Slaughter

I have posted before about my poor record as a vegan.  I am not as singleminded as most vegans and this was brought home to me earlier this year when one of the websites I follow, Go Vegan Scotland, published a post that made little sense to me.  It described an English school which had reared a group of four piglets to educate the children about animal husbandry.  Once they reached adulthood (5 months) they were returned to the breeder.  Allowing children to learn about farm animals and permitting them to consider their death and consumption as pork pies, full English breakfasts and ham sarnies was too much for some vegans who created a great deal of fuss. It is likely that the experiment will not be repeated, much to the detriment of the children and probably the pigs. Conditions in pig farms are often substandard IMHO and having kept and eaten pigs myself I know how fun loving and playful they can be if given space to run around and enjoy themselves – as I expect they did at the school.

Go Vegan Scotland went much further and argued that not giving in to Vegan demands to allow the pigs to move on to an animal sanctuary infringed the human rights of a child of vegan parents at the school. Frankly this sort of silly over-reaction simply makes non-vegans turn away from considering veganism as a sensible movement.

What would have been sensible would have been to lobby for the exercise to go to its logical conclusion, with the children following the pigs to the slaughterhouse and viewing the unpleasant reality of how farm animals make the transition from fun-loving personalities to sausages and mince. I worked on pig duodenum for several years and consider that visiting my local abbatoir and watching the “innards” slither down the chute to reach the men who processed the whiffy bits would do more for veganism than any amount of protesting about ” ‘uman” rights” by well-intentioned hippies.

Which leads us on to the question of animal slaughter in the UK. Frankly I am very concerned about several aspects of the process.  The loss of hundreds of small abattoirs has created longer journeys for the animals.  The trade-off should be higher standards in those that remain, but an increasing number of slaughterhouses making use of the religious exemptions from the requirement to avoid pain by pre-stunning offset any such gains.

In my ideal world we would all eat lentils, but I know that is not going to happen. Eating meat is in our DNA and most people will not let go of their lust for flesh.  My philosophy is simple. If we cannot prevent the raising of animals for consumption they MUST have a good life and a good death. That is all I hope for for myself and those I love. Why not for farm animals too. And let us not forget that most wild animals get neither and precious few humans achieve it either. However we can aspire to make it so for farm animals.

Compassion in Word Farming has the right idea on most things.  They  were founded  in 1967 by a British farmer and they campaign  to end factory farming.  However I have come to suspect that the biggest problem we now face in the UK is not the absence of a good life, but the reality of a bad death for an increasing percentage of animals. 

In 2015 the Independent newspaper reported on secretly filmed footage  showing British abattoir workers repeatedly hacking at sheep’s throats, hurling them into solid structures and kicking them in the face.

Other images captured during the filming of the Halal slaughter of 400 sheep over three days showed:
*Sheep being kicked in the face and head, lifted by their ears, fleeces or legs, and hurled into solid structures.
*A worker bouncing up and down on the neck of a sheep that is still conscious.
*Staff laughing over a sheep bleeding to death with spectacles drawn around its eyes in green paint.
*Knives being sharpened in front of sheep, which also saw other animals being shackled and hoisted.
*Sheep falling from a chute on to a slippery floor in the kill area and frequently thrown head-first into a solid upright structure, which is part of the conveyor.

Some of these abuses might also have been captured in non-Halal or Kosher abbatoirs but for the first time, for myself anyway, attention was drawn to the fact that some people were exempted from the laws that stop the rest of us from torturing animals.  Slit your dog’s throat and you will be prosecuted. Slit the throats of 400 sheep after mumbling some Arabic words and you get your pay cheque and a pat on the back from the boss.

Best practice requires stunning of the animals before they are killed. When stunning is done correctly, the animal feels no pain and it becomes instantly unconscious. When animals are not pre-stunned or when  electricity is used only to immobilize and paralyze animals to hold them still (as in so called pre-stunned Halal slaughter), a painful and slow death by exsanguination is inevitable. A quick search of YouTube will provide enough examples of the horrors of Halal slaughter to stop you sleeping for a month. I dare you to watch this video and still consider that Britain should accept the horror of Halal slaughter. Go on. Agree with me or watch this and never sleep again.

