• DAY 387 (over-running): HITCHING WITH PIGS ALONG THE RIVEIRA

    Oct 15 2013
    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    I am sitting by the side of a hot dusty mortorway north of Barcelona watching trucks going by at high speed. I’m looking for a pig truck to follow along the south coast of france so I can  document conditions.

    I am terrifyingly bored. Is this what compassion looks like?

    This is the start of the route that many Spanish pigs take on their way to Italy and then down to Sicily for slaughter.

    The continuing pig journey. I'm following pigs that travel from Spain down to Italy for slaughter

    The continuing pig journey. I’m following pigs that travel from Spain down to Italy for slaughter

    I am spending a few days with Julian Havenstein from a charity called Animals Angels along with her colleague, Alberto Diez. They make it their job to document the live export of animals and report information to the authorities.  It’s an essential job – desperately essential – and yet devastatingly dull.

    ‘Shall we get a coffee?’ I ask.

    ‘A coffee? We can’t take our eyes off the road I’m afraid.’ says Julia.

    ‘How long might we wait?’

    ‘Ten minutes. Or it could be many many hours’

    I want sweets, I want coffee, I want digital information, I want a shit magazine, I want a phone call. I will take a sales call from a I want something to put in my mouth, to wear on my head or to put in my pocket.

    A slice of bacon perhaps?

     

    Alberto takes photos of the trucks when they stop for petrol (or their obligatory rest stop for the drivers.) Strangely the drivers are very accepting of the work Animals Angels do. Often they sympathise with their work but are forced to break some laws by their employers

    Alberto takes photos of the trucks when they stop for petrol (or their obligatory rest stop for the drivers.) Strangely the drivers are very accepting of the work Animals Angels do. Often they sympathise with their work but are forced to break some laws by their employers

    Julia and Alberto inspect a truck

    Julia and Alberto inspect a truck

    Logos and kaleidoscopes.

    Haulage trucks go by. I notice how many have logos on their sides of animals in ideal form: greyhounds sillouhetted in mid-run, bulls charging, horses galloping, icons of power, efficiency that persuade us to buy products.

    So ironic that each of these animals is so downtrodden here in Spain: the Galgo abused by the Galgueros, the bull tormented by the matador, the horses consumed for their meat. This irony is not isolated to spain. All nations have a kaleidoscope view of animals that borders on insanity – we adore them, fear them, hunt them, worship them and eat them, sometimes one at the same. All the while the animal sits at the centre of this swirling confusion, silent.

    Nothing captures the idea of animals as silent, passive units quite so well as a truck stuffed with creatures heading to their death.

    The only welfare protection afforded is that provided by EU law. These laws dictate stocking densities, the need for watering systems and most crucially limits on travel times. But when a pig can travel for 29 hours, be unloaded for 24hours and then start all over again, ad infinitum, some of those limits are unlimited.

    The questions I have on this journey are:

    How well are EU laws enforced?
    And how much does the typical pig suffer on its journey to slaughter?

    Many animals travel this route.

    Horses, chickens, cows, calves, sheep, lamb… Key welfare issues include overcrowding, lack of water, trampling, stress induced illness, excessive heat, young animals not getting appropriate food and the very real dangers involved in the loading and unloading process. Fatalities are so commonplace that a death rate of a few percent is economically factored into the cost of most transport.

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    A chicken puts it's head through the plastic grating.

    A chicken puts it’s head through the plastic grating.

    We see a number of trucks,  but no pigs. We trail them for a while till we get to a petrol station and then take photos. To my dismay every single one is breaking an EU law in one form or another.  Julia has both years of experience in dealing with this and is a trained lawyer – so I trust her judgment completey.

    ‘It’s totally normal that they break the law. The problem is enforcement’

    Julia shows me a photo of a horse with a vastly inflamed penis. Once again I’m reminded of my school bus journey to Austria, sitting behind the girl I so fancied for so many hours. I found it fairly enjoyable but Julia is making a key point.

    ‘They shouldn’t be putting male and female horses so close together, it can lead to trouble’.

     

    A horse swells up in transport.
    Horse meat, unlike in the UK is not an issue. They just eat the stuff.

    Horse meat, unlike in the UK is not an issue. They just eat the stuff.

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    A horse swells up in transport.

    A horse swells up in transport.

