More than ironic that, - while a great moral stand is taken over hunting - foxes, hedgehogs, black rats, ruddy ducks and literally millions of healthy farm animals (not to mention 500,000 Iraqis) can be killed when it suits the UK government.

What used to be a pretty clear ethical basis shared by most decent people has been muddied by politics, propaganda and power seeking.

The charities set up to protect the environment and animals now often seem to be in the pocket of their fund providers just as, on a bigger scale, the government itself is in the pocket of the huge "donation" givers and the GM multinationals.

I'd say we need to get back to a state where we hear silence, taste fresh air, feel compassion and see our place in nature.

Foxes killed in rabies experiment

Foxes have been deliberately killed by the government in a secret experiment carried out in Scotland, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

State scientists poisoned the wild animals at a site in Dumfries and Galloway in order to test a new, lethal chemical known only as T3327. They wanted to know whether the poison would be an effective way of eradicating foxes in the event of an outbreak of rabies.

But the revelation that the animals have been killed has outraged animal welfare groups, who have accused the government of trying to hide what it was doing. 'The whole thing reeks of cruelty and suffering of the highest order,' said Les Ward, director of Advocates for Animals in Edinburgh.

'To spread poison over the countryside is absolutely appalling. If the public was aware of what was going on, there would be uproar.'

The experiment has been carried out since July on the vast military firing range at Dundrennan, near Kirkcudbright. It was run by the government's Central Science Laboratory in York, which is responsible for research into controlling rabies.

As well as foxes, there are fears that badgers and other wildlife might have died after eating poisoned bait.

The Scottish Executive, which confirmed that the experiment had taken place, was unable to say whether badgers had been killed, or how many foxes had died.

'The trial was to test T3327 to control the fox population in the event of a rabies outbreak,' said an Executive spokesman. 'Strict measures were taken to protect non-target species such as badgers.'

T3327 is described as a 'vertebrate control agent'. It is meant to be a more humane and effective way of killing foxes than the other poison that could be used, strychnine. According to the government, it may be necessary to rapidly cull foxes in the vicinity of a rabies outbreak to prevent the disease from spreading. Other means of protection, such as vaccination, take time to come into effect.

But all this is fiercely disputed by Ward.

'If there is a real threat of rabies, we should seriously consider vaccinating the domestic animal population,' he said. 'Any poison causes pain and suffering prior to death. Poison by its nature is cruel and results in a violent death for the animal.'

Ward also thought that the experiment was bound to have killed animals other than foxes. 'I bet you that a number of badgers have been taken out,' he claimed. 'The only way to have protected non-target species, to use their horrible jargon, would have been to fence in the foxes and watch them suffer and die before their eyes.'

Rabies is a debilitating, untreatable and fatal disease that is widespread among dogs on the continent, though not in Britain. Last month wildlife enthusiast David McCrae, died in hospital in Dundee after being bitten by a rabid bat.

The Central Science Laboratory applied on July 11 to the Advisory Committee on Pesticides for permission to trial T3327, but the location was not specified. Permission was granted, with the recommendation that the chemical was investigated for genetic damage and an antidote developed.

Nobody from the laboratory could be contacted for comment yesterday. But its website explained that it had long been involved in researching ways of controlling wildlife in the event of a rabies outbreak.

'Research focuses on fox bait delivery systems to underpin the government's Rabies Control Contingency Plan, and computer modelling. The models are designed to predict the optimum control strategy so that poison or vaccine baits can be delivered quickly to a large enough area to eradicate the disease before it has a chance to spread,' the site said.

'Other aspects of this work include investigating other potential species of concern for rabies spread, and the potential for bat movements across the English Channel.'

Duck shoot 'will save rare species'

Thousands of over-sexed ruddy ducks are going to be shot by the government because they are endangering the rare Spanish white-headed duck.

Ruddy ducks, which were brought to Britain from North America in the 1930s, fly to Spain and breed with the white-headed duck, threatening its genetic integrity.

Earlier this year the government's Central Science Laboratory in York finished a three-year feasibility study into shooting ruddy ducks. More than 2600 were killed in Fife, Anglesey and the West Midlands.

Now the Sunday Herald has learnt that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in London is planning a nationwide cull of around 3000 more.

But animal welfare groups are divided over the cull. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds supports it to protect the Spanish bird. 'Difficult as it is, our position is based on lengthy and painstaking consideration of the facts and the available options,' said an RSPB spokes man. 'While we deeply regret that ruddy ducks will be killed, we believe it is right to support their eradication from the UK.'

But Animal Aid called it a 'sick genetic cleansing operation'. Director Andrew Tyler said: 'The whole scheme is callous, cynical and anti- democratic.'

The Scottish Executive has been asked by Defra for its views on the cull. An announcement is expected soon.

Hedgehog cull to protect birds

A SCHEME to wipe out hedgehogs on the Western Isles is likely to be given the go-ahead this week from the government conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

SNH scientists are recommending three options to a board meeting in Perth on Tuesday, all of which involve giving hundreds of hedgehogs lethal injections. The cull is to protect ground-nesting birds, whose eggs are one of the prickly predator's favourite foods.

Previous cull plans were rejected in July, when the board insisted other options were investigated. But the scientists have concluded that 'humane lethal control' is still the best course. Their preferred option is to kill all 5000 hedgehogs on the Uists and Benbecula. But they have two other suggestions, which involve killing the hedgehogs on North Uist, while relocating the South Uist animals.

Four hedgehogs were brought to the isles in 1974 by a gardener to control pests. But as they bred, the populations of wading birds declined, by up to 60% for some breeding pairs.

But animal welfare groups are urging the SNH board to reject all three options, and are proposing a trial relocation of hedgehogs to the mainland.

' Killing these animals is totally unacceptable,' said Ross Minett, campaigns director of Advocates for Animals.

'It was humans who disrupted the ecological balance . We now have a responsibility to find an effective, respectful and non-lethal solution.'

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