The solution is very simple. exemptions from humane slaughter that currently permit killing farm animals in Britain by methods which may have been acceptable to primitive desert dwelling nomads but which are no longer tolerable in a civilised society must be withdrawn. Nobody has to eat meat and if anyone’s belief system does not permit them to eat humanely killed meat then that is all to the good. The ranks of vegetarians and vegans will be boosted and these people will be healthier and happier for the change. Nobody has to eat meat and nobody should have the right to kill animals with pain and fear just because they believe they should be able to. We banned bull fighting, bear baiting, dog fights, fox hunting and much more besides to the horror and fury of those who believed they had the right torture dumb beasts. Religious slaughter is no different and it must be stopped.

In the interim and for the benefit of slaughter generally, mandatory CCTV may be the way forward.  Indeed recently  the government has launched a consultation on plans to make CCTV mandatory for slaughterhouses in England. It is proposed that cameras would be placed in all areas of the slaughterhouse where live animals are present. Slaughterhouse vets would have unrestricted access to the footage.

To my mind that only goes part of the way. Half of all slaughterhouses already have CCTV (According to the Food Standards Agency around 49 per cent of red meat slaughterhouses and 70 per cent of white meat slaughterhouses have some form of CCTV), but Animal Aid in a recent series of undercover filmings identified several abattoirs who were lawbreaking and had CCTV installed. The CCTV had not prevented these breaches of the law. I would require all slaughterhouses to stream the CCTV footage to the internet to permit the public to check they were complying with the law. Frankly I have little confidence in the slaughterhouse vets.

 

 

 

Veganism

Let me start by stating that I am an unlikely vegan and not a particularly good vegan. So any ethical vegans; feel free to criticise me and I will not defend myself.  It is true. I am a bad vegan.

As a teenager my loves were chemistry and biology, in that order. But as I approached university, I realised I lacked the maths skills for a career in chemistry. Also a work placement as an analyst put me into the way of professional chemists, who advised me to take any career path other than the one they had chosen.  So I spent three years at Queen Mary, University of London following a degree course in Zoology and Comparative Physiology and a further few years at what is now Royal Holloway, University of London studying for my doctorate in a small, old fashioned Department of Zoology.  During that time, I was elected a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, an honour I retain, and I held a Home Office licence which enabled me to conduct small animal surgery under anaesthesia.  Not very vegan.  I also loved meat and all things meaty.

After 13 years in the pharmaceutical industry and five years back in academia in New York I bought a small farm, where I spent five years as an ethical farmer, rearing sheep, pigs, cows, goats and chickens, all with names. From time to time I took one into the barn, killed it, butchered it and ate it.  The children asked not “what is for dinner tonight”, but “who is for dinner tonight”.  All any of us can hope for is a good life and a good death. My animals enjoyed both.

But now I no longer rear animals and I cannot say how they live and die. So I have stopped eating them. I have to report that not eating animals was one of my better decisions and i cannot help but recommend it to all my friends and everyone else as well.

However I am a bad vegan. I put milk in my tea and put butter on my bread. There: I admitted it. Oh and I sometimes even wear leather shoes.  I don’t think I could manage without a splash of Alderney milk in my tea.  Nothing else tastes the same. And on Alderney, the local farmer makes the most wonderful butter from the cream he skims off his skimmed milk.  It is rich and golden and hard as nails. The cows look happy and eat grass in the summer and silage in the winter. The calves are not slaughtered for veal, but have a good life as bullocks until the time comes for them to make the very short journey to the Alderney slaughterhouse.  I feel no need to eat them myself, but it does not seem too bad a life.

A few minutes spent online will catalogue some of the horrors of factory farming. The unimaginable cruelties suffered by some pigs and chickens in particular. The barbaric ritual methods of slaughter practised by some whose lives are still ruled by stone age superstitions. The environmental problems caused by slurry and factory fish farms. I do not need to repeat them here – the information is there for all to see.

My message today is simple. If you eat meat 7 days a week, try to cook without exploiting any animal products on at least one of those days. You will find that a meal can be just as satisfying, just as full of flavour – certainly more interesting than meat and two veg. Again, just go online and search for vegan recipes – or vegetarian if you want a halfway house. If you go out for a meal – try a vegan restaurant if you can find one. My favourite treat when I pass through Edinburgh is a meal at Hendersons.   If you end up somewhere else that caters primarily for carnivores, take a close look at the vegetarian/vegan options. Push your boundaries. Be brave. You never know, you just might like it!