    The point is that laws can be broken in a multitude of ways, some subtle some more extreme, and the cumulative effect can be stressful and devastating. The problem is how can they check all the trucks and how can they enforce the law. The simple point is they can’t.

    Ten hours later, and as night falls, we see our first pig truck. We trail it into the darkness. A few snouts stick out of the railings. ‘This one doesn’t look too bad’ says Julia. But I could not have predicted what was about to happen.

     

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  • DAY 385 (nearly there!): THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT ON A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LONG JOURNEY

    Oct 13 2013

    pig-in-livestock-truck

    ‘Live export’ is a term that occasionally rears its bruised head into the ‘animal loving’ media.

    Reports typically contain pictures of sheep crammed into trucks bound for countries outside of Britain where the rules for slaughter are less savoury than our own.

    Since most people know what it’s like to be stuck on a tube in rush hour or a bus with no air conditioning the photos receive sympathy.

    And those who’ve flown Ryan Air are appalled.

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    But what people don’t always understand is the enormity of the issue and why so many animals travel so far.

    • Why do pigs have to travel at all?

    • Why can’t pigs born in Holland stay in Holland?

    • What’s so good about Italy for slaughter?

    • And if Italians do insist on foreign meat can’t they get it sent over dead? After all you can get a lot more bacon into a truck than you can pigs and bacon doesn’t shit everywhere.

    The answer has very little to do with freshness and everything to do with money.

    Tokyo train pushers

    Tokyo train pushers

    Who cares about live export?

    If you remember, we’re tracking the life of a typical EU pig: he gets born in Holland in a nice little metal crate, is transported to Spain at a few weeks old and after fattening for four months on slatted floors then goes on to Italy to be slaughtered.

    And the point of this?

    To know how much pain is involved in a standard plate of EU bacon (or any pork meat) and what choices we can make to avoid being part of that.

    And if you think that Britain is above all this, you should think again. Later, I’ll be going into all the main British supermarkets and tracing their pork products and explaining what sort of life the pigs had. You’ll be surprised.

    The problem with Europe

    Whether you are pro-Europe or against it, the setting up of the free trade agreement was a catastrophic moment for farm animals.

    Before that moment animals travelled to the nearest slaughterhouse within their country. Crossing the border was costly and complicated.

    But as regional structures dissolved farmers were able to dispatch animals to whichever slaughterhouse was paying the best price that particular week. Animals became exposed to the often shrill winds of continent-wide market forces with little welfare protection.

    Pigs, by EU law, are allowed to travel up to 29 hours before having to be unloaded. And once they’ve been unloaded for 24 hours they can go another 29 hours.

    That’s a pig of a journey.

    Especially for an animal that is typically 5 months old and is often standing in its own shit in crowded conditions sometimes in brutal summer heat. But it’s good news for the ‘middle men’ who set up the deals between the farmers, the transport companies and the slaughterhouses and who hold the real power as they preside over their map of Europe flickering on their computer screens.

    In countries outside the EU they don't have it so good...

    In countries outside the EU they don’t have it so good…

    The welfare problems are further entrenched by the fact that countries become specialized in production – Holland breeds a lot of pigs, Spain is cheap for fattening, Greece has it’s fair share of slaughter houses.

    This means that efforts to change welfare laws are up against vast economic systems.

    A recent and ongoing campaign to cap live-export journeys in the EU to 8 hours (which would effectively mean that no animal in Britain could be exported at all unless sheep from Dover had their heads chopped off in Calais …or flew concorde to NY) has struggled because it would mean winding down international supply chains. Although even the most hardened EU commissioner admits it would be nice for animals to get to their death quicker, in this economic climate no-one can justify giving the pigs a shorter ride.

    ...then again nor do the people

    …then again nor do the people

    How bad can a journey be?

    In the next blog I’m meeting up with a charity called Animals-Asia and I’m going to travel from Spain to Italy, following trucks on their journey, stopping the drivers and seeing exactly what it’s like for the pigs. That should be rather lovely – along the french riviera and all that.

    When I was 12 I went on a skiing trip with my school to Austria. It was a 23 hour journey and it was brilliant. I really fancied the girl sitting in front of me and stared at the strands of her hair falling over the seat without eating or drinking.

    How bad can a ride be?

    Photo-4-Pig-Rudi-Roels

     

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  • DAY 383: TO EAT THE CHEESE OR NOT EAT THE CHEESE?

    Oct 12 2013
    The case for veganism is clear but why do I find it so hard to make the leap?

    The case for veganism is clear but why do I find it so hard to make the leap?

    I’m staring over the cliff of veganism. But I’m unable to jump.

    I use this metaphor wisely because – to me at least – the shift from vegetarianism to veganism seems like a vast step change.

    Those that are already vegan will be unsympathetic – it’s easy! you get used to it! don’t be so weak! Put your mouth where your, er, mouth is! – but those who understand that the distance from carnism to veganism is traversed not by logic but by slow emotional acceptabce might understand my hesitation.

    I am torn more that I want to admit to you. I’m ending this year, I’ve seen the misery, isn’t the obvious next step veganism. Clearly I should end this journey in tears of rage eating a tofu burger.

    So why the uncertainty?

    On the one hand the case for veganism is painfully clear.

    Every cow bred for milk, whether on an organic or intensive farm, is ultimately disposable. After a few milking cycles they are waste products, their life used for the aesthetic pleasure of a splash of milk that is ultimately is no more necessary to our functioning than a fur coat.

    It was only recently that I understood – that I bothered to understand – that every male calf born to a dairy mother is essentially unwanted. Oh yeh…I suppose it is! And lets not talk about laying hens… To eat dairy is to promote an industry that necessitates a huge amount of slaughter.

    When I asked my undercover guide to the pig farms which practice he thought worse, eating meat or dairy, he said:

    ‘The pain in meat is more obvious. You are eating a slaughtered animal. But in some ways the pain in dairy is worse. I was undercover in a dairy farm and watched as a calf was taken away from it’s mother at one day old. The mother locked her head around the calf to keep it. She was screaming. For five hours after its child was taken away she screamed. They came back to hit her head but she continued to scream. I saw her eyes’

    There is that connection with the eyes again.

    Only connect, only connect.

    Cheese, cooking and relationships

    On the other hand veganism is one hell of a major life shift. Probably not as much as a shift as losing your mother at day 1 but indulge my weakness for a moment.

    It’s no small matter that I don’t – or can’t – eat wheat. Of the last five restaurants I have been to (yes, we do go out) only one had a single dish on it that I could have eaten as a vegan. Pasta is out, couscous out, sandwiches out, an impulsive meal with friends is out.

    It is also a serious challenge for Ann and more than a little strain on our relationship.

    Rightly or wrongly she makes the food in our house. She is a wonderful cook and although more than sympathetic to my year long project (she puts up with my travelling nobly) she is not by choice a vegetarian she is by choice her own person. So for me to banish the dairy from my life has a vast impact because she is committed to cooking for us. She is a painter of flavours. I have already seriously depleted her palette by removing the white of wheat, the red of meat and if now the yellow of dairy then she is hampered in what she loves to do.

    Veganism, then, would be my choice but her burden. And it has never been my attitude to force my views on anyone.

    I don’t like telling all this to you but I feel I need to be honest. I hate the fact that veganism is still a huge challenge but perhaps if I can understand my own resistance in the face of seeing so much suffering I can understand why so many other compassionate people don’t engage at all in issues of animal rights.

    The process of shedding our cultural habits is a slow one. Even when one knows the arguments, sees the pain, understands the moral position, it takes time for the truth to percolate down to our guts.

    This worries me.

    Next – I am back on the trail of the pigs. This time I follow live export trucks from Spain all the way to Italy.

    How bad is the journey? Are drivers obeying EU law? And what about the pigs?

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  • DAY 380: WATCH ME WATCHING ‘EARTHLINGS’. HAVE A LOOK AT SOMEONE LOOKING AT SUFFERING

    Oct 10 2013
    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    For those of you who don’t know, the documentary ‘Earthlings’ is the movie that turns people to vegetarianism.

    And it’s not about Jamie Oliver making a quinoa salad.

    It shows, without blinking, the unadorned horror of the many ways in which humans are capable of abusing their power over animals – farming, vivisection, hunting, pet ownership…the list is far too long to bear and the scenes portrayed too gory to look at directly for any length of time.

    I’ve been promising but failing to watch this film for weeks.  The reasons were obvious – I didn’t want to face it.  But now I have.

