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Farmers' shooting ban is way off target

Farming | Published:

BIRD BRAINED. This headline was in the Farmers Guardian about the latest Natural England ruling.

Rosemary Allen is a retired livestock farmer living near Ellesmere

Until now farmers have been able to shoot birds to protect livestock and crops, but now, suddenly they will be breaking the law.

So crows can "peck lambs' eyes and tongues out and pigeons can get fat on crops." Other species? Jackdaws, magpies, rooks, gulls and jays which all predate ground nesting birds like curlews, larks, and lapwings, all of which are in decline.

Then there are feral pigeons, Canada and Egyptian geese, and collared doves, that swoop on crops in the winter and cause massive damage.

Now, nobody's saying we should wipe them out, just contain them. If a farmer can't reduce the numbers of pigeons he will not be able to protect his crops. If a shepherd isn't able to control crows he will lose lambs in the gruesome way described above.

Sheep are notorious for trying to die anyway, in as many and varied ways and places as possible,!

We once had a pedigree ram lamb which got stuck on his back (one of their methods of choice). It was in May just before shearing, so his fleece stopped him getting upright. However, we found him, with a crow happily pecking at the soft flesh in his groin.

Apart from his distress, struggling with this for at least an hour judging by the size of the hole, he would be worth £500 when sold. What to do? We could send him for slaughter, probably for our freezer, or we could get the vet to see if we could save him.

We called the vet, which is not a cheap option! He set about stitching from the inside out and joked he'd never done a caesarean on a ram before – same technique apparently. The ram sold well, covered the cost of the vet, made a bit of profit and went on to sire lots of lovely pedigree Charollais lambs.

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Natural England instigated this ruling as the result of "Wild Justice," a new group formed to protect all wild things. A contradiction in terms, because if you protect one you make another more vulnerable.

And who is the driver behind this new initiative? Chris Packham. I can't think of another thing to say!

At present Natural England is looking at "modifications." Let's hope reason prevails.

Rosemary Allen is a retired livestock farmer living near Ellesmere

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