SO I’m sitting at work doing my job – which consists of creating and editing the national news pages of The Northern Echo and one or two other things – when my eyes alight on a story from the Press Association about buzzards being wiped out by a government department to further the interests of the pheasant-shooting fraternity . . .
I scan it twice because, basically, I can’t believe what I’m reading. But it’s there in black and white: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has drawn up proposals to control the number of buzzards (a protected species) which include destroying nests, capturing adult birds and imprisoning them in falconries.
The reason is, ostensibly, to protect rural jobs and boost local economies with the buzzards paying the price. But really it’s for one reason and one reason only: so wealthy fat oafs of the type who impose austerity measures on people like you and me can kill even more pheasants than they would have killed previously. This is avian cleansing.
I walk into the afternoon editorial conference with this story at the top of my list and deliver a speech that has more than one or two F words in it. Everyone is outraged by these Defra proposals – “stunned” would not be an inappropriate word.
That was yesterday. And that is why if you live north of York and south of Newcastle and you pick up a copy of The Northern Echo this morning, you’ll find an entire page dedicated to the RSPB and other conservationist groups attacking these outrageous proposals – and a leader written by the editor slagging off the pheasant-plucking pillocks who drew them up.
But buzzards apart, this insidious plan has wider ramifications. If a government department as powerful and as influential as Defra can propose the destruction of a protected species to further the interests of the wealthy and the landed, where does that leave our hard-won access rights? How long before Defra proposes we are turfed off the grouse moors to “boost the local economy” and “protect rural jobs” in these “times of hardship” (not forgetting that these times of hardship were dumped on us by the type of people who think nothing of forking out £600 for a day bagging pheasants).
The Tories opposed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 tooth and nail (the best legislation, besides the minimum wage, that Blair introduced). They didn’t want people like you and me traipsing across their open acres, burning their heather with our fag ends and disturbing their birds with our transistor radios and raucous voices. We were a threat to their way of life – and now we are an intrusion that’s tolerated to a point.
Keep an eye on this buzzard stuff. Keep another eye on the way our employment rights are being undermined. And, if you can, keep a third eye on your right to walk in your own country – because these cherry-cheeked toffs are on a high, and if they can consider wiping out birds of prey to increase the profits of their supporters, they are capable of considering anything.