For those of us who have been involved in the hunting debate over the years, reading ill-informed articles about wildlife and how we should interact with it are nothing new.
What you don’t expect is to see such stuff in the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that generally gets it right when it comes to understanding the complexities of wildlife management and how hunting with hounds forms a unique part of that process. So I was disappointed to see a piece about urban foxes being shot, not so much for the action itself but for the reasoning behind it.
The writer found foxes under his shed and had put up with the digging, night calls and other noises until finally a used nappy was carried into his garden by this vulpine delivery service, forcing him to decide on their future. After seeking advice from a pest controller, the choice offered was stark; either shoot them or leave them to carry on. Admitting to being a “pious, bleeding-heart liberal, with all the urban dweller’s squeamishness about such matters” the writer nevertheless chose the former and the animals were duly cage-trapped and shot. I’ve no doubt that the process was undertaken with “immaculate professionalism”, as stated by the writer.
However, while displaying his sadness surrounding the whole incident, we were told that, “No one took pleasure from this, as people do when galloping in hunting pinks to dispatch healthy animals”. This is a line that could have come straight out of a League Against Cruel Sports leaflet and, as with much of their propaganda, is about as wrong it could possibly be. Worst of all, it was in the Daily Telegraph!
This article contained further ill-informed and misleading comments. It is certainly true that urban foxes are numerous in some cities, due mainly to the almost endless amounts of food available to them. While nature soon fills a vacuum, it also abhors overcrowding and counters this with disease; the same goes for other species too. However, foxes are welcomed by some people, but hated by others – difficult when it comes to any form of control. Due to the abundant food supply, fox territories are much smaller than those of their country cousins and can extend to just a few gardens, but if the owners hold differing views on Reynard, how can a wider control process operate?
This problem generally doesn’t arise in the countryside, where landowners cover much larger areas and usually agree on management methods. In towns, realistically perhaps the best thing to do is protect vulnerable pets and livestock and use deterrents to make life uncomfortable for the local foxes so they avoid particular gardens. It may not be perfect, but without general agreement amongst landowners as to what should be done, this is probably the only option that has some lasting effect. Shooting urban foxes (unless they are injured or diseased) in just one garden will, at best, solve the problem for only a short while, perhaps just a matter of days or weeks. That small vacant territory, within a much wider area containing an almost endless supply of foxes, will be soon filled again. So in this case the relief sought by the writer will be short-lived and his guilty feelings will all be for nothing.
But to then denigrate hunting in order to justify this action only compounds the misinformation in his article. Of course people take pleasure in going hunting, but mostly in the equestrian and social side of the process and in watching the hounds work; the real ‘business end’ is the huntsman and his hounds and, because these are scenting animals, they will usually catch the weaker quarry animals, just as other wild canids do when they hunt. I doubt the writer has ever witnessed a hunt; if he had I don’t think he would be referring to the “bloodlust of the rural foxhunting community.”
It is disappointing to read such an article in a newspaper that so strongly opposed the Hunting Act on libertarian grounds (as did the author of the article) yet still manages through a lack of knowledge to do no favours for hunting with hounds. Indeed, in a wider context it is this absence of a proper understanding of wildlife management that gives rise to the difficulties in tackling major issues such as the spread of bovine TB in badgers and gives rise to the psuedo morality that spurs on some animal groups and certain politicians.
Soon the autumn political conference season will be upon us and there will be the usual round of fringe meetings organised by an array of organisations and groups. At a fringe meeting organised by the League Against Cruel Sports a few years ago, detailed welfare and management points were put to the speakers, who clearly found difficulty in providing adequate answers. This prompted one delegate to say that while he had come into the meeting originally supporting the LACS, he now found himself moving to the Countryside Alliance position. At that point the meeting was brought to a premature end.
This year, the Countryside Alliance has organised a series of fringe meetings at each political party conference to address issues raised by mankind’s relationship with wild animals under the title “Let’s get real about wildlife”. So often debates in the media or indeed parliament are reduced down to a simplistic ‘to kill or not to kill’ choice – something that is totally unrealistic and usually results in further conflict rather than solutions. Sport, pest control and ‘killing for fun’ are words that tend to dominate such discussions; rarely do we hear the term ‘wildlife management’ and yet its aims and benefits are absolutely central to resolving contentious wildlife and countryside issues.
These important fringe meetings aim to properly explore, explain and understand wildlife management and will include representatives from animal welfare groups. Here is an opportunity for the speakers to put forward their respective views on how we treat wildlife, but, perhaps more importantly, they will also have to justify their policies.