“When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber,” Winston Churchill once said of blathering back-bench MPs. An eagle silenced by death in Dorset had erstwhile pork-pie plotter, Chris Loder, now shamefully returned to the back-bench Borstal of Boris-backers, jabbering on social media recently.
It is not known how the rare young eagle came to die, and the exact location of its demise has not been revealed to the public. Scientists are undertaking toxicology tests and the police are conducting an investigation. It was when they appealed for witnesses that the West Dorset MP made the extraordinary assertion that the county was not the place for eagles to be reintroduced. He further stated that policing budget should be spent on combatting other crimes, like county lines drug-running, rather than rural crime.
This may seem contradictory in light of Loder’s recent success in getting his private member’s bill for tougher sentencing for animal cruelty adopted into law. He clarified on his website that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 “increases the maximum penalty for certain offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 tenfold, from six months to up to five years.” Loder was also (rightly) quick off the bat to criticise West Ham footballer, Kurt Zouma, seen to slap and boot one of his cats across his kitchen floor in shocking viral footage.
Surely Loder is a champion of wildlife?
Not exactly. For Loder, some animals are more equal than others. He is a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, whose aim is to help advance farm animal welfare. (Other illustrious patrons include ex-MP turned unelected-bureaucrat Lord Zac Goldsmith, MPs Theresa Villiers, Sir Roger Gale, Henry Smith and Tracey Crouch, and Johnson family members – Stanley and Carrie.) Loder explained his antipathy to white-tailed eagles making their home in Dorset with a follow-up tweet claiming they “kill lambs” and “plague farmers”.
Oh dear. There is so much to unpack here.
White-tailed eagles are coastal birds that feed primarily on fish, and occasionally on carrion. For the benefit of Mr Loder (on the off-chance he may read this article), “carrion” is the decaying flesh of dead animals. Yes, that’s right, Mr Loder. Animals that are already dead. It is highly unlikely that white-tailed eagles would be guilty of killing lambs, as he falsely claimed. However, it is even more embarrassing than you might imagine. The photographer who took the photos illustrating the article Loder tweeted, Peter Cairns, got in touch with the MP to explain that the photos had been staged:
So far, Loder has studiously ignored these inconvenient facts. We should not be too surprised. After all, it’s what Brexity MPs do, isn’t it?
White-tailed eagles in Dorset?
The white-tailed eagles Loder objects to are part of a five-year wildlife conservation project, managed jointly by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, to reintroduce the creatures to the south coast. These majestic birds, which stand a metre tall and have a wing-span of two metres, used to be widespread from Cornwall to Kent, but were hunted to extinction in Britain around 240 years ago. Since their last recorded breeding place was Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780, it is fitting that they are being reintroduced on the island, with a few pairs released into the wild each year. This is not about sentimentality, though, but geography: white-tailed eagles like fishing in shallow water, making the Isle of Wight and the Solent, with its abundance of grey mullet, an ideal habitat.
So, not only do white-tailed eagles neither kill lambs nor plague farmers, but also they have not been re-introduced to Dorset. Loder might have known this, had he bothered to read the tweet from Dorset Police he quote-tweeted. Birds will be birds, and unlike the “happy” fish that Rees-Moog imagines patriotically swim only in British seas, these birds take to their wings and fly where they will. Indeed, one of the Isle of Wight birds has been tracked to Denmark, so Dorset is but a short hop. It is hoped that they will establish links between white-tailed eagle populations in Ireland and Scotland with those in France and the Netherlands. Perhaps it is this Europeanness that has riled West Dorset’s ‘EU-and-freedom-of-movement’ hating MP?
Or maybe there is something else at play here? A quick glance at the Electoral Commission’s donations database shows the West Dorset Conservatives Association is a regular recipient of the largesse of Ilchester Estates. The person behind Ilchester Estates is one of Dorset’s biggest land-owners, the honourable Mrs Charlotte Townshend, who owns an estimated 15,000 acres in Dorset, including Chesil Beach, the Fleet and Abbotsbury Swannery. For many years she was Master of the Cattistock Hunt, while her husband, James Townshend, was previously an activist for the Countryside Alliance, which is a campaigning organisation for ‘field sports’, including hunting, shooting and fishing.
Their country seat is the Grade I listed Melbury House at Melbury Sampford in the heart of idyllic Thomas Hardy country. Walking along the public footpath that runs through the extensive park, leading to the elegant, honey-coloured, ham stone mansion with its neighbouring chapel, you will encounter sheep – and lambs, in season – grazing there. Might this be the reason for Loder’s bizarre pronouncements about ‘the threat’ white-tailed eagles supposedly pose to lambs? As the good book says, “By their donors ye shall know them.” (OK. I made that up. But it’s a useful adage to bear in mind when it comes to politicians.)
To police rural crime or not to – that is Loder’s loaded question
Having dispensed with Loder’s false claims about the ‘re-introduction’ of white-tailed eagles into Dorset and their lamb-free diet, we must not forget his peremptory statement about how Dorset Police should spend their time and resources. While county lines drug-running is terrible, with hardened criminals exploiting vulnerable children, Loder’s argument that the rural crime budget should be diverted to tackle that is narrow, reductive and nonsensical. The officers in the different units have different knowledge and training, for a start.
Then again, if there were no police dedicated to rural, wildlife and heritage crime, who would investigate the cases of animal cruelty for which Loder fought so hard to secure tougher penalties? He hasn’t really thought this through, has he? Loder’s argument is similar to the old “how can you spend money on the arts when we need hospitals” and “why do we send money abroad when we’ve got home-grown poor” tropes. The answer is, as always, because we need both. Biodiversity and conservation enrich human life as well. Victims of rural crime suffer no less hurt because the perpetrator is motivated by sadism rather than the profit and power compulsion of the drugs trade.
Unsurprisingly, Loder’s unfortunate tweet attracted the attention of one of the five-person rural crime team:
Other Twitter users rushed to thank the rural crime team for their work. Most did not appreciate Loder’s response, with several pointing out that the police officer’s unpaid (and unclaimed) overtime of £25,000 over several years, was less than one-tenth of Loder’s parliamentary expenses of £256,175 in a single year. That is a staggering amount of money he has managed to get through. It is £56,296 (22 per cent) above the average of the expenses of all 650 Westminster MPs. Line items in his expenses include trivialities like £1 for parking. Loder is our eighth most expensive MP.
On this showing, Loder is not good value for money. Hopefully his constituents will remember his pompous parroting, dizzying daftness, and casual costliness, next time they have an opportunity to vote, and vote him out. The next general election can’t come too soon. In the meantime, we wish the Dorset rural crime team luck in getting to the bottom of the mystery of the dead white-tailed eagle and hope that it will not be too long before these impressive creatures once again grace our coastline.