Comment: Receptionists and other pests

It may be the largest collection of living things on the planet, but some are more welcome at Kew than others. Or so I found last week at the Royal Botanical Gardens, which houses more than one in every eight of all the world's flowering plants.

I had come for a speech by a friend, Senator Tim Wirth - chairman of the first Clinton-Gore campaign and now the rather grandly entitled Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs - on the US stance at negotiations on curbing global warming. (It was pretty depressing, but that's another story).

I arrived just in time to be included in his personal guided tour. As we went round, the director, Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, showed us the stamps of the gardens' twin plagues - Canada geese and badgers. The lawns were littered with the birds' droppings and raked by the beasts' claws. A special goose-proof fence has had to be erected around the magnificent Palm House, and rare plants are being endangered by badgers snuffling in their mulch.

While Brock has had a good press ever since The Wind In The Willows, Canada geese are not easy to love. Thugs with wings, they drive out other birds and even attack children. Combining prodigious appetites and regrettable digestive systems, they each produce a long, slimy, green dropping every three minutes.

Forty years ago there were just 2,000 in Britain: now there are 60,000. Their numbers are doubling every eight years and a government committee has sat for half a decade to discuss what to do.

It's not easy. Wandsworth Council planned some years ago to shoot 200 geese to protect Battersea Park, causing such an outcry from Linda McCartney, Carla Lane and others that Rentokil - presumably not the most squeamish of firms - refused to do the job, fearing "irreparable damage" to its reputation.

In 1993 government marksmen secretly shot 100 geese at dawn in St James's Park - the very place where Charles II first released them. Milton Keynes has clandestinely removed eggs from nests, hard boiled them in a giant tea urn and returned them, hoping the parents wouldn't notice. Kew says it destroys eggs by pricking them or dipping them in paraffin. Has it killed any birds? "We will not divulge what we do to keep the numbers down."

Badgers are also booming - their numbers have almost doubled, to more than 440,000, in just nine years. There are now nearly twice as many badgers as foxes - but they enjoy as much if - not more - protection as Britain's rarest wildlife.

They are the only species to be safeguarded by a special Act of Parliament all of their own. You can't even use machinery within 20 metres of a set, or clear scrub within 10 (except with a special licence), on pain of six months in jail. In July this prohibition against disturbing badgers halted house building in the grounds of a listed building in Dorset after orthodox representations had failed. And when John Gummer as Environment Secretary torpedoed the nuclear industry by refusing to allow initial work on a national waste dump site, he cited inter alia damage to the habitat of a local badger clan.

None of this impresses farmers who believe badgers give their cattle TB. And they're not cheering at Kew, badger-free till eight years ago, which now harbours about 50.

Keith Collins, a reader, of Whitton, Middlesex, writes to ask if he can shoot magpies - also rapidly increasing - which he hates for killing songbirds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says that by law he can, providing he does it in his own garden and can show that they have preyed on other wildlife.

But it pleads for understanding. "If you're a small bird a magpie can seem a pretty nasty piece of work," it says. "But to us, it's just trying to make its way in a countryside denuded of food."

Mr Collins is unmoved, saying he'll have to learn to shoot. At present he keeps three tennis balls to throw at the birds but, he says, they usually don't take the hint.

the final word must go to a company called Acheta, which has sent me details of "pest control" courses "tailored to the requirements of individual customers". The pests it lists include: "urban birds", "rats and mice", "insects and mites" and - I kid you not - "receptionists".

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

    QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

    £35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried