With badgers at the forefront, stalking the party talkers in their conference halls

James Brokenshire, the UK Minister for Crime and Security, Robbie Marsland, Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers and David Higgins, who heads up Interpol's Environmental Crime Department.Most UK politicians find their annual party conference exhausting.

Four days of talking, debating, talking, listening, talking and talking, often over a stale canapé and a dodgy glass of wine, can take its toll. 

Spare a thought then for the doughty animal welfare lobbyist who has to attend all three major party conferences at this time of year...

For the past three Sundays, I've got up early and headed for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, the Labour Party Conference in Manchester and the Conservative one in Birmingham. 

These conferences are vast things.

At their centre is a large auditorium where the party faithful listen to what are more and more carefully staged "debates" about party policy. 

Their hearts, however, are in the many meeting rooms, bars and coffee rooms that adjoin the main auditorium. 

That's where the lobbyist stalks... 

One of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's aims for this conference season was to continue to target the new entry MPs from the last election to tell them about IFAW and our priority areas, of elephants, whales and most recently the proposed trial culls of badgers. 

After many years of arguments in the courts, the UK Government has just given the go-ahead for a trial to see if killing up to 70% of badgers in two areas will reduce the incidence of bovine TB in dairy cattle. 

The best they are hoping for is a 16-24% reduction in TB in cattle if farmers manage to kill 70% of a protected species that it is notoriously difficult to shoot humanely. 

Bovine TB represents a desperate problem for the UK's cattle farmers, but IFAW believes that a desperate situation doesn't call for desperate measures that are in no way guaranteed to solve the problem.

As usual, science is on our side, because 10-year long independent studies have shown that these culls won’t work and could even be counter-productive.

Brighton was bracing and the Lib Dems were surprisingly chipper. 

Bearing the brunt of being the minor partner in an unlikely coalition with the Conservatives, their polling is almost subterranean at this mid-way point of the current Parliament. But they are in (joint) power and obviously enjoying it. IFAW has many friendly Lib Dem MP allies and it was good to catch up with them and remind them of our priority areas and how they can help now they have their hands on (some of) the reins of power. 

Manchester was wet and the Labour Party buoyant. 

Polling is kind to them as a party, if not to their leader - but he put in the kind of speech that many party activists have been waiting for and the scent of victory seems to hang in the air at this stage. 

But as we all know "a week is a long time in politics" never mind the two years or so before the next election. 

IFAW worked closely with The Labour Party through their 13 years in power up to 1997. We didn't always agree on issues such as ivory stockpile sales but we always had a constructive dialogue and were in lock-step on issues such as the Canadian commercial seal hunt, fox hunting and Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whaling. 

These days, I'm glad to say, we have won them over to our position on ivory sales and we were pleased to meet with many influential MPs and thank them for their support and to ask them to encourage the Government to do more for animal welfare and conservation. 

It was also nice to hear IFAW being credited for protecting whales by the Shadow Minister at the shooting lobby’s reception!  

Birmingham was sunny and the Conservatives were tense. 

Traditionally, they are the most disciplined when it comes to party loyalty. Internal worries usually stay that way - internal. However, despite their leader being personally popular in the polls, the party's popularity seems to be in danger of dwindling and there are murmurs of dissent. On our issues, IFAW has been very pleased to see that in government, the Conservatives have adopted many of our issues through some fastidious work from their Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon. 

The main sticking point that remains with this Government is the badger cull. 

Listening to Owen Patterson, the new Secretary of State for the Government department responsible, it seems they are adamant to allow open shooting of badgers each autumn for the next four years. 

The National Farmers Union is desperate and the Government is behind them in taking this equally desperate measure that will risk the cruel killing of a protected species in the hope that it will reduce the bovine TB problem in cattle.

An alternative solution does exist, vaccination of badgers, and the devolved government in Wales has chosen that route rather than the shooting of badgers that will start any day now in England.

As a part of our campaign to highlight and call for Government steps to combat national and international wildlife crime we hosted a fringe event at the Conservative Conference.

More than 50 delegates came to listen to David Higgins, who heads up Interpol's Environmental Crime Department, Sir Hugh Orde, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers and James Brokenshire, the UK Minister for Crime and Security, on a panel I chaired. 

After the presentations a very healthy debate developed about the new Police and Crime Commissioners who are about to be elected all over the UK. These commissioners will provide political oversight of each of the 41 police regions and as such will have the say on where police resources should go. 

IFAW recognises that gun and knife crime and crimes against the person and property are the police's main priorities, but we firmly believe that adequate resources must be identified to tackle wildlife crime.

People that buy or sell illegal ivory in shops or online, those who illegally encourage packs of hounds to chase and kill foxes or people who trade in banned seal skins add, in one way or another, to the plight of animals and should be caught, prosecuted and subjected to sanctions that act as a deterrent to anyone considering breaking these laws. I was pleased to hear support for these views from our panellists and from the delegates, including a member of the House of Lords and a number of candidates for Police Commissioner who attended.

One particularly memorable moment came when Queen guitarist Brian May arrived at Conservative Conference to lobby against the badger cull.

Our parliamentary team were able to introduce him to many influential figures in the media and politics, including the BBC’s Political Editor, many members of the Cabinet and even the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson who is tipped by many to be the next Conservative leader.

Brian is our secret weapon because those at the highest level will stop to speak to him because of his celebrity status and then he hits them with extremely reasoned, scientific arguments, putting the case persuasively to those that don't always stop and listen to us.

Conference season is now over and Parliament will re-open shortly. 

We lobbied hard on our issues and I believe we got a fair hearing and lots of agreement. As ever, especially at a time of financial belt-tightening, the trick will be to turn fine words into practical actions. Through our continuing parliamentary work IFAW will keep pushing and keep reminding the Government that almost half a million people in the UK support us and support our call for firm and decisive action to prevent animal cruelty and increase conservation of endangered species. 

--RM

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Experts

Azzedine Downes,Executive Vice President for International Operations, VP of P
President and Chief Executive Officer
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Erica Martin, Vice President of Communications
Vice President of Communications
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Jeffrey Flocken, Regional Director, North America
Regional Director, North America
Jordi Casamitjana, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Whales
Director, International Policy & Program Planning
Director, International Policy & Program Planning
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Robbie Marsland, Regional Director, United Kingdom
Regional Director, United Kingdom
Sonja Van Tichelen, Regional Director, European Union
Regional Director, European Union
Tania McCrea-Steele, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK