The Government talks of the Big Society, where people are empowered to take responsibility for their own lives, local communities and environment. A high-profile national charity, meanwhile, gloats about prosecuting gardeners who take the initiative in vermin control. How’s that for a disconnect?

A great slew of self-important bodies such as the RSPCA thrived under New Labour. And they seem to be having diffi culty in adapting to the new order. Either that or they are actively engaged in sabotage.

One of the late, unlamented Government’s most successful campaigns was its determination to take responsibility away from individuals and park it, instead, with a plethora of offi cial and semi-official groups, most of which were staffed at public expense. The relentless degradation of individual human rights has led to the situation we are in today, where more than 400 official bodies have a right of entry to our homes, and where allowing people to kill grey squirrels in their own backyard is condemned by quasi-official bodies such as the RSPCA.

The RSPCA’s preferred execution

Look at the RSPCA’s website for advice on grey squirrels and you will see that it is fundamentally opposed to killing the critters. The charity instigated a court case that resulted in a fi ne of more than £1,500 for the hapless householder who disposed of a trapped grey squirrel in a water butt. The case was based on exploiting the law on animal welfare, but in reality it was all about animal rights. I mean, look at the animal welfare facts in this situation. With a straight face, an RSPCA official pronounced that anybody who caught a grey squirrel in a cage trap (if they must) should take it to a vet to be put down.

Now, imagine you are a wild, bushy-tailed, grey-coloured tree rat. There you are, intent on plundering a few songbird nests, when — snap! You find you are in a cage with no way out. Not good, you think. But it gets worse…

A top predator (a human) comes along and picks up said cage, with you in it. What a horror! You are carried by the dreaded human to a large metal box on wheels. The human gets into the box with you and drives for some distance. Then your cage is hoisted out and taken by the human into a building full of frightening smells and noises. You and the human then proceed to sit in a waiting room — right alongside assorted other humans and their pets. There you sit, trying desperately not to be noticed, in a squirrel’s version of hell, surrounded by predators. One dog even sticks its great, slavering face up close to your cage.

After what must seem like a lifetime in purgatory, the door opens and your human picks you up and walks through another door, where other humans in white coats are waiting. One puts on a thick glove and, inserting his arm into your cage, jams you in a corner. You bite furiously at the gloved hand, but to no avail. The episode is utterly terrifying. The human jabs something sharp into you, and then, at last, your horrendous ordeal ends in the oblivion of death.

This, apparently, is the RSPCA’s preferred way of dealing with a grey squirrel caught in a cage trap. But anybody who knows about animals will understand that it would be far better, from an animal welfare point of view, to shoot the squirrel with an airgun while it is in the cage, on site. But the RSPCA’s real agenda is animal rights rather than animal welfare. And whenever the two concepts clash — as here — it chooses rights over welfare. This might just be acceptable if the RSPCA was an upfront commercial lobbying group. But it isn’t. Instead, it is a registered animal welfare charity, benefitting from the huge tax breaks, credibility, influence, media profile and fundraising opportunities such status brings.

It’s not about Big Society so much as Big Money.