Debating Animals

Rod Liddle examines our differing responses to related animal species and tries to establish what those responses tell us not merely about the animals but about ourselves.

show more detailshow less detail

Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01012009040120091116

Rod considers the otter and the mink - the one a playful, affectionate emblem of British environmental awareness, the other invariably depicted as a voracious invader.

Sir David Attenborough and ecologist Johnny Birks help Rod to separate fact from fiction and understand why one member of the Mustelid family should have us cooing and handing over money to environmental causes while the other can expect loathing at best and more often than not calls for a mass cull.

He also hears from people involved in the Hebridean mink cull, who are acting to save indigenous bird species in the Western Isles.

Rod Liddle considers our differing thoughts about the otter and the mink.

Rod considers the otter and the mink - the one a playful, affectionate emblem of British environmental awareness, the other invariably depicted as a voracious invader.

A keen amateur naturalist, Rod begins his debate with mink expert Johnny Birks on the banks of the River Lugg in Herefordshire.

Otters and mink roam these banks side by side as uneasy neighbours.

But the popular myth that mink were part of the reason for the dramatic decline in otter numbers in the 1950s was just that - a myth - albeit a convenient one.

As the debate matures, it appears that below the biodiversity arguments lies a more fundamental clash between the pure Darwinists who believe that nature should be left unchecked and those who say it is unrealistic to abandon our position of power over the wild animals and their habitats.

It follows that we must make difficult choices about which species we want to control and in some cases cull in order to protect the many.

0102 LAST2009040820091123

Rod considers our responses to cats and dogs - one semi-feral, independent and full of attitude, the other traditionally 'man's best friend' but in constant need of time and care.

Is the growing popularity of cats over dogs a case of modern Britons preferring to indulge themselves rather than take on the duties required of dog ownership?

Peter Purves, Ann Widdecombe and Sir David Attenborough offer their thoughts.

As the millenium turned a few years back there was another, less trumpeted shift in emphasis in Britain.

After years, perhaps thousands of years, of ascendancy as man's favoured domestic animal, the dog gave way to the cat.

It is now cat and dog, literally, at the top of the popular pet league, and Rod Liddle takes a long, hard stare at this stand-off and what it tells us about ourselves.

Cats are the ultimate urban companion.

The old debate is whether you own them or they own you.

Independent, brimful of attitude and well equipped to operate in a semi-feral environment.

Dogs, on the other hand, spent thousands of years being honed as servants.

They might be perfect for the hunt, for herding, for guarding or simply for companionship, but what they never achieved was a capacity for going it alone.

Own a dog and you have to be ready to sacrifice your time for them.

So is it just a simple question of 21st-century Britain indulging itself rather than taking on the duties required of dog ownership? And what are the costs of this shifting balance? Dogs eat what dogs are given to eat.

Cats eat that and half the urban wildlife around them.

Peter Purves, Ann Widdecombe and Sir David Attenborough are among those informing this domestic animal debate.

Rod Liddle considers the cat and the dog.

0201The Fox And The Rat2011022420110705

They're both on the wanted list, dead rather than alive, and they're both classed as vermin, but there's a world of difference between our national attitudes to the Fox and the Rat.

Once again Rod Liddle sets out to find out why we think and react as we do to these creatures. What are we to make of the statistics that periodically terrify newspaper readers as rats threaten to over-run our cities? But this debate is moving all the time. Twenty years ago the Fox was the emblem of the put-upon. The hounded beauty standing between the Toff and his stirrup cup it was always hard work for the hunting fraternity to persuade us of their menace. But with urban attacks and foxes scavenging on every street corner the tide is turning against 'the foxy whiskered gentleman'.

Rod takes to the field and lane with experts involved with both animals and he seeks guidance from literature and history as he debates our reaction to The Rat and The Fox.

Once again Rod Liddle sets out to find out why we think and react as we do to these creatures.

What are we to make of the statistics that periodically terrify newspaper readers as rats threaten to over-run our cities? But this debate is moving all the time.

Twenty years ago the Fox was the emblem of the put-upon.

The hounded beauty standing between the Toff and his stirrup cup it was always hard work for the hunting fraternity to persuade us of their menace.

But with urban attacks and foxes scavenging on every street corner the tide is turning against 'the foxy whiskered gentleman'.

Rod Liddle debates our responses to two vilified animals, the fox and the rat.

What are we to make of the statistics that periodically terrify newspaper readers as rats threaten to over-run our cities.

But this debate is moving all the time.

Rod Liddle seeks out the human truths behind our responses to two vilified animals.

0202 LASTThe Kestrel And Red Kite2011030320110712

Rod Liddle turns his attentions skywards to catch 'morning's minion', that most familiar of British birds of prey, the Kestrel.

It's an animal that gets a nod rather than a Hopkins-like 'thrill' from those interested in these things.

By contrast, the Red Kite is the darling of bird conservation and Britain is now the home of one of the only growing populations of the bird.

Rod takes a stroll with Chris Packham, a Kestrel enthusiast from his youth, to talk about our reactions to these birds, animals that remain a cut above the ordinary traffic.

Again the literature, from Chaucer's parliament of fowls to Hopkins' eulogy, has much to do with our reaction to these creatures but why is there an inevitable unease about the familiar and common Kestrel when set against the fragile, needy Kite?

Rod Liddle debates our reactions to the familiar kestrel and the well nurtured red kite.