of peanuts and seeds. But they're not human, they aren't able to understand the law of supply and demand - they're hungry and will eat until there's nothing left. We Rigbys and our neighbours have, between us, spent a small fortune in bird feeders, so we now have a system that allows them access to one, and only one, which is wired in place onto a metal bracket. The feeder itself has steel 'ports' through which the creatures can access the contents - which they do, and amuse us human observers. They'll chew through anything else, will bite through thin wire or keep at it until it's untwisted. Feeders of almost any size or weight will be unhooked and run off with - meaning there's nothing left for the birds. Oh, and grey squirrels will eat birds eggs too. If they're hungry enough they'll chew through a nesting box to reach the contents, and gobble up the eggs of those fluffy, hard-working, Blue Tits without a second thought, which is why the lids have bitumen coverings and the openings are protected by sheet metal.

What we Rigbys do is called control, and it's also being reasonable. It's a way of rationing the resources we are able to, and can personally afford to, offer the visitors to our garden. It's a way of making sure each type of creature gets a chance.

We like grey squirrels because we've never known anything else, and as was said recently, have never seen a native red squirrel in the wild.

Perhaps if the Victorians had understood that wild animals are just that, and are not easily contained behind six foot walls, they would never have introduced the species to Britain. In a mere hundred or so years the few specimen grey squirrels brought to this country managed to breed so successfully that, as a species, the greys have out-performed the native red squirrel which is now at serious risk of extinction. There are too many to try to trap and return to their native habitat - which is North America - the only option is to cull them, to give the red squirrels a fighting chance of survival.

It would be interesting to know how animal rightists would react if, say, there were two separate species of oh, I don't know, let's say 'elephant', whose native habitats were normally separated by a huge, uncrossable-without-a-ship ocean - but due to mankind's ignorance the bigger of the two had been moved to the other's habitat 'for fun' and, because it bred more quickly and had no natural enemies in its new country, was eating the other to extinction. Would these people acknowledge that the intruder, as a species, was still doing very well in its' original home and should, as a matter of expediency, be removed from where it is an alien species? Or wouldn't he/they mind too much if the little one died out for ever? Would they mind if the species became extinct? - Because it seems that's what they want to happen to Britain's native Red Squirrel. And that, sort of, moves to the final point quoted in the Telegraph.
"Gardeners who should be nurturing life and respecting life shouldn't be taking this bigoted view."
At this point Mrs R spits out her coffee!

The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot thus:
a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others.
Mrs Rigby has, firstly, three words to say. They are, in random order as follows:-




Oh, and OED also says that garden is
• noun 1 chiefly Brit. a piece of ground adjoining a house, typically cultivated to provide a lawn and flowerbeds.
2 (gardens) ornamental grounds laid out for public enjoyment.

• verb cultivate or work in a garden.
A garden is a man-made alien environment, it is not a native habitat. A garden left to its own devices will firstly end up with knee high grass, docks, dandelions, plantains, thistles and so on - the butterflies might like it, and a few mice, but not much else because, for example, the blackbirds won't be able to get at the worms they depend on. It'll then be invaded by the quickest growing local 'weeds' - brambles, nettles, bindweed etc., which will out-compete the grasses and so there won't be food for those butterflies, except for the few that lay their eggs on brambles and nettles. Eventually, if left for many, many years, it would turn into something vaguely resembling how the local landscape might have looked before the ground was turned into a garden, before it was fertilized and composted, before it was enclosed and tended - but it would include imported, alien, plants growing strongly. These plants are useless to the local wildlife because they've evolved elsewhere, nothing much eats them, nothing much lays eggs on or near them - because British wildlife doesn't know how.

It's also important to remember that away from gardens and on similarly sized areas of land these days there are generally fewer birds, fewer small mammals and fewer insects - because in the 'wild'* there are no people to provide food. Gardens are crucial to the survival of wildlife of our overcrowded little island, and they also have to be managed to ensure there are not too many predators.

Although she doesn't listen to it very often Mrs R knows that the GQT programme is, perhaps unusually these days for the BBC, not there to promote an agenda. The expert gardeners are there to answer questions, and to answer them to the best of their ability based on their knowledge and experience.

The question was asked on a show recorded at Hillsborough Castle in Ireland. Eric Robson chair[ed] the programme from Garden Show Ireland, at Hillsborough Castle, County Down. He [was] joined by Chris Beardshaw, Bunny Guinness and Bob Flowerdew.. The cumulative knowledge, and accepted expertise of these individuals is immense - and they look after the ecosystem of the whole garden, not solely for the benefit of the four-legged visitors.

h/t for story Englishman's Castle
'wild' - a misnomer.

Every square inch of land in Britain is owned, and is managed in some way or another, either by homeowners/landowners (including landlords), local or national government, railways, highways authorities, farmers, Forestry Commission, National Park authorities, English Nature, Wildlife Trusts etc., etc.. All of Britain is 'as we/they want it to look', and depends on the current 'fashion' for land maintenance, current 'best practice' for managing both native wildlife and ecosystems.


Witterings From Witney said...

Yet another essay Mrs. R. worthy of commendation.

Rats in the garden" - so they had no words of advice for the ones in Westminster then?

John R said...

In similar vein I believe the parents of the young twins who were savaged by an urban fox have now received hate mail from the animal rights nutters as they subsequently had the fox caught and killed.

It amazes me there are so many anti-human headcases allowed to walk around freely without their carers. Perhaps we ought to declare open season on them to provide a new sport that doesnt require foxes to be killed.

Mrs Rigby said...

Thanks very much WfW.

@ JohnR - yes, which is why they ended up with police protection.

The Lincolnshire Poacher said...

Mr Tyler is more than welcome to visit the Poacher's abode where he'll be shown what killing squirrels is all about.

Present score...Poacher 15.....Squirrels...0


JuliaM said...

"...yes, which is why they ended up with police protection."

I'm a little dubious about that 'police protection' story, which if I recall was bever corroborated by the police themselves. They don't exactly rush to give it to people who face far more likely threats, after all...

Blood In The Sand said...

Aim at the central body mass - Shoot To Kill is a Media Buzzphrase.

I have and will kill anything that gets in my way. But that's just me.