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The Vocal Yokel: Badgered by the Old Bill

I had a wonderful experience recently — I visited Frampton Country Fair, in Gloucestershire, for the first time since 2002, and didn’t get arrested! The show was absolutely brilliant, and heaving — if you haven’t been before, go next year.

On my first visit to the fair, in September 2002, I spoke in the main ring to encourage people to attend the countryside march in London later that month. I started my speech by saying, “If you are a black, vegetarian, Muslim, asylum- seeking, one-legged, lesbian lorry driver, I want the same rights as you.” I thought this would both raise a few smiles and grab the attention of the crowd.

However, after trawling the local paper to find witnesses who had been “offended” by my speech, two officers of the Gloucestershire Constabulary travelled all the way to my home in Cambridgeshire to arrest me for “inciting racial hatred”. This wasn’t in North Korea, but right here in the UK, a bastion of free speech. When I later made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, it revealed that my name had also been added to a homophobic incidents register. How ridiculous.

Of course, I had committed no crime, and the Attorney General concluded the same. My FOI request also revealed that before my arrest, the sergeant in charge of the case had produced a witness statement claiming: “At no time during the speech did Page make any comment that was directly abusive or insulting to any minority group… I did not take the view that the speech was unlawful or was intended to stir up racial hatred.” Thank goodness for the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts, which allow the truth to surface — albeit slowly.

For my wrongful arrest I was awarded £2,000, which arrived in an unstamped envelope that cost me £1.25 to retrieve from the village post office. A lawyer has since told me that they would have settled at £10,000, but never mind.

Shunned by the Beeb

Though no crime was committed, mud sticks. Later, my friend Bill was travelling on a bus in the Hebrides, and there was one other passenger on board, who happened to be a BBC reporter. When Bill mentioned I was a neighbour of his, the reporter spat out: “That racist”. Though legally nnocent, I was clearly considered to be a racist by the BBC, and I have done virtually nothing for the corporation since. What is worse is that programmes such as Countryfile have completely blanked the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) — presumably because I am its chairman. CRT director Martin Carter and trustee Tilly Smith are due to visit the BBC Trust to discuss its rural impartiality review, to see if we can get some justice and impartiality of our own. I won’t hold my breath.

My own view of the Frampton incident is that there must have been some collaboration between the police and animal activists or Labour supporters. I could have tested my theory by speaking at Frampton again this year, but my wife Lulu said in no uncertain terms that if I went anywhere near a microphone, she would soon be off the site! Several people who had attended in 2002 visited the CRT’s stand this year to tell me how they had enjoyed my previous speech and urged me to make another, but I was more fearful of the wrath of Mrs Page than I was of the Gloucestershire Police, so I stayed well away from the main ring.

Hate crime hypocrisy

This brings me to the present situation concerning badgers in Gloucestershire. Speaking in the county, Brian May likened the badger cull to the holocaust, yet as far as I know he has not been arrested for inciting racial hatred. Meanwhile, Autumnwatch presenter Chris Packham described the cull as “shameful slaughter” carried out by “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds”. So why has this not been classified as a hate crime, and he not been sacked by the BBC for expressing his personal views?

At Frampton, a stream of local farmers and residents were complaining to us about May and Packham, and about badgers, too — and not just because they carry TB, but because they feel there are simply too many of them in Gloucestershire, resulting in a huge amount of predation on a wide range of the county’s wildlife — from hedgehogs to ground-nesting birds and bumblebees.

Guess which conservation body has reserves in Gloucestershire with badgers on them? Of course, it’s the RSPB. And where does that organisation stand? It is, inevitably, against the cull, and it intends to vaccinate badgers at its eserve at Highnam Woods. Many farmers believe that vaccination actually helps to spread TB, while the cost works out at more than £600 per badger. And it has to be done every year.

In denial of the facts

Many RSPB wardens I have spoken to agree that there are too many badgers. I met one a couple of years ago who had been working on Salisbury Plain, and he was upset at the number of stone curlew nests that had been trashed by badgers. Evidently, views like his have not filtered through to the higher reaches of the RSPB’s headquarters at Sandy, in Bedfordshire.

Yet, talking about the cull, the RSPB’s conservation director, Martin Harper, said: “Up to 30 per cent of England’s badger population could be removed. This reduction would be unprecedented and would severely affect the conservation status of one of the UK’s most-loved mammals.”

Unprecedented? What is he on about? As the former conservation director for the plant conservation charity Plantlife, perhaps Mr Harper should stick to plants. I would recommend conducting some research into spraying ragwort, which is out of control this year like never before. Mr Harper should know that 30 years ago the estimated UK badger population was 50,000; it is now almost certainly more than 1million. A decline of 30 per cent would still leave an extremely high population.

Perhaps he should read Silent Fields by former RSPB employee Roger Lovegrove. Apart from its pandering to the politically correct — Lovegrove calls wildlife control “persecution” and seems rather fond of the word “slaughter” — this book is fascinating, and destroys many myths about kites, sparrowhawks and otters. It also makes it clear that badgers — and many other animals and birds, including a range of raptors — were controlled with good reason for hundreds of years, long before gameshooting began. The most important reason was to boost food supplies — a matter that isn’t understood
by many conservationists today, who appear to see no connection between wildlife control and food production.

We are living in a time when large numbers of wildlife are not controlled in any way, and so their populations are growing and the numbers of vulnerable species are declining. Meanwhile, conservationists pore over computer models that show the evils perpetrated on wildlife by gamekeepers. They are missing the point.

Evidently, Martin Harper’s passion for wildlife was stimulated by his mother, a biology teacher, and led him to study biological sciences at Oxford. In his 20s he did practical conservation work in places such as Comoros and Mongolia. In my opinion, he would have done as well to have worked on Salisbury Plain, or even on a dairy farm in Gloucestershire.