The Earl of Caithness discusses SongBird Survival research in the Lords Grand Committee
Debate on the welfare of animals (10th May 2018)
“I congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward this debate. I declare my interest as a former cat and dog owner. Promoting and improving the welfare of domestic animals has a simple solution—and the solution is us human beings. We class ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but the evidence does not prove that. If one studies the PAW report of 2017—a very good document indeed—one will find that a significant minority of animal owners are thoughtless, irresponsible and inconsiderate.
People are thoughtless, in that 98% of cat owners have no idea of the costs of keeping a cat before they have one, which should be a primary consideration. Nearly one-fifth of dogs in the UK are left for five hours or more in a typical weekday; 93,000 dogs are never walked at all. They are irresponsible, in that animals are not receiving primary vaccination courses; 36% of cats are not receiving them, up from 28% in 2011. Some 25% of dogs are not receiving them, up from 18% in 2011, and 55% of rabbits are not receiving them.
People are inconsiderate to their animals—in their diet, as my noble friend mentioned, and in their lack of knowledge of animal laws. Some 15% of owners have not registered their pets with a vet. They are inconsiderate to their neighbours, because poor care of an animal leads to behaviour problems. Some 66% of dog owners would like to change their animal’s behaviour, but they had better change their behaviour first before they can change their animal’s behaviour. They are also inconsiderate to other animals: free-ranging and feral cats kill about 55 million wild birds and a further 220 million small mammals, reptiles and amphibians each year. Cat predation is a national problem. It is estimated that UK cats kill songbirds at 10 times the rate that illegal hunters in the Mediterranean kill migratory species. Researchers at the Universities of Reading and Exeter have reported on the widespread ignorance of that fact by many cat owners—and it is difficult for charities such as the RSPB, because they rely on legacies from cat owners. However, SongBird Survival is working with the University of Exeter and cat owners to get better information and to minimise the adverse effect of pet cats on native wildlife while enhancing cat welfare. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to help that project—and if they are not helping, why not?
I have some quick questions for my noble friend. What steps are the Government taking to minimise the adverse effect of cat owners’ pets on native wildlife? Will they press the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to include provisions in planning policy so that, as urban areas grow, a buffer zone of 400 metres is imposed around any new development to help to mitigate the adverse ecological consequences of cat predation, where species of conservation concern nest? Will my noble friend give domestic cats the same legal status as dogs?”