The savage cruelty of a law that lets crows torture and kill lambs... not to mention putting rare birds at risk, writes SUE REID (3 Pics)


Farmers have found lambs which have been disembowelled by crows in their fields 

 She can smell her baby twins. She can hear them bleat and feel them nuzzle into her wool. But the bewildered ewe locked safely in a farmer’s pen yesterday will never see her two lambs — because she is blind. Both her eyes were pecked out by a crow as she gave birth three weeks ago.
The ewe, vulnerable and lying sideways, in the throes of labour, was unable to run from the bird as it swooped down.
Her owner, Rosie Humphreys, says: ‘We found her wandering about afterwards with blood gushing from both her eye sockets, her lambs close by her. The crow attacked her in broad daylight. These birds are hungry predators. We find sheep half-blinded all the time with one eye taken out.’
The story of the blind mother ewe in Monmouthshire, South Wales, is tragic. She is now being handfed by Rosie and her farmer husband Henry so that her twins can suckle from her until they can survive on their own.
 Crows, such as this one pictured above), have been pecking out the eyes of animals 

But the fate that has befallen the two-year-old animal is a cruel day-to-day reality of the countryside about which few outside the farming world will know.
Pest birds, such as carrion crows, magpies and jackdaws, are spreading in their millions and face only one enemy: the farmer with his shotgun.
As a tenant farmer, James Gray, 60, who raises sheep on hundreds of acres of land in Hampshire, says: ‘The first raven I saw as a child was when my family took me to the Tower of London. They were never flying around fields here in the countryside.
‘Now they are everywhere and will tackle a sheep if it has fallen down or is busy giving birth. The raven will bite at its feet or target the soft tissue of its udder or stomach when it is still alive.
‘They will peck with their strong beaks at a lamb as it is being born, when the mother cannot turn round to rescue her youngster. Of course, we farmers would like to shoot them if we could.’
Ravens, however, are already protected in law, although the Government said last year that the birds have shown ‘impressive recovery’, and many farmers spoke to me about the menace they pose to their livestock.
Yet, at midnight on Thursday, a controversial Government-backed edict came into force which has provoked a furore between those who raise food for our tables and wildlife conservationists.
Farmers have now been stopped from shooting many breeds of pest birds on their land unless they apply for, and are granted, a special licence to do so. Those applying for the new licences face the time-consuming task of having to prove there is no non-lethal alternative to shooting the birds.
And yesterday, Natural England, the official body that advises the Government on environmental matters, admitted that there was an issue with downloading the forms for the new licence.