    I wanted to share something of this with you without forcing the images upon you. So rather than write about it, I thought I’d film myself watching it. Some of these portraits look contrived but I can assure you I was far too distressed to care about the camera. You are watching pain that is once removed.

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    What is the point of watching ‘Earthlings’ if it’s so awful?

    No doubt it would be possible to make a movie of the awful way some human’s treat humans. Or the way animals eat animals.  Surely this is a sort of extremist shock tactic that doesn’t help a reasonable debate on animal rights.

    In some ways that is true. Plenty of slaughter houses are not as awful as those shown in graphic detail here.

    But when you consider that two the key reason why animals suffer so much at the hands of humans is because of the twin effects of IGNORANCE and DENIAL then a short sharp shock of reality is eminently justifiable.

    In one scene it shows how cattle who collapse after days of transport in India have raw chilli rubbed into their eyes to get them up. If that doesn’t work they break their tails.In some ways the movie is as brutal on the viewer – this is a movie to open people’s eyes. Not nice, but effective.

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    Two lessons.

    Two main feelings from watching (other than horror)

    1) UTTER ASTONISHMENT at the way humans can separate from animals. The DISCONNECT was grand-canyon-esque. A man cuts the head off a living dolphin, another saws into a fully conscious cow….how?

    2) A SENSE OF CERTAINTY that for those of us that care it is our absolute duty to KNOW.

    If you have any compassion for animals then you owe it to yourself as much as to the animals to at least educate yourself as to what is happening. You don’t need to watch the movie or see any gore but you need to at least give your heart a chance to connect to the misery that you might be able to help. You can then choose to act or not. But you cannot go through life not knowing.

    If you have the strength, please watch Earthlings for free:

    Watch the movie 

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  • DAY 379: BADGER CULL FAILS SO THEY EXTEND BADGER CULL

    Oct 09 2013
    The time is up - after a self-imposed six weeks the cull has failed to reach the required numnbers of badgers to be judged effective. So the government is going to extend it. Fair?

    The time is up – after a self-imposed six weeks the cull has failed to reach the required numnbers of badgers to be judged effective. So the government is going to extend it. Fair?

    The badger cull has officially ended. It has failed to meet its target.

    After six weeks of shooting the government has been unable to kill the number of badgers they said was needed to be sure the cull was effective in the time they said was required to be sure it was efficient.

    So they are applying to extend the period AND they are claiming they should lower their target.

    Hang on a minute…..

    Now I know how Alex Ferguson felt when the referee wouldn’t blow the whistle. If someone can explain to me why this isn’t making up the rules of a game as you play it please write to me.

    I have, as yet on this year, not felt as angry by politics as I have today. What a load of dunces.

    If you remember, the government wanted to kill 70% of the badgers in the Somerset cull zone, representing over 2000 badgers, to be sure they would wipe out enough of the supposed TB threat without killing the whole population (as that would not be nice).

    They have killed 850, around 40% of their target. This is terrible news but also good news. The protests have worked, the shooting has failed, many badgers have been saved.

    The reason for the six week limit was to stop the ‘peturbation effect’. If you kill over a long period the badgers flee and spread any bTB further, making the shooting counter-productive.

    Now they want another three weeks.

    This quote from the original DEFRA site :

    Defra has taken advice from a group of independent scientists and they advised that limiting culling to a period of up to 6 weeks would be likely to reduce any adverse effects of non-simultaneous culling.

    After culling in the pilot areas has finished, we will need to evaluate the results of the monitoring in order to take a decision on whether further licences can be considered.

    Sorry…. DEFRA have ‘taken advice’ from scientists?

    What about advice from the 10 year, £50 million independent scientific study that concluded  that  the cull would not work and that it was ‘crazy’ (Lord Krebs himself, the eminent scientist in charge)???

    DEFRA have now said – which is very handy for their shooters – that they think there are less badgers in the area than originally thought. Which means it will be easier to judge their cull a success.

    OK…so they have failed to judge the number of badgers, failed to kill the required amount in the required time and failed to listen to the science. Oh go on, have another try.

    This is like playing football with a mean older brother. He trips over his own shoe laces on the half way line, claims he should have a penalty, fails to score (depsite his younger brother being keeper and only 2 years old) and then demands another penalty because he saw a badger moving behind the goal.

    IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT.

    On top of this the government are refusing to declare how many of the dead badgers had bTB. It would be quite nice to know, and surely very informative to know,  that at least some of the badgers killed had the disease that was supposedly  causing the cattle problems.

    Amazingly, when Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was asked if he had “moved the goalposts” by claiming the cull was a success he responded:

    “The badgers moved the goalposts. We’re dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns.”

    Really? You didn’t know badgers were wild. You didn’t account for ‘weather’? Or even disease – when that is what you are trying to manage? How long can he avoid admitting he was told to do this by Uncle David and Uncle David was told to do this by the National Farmer’s Union and the National Farmer’s Union were told to do it by their farmers who want a knee-jerk reaction to a  problem that can be solved in FAR better ways.

    Don’t let this continue. Write to your MP to express your views. 

    Simply ask what they are going to do about it. And if they say it’s a fair cull, pass them on to me.

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  • DAY 378 (over-running): INTERVIEWING A TORY AND A LABOUR POLITICIAN ABOUT THE BADGER CULL

    Oct 08 2013
    The parliamentary process - more open than I thought, but also much more muddy than I hoped.

    The parliamentary process – more open than I thought, but also much more muddy than I hoped.

    This year has been a political awakening for me. Perhaps I should have stayed asleep.

    I have visited parliament to lobby poltiicians about badgers, I have visited to watch politicans debate badgers and to march outside the gates about badgers. From political virgin to political hoare.

    But parliament has both impressed and disappointed in equal measure. The spires are as tall and dreaming as the rooms inside dusty and cavernous.

    On the one hand the debates and the politicians are far more open than you might imagine. You really CAN go and badger your politician and they really will listen. After all you can tell your friends not to vote for them.

    On the other hand the political process surrounding the debate over the badger cull stinks of cow shit – good science is covered in a layer of political muck in which cynicism gorws and flies linger – and I wonder how much this reflects the wider political process, especially regarding animal welfare.

    How much can a person help animals by getting political?

    Yes – you can speak to your MPs, yes – you can go on marches but does it make any difference to a badger, cow or a pig awaiting a painful death?

    I have interviewed two MPs about the badger cull from both sides of the house to get a clearer view of what politicians can – and want to do – about animals.

    Huw Irranca-Davies MP

    Huw Irranca-Davies MP

    Huw Irranca Davies is the Labour minister who stood up to debate the case against the cull. He was impressive and eloquent but Labour were never going to win – the debate was triple whipped (people were advised to vote with their party).

    Tracey Crouch is the eminently brave Conservative MP who was one of the few lone voices on the other side of the chamber to also decry the cull. I imagine her triple whipping was particularly painful.

    Tracey Crouch MP - one of the few conservatives to stand up against the cull. She has since not been spoken to by some of her colleagues.

    Tracey Crouch MP – one of the few conservatives to stand up against the cull. She has since not been spoken to by some of her colleagues.

    It’s important to say that both MPs were suprisingly human. I don’t know what I expected of politicians but I vaguely thought most lived inside television boxes. They were full size persons, warm and straight forward. I could easily imagine either of them of tripping over a stick.

    But both painted a picture that was, for me, a fairly depressing portrayal of the parliamentary process.

    Both admitted that the National Farmers Union (the NFU) had a powerful influence in government (of course they do) both admitted that science was often secondary to politicans and both admitted, most shockingly of all, that many, many politicians were simply ignorant of the facts.

    This angered me. But it rang true. At one point in an early debate a conservative MP claimed that bTB would not be spread by badgers in the cull zone because it was bounded by a river and a motorway. No one told him that badgers can swim and corss roads.

    It only took me 20 minutes to get my head round the basic science of the matter. Surely a politician could spare that? Especially since they spent £50 million and 10 years on the Krebs trial to assess the viability of the badger cull

    Boris Johnson.

    Boris Johnson.

    Tracey said that often that MPs couldn’t spare the time. ‘This place churns out information. The sheer number of emails we get means we don’t’ have time to go into everything in depth. Your’e fed a line and you vote on that and you have to make a decision very quickly’

    Huw concurred:  ‘If there was competing demands on a Monday morning for  an urgent discussion about something – then I suspect the turtles in the Cayman islands would fall behind the  question about the HS2 railway’

    Understandable if unacceptable. The power to make decisions that affects the lives of thousands of animals rests in the hand of MPs some of whom haven’t the time – or inclination – to find out the basic facts.

