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British Animals ain't garden pests


The urban fox has become a common sight, but how many city dwellers considered them a garden pest, let alone a domestic terror, until one entered a north London house this month and mauled two babies in their cots? Now, suddenly, they are public enemy number one and there have been calls for a cull.

Meanwhile, molecatchers are reportedly run off their feet dealing with a surge in animal numbers over the last two years - there could be as many as 40m of the creatures across Britain, ruining lawns with their enthusiastic burrowing, according to the most alarmist estimates.

But there are many other animals on gardeners' hit lists: mice, rats, badgers, pigeons, deer, parakeets, grey squirrels and rabbits. Some even dislike butterflies, as they come from leaf-eating caterpillars. Red squirrels are among the few British animals acceptable to the average gardener, but even they have been persecuted to near-extinction in recent times.


Panellists on the BBC's Gardeners' Question Time have prompted fury from animal rights campaigners for advocating killing "pests". Animal Aid said it was "hateful and bigoted" of Bunny Guinness to use Kania traps, which kill squirrels with a spring mechanism like a mousetrap. GQT chairman Eric Robson wants to see a grey squirrel cookbook. Even GQT organic gardener Bob Flowerdew objects to rats and pigeons.


The argument is that being intolerant of animals is a badge of honour that makes you a practical country person, as opposed to soft city types who have become detached from rural traditions.


I understand that argument. I hear it a lot. But I also hear a lot talked about biodiverse gardening and attracting animals into your plot.


This is the International Year of Biodiversity, in which gardening bodies such as Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the RHS are trying to encourage gardeners to learn to love animals rather than kill them.


So how do you combine gardening and liking animals enough to not want to kill them? Easy. Nurture life. Ignore molehills on your lawn. Use cultural controls for your slug problem (water the garden early in morning to allow the moisture to evaporate, use drip irrigation to direct water towards individual plants, reduce the number of hiding places for slugs or choose plants resistant to them). Let foxes do what they have always usually done - sneak by ignoring you.


What do these "pests" actually do that is so bad? They defecate. They eat rubbish and they nibble plants. They make a noise. Is that really so awful? Live and let live, even if your prize specimens are sacrificed. Better that than killing a living creature.


Matthew Appleby / 15 June 2010 / Guardian

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