This poor little lamb (pictured above) had to have its tongue remove after viciously being attacked by crows
For decades, under nationwide general licences, farmers have been free to kill 16 species of bird — including rooks, magpies, Canada geese and non-native parakeets — if they are causing harm to livestock or crops.
They did not have to ask permission each time they aimed a shot, or record the number of deaths (which, in the case of crows, reaches 100,000 a year) or the reason for the killing.
However, a sudden rule change, revoking these general licences, has been rubber-stamped by Natural England, which was set up by the Government in 2006 to protect our land, flora, fauna and aquatic life.
According to Natural England’s website, its latest campaigns include one to safeguard great crested newts and another to encourage children to enjoy the countryside.
It plans to purchase a hectare of land on the edge of a Shropshire nature reserve to foster populations of emperor moth caterpillars and green tiger butterflies among purple heather.
Yet the no doubt well-meaning folk at Natural England have been drawn into a hideous political and social brouhaha.
It centres on BBC TV presenter and activist Chris Packham and his new lobby group, Wild Justice. The group argued that the old licences were unlawful and that farmers’ rights to kill predatory birds should be curtailed.
Facing a long, expensive court battle, Natural England caved in this week to Wild Justice’s arguments. It accepted that, because farmers had been able to kill birds without specific permission under the general licences, there was no way to tell if there was a humane alternative to shooting or if it was being done for good reason.
This has caused a furious backlash because the strict rules were announced out of the blue, with farmers given no Plan B. The National Farmers’ Union has said that, at this time of year, a flock of pigeons can ruin a field of crops and lambs are targeted by crows, causing severe injuries or even death.
Yet, for now, the union’s members can either impotently watch this happen or break the law if they take out their guns.
Campaign group the Countryside Alliance has described the move as ‘impractical and irresponsible’.
Tim Bonner, its chief executive, added: ‘To withdraw the historic ability to manage these species without individual licences at 36 hours’ notice is a recipe for disaster.’
Some of Britain’s rarest birds are also said to be at risk thanks to the Wild Justice offensive because the nests of songbirds can no longer be protected from the carnivorous magpies and crows.
Conservationist Mary Colwell said curlews — whose numbers have plummeted by 60 per cent in England in the past 20 years — could be in grave danger of extinction in this country if they cannot be protected from pest birds. ‘Crows eat both the eggs and the young of curlews,’ she warned this week. ‘They intimidate the parent off the nest, smash the eggs up and eat them. Curlews don’t often re-lay if they lose a clutch, so we have lost a season. That’s bad news for birds in such trouble.’
Farmers say it is not only curlews that will be hit by the new rules allowing pest birds to flourish. Magpies eat the eggs of yellowhammers and linnets, the populations of which has fallen dramatically since 1990. Turtle doves’ nests are targeted by crows and their numbers are down by 94 per cent across the UK since 1994.
Elsewhere, the anger is even more fervent. Robin Page, chairman of charity the Countryside Restoration Trust, which promotes a ‘living’ countryside, including wildlife-friendly farming, says: ‘It is incomprehensible that this has happened by the hand of those who go on TV claiming to be protecting our land and wildlife.
‘I have been sent photos of lambs this very day covered in blood after they have been attacked by birds. The crows attack the ewe’s eyes and the ravens go in to peck the lamb when it is being born.’
When the Mail spoke to farmers up and down the country, the hostility was clear. James Gray explains: ‘We have to be in a position to protect our animals. These predators are much more common than in the past.
‘This ruling means just one more piece of paperwork and farmers risk breaking the law by shooting the pest birds. What people don’t realise is that the countryside isn’t Disneyland — nature is cruel.’
Graham McLeod, 64, who farms in North Devon, feels the same way. He says farmers are being treated as potential criminals. If they shoot a pest bird without having a Natural England licence, they face being jailed for up to six months or an unlimited fine.
Graham has looked after 600 lambing ewes this spring. It has been a good year: only half a dozen have been injured by birds. Last year, it was carnage. He has photos of lambs after the attacks. One had its tongue removed. Another had its intestines pecked out. Both were alive when he found them.
‘In two weeks, I shot and trapped 37 crows and 24 magpies,’ he says. ‘The public need to know what damage is being done to farm animals and songbirds.’
In a letter to The Times, Peter Glenser, chairman of The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, wrote: ‘The rural community’s trust in Natural England nosedived with the announcement that it was suspending the general licences. The decision was taken without notice or consultation.
‘Without [the licences], newborn lambs will have their eyes pecked out by crows and crops will be destroyed by plagues of pigeons.
‘This could not come at a worse time for those responsible for managing rural England: the lambing season is in full swing, nests are being established and crops need protection.’
The rules over controlling pest birds have evolved during a long and winding journey that leads back to Brussels. The Government accidentally banned all bird-shooting when it signed up to the European Commission 1979 Birds Directive. This was rectified in the Eighties, when farmers were granted the general licences.
Until now, successive governments had promised farmers and landowners that the licences would be renewed every year.
This is why the abrupt volte-face by Natural England has gone down so badly. On Thursday, two dead crows were hung by protesters on the gate of Chris Packham’s home in Hampshire — an action that the Springwatch presenter reported to police.
Meanwhile, his group Wild Justice is delighted that the ‘unlawful’ shooting licences have been revoked. It places a large portion of blame for the decline in songbird numbers on farming practices that destroy habitats, rather than on predatory birds.
It argues that there had been decades of casual killing of birds in England with ‘many of the deaths unjustified’.
One of the group’s leaders is Mark Avery, a former conservation director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). He says: ‘People shouldn’t be able to kill birds because they feel like it.’
But such a comment brushes over the fact that farmers see it as a necessity. And it makes light of attacks such as the one that blinded the ewe struggling to care for her lambs in Monmouthshire.
In Wales, thanks to devolution, farmers are still allowed to shoot pest birds under general licences, although Wild Justice says it will press for the country, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland, to follow the new shooting rules imposed by Natural England.
Three weeks ago, the South Wales ewe was being watched closely in a field near the farm because she was about to lamb. Yet still she was attacked by a crow. Her owner Rosie Humphreys explains: ‘If we had seen the crow about to maim her, we would have shot it.
‘But these birds are very canny. There are big numbers and they are hard to control. They swoop down out of nowhere and teach their young to target sheep.’
The Humphreys have heard that Wild Justice is pressing Wales to follow England’s lead and curb the shooting of pest birds. ‘It will make life for farmers here much more difficult,’ admits Rosie.
As for the ewe, she was destined to have more lambs, but now her future is in doubt. She may be let out in the field with her twins in a few weeks’ time if she can cope.
But, once the two lambs are self-sufficient, all the chances are that their mother will be heading for the slaughterhouse. A blind sheep is not much use to any farmer.
The savage cruelty of a law that lets crows torture and kill lambs... not to mention putting rare birds at risk, writes SUE REID (3 Pics) The savage cruelty of a law that lets crows torture and kill lambs... not to mention putting rare birds at risk, writes SUE REID (3 Pics) Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 09:41 Rating: 5

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