    But what made Tracey different?

    ‘I’m lucky. I don’t have a family, so I have time to read through those documents late on a Sunday night. Other people don’t.’

    Owen Paterson - the minister in charge of the cull

    Owen Paterson – the minister in charge of the cull

    But surely Owen Patterson, the man in charge of the cull, understands the science?

    Yes, he does, admitted Tracey, but he was simply not ‘open minded enough’ to see the full argument. ‘You see what you want to see’. A fairly damning comment from within the same party.

    And what influence does that leave the member of the public with?

    Both MP’s were suprisingly positive about this. Apparently the lowly act of writing to your MP really does make a difference.

    ‘If a hundred people write to their MP’ said Tracey ‘that will make them look up. Since that vote [on the badger cull] I’ve spoken to a number of colleagues who have changed their mind. They’ve been asked questions by their consituents and then they ask their minister and if they get an unsastifactory answer they think again’

    So there you have it. Parliament is a busy, inefficient place that sometimes fails good science because of those that are too busy to care. But YOU can make a difference.  Write to your MP, especially if they are Conservative,  and kick up a fuss.

    Click here to find your local MP.

    Speak to your MP.

    Speak to your MP.

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  • DAY 373 (over-running): DID I KILL A COW WITH MY THERMOS?

    Oct 07 2013

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    At midnight I set out in a 4×4 to look for more badger shooting with one of the key activists in the anti-badger cull movement. He is known simply as Jay. Two others join us as well.

    Jay is tall, slender, dry-humoured and charismatic in a way I can’t figure out.  He has spearheaded much of the anti-cull movement but wears his experience lightly.

    ‘Are you the leader of all this?’ I ask

    ‘The spokesperson I suppose. Not the leader. Hierarchies get very very messy. People do their own thing around here.’ He pulls a large black hood over his head as we drive out of the camp . ‘If we get stopped by the police only the driver needs to speak. We are doing nothing wrong’

    stop the cull

    Life in prison

    But Jay has done things wrong – at least in the eyes of the police. He has been in jail twice for activism – once for rescuing a beagle from scientific research and once for blocking a motorway  to make an animal rights protest. At the latter event another activist almost died and it led him to drop his protesting for a while. The incident was not Jay’s fault but it affected him deeply.

    He is clearly not the aggressive knee-jerk militant  people might assume. Although the dark hoodie doesn’t help.

    ‘I’ve been to boarding school, I’ve been in the army and I’ve been in prison. Prison was the easiest of all of them. In boarding school you wonder ‘why has someone put me here?’ In the army you wonder ‘why have I put myself here?’. In prison it’s a clear choice’

    I’m impressed by this in a way I shouldn’t tell my wife. The deeper I go into the horror of the misery we inflict upon animals the more reasonable it seems to take actions that  go against laws described by people who probably don’t hold animals in moral regard.

    Beagles being rescued from animal testing.

    Beagles being rescued from animal testing.

    ‘I’m prepared to go to prison for a year’ says Jay. ‘If you aren’t prepared to do that then you are hampered. You can only be so effective’. I ponder this for a while. The driver puts a deep melodic rap  on the sound system and the mood seems to plunge into a dark intensity.

    A short while later we drop Jay at another location where he will stay on lookout on the road in the darkness and we continue.

    Shooting convoy

    As we turn down a small lane a green landrover pulls out in front of us

    ‘Follow that!’ says one of the activists. Then another landrover  pulls out behind us too. ‘Jesus, we are in a convoy!’  I assume this is a BAD thing and want to panic but apparently it is GOOD. In the darkness, each driver may think we are the other and so show us their shoot location.

    The convoy snakes through ever narrowing lanes until the driver in front realises what is happening and speeds up. We race to keep up with him until he turns sharply into a farm lane. We come to a sharp stop and before I can work out what is happening one of the activists then jumps out carrying heavy duty locks. There are two farm gates at the start of the farm and he pulls them closed and  padlocks them shut. The landrovers the turn around and come back.

