Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is in a bit of bother with the more deranged fringe of the animal rights people. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s a ‘celebrity chef’ and a big proponent of locally sourced foods that are in season. He’s an amiable cove, seems to be popular with his River Cottage neighbours, and I have a gentle admiration for his giving up a high powered job in advertising and dragging his wife and four children off to the wilds of the countryside so he could indulge his love of cooking. I like what he does, because he’s actually much more of a cook than a chef. Workmanlike.

The affable Mr F-W has caused an ‘outrage’ (this is Daily Mail speak for a weak protest from the more mentally unstable members of the public) by admitting that his 15 year old son routinely shoots grey squirrels for the family cooking pot. The idiot fringe group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went all frothy at the mouth about this. A spokesman (name apparently withheld) claimed that ‘you can only pity the son’ for having a father with ‘such archaic views.’ This seems to me to be a bit of a blot on Hugh’s escutcheon. But let’s leave that.

PETA then go on to say they find it sad that HF-W sees not the wonder of wildlife but only as something to go in the pot. According to these loonies, animals have ‘… thoughts, emotions, and interests.’ This conjures up some wonderful visions of Squirrel Nutkin doing macramé or needlepoint, or perhaps a squirrelly reading group.

Let’s be clear here. There’s an estimated 2.5M grey squirrels in the UK. They were introduced from the US back in the 1850s, so are not a native species. They compete ferociously with the native red squirrels, to the extent that the lovely red squirrel is down to its last 80,000 or so. The grey is a voracious eater, as you will know if you’re a gardener and have lost all your bulbs to these marauding little buggers. They’re a sodding menace.

They’re such a menace that you’re legally allowed to shoot the little sods just to cull them. They’re officially an agricultural pest, so if you blow the heads off a few on your own land the cops won’t bat an eyelid. If you have occasion to off a few of these vandal rodents, you may as well eat them. Greys do not have an interest in calligraphy or anything else other than eating and breeding. The only reason they might take up bonsai would be to produce snackfoods.

Just to add fuel to the fire, I would like to point out that rights come with a price. That price is responsibility. I doubt most, if any, animals understand that concept. If you’ve ever seen, as I have, a lioness in the wild take out a zebra, you’d be hard pressed to find any sense of responsibility.