The case of the unfortunate Mr. Elliot of Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire says far more about contemporary Britain that it does about Mr. Elliot. For those readers not previously aware of this case, Mr. Elliot was prosecuted by the RSPCA under the Animal Welfare Act, 2006 for causing unnecessary suffering to a grey squirrel he caught in a cage trap. This was due to Mr. Elliot’s choice of dispatching the rodent – drowning it in his rainwater butt. A snitch of a neighbour decided to inform the RSPCA and they prosecuted. Mr. Elliot pleaded guilty and received a six month conditional discharge from the Magistrates who ordered him to pay the RSPCA’s costs of £1,547.
Poor Mr. Elliot now has a criminal record which as British Gazette readers will know would ordinarily mean that most household insurance companies will refuse to insure his house or his car whilst the conviction remains “unspent” under the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This of course can be a colossal blow – forcing such as Mr. Elliot into the arms of specialist insurers who will generally offer insurance at rates that can be two or three times the rates previously quoted. In Mr. Elliot’s case the situation is a little easier as his conviction becomes spent in twelve months from the date of conviction. This means that he will be punished by profiteering insurance companies for a shorter period of time than many others.
Mr. Elliot’s case will have been helped by the RSPCA being forced to admit that the official advice given for dispatching squirrels was to release the rodent into a sack (from the cage) and to kill it by striking it once on the head. Interestingly, there are reports that the state of North Carolina in the USA recommends drowning squirrels!
This is something we at the British Gazette have first hand experience of and can therefore speak with authority. Some years ago (before 2006) we had a problem of squirrels in our loft. Squirrels in lofts are a common problem and can cause considerable damage. Chewed wiring creates a major fire hazard and is a truly deadly danger. Other damage includes destroyed, smelly insulation and damaged ceilings from urine soaking through from the attic. Exterior damage includes large holes chewed in roofs, gables, siding, fascia and other materials. We contacted a number of pest control firms and asked for quotes. Seeking to save money (as you do!) we found a local supplier of cage traps and decided to purchase a trap and to do the job ourselves, reasoning that the trap would be able to be used to counter any future infestation. Before taking delivery of the trap the supplier wanted us to give him an assurance that we were prepared to kill any squirrel caught. This was because under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 it was an offence to release a grey squirrel into the wild from such a trap. The supplier also informed us as to the recommended way of killing the creature – mentioned above.
Catching the rodents was not a problem. The squirrel’s Achilles Heel is an inordinate craving for ginger biscuits! Having caught the rodent in the cage trap there was then the task of dispatching it from this world. When we approached the animal in the cage it became very agitated and aggressive, showing its teeth and biting the cage in our direction. We did not fancy trying to move the animal from the cage and into a sack as one or two of two things would happen: the rodent would escape and/or the rodent would bite us – leading to a trip to A&E and a tetanus jab in the derriere! Bashing the animal over the head with a stick appeared an impractical solution. How then were we to kill the creature for killing it was now a legal requirement! Shooting the creature was out of the question – for the simple reason that we possessed no gun of any kind and did not know anyone who did! Using a sharp “Kitchen Devil” knife was going to be cruel, bloody and possibly not very quick. Electrocution was out of the question for although a good earth could be established – important as evidenced by the Americans earthing those in the electric chair with a metal clamp to their leg – single phase 240 volts AC was inadequate for the task – at least double was required to avoid a cruel death and this was not available. Poison ? Some may ask. A ginger biscuit soaked in anti-freeze would do the job as animals go for the sweet taste but death is slow and excruciatingly painful and therefore out of the question. Drowning the creature in the water butt in the garden seemed the most practical and least worst option. This was achieved by using a pair of large heavy duty pliers to pick up the cage by the end (to avoid being bitten) and to lower the cage into the butt leaving it fully submerged for two minutes or so. After this the squirrel was quite dead and could be disposed of on the bonfire.
Mr. Elliot trapped the animal because it kept raiding his bird feeding table. One of his neighbours informed the RSPCA who seized the creature’s body after and a vet concluded it had suffered. He has the dubious distinction of becoming the first person in the country to be convicted of cruelty to a wild animal under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The RSPCA insists squirrels should be put down by a vet but Mr. Elliot said he had not acted inhumanely. ‘People do it across the country all the time – they are just making an example of me.’ he said.