    Surely we should leave?  The activist stands his ground and shines a torch directly at them. For a moment the landrovers face us and we face them. Then they turn away. They are  locked into their location and we message others to come down and sab any shooting.  ‘They won’t be going anywhere tonight”

    ‘Let’s get out of here’ says our driver quickly. In the rush I  drop my bag which contains a  thermosflask full of coffee and it smashes over my expensive fleece inside. I throw the thermos flask into a bush.

    ‘Let’s go, but don’t leave any evidence’

    Oh crap, my thermos. It must have my fingerprints on it! I quickly run into the bush. It’s hot and soaking. What do I do with it? I take a run and lob it in a field of cows – as if that will somehow exonerate me.

    SOMERSET NEWS: BADGER CULL TAKES NOSEDIVE AS PROTESTER KILLS COW WITH THERMOS FLASK.

    We drive off at high speed and pick up Jay.

     

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    Did we save any badgers?

    Who knows – probably not.

    But then again if everyone did as Jay and the other activists are doing, if everyone was out in the hills keeping an eye on the unscrupulous shooting/trapping it would be IMPOSSIBLE to kill many badgers. The dedication of the activists is vital

    And now it seems that the badger cull might well fail and leave unorganic egg all over ministers’ faces.

    And talking of ministers and bravery…in my next blog I’ll report my trip to parliament and my visit to one Conservative who stood up against her own party to say the badger cull was wrong. Not so easy.

    How much political integrity is behind the badger cull?

    Can we rely on politicians to push forward animal rights in any way at all? (and seriously, I’ m NOT knee-jerk anti politicians at all)

    Will the badger cull fail because of Jay and his merry vegans? If it does we could be talking tens of thousands of badgers saved. RESULT.

     

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  • DAY 370 (over-running!): INTO THE FOREST OF CONFUSION WITH A DOMINATRIX

    Oct 03 2013

    night_sky

    It’s fitting that the badger cull is being played out in the dark of night because not an awful lot of people seem to know what is going on.

    The police hang around in carparks not entirely sure who is an activist and who is out for a drink, the badger cullers have no clear idea of the exact population count of those pesky black and white things and the activists, for all their dedication, don’t really know where the shooting is happening.

    But no one must be more confused than the badgers. Out they go for a worm and bang! they’re dead. It’s all painless though, so not to worry.

    I’m down in Somerset, sleeping in a tent by day (sweaty) and snooping through cull zone woods by night with a pair of children’s night vision googles.  I live off rice cakes and minimal dairy products – not out of conviction but because I’m  nervous of being ousted by the other vegans in ‘Camp Badger’. Apparently someone was kicked out  because they came in eating a bacon sandwich. It may be hearsay but I wear my leather belt close to my chest – just like Simon Cowell.

    Dominatrix

    The activists are a colourful and very friendly bunch from varying backgrounds. On my first night I find myself in a car with a number of females, one who is a recovering heroin addict, another who is a computer sales person by the day and a dominatrix by night. She is very gentle and polite.

    Her phone beeps occasionally. ‘Wank tax’ she explains. One of her clients pays her phone credit every time he masturbates.

    Vegan porn

    Vegan porn

     

    ‘Do you force them to do stuff?’

    ‘Of course!  I’ve forced one to go vegetarian.  He’s lost 2 stone and loving it. He sends me photos of the cheese counter at Tesco’s and calls it ‘Vegan Porn”

    This is one way to convert the world. Should my book fail to be published I can always get out the whip. Not leather of course.

     

    Strange beauty

    It’s an odd experience because at night everywhere in the cull zone is silent, dark and undeniably romantic. Glades, streams, forested hills glisten in moonlight.

    This is not an obvious battle ground.

    But the ‘shooters’ use infra red and silencers. Which is frankly not fair. The protestors use waterproof maps, marker pens, mobile phones and  dedication.  Police vehicles are everywhere. They are apparently  ‘independent’, here to protect both sides, but there is a strong sense in the camp that they are against the protestors.

    ‘Someone in this camp is a police officer in disguise! ‘  shouts one person at Camp Badger when I arrive. ‘It’s bloody obvious’.

    Am I the police officer?

    As the sun goes down at the end of the day the badgers begin to stir - some woods in Somerset full of badger setts

    As the sun goes down at the end of the day the badgers begin to stir – some woods in Somerset full of badger setts

     

    Camp Badger resides in an umarked field hidden at the end of winding lanes and looks like a small eco-festival that has been abandoned by the musicians – tents are sprawled across a fields, fires are smoldering, it’s rather silent. This is the HQ of operations – but there are less people here than I would have thought.

    The strategy is disruption.

    If shooting is discovered then high pitched whistles are sounded. By law, shooters cannot fire if people are present. If badger traps are found they are dismantled, if active badger setts (homes) are found they are watched over ta night by someone who is prepared to get wet and sodden.

    Despite the confusion, the dedication of the ‘sabs’ seems to be paying off. Protestors have stopped shoots, cages have been dismantled and reports are coming in that the government has shot only hundreds, not thousands of badgers.

    People can be divided into two groups: the law-abiding and the not-so-law-abiding, generally along older/middleclass and younger/left-wing lines. The former go on long walks in big groups with high viz jackets looking for injured badgers. They come back at midnight. The latter go out in smaller groups to ‘sab’ and disrupt activity. They dress in dark clothing and walk through private woods and come back at 5am.

    On the first night I go for long walks and drive around with my female companions. Not a badger in sight. I feel very much like I belong to the first group. But on the next night it is much, much more adventurous. I join the sabs….

     

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  • DAY 368 – DARK NIGHTS HUNTING BADGER HUNTERS

    Oct 01 2013
    A pretty picture of dark woods not taken by me. But I was in some a little like this being really brave

    A pretty picture of dark woods not taken by me. But I was in some a little like this being really brave

    As my blog plunges deeper into the caverns of animal abuse I end up with less and less photos – which might be just as well.

    I’m due shortly to continue my journey following the life of typical EU pig but I have had to take a few days out to help with the fight against the badger cull.

    I can’t show an awful lot of imagery because I have mostly been crawling through dark woods trying not to be seen by men who have guns  – or the police – and because the people I am with don’t want to be identified. 

    I am ashamed to report that I’ve found all this terribly exciting. Maybe it’s because I was too soft at school.

    I hope you all now know that I’m over running by a month. “one point one years to help animals” don’t sound so good I know but I have my excuses.

    A-sign-outside-Camp-Badger-near-Watchet-in-Somerset-2226202

    Killing badgers in the dark with guns from a long distance without hurting them.

    The badger cull is coming to the end of it’s hugely controversial six weeks. As you probably know, the point of this cull is not to determine if culling badgers helps stop cattle get TB (scientists have said that on the whole it does not)  but to prove whether culling badgers can be done safely, effectively and humanely.

    In other words can you kill shit loads of badgers at night with big guns without killing any humans – or in fact hurting any badgers?

    Which is a really, really weird sort of government test.

    Although the government is not reporting figures it seems from various accounts that the cull is failing. Not enough badgers are being shot and this may make the potential spread of TB worse because the surviving badgers flee the scene and take what little TB they have with them.

    Over the last few weeks I’ve  been into parliament to talk to MPs on both sides of the house and its fairly shocking what they have to say. That is coming up in the next few blogs. But what I’m really interested in knowing is

    a) How do you stop a badger cull happening?

    b) Can I save any badgers myself?

    I went down to ‘Camp Badger’ in the heart of the Somerset cull zone to find out.

    photo 1

    I am equipped to fight an invisible enemy

    It is in the governments interest that not many people know how and where the badger cull is taking place. Men in dark clothes are firing guns in secret locations with silencers. Which might explain why I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare for my few days and nights fighting the cull.

    I looked at various blogs and facebook posts and decided I ought at least to get the following:

    1. A high pitched whistle – in case someone was shooting me and I needed to let the world know.  But since bullets travel faster than sound I wasn’t sure if it would be useful
    2. A very f**cking powerful torch. 
    3. Some waterproof maps. 
    4. Night vision infra-red googles.  Tragically I could only afford the plastic ones designed for 10 year olds. On the packaging they showed a boy looking for another boy in a shed at night and worked for up to 30 feet.
    5. Dark clothes.
    6. Minimal leather and lots of soya milk To prove my activist credentials

    photo 2

    And with this in my bag I headed down to the heart of the cull zone to spend my nights fighting an invisible enemy. I can tell you now that the night vision goggles were a total disaster but the rest of the experience was more dramatic than I could have expected.

     

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  • DAY 364: VIDEO: WHEN PIGS WAKE YOU AT 3AM

    Sep 28 2013

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