Animal rights group criticises Gardener's Question Time panellists for advocating killing animals

Animal rights campaigners have attacked BBC Gardener's Question Time panellists as "hateful and bigoted" for advocating killing squirrels, moles and other animals in the BBC radio programme.

The "country folk veruses urban bunny huggers" debate falls in the International Year of Biodiversity in which gardening bodies such as Kew Gardens and the RHS are trying to encourage gardeners to learn to love animals rather than kill them.

Gardener's Question Time (GQT) panellist and RHS garden design judge Bunny Guinness uses Kania traps, which kill squirrels with a spring mechanism like a mousetrap which crushes their necks.

She said some of her comments were cut out of the programme in case they upset animal lovers. She added: "The Kania Trap is really effective for grey squirrels. It kills dead — no argument. It's safe as long as there are no reds [squirrels] or boys climbing trees."

The garden designer said she uses peanut butter bait to kill the pest which she says "destroys trees and veg".

She added: "I'm intolerant of them and rabbits and pigeons. I use an air rifle on them. In the country people are more like that. I planted 1,000 trees 25 years ago but the squirrels have come in and they are providing food for them. Coming from a farming background, I'm intolerant."

Guinness said she admired people like TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall "who are gutting and making black pudding from the innards and killing and eating their own animals".

She said it was "psychologically difficult the first time I had my own pig you do feel very sorry. But I'm out to be as self-sufficient as I can. I've not eaten squirrel yet but I will."

She said garden pests included parakeets, squirrels, foxes, deer, badgers and rabbits. electric fence, adding "badger setts are fine but I don't want them coming into my garden."

But Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler said: "The whole premise of gardeners killing squirrels is hateful and bigoted. It's the worst kind of intolerance. The same intolerance was extended to the red squirrel for decades with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of reds killed with a price on their tail up to the 1930s. There's the same level of intolerance against greys today using the reasoning that they kills small birds and strip trees and they are tree rats. Reds were persecuted in the same way.

"We destroyed their habitat for wood for wartime. Greys are one of the few species that flourish in this country that have contact with people. People should cherish them. But there is a concerted attempt to characterise them as vermin and a threat to the red.

"Gardeners who should be nurturing life and respecting life shouldn't be taking this bigoted view.

Tyler said characterising the debate as a country knowledge against urban ignorance was "fake".

"Were talking about agribusiness orchestrated on an industrial scale slaughter rather than a country versus town debate.

"There's nothing traditional about that. Stoats, weasels, foxes and rabbits are killed in vast numbers by the shooting industry to support their means of production of 50 million pheasants and partridges mainly raised in sheds to be shot for sport.

"It's a fake schism between people who care and people who adopt the philosophy that any creature that is not productive or is an inconvenience should be persecuted and eliminated. There's nothing wholesome or natural or sustainable about that."

He said biodiversity should mean gardeners' move on from their tradition of controlling animals.

"There has to be a concession to the natural world. I understand that gardeners want to promote and develop a particular aesthetic but that should not be at the expense of animals.

"If we're to co-exist with other creatures gardeners have got to concede territory like shops concede a percentage of stock to shoplifters. Doing that doesn't means business can't continue.

"For a percentage of what gardeners create has to be accepted will be less than perfection. Attempting to maintain 100 per cent perfection leads you to use self destructive chemicals."

Another GQT panellist, Bob Flowerdew, said: "We have 2m listeners and when I suggest quite rightly that rats are becoming a pest I get hate mail saying rats have a right to live. We can do without rats, mice, fleas, lice and I'd add wood pigeons to the list. I don't mean pets rats. But get real. Rats are a pest. They brought medieval Black Death.

"There's animal welfare and then there's common sense. I'm with Bunny Guinness but she's perhaps gone a bit too far.

"But next you'll see Animal Hospital on TV with a rat with a broken leg. Animal welfare is brilliant but let's keep it in proportion.

"This is a serious problem. We are losing our roots with farming and people are beginning to forget. Country gardeners still see the problem but town gardeners are not looking. The fabric of your house could be ripped to the ground, never mind your garden.

"But with 2m listeners someone is always going to disagree. You can never please everybody."

Tyler said: "I would defend rats. You don't want to encourage them to breed because they put other creatures at risk. We had rats in our garden so we disrupted their runs. They are neophobes. If you change their local set up it disturbs them. If you move the rat run and move the compost heap and leave no seed out rats disappear. We sought advice. There's always a way. They won't breed without a food source. Poison doesn't work. It's not a permanent solution. We use John Bryant humane wildlife control. I'm not saying people should put up with rats but there are ways of dealing with them."

GQT chairman Eric Robson said he had a particular interest in red squirrels because he lives in the Lake District, one of the last havens of the native mammal.

"We're trying to keep the greys out of their habitats. If we do nothing as gardeners we've seen what invasives plants can do like Japanese knotweed. Greys shouldn't be here- they're an invasive species. It upsets the balance. It would be a tragedy if reds disappear. You have to take a sensible view. We think nothing of waging war against Japanese knotweed. I don't think there are people who look after grey squirrels.

"This is another example of the rift of knowledge between urban and rural man.

"People in towns are funny creatures and think how sweet grey squirrels are. In fact they're tree rats to the countryman. I'm suggesting a grey squirrel cookbook because killing an animal simply for the sake of it is a stage removed from killing for practical purposes. All non-vegetarians would agree. I'm told they're good to eat.

"Where I live in the Lake District is the front line in the battle against grey squirrels. I've not seen a red for three months though I have seen more greys, which may indicates greys had given reds parapox.

Robson farms 30 acres of oak and ash woodland and is using pigs to clear undergrowth to create a seedbed.

He says: "Pigs make more mess than moles. I've never set a mole trap but if someone with a precious striped lawn did I'd understand."

Robson said GQT surveys of the top 10 questions received from listeners always has slugs and snails as number one. Moles is always in the top 10.

He said: "That's why we filter questions. The producer has to cut them."

GQT producer Howard Shannon said the programme had touched on killing moles and squirrels before but denied Bunny's more outrageous comments had been cut for reasons of taste.

"We record more than we need and cut out what we don't need. We're upfront about squirrels but we can't encourage off the cuff tips on killing badgers because it's illegal.

"The BBC compliance unit hears the show before it goes out. We've said a hundred times to use chicken wire to stop squirrels. We include the three ‘p's',  plan, propagate and prune. Four is quirky, which can be wildlife."

Uncommon Garden Company owner Anne Fitzsimons said: "We get badgers in our veg plot. I had to buy veg from the supermarket because they dug mine up. But I say live and let live. I recommend using sacrifice plants that are toothsome to pests."


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