Sunday 12 May 2024

Lord Blencathra would ban cat flaps to protect wildlife

Lord Blencathra sits in the House of Lords in Parliament. He is a peer of the realm and a life peer. He was a former Member of Parliament (MP) for Penrith and The Border from 1983 to 2010. He wants to protect wildlife and he has some ideas in that respect which he announced in the House of Lords which has been reported by The Telegraph.

Lord Blencathra would ban cat flaps to protect wildlife
The Rt Hon Lord Blencathra.

One of his silliest ideas (and I'll explain why I think it's silly) is that all cat flaps in the UK should be banned under the law. He doesn't believe that cats should be allowed to come and go as they please from indoors to outdoors (which is not an unreasonable thought of itself). 

And to justify that attitude he says that "All independent studies suggest that cats allowed the wonder will kill about 260 million mammals per annum in the UK and 60 million garden birds."

He doesn't say that these statistics are based on estimates from relatively small-scale studies. There is a lot of incidental information that one needs to bring into the equation when you talk about domestic cat predation on wildlife. But that is another story.

In addition to banning cat flaps and allowing cats out manually through the back door when the sun rises and after the sun has set, he suggests that all domestic cats allowed outside should wear bells on collars.

This last suggestion is fairly reasonable because although domestic cats learn to keep the bells as quiet as possible when stalking prey, bells on collars can help save the lives of some birds stalked by domestic cats. I can't see a problem with that suggestion in general terms but both his suggestions are unenforceable.


If a government makes a law in any field of human life, it has to be enforceable to be effective. That means that if somebody breaks the new law it must come to the notice of the authorities and law enforcement. The prosecution services should prosecute the individual and punish them under the law.

How is law enforcement going to find out if a homeowner has a cat flap in their back door or not? There are many millions of them across the UK. No one knows who's got one and no one knows who has not got one. No one in authority can check because they open to the backdoor in the backyard which is invisible from the street.

Neighbours will or might know but that means that neighbours have to spy on neighbours which is going to cause friction. If that goes on across the country it is going to create a problem in society. You cannot rely on neighbours to spy on other neighbours as happened in East Germany during the communist era.

So Lord Bethcathra's suggestion is foolish and entirely unworkable. It will never happen.

And therefore I don't see why he's bothering to suggest it in a debating chamber in the Houses of Parliament. He is wasting his time, the time of the other lords in the debating chamber and he is wasting taxpayers money who pays him to be there.

It's also unworkable to enforce a law which makes it mandatory for domestic cats to wear bells on collars. It's easier to enforce it than the cat flap proposed law but it is still unenforceable. It would rely upon neighbours spying on neighbours as well.

You've got to work backwards with the creation of laws. You've got to ask yourself if it's enforceable and how could it become enforceable. What kind of machinery do you need to make it enforceable? 

And if existing machinery i.e. law enforcement and prosecution services and the local authority can't make new laws enforceable they should not be enacted unless you think that the law is so popular and universally supported by the public that they will comply with the law voluntarily but this makes the law unnecessary. Government advice, under those circumstances, would probably suffice.

In the meantime, there is a need for a much more thorough evaluation of domestic cat predation on wildlife over a much larger area. You can't extrapolate data from a small study in one particular area and say that those figures apply to the rest of the UK. You might get a rough idea but you do not end up with really accurate data.

And we need to know how many feral cats there are in the country. We don't know (accurately) and if you don't know the number of feral cats in a country you can't decide how many birds and mammals they attack and eat


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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