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Should we hunt and eat grey squirrels?

PUBLISHED: 15:47 02 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:48 02 January 2018

Live on the telly box. I think we represented hunter-gatherers in a fair manner

Live on the telly box. I think we represented hunter-gatherers in a fair manner

Archant

Dave and Rosie Barham broadcast their defence of air rifle hunting on live TV

Why were we on This Morning? To defend our right to hunt and eat grey squirrels, among other things, and to highlight the damage that this invasive species has been doing to our native red squirrels and woodland birds.

Watch the video below:

How it all started

You may have seen the bad press a Facebook group, ‘Grey Squirrel Hunters UK’, received in the national press a while back. I saw the news reports and promptly joined the group to show my support and to see what all the fuss was about. Once accepted as a member of the group, I was quite amazed to see that it was just a group for like-minded hunters, showing off their quarry. Sure, there were a few pictures of dead squirrels, but there was nothing like the hype put out by the newspapers.

I happened to be active on one post, when a young lady posted claiming to be a researcher for ITV, looking for willing participants to interview. A quick flick through Google and LinkedIn soon confirmed that the lady was genuine, so I sent her a private message, telling her about my mother’s book, ‘Delicious Vermin’, and my history as a hunter.

Quite a few phone calls later and we had the researcher for Phil and Holly’s ‘This Morning’ show booking us train tickets and a private car to ferry us to and from the ITV studios. The rest, as they say, is history.

Both sides of the story

We’d been informed that there would be a representative from PETA UK on the show alongside us, but we weren’t told who it would be. We were also informed of the types of argument that would be put forward, and we were notified that we would be asked “Is it cruel?”

The next couple of days had my head in a spin. I brushed up my knowledge on the organisation, and did a little more research into the grey squirrel in readiness for a full-on ‘attack and defence’ situation, should it arise. The last thing I wanted was to be given this opportunity to represent fellow hunters and mess it all up – especially on live TV!

Research

During my research, I discovered some amazing facts, some I knew already and others I didn’t. Grey squirrels are immune to the ‘squirrel pox’ virus, and that’s the main reason they have decimated our native reds. I also learned just how much damage grey squirrels have done to our native woodland songbirds.They frequently raid nests and steal the eggs, but as if that were not bad enough, they also eat the newly hatched chicks, and even small birds.

That last fact really surprised me, and a quick search on YouTube had me armed to the teeth with info. Go ahead and type ‘squirrel eats bird’ in the YouTube search box – you’ll be presented with half a dozen home videos on the first page that people have taken of squirrels tucking into birds!

We were a bit gutted that Philip and Holly were on holidayWe were a bit gutted that Philip and Holly were on holiday

D-Day

I was nervous, to say the least. I’d prepared myself for a verbal attack from an anti-hunting, vegan nutcase. As it transpired, I really shouldn’t have been too worried. You see, our ‘representative’ from PETA was none other than the Director of PETA UK, Elisa Allen. What a lovely young lady she is. We got to spend a good half hour together in the ‘Green Room’ whilst we were waiting to go on the show, and we talked a lot. Sure we have polar opposite views, but we were both civil and listened to each other’s cases.

I actually felt a bit sorry for Elisa after the show, because she really didn’t get much chance to talk. The segment came and went in a flash, and it certainly didn’t seem like eight minutes.

'Who's a pretty boy then?''Who's a pretty boy then?'

Thankful

We could have done with at least half an hour, but I was thankful for the time we were given. All I can say is, Elisa, you are a credit to your organisation. If more vegans were like you, the world would be a much better place.

I was also surprised at the reaction the show received on social media. There were a few obvious fruit loops calling for my mother and I to be killed and turned into pâté, but that was to be expected. What did surprise me was the number of vegetarians who came out in support for hunting and eating meat. Quite a few veggies posted along the lines of ‘If you must eat meat, then surely it’s better to be hunting it yourself. It’s far more ethical and humane, and it helps reduce the demand for factory farming’. I fail to see how anyone can disagree with that sentiment.

Mum really enjoyed her ten-minute makeover by Martin, or 'Mr Face'Mum really enjoyed her ten-minute makeover by Martin, or 'Mr Face'

PETA Patter

Whilst researching PETA, I quickly realised that the ethics and foundations of the organisation are very attractive. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if it wasn’t for the whole underlying ‘vegan’ agenda, I would probably be a member myself. You see, the four core campaigns on which PETA is formed today are completely in line with my own way of thinking.

Their first campaign is the abolition of the fur trade. A good move, in my mind, we don’t need fur in this day and age. I don’t have a problem with leather goods, or animal products that are a byproduct from the meat trade, the entire animal has been put to use, but why rear animals and slaughter them en masse just for a fancy coat?

Their second campaign is the abolition of intense factory farming. Again, I totally agree. The conditions that these poor animals have to endure in their hundreds of thousands are awful. They’re crammed into small spaces, often wallowing in each others’ excrement, then injected with growth hormones, and antibiotics because there’s so much disease. They’re fed slurry, live a short, miserable life, then get crammed into a lorry for five or six hours, before being slaughtered.

In the Green Room (which is actually purple, with Elisa (middle))In the Green Room (which is actually purple, with Elisa (middle))

Cut off

I actually tried to use this example on the show, but got cut off. I made the statement that on a scale of 1 to 100, factory farming is up there at 100, whilst hunting with a rifle is down at 1. I don’t believe there is a more humane way to put meat on a plate than hunting with a rifle. The animal is unaware I’m there, it’s lived a happy, free-range life, and within a second it’s dead. It doesn’t even know it’s going to die, it happens that quickly. There’s no pain, no suffering.

Campaign trails

The third campaign is against the use of animals for human entertainment, such as dancing bears, bull fighting, even zoos. I don’t like seeing animals used for entertainment, and I don’t like seeing them kept in display cages in zoos, but I also understand that if we didn’t have zoos, then many animals would be on the verge of extinction – or extinct.

The last campaign that PETA bases its whole ethos on is the use of animals for experiments. Again I really don’t like the thought of animals being tortured just so women can wear a longer-lasting lipstick, but I also know that we wouldn’t have many of the medicines or medical procedures without testing.

With those key four campaigns, it’s hard to see why anybody couldn’t agree with them. However, as we all know, these campaigns are really not what PETA is all about.

Pest Control

Although it was only mentioned briefly, I would have liked to expand on the vegan view that pest control is unnecessary. If we were to ban all forms of pest control, then all hell would break loose over time. Just take pigeons and rabbits as an example. If left uncontrolled their biomass in any given area would expand to the available food source – the very fields of crops that we grow.

In effect, we’d be growing crops to feed the animals, not ourselves – and that’s without taking insects into account. No – pest control is necessary if you want to farm food crops. I could go on and on, but I’d end up writing a book instead of a three-page feature!

Prime time

I hope you enjoyed my little rant, and I also hope you enjoyed seeing airgun hunting getting some prime time television coverage.

I’m just off to my local gun shop now to spend an unexpected windfall on some new goodies to make my hunting easier and more efficient – I’ll report back next month with what I’ve bought, and why I’ve bought it. Until then, Happy Hunting.

Read more on the debate here...

Hunting: Do we really need to eat so much meat?

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