If deer, rabbit and pigeons are such a pest causing millions of pounds of damage each year, then why are they so expensive and difficult to source at the butchers and supermarket?
A couple of weeks ago BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today concentrated on the problem of pests in farming, including some that those of us who are non-farmers would probably not have thought about straight away. Each day they highlighted a different animal, the damage they caused and the cost of protecting against them. The animals covered included pigeons, deer and rabbits, wild boar and rats.
Deer populations have apparently increased in recent years, and are attracted to the crops that are planted by the farmers as well as causing problems for forestry. A lot of money is spent on deer proof fencing as they are large enough to barge their way through standard fences if they want to get to the other side.
The rabbit population currently stands at 45 million, they cause damage to crops but also to machinery due to the holes that they create. Pigeons are also on the increase, woodpigeons being one of the most successful birds of recent years despite those declines seen in other wild bird populations often finding their way into grain stores as well as causing problems in the fields.
Now, I don’t come from a farming background, or even a rural one, so I find it hard to think about fluffy bunnies being a nuisance or deer, of which I have only seen a few, to be sufficient in number to cause damage (although I can quite understand the pigeon problems – we have one that runs amok in our garden most days). However, there is a burning question in my mind, why are these so expensive to buy at the butchers or supermarket? If these animals are costing hundreds of millions of pounds each year then why do two venison steaks cost £5.99 at Waitrose, why are pigeons about the same price as chicken when they are about a tenth of the size and why, is it almost impossible to buy rabbit (I have even tried a local butcher for rabbit and venison). Even if I could buy rabbit, the chances are that it would be farmed. Yes, that’s right, approximately 95% of rabbit sold in this country is farmed (and often not in conditions that are much better than those of battery chickens). So, in response to the damage these are causing can we not employ people to humanely kill these pests and sell them locally for a reasonable price – are we missing a trick, can Jamie Oliver create a market for rabbit? Is it time to simplify the legislation, are we concerned that these ‘pests’ are going to become extinct. We can’t leave it all to the polecats (although maybe this is a case for the reintroduction of lynx and wolves?).