Kicking Up A Stink

Britain. It’s one big beautiful mass of habitats. Forests, rivers, wetlands, lowlands, meadows, grasslands, mountains, lakes, ponds and, of course, moorlands. Ah moorlands, possibly the most hotly debated habitat in the UK. Debated why? Is how beautiful they are debated? How haunting? How poetic? Well maybe, but in most cases, they are so hotly debated (as many of us are aware), because of their management.

Now for once, this time I am not focusing on the topic of raptors and their relentless persecution on the moorlands of the UK. This time, I am talking about something that actually came up when I was talking to friends. Oddly, the topic of ‘stink pits’ cropped up and to my surprise, not one of my friends was acquainted with the term. Lucky them. I was of course, quick to inform them. The reaction of horror which I received was the one I expected. But hang on! The fact that they disagreed with the practice entirely almost straight away must have meant that I attacked the practice from the get go! Spouting untruths just to make people agree with me, a fault which conservationists are so often accused of. Well believe it or not, I didn’t. I simple informed them what a ‘stink pit’ was and what they are used for. Simply put they are ‘pits’ (never!) dug in the ground which are then filled with carcasses of dead animals such as game birds. Ok. But…Why?! Well, to ‘dispose’ of dead animals, but also to attract other animals of course! Carnivores to be precise. Animals that you wish to catch, or snare as the case may be. Can you guess who is privy to such treatment? That’s right, the usual suspects of foxes, stoats and weasels.

Stink pits are not a pretty sight nor a pretty smell. The only living creatures within them are usually comprised of maggots, worms, bacteria and insects. I am not jumping to conclusions with this, I am talking out of first hand experience and for a individual with dogs, it is a battle to keep my dogs away from, what to them, is a delicious feast. A delicious feast riddled with snares. Recently, I experienced first hand the usual complementary language that some organisations and individuals who use stink pits often spout. What is the justification for the use of such putrid pits? Stink pits are biodiverse! They are humane! They are the most biodiverse and most humane way of disposing of unwanted predators! So why are they kept so quite? If stink pits really are as fabulous as we would be lead to believe, why are they hidden away and swept under the rug? Maybe because often there has been more than game birds found on these stink pits. Deer, pink-footed geese, mountain hares, salmon and even domestic cats have been found in these pits, and usually, they have been purposefully placed there. Biodiverse? Humane? I whole-heartedly disagree.

And what about public health? You do not have to be a doctor of any kind to realise that a huge mass of rotting carcases is likely to be riddled with all kinds of bacteria and even disease.

One statement concerning stink pits (middens) claimed:
‘Middens (stink pits) are located in remote areas that are well away from habitation and from where non-target species are located.’

Or, as long as they are ‘maintained within the regions of good practice’, they are totally acceptable.

What constitutes ‘well away’ I wonder? And how can you possibly know where non-target species are located? Both statements are unfortunately untrue in my experience of stink pits. They have not been well away from human habitation or water courses and they have certainly not been far away from non-target species.

Unfortunately, the use of stink pits does not measure up to what is considered ‘good practice.’ Pits are larger than they should be, catch non-target species, pose a threat to public health, and in most instances I think it is safe to assume that they are not checked regularly. I have seen snares which have caught rabbits with the bodies of the poor creatures being left there for weeks on end, therefore they are not being checked within the 24 hour period that they should be.

Stink pits have one aim in mind. To catch as many predators as possible and quite often, whether some of us would admit it or not, those who wish to dispose of these animals are happy to forego the law to achieve their aim. Many people are now calling for a total ban on stink pits, whilst others, although in favour of the ban on stink pits, also want a ban on snares. Snares which in the minds of many, are the root of the problem. Unfortunately, stink pits are another contraption used for ‘predator control’, no matter how short they fall of good animal welfare or public health standards.

Quite simply, stink pits are another demonstration of how some individuals can abandon their conscience and care for other species for one purpose: to protect and rear as many red grouse as possible.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Tim says:

    Not all of this kind of thing has negative impacts, e.g. leaving deer grallochs out feeds Red Kites in the Chilterns and long ago vultures were lost to the UK. Complain about smells, morality or whatever you will but just bear in mind that there is whole ecosystem that feeds on decaying corpses and if anything our modern countryside is just a little too tidy!

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