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Seeing Red: Ending live exports from Ramsgate Port

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on November 21 2020.

Police marshalling live animal export trucks in Ramsgate

Many of us are rightly horrified by the inhumane and cruel trade in live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate. We have been told this will stop when Brexit comes into force at the end of this year. We have been promised an end to these excessively long journeys and the distress that is caused.

Many people have diligently campaigned over many years against this abhorrent trade. Most ferry operators won’t now accept this type of livestock cargo, but the infamous ‘Jolene’ does. On 24th November a further lorry load of sheep will again be driven through Kent to depart our shores at Ramsgate. The last episode saw some 3000 sheep in 6 lorries dispatched to Europe on the Jolene. Usually this would attract a lively, but well disciplined demonstration. I’ve attended some myself, and what I’ve seen is well conducted protest by people that are passionate about animal rights and welfare. 

Importantly the protesters do usually also manage to film inside the trucks to check the condition of the sheep particularly looking for injured livestock and checking the water supply is ok. These animals are often in distress and have already been travelling many hours. It’s a very sad sight to witness.

Karen Constantine with protestors against live animal exports in Ramsgate.

Police ban protests

Sadly on Tuesday 24th November, the next occasion for export of sheep from Ramsgate, Kent Police have decided to ‘clamp down’ on protesters with threats of significant fines of £200, and the possibility of gaining a criminal record if demonstrators turn up as usual. I’m sure most people will comply. Whilst I can see the public health issues in light of Covid I would have much preferred to see the police engage positively with the protesters to discuss and agree on how a socially distanced demonstration and welfare check could take place. I’m sure it’s possible.

Protestors against live animal exports from Ramsgate Port

KCC say trade will stop

In light in the on-going concerns about this foul trade in Ramsgate, on 22nd October at KCC full Council I asked for an update on live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate. I was told by Roger Gough, Conservative leader at KCC that live animal exports in Kent would be stopped.

I have now been able to obtain more detail. The export of live sheep for slaughter does indeed look likely to stop, but I’m not yet sure it’s guaranteed. What is clear however is the trade in exporting live chicks will be maintained. Live animal exports will continue.

Brexit travel chaos a threat

There are also real concerns about the potential of a no deal Brexit to disrupt the Ashford livestock market, causing more distress to animals. Each Tuesday around 5,000 animals are brought to Ashford for sale. Kent trading standards say that although there is a traffic management plan in place, there are risks, the livestock being bought into Kent could suffer from delays due to traffic congestion. Any such delay that takes an animal over 8 hours in transit would require a type 2 vehicle, which crucially is equipped with water and ventilation. The extra expense would presumably be passed to the consumers. Plus of course there could be animal welfare concerns.

Live chicks are big business

The scale of live chick exports is astounding. In 2018 HMRC estimated exports from the U.K. were worth £139m, meaning 25 million chicks (and turkey chicks) were loaded onto trucks, boats and planes for export to the EU and much further afield. According to a report earlier this year, most of the trade in chicks is for “high-value breeding stock for both egg layers and broilers, from chickens with sought-after genetic characteristics”. Trade in chicks is big business. I never knew the scale of this.

Post Brexit, it’s perhaps correct to assume that if air freight remains significantly declined, more of this trade in live chicks will be exported through sea ports. Indeed, KCC’s Brexit preparedness indicates livestock will be ‘held’ at inland facilities, such as Ebbsfleet. Any delays could have disastrous consequences and there is no clear plan currently to ensure high animal welfare standards during cross-Channel delays. I’m making enquiries and I will be seeking reassurances that full welfare measures will be put into place.

Of the 9 million chicks exported to mainland Europe, I hope none transit through Kent.  We don’t want to see the introduction of such exports from Ramsgate. Ultimately I’d like to see all such trade brought to an end on ethical and environmental grounds.