We hear so much about the introduction of the government’s new ‘Fat Tax’ that we no longer really listen to the detail. But, as birdwatchers, we really should be listening, because this new tax is going to hit us very hard financially.
The new tax will substantially increase the price of foods that are high in fat, with the idea that they will eventually be priced out of the market. This may sound like a good idea, but unfortunately the government have also included bird food in the scope of this new tax and that has massive implications for those of us that feed birds in our gardens.
I am forever supplying fat balls to the birds in my garden. But I don’t see how I am going to continue to do so now that this tax has come into force in this new financial year (that starts today, the first of April). Their price is now going to work out at about £10 per fat ball, just a few weeks ago £10 was a load of balls! I spoke to the manager of my local garden centre and he told me that in the last week there was clear of evidence of panic buying by many of his customers, to the point where the centre had to impose restrictions on the number of balls per customer.
When I contacted the Department of Health they told me that they were aware of the issues involved, but a recent study carried out by the NHS had highlighted the risk that obese children, denied the opportunity to buy high fat content biscuit bars and cakes, were highly likely to migrate to the pet and garden aisle of the supermarket and buy the fat balls to munch on as a substitute. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was so concerned at this that he insisted on bird food being included in the new tax as a vital measure to combat the obesity epidemic and the threat to our NHS, which, as he pointed out, is now better funded than ever before to pay for studies like this.
I even contacted the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise my concerns, but he said that the tax raised by this new measure would help ensure a strong future for the country and that he was offsetting any potential impact on wild birds by providing a new tax break for birdbox builders which would be announced shortly.
In frustration I contacted my local MP, Boris Johnson, who responded to me in a phone call, in which he talked balls for several minutes.
I did receive some hope from DEFRA who told me that they have commenced a consultation period with a number of interested parties about introducing a scheme where they remove birds from gardens in times of cold weather and feed them with fat balls on grouse moors (these of course are exempt from much of our taxation and laws due to being in the ownership of important people) before releasing them back in the gardens in the spring, when they will be able to feed on, and I quote, ‘seeds and stuff’.
I can only hope that this plan works, although I am concerned that DEFRA haven’t worked out the logistics properly, because they are talking a load of balls if they think that this is going to succeed.
Olaf Lipor grew up in northern Lapland, where he extensively studied the hallucinogenic effects of various fungi species. Olaf has been involved in many pioneering natural history studies and is the author of many books including the famous ‘Nest Building Techniques of the Common Cuckoo’ and ‘The Hibernation Strategies of the House Martin’.