RSPCA inspector Laura Bryant said: ‘This case has a serious message for anyone who has purchased a trap and then set it in their garden as a way of dealing with squirrels.’ She added drowning was a ‘slow, terrifying death and it is against the law to cause this suffering to animals’.
The RSPCA does not consider the creatures vermin.
John Sutcliffe, prosecuting for the RSPCA said that Mr Elliott was ‘extremely open and frank’ about what he had done and ‘believed it was the most humane way of disposing of the animal’. He also warned that official advice – that squirrels should be caught in a sack and killed with a single blow to the head – could be a breach of the act as the animal could suffer before it dies.
Tim Bonner, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said the RSPCA was using the courts to push its policy on animal rights. ‘Killing grey squirrels is a good thing – there are far too many of them and they threaten our native species and woodland,’ he said.
‘It is absolutely ridiculous that the RSPCA has spent thousands dragging this man through the courts when he was clearly unaware of the law.
‘They are using the courts as a propaganda vehicle.’
Carri Nicholson, project manager for Save Our Squirrels, said: ‘I feel very sorry for this man being prosecuted as most people don’t know the law and it’s not always clear what they should do. I would advise people to check with their local wildlife trust and ask advice on the best way to kill a squirrel. I would not recommend taking the animals to the vet to be put down as we have had advice that transporting animals to vets can cause unnecessary suffering and would therefore not be in keeping with the act. It is also prohibitively expensive and can cost up to £70.
The following is an article by Harry de Quetteville Published: 7:00AM BST 21 Jul 2010 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/7900963/First-catch-your-squirrel….html) and is reprinted below:
On Gardeners’ Question Time recently, the panel discussed several ways to dispatch a squirrel. But their answers prompted a storm from some animal rights activists, such as Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid. “The whole premise of gardeners killing squirrels is hateful and bigoted,” he said. “It’s the worst kind of intolerance. People should cherish them.”
Thankfully, that is increasingly the case. Mr Tyler can breathe easy. For whether roasted, braised or fried, tandoori or Cajun-style, squirrels are now the delight of chefs and diners alike, who love them for their sweet taste. Squirrels have sold out at restaurants from Northumberland to Cornwall. The Wild Boar Hotel, near Windermere, has served up squirrel in Asian-style pancakes, while squirrel, truffle, spinach and pinenut tortellini – with porcini veloute and parmesan wafer, no less – is a winner at Stravaigin in Glasgow.
Celebrated chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has created several recipes for the animals. In spring, when squirrels mate and have litters and game suppliers proceed with a seasonal cull, the meat graces the menu at the London gastrodome St John in Smithfield. There, head chef Chris Gillard serves it up with shallots for up to £20 per main course.
At Source, a restaurant and deli in Bristol with specialises in wild British produce, the owners cannot get their hands on enough of the raw meat. Each squirrel is humanely trapped in Lincolnshire by the restaurant’s game supplier and costs £3.80 apiece, regardless of size. (Bristol council, meanwhile, charges £79 per hour for the services of its squirrel control officer.)
“It is a very popular meat,” says Joe Wheatcroft at Source. “When we put it on the deli counter, it always sells out.” Though I doubt Raymond Elliott has the stomach for it.
Squirrel: how do you eat yours?
A recipe for braised squirrel:
- One squirrel per person
- Tablespoon of duck fat
- 5 round shallots, peeled and left whole
- 4 rashes of pancetta, cubed
- Porcini, soaked for 30 mins in hot water
- Garlic and chicken stock, salt and pepper
- Put the duck fat in a large casserole dish, brown the shallots, add the squirrel (whole or jointed) and the bacon.
- Brown the meat, and mix in a glass of white wine. Reduce. Add the soaked porcini. Reduce.
- Add the chicken stock and cover and braise in a gentle oven (no higher than 150C).
- Check after an hour and add a little water if drying out.
- After two and a half hours, take a sharp knife and test the meat. If the juices run clear it is ready to serve with mash and chestnuts.