 

Social Media

oscarWWhen Highland Titles began in 2006, social media was in its infancy. Even eBay and Amazon were new and valuable ways of getting the word out about how to become a laird or lady.  Since those early days, various platforms have been launched to inform and motivate our supporters. The main difficulty now is that there are too many ways of creating communities and tempting the public to support our movement. We have had to choose what to use, what to ignore and what to use sparingly.

The main contenders that we have included in our marketing plan are Facebook, Twitter, Google + and Pinterest. Strategies for these may differ, but overall is our core vision to build a Community rather than maximise the number of followers. This led to us create two Facebook groups, one of which has a general interest in Scotland and things Scottish. The other is interested more in our conservation and all things to do with nature.

Our big break with Facebook was to secure the services of Stewart, a Scot living in Ballachulish and a volunteer on the Nature reserve at Duror, as our Facebook Admin. He was able to insert personality, humour, and local knowledge into our Facebook pages. After all, social media has the word “social” in it for a reason. More often than not social media works to entertain and kill time.  The education has to be worked in carefully. Our messages need to adjust according to our audience and we publish new content every day. Our followers can experience what we are doing in their name. They learn who is visiting, what the wildlife is doing and can actually see them in photographs and media clips. Most of our customers will never be able to visit in person. Multimedia and Facebook bridges that gap.

The massive amount of interactions and shares not only establishes the authority of the Highland Titles brand, but also drastically increases chances of this post showing up on a friend’s newsfeed (therefore gaining brand awareness, followers, leads, and customers).

Also vital, is that we converse directly with our followers: Literally we converse with them, and comment on their posts,. They directly interact with our content and any questions can be quickly addressed.

We want our audience to stay engaged, and so we engage them in two additional ways. Firstly we have a huge mailing list and inform our supporters with monthly mailings, but more importantly, we ask their advice on matters of importance. Everyone with a plot gets a voice within the community. Not just on social media, but directly. Our attention to customer support, with a great head office team that responds instantly to the telephone, emails and live chat, is also a vital tool. And finally, we have our very own blog site (http://community.highlandtitles.com/blog/) with rich content for those with the greatest interest in our operation.

Our Pinterest is an evolving platform (https://www.pinterest.com/highlandtitles/) which has yet to prove its value. With less than 100 followers it is not able to serve any valuable purpose. We have created a number of boards and time will tell how best to develop it.

Which brings us to Twitter, which has some interesting limitations. All tweets are 140 characters.
It is possible to add a photo, a video, a poll, or a gif, and hashtags can be used for adding to a larger conversation. For several years we had no success, in part because it is so difficult to include serious content within the limitations of a Tweet.  At the start of 2015 we still had only about 100 followers and it seemed impossible to create a community or interest in the platform. Three months later, thanks to an enthusiastic campaign by several “Twits” with large Twitter followings (and a legal bent), we had increased our following to thousands and Twitter was finally starting to make sales. It is now worth our while to use Twitter sparingly to create some content and with only occasional prodding, our enthusiastic “partners” continue to drive new followers to our Twitter account (https://twitter.com/highland_titles) and our website.

Oscar Wilde was certainly right.

 

Wildcat Haven

Douglas and I first encountered the plight of the Scottish Wildcat by stumbling across Steve Piper’s website, www.scottishwildcats.co.uk and his film, Last of the Scottish Wildcats (Buy the DVD at http://CoffeeFilms.com/ScottishWildcats.)

The plight of the Scottish Wildcat – doomed to imminent extinction by hybridisation – was one we could not ignore.

So together with Stephen Rossiter, Highland Titles Sales Director, I met Steve Piper in Fort William during one of his forays into the north as he began work on what would become the Wildcat Haven project. I am not sure what I expected, but Steve’s operation had looked frankly lightweight. No offices. No staff. Clearly no SNH style expense account (Steve was staying in the cheapest digs in Fort William). We were not sure what to make of Steve. Until we met him. Then it was very clear that he was running fast and lean without government grants and he was getting it done. He knew what he was hoping to achieve, had a team who were doing it, but was short of funds. We agreed to send him some cash and have never regretted getting involved with saving the Scottish wildcat.

In June 2013 Steve contacted us to say that he was taking a back seat and the Scottish Wildcat Association was going to become the Wildcat Trust and that Dr Paul O’Donoghue would be running the show. In the end Paul set up Wildcat Haven as a community interest company rather than a trust, and perhaps because he still had a full time job as a university lecturer at the University of Chester, his wife, Emily took the lead in administering the Company. Paul came to our 2014 gathering in Glencoe House, Glencoe and electrified the audience. We increased our level of funding and became even more keen to see them succeed.

Fast forward to May 2015 and the Highland Titles Gathering at the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, Glencoe. After Paul’s talk, we retired to the bar and Paul explained that he hoped to extend the feral-free area of Wildcat Haven far beyond the area they had been working on – the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula, including Moidart, Morvern and Sunart. Paul had an ambition to create a huge feral-free zone of thousands of square miles, everything north west of the great glen, the ancient water filled rift valley that separates the Highlands from the rest of Scotland.  This was an exciting vision and one which would guarantee space for an expanding Scottish wildcat population.

Dr Paul O'Donoghue at the 2016 Gathering
Dr Paul O’Donoghue at the 2016 Gathering

There and then I offered to back Paul’s vision. It was clear that this would require far more funding that Highland Titles could offer. We have our own program of rewilding all planned out and did not want to abort it. But if we could set Wildcat Haven up to sell souvenir plots of land – the model that had worked so well for us – then the vision had a fighting chance. Teach a man to fish…. So Paul and Emily stayed on for a few days whilst we discussed how to do it, culminating in a meeting with our Scottish solicitors, J. & H. Mitchell W.S.in Pitlochry.  From the start we felt that the commercial arm should be a new Company so as not to distract from the business of clearing land of feral cats that Wildcat Haven had been so successful in doing. Wildcat Haven Enterprises was going to be a business which would fund the expansion of that work and to add experience my son in law, Douglas agreed to step down from the board of Highland Titles to take on a new role as a director of Wildcat Haven Enterprises along with Paul’s wife Emily who has many years experience with conservation, including the high profile Lynx Trust.  Douglas was a sad loss to Highland Titles. Not only had he grown our business since joining, but he has considerable business knowledge, having a business degree as well as time spent as a police officer. Douglas is a man to get the job done.

After a few months of frantic work, we had everything in place. Highland Titles had bought a wood overlooking Loch Loyne in 2014 and had created an 3 Ha deer-proof Haven, which we had called Bumblebee Haven. With advice from the Bumblebee Trust we had asked our friends at nearby Dundreggan, Trees for Life, to plant the tree species that had been recommended as good for bees and which would thrive on the peaty soils.  A small part of the reserve (called Mountainview) was already being sold as souvenir plots, but we hoped to establish other niche environments (Havens) to benefit a range of species. Why not wildcats?  This was, after all, prime wildcat territory.

With the land gifted to Wildcat Haven Enterprises, they needed a website, which was designed and built in record time by the team at Hotscot in Fort William who by now are used to our frantic and unreasonable requests. Other suppliers were sent designs and shipped folders, booklets, badges etc. All the materials need to create gift packs. Mike Tomkies, the great man of wildcats, was approached to check that he supported the choice of name for the new Haven at Mountainview, Wildernesse Wood (Wildernesse was the name he used in his books to hide the true location of his home on Loch Sheil – Gaskan).

Click the logo to visit Wildcat Haven
Click the logo to visit Wildcat Haven

At last, the great day came. At the end of September Wildcat Haven Enterprises launched its vision to the world and they began to take orders. They had a useful amount of coverage in the media, plus a few people who were less than enthusiastic about what had been achieved.  But we are just pleased that when the Scottish Wildcat needed help the most, Highland Titles was there willing and able to step up to the plate to help create a renewable source of income for Wildcat Haven.

So, if you want to help the Scottish Wildcat I can recommend buying a plot of land in Wildernesse Wood from Wildcat Haven Enterprises.