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The game fair season got off to a slightly confusing start in 2016.

Following the Country Land and Business Association’s decision not to run the CLA Game Fair this year, other organisers stepped in with their events at various locations, each vying for the title of this year’s official ‘Game Fair’. The simple fact was that not all could succeed. With the uncertainty as to which would ultimately survive, the participating organisations that normally book a sizeable amount of space, such as the Countryside Alliance and Game & Wildlife Conservancy Trust, had to ‘test the waters’ with smaller displays.

Dr Lewis Thomas on the VAWM stand at the Game Fair 2016

Dr Lewis Thomas on the VAWM stand at
the Game Fair 2016

The Game Fair at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire was in a more conventional mould, including the whole range of field sports, as well as carrying on the tradition of organising debates on rural topics. Despite the Hunting Act being in force for over 11 years, the organisers know that this is still a contentious issue and a debate was arranged.

Those opposed to hunting and shooting are probably in the minority at any game fair, so inviting speakers to put their case can be a little tricky. Such events are considered bloodfests’, as a previous anti-hunt guest once described his visit. Nevertheless, the two speakers who did accept the challenge to put their case at Ragley Hall deserve credit for doing so.

Chairman Robin Hicks, former chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, asked for a vote on repealing the Hunting Act at the very start and one chap at the back put his hand up – a clear indication of where the audience stood. I was pleased to be asked to take part, as was Dr Lewis Thomas, secretary of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, who has considerable knowledge and experience of animals and their welfare. Our opponents were Robbie Marsland, the League Against Cruel Sports director for Scotland, and long-time hunt saboteur and founder of ‘Hounds Off’, Joe Hashman.

Countryfile Live produced some surprising results

Countryfile Live produced some surprising results

I get on reasonably well with Robbie Marsland, having debated with him on a number of occasions, but an account of the debate written by him for the online newspaper the Huffington Post gave what might be termed as a ‘well-spun’ version, exploiting the fact that it would be highly unlikely any reader would have been present at the debate to know otherwise. Describing the points and questions put by myself and Dr Thomas as “old, tired and sometimes irrelevant arguments”, was disingenuous to say the least. Mr Marsland would not be addressing them and instead would be concentrating on the “political reality” of a law that came into force almost 12 years ago.

Now that really is ducking some very important questions that may well be old and tired, but are continually asked simply because we never hear anything like adequate answers. What, for example, is the anti-hunter’s view of wildlife management? What precise methods of control are advocated? What is inherently wrong about using dogs in wildlife management? Even a question from the audience along the same lines brought a very reluctant suggestion from the LACS’ Robbie Marsland that only if a particular fox was causing problems might it be shot – a view that was almost immediately contradicted by Joe Hashman in saying that such shooting upsets and disrupts fox family units. It would seem that death in other circumstances, whether natural or not, does not do the same.

Odd, that in saying that we should we should all move on, the anti-hunt campaigners conveniently ignore the vast amount of time (some 700 parliamentary hours) and money (around £30 million) spent in putting the nonsensical Hunting Act onto the statute book. In the same breath they argue that there are far more important issues for the government to deal with, but brazenly demand time to be found for this law to be strengthened.

The Countryside Alliance stand at Countryfile Live

The Countryside Alliance stand at Countryfile Live

There will be some who say that any game fair audience is bound to be overwhelmingly pro-hunting and that may well be true, but there was a neat little test of the public’s supposed anti-hunting feelings the following weekend.

The BBC’s Countryfile programme has come in for a fair degree of criticism for portraying the countryside in rather rosy terms and sometimes avoiding issues that are deemed unpalatable for the wider urbanised audience. Understandably some countryside organisations were sceptical about appearing at the Countryfile Live show held at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. The Countryside Alliance, along with most of the main rural/field sports organisations, took the plunge and booked stands…and it seems to have been a good decision for more than one reason.

The Fishing for School exhibit on the CA stand

The Fishing for School exhibit on the CA stand

Countryfile Live certainly attracted a different audience to that which normally goes to game fairs, (even the opening hour of 9.30 was nothing like the 6.30 start for most country shows), but where it probably surprised many is in how that audience reacted to the exhibits, stands and views on show. For all the talk about 80% of the public opposing hunting with hounds, it appears that the “wider urbanised audience” of the BBC’s Countryfile does not quite see it that way. There was no hiding the pro-hunting, shooting or fishing campaign posters or literature on the Countryside Alliance stand. Hounds of the Christ Church and Farley Hill Beagles were present attracting crowds of children and their parents. No words of disapproval, no recoiling in disgust, just a fascination for these animals and what they are bred to do. In that sense, Countryfile Live provided an important link between two audiences and showed that perhaps they are not so different.

Younsters attracted to the CA stand

Youngsters are attracted to the CA stand

The staff and volunteers on the CA stand were constantly busy and will verify that throughout the four day show only one negative comment was heard, which begs the question where are all these anti-hunting people? Surely, if 80% of the population is opposed to hunting with hounds, wouldn’t some have attended Countryfile Live?

Or maybe, as is so often the case with many campaigns that rely on fooling the public and politicians, the reality is sometimes very different.

Labour pains

What is the main reason for the Labour Party’s internecine war…and does it sound familiar?

One explanation is that at the heart of the troubles lies a single factor, which is that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and those who support him, have an unshakeable belief that they are absolutely right. While some might regard this as unwavering dedication to a cause, its uncompromising nature can be a dangerous characteristic and often leads to anyone who holds a  different view, even members of the same political party or group, being branded as an enemy.

The brick thrown through the constituency office window of the erstwhile Corbyn challenger Angela Eagle pales in comparison to the death and rape threats sent to various Labour MPs who have dared to suggest that their leader is not up to the job. A letter to Corbyn signed by 44 of his female Labour MPs saying that he is not doing enough to stop this abuse and intimidation does not seem to have any effect on him, but it doesn’t stop there; an MP critical of Corbyn claims she had her office illegally entered by one of his aides. Each day brings further accusations of events and hypocrisy that would not be out of place in some fledgling government in the third world – and talking of the third world, the revelation that campaign shirts for Corbyn were produced in a Bangladesh sweatshop in which workers were paid 30p per hour is a classic case of hypocrisy for someone who claims to be the champion of the poor and downtrodden.

jeremy-corbyn

Hypocritical? Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign T-shirts were made in a Bangladesh  sweatshop.

But then Jeremy Corbyn is not like previous Labour leaders, most of whom, if not all, would have stepped down by now given the wave of criticism he has faced. He fails to understand that a political leader, if he or she is to become prime minister, doesn’t just need to appease the membership, but has to bring together Labour’s parliamentary party, the average Labour voter and indeed the floating voter who will determine the next government. Threatening re-selection of all his MPs before the 2020 general election is hardly going to help in that regard. It seems that Corbyn couldn’t care less about anyone other than those who have paid £3 or £25 to join his club and he doesn’t seem too bothered either if a third party pays for it, despite it being against Labour Party rules.

It’s all symptomatic of a blinkered, self-righteous view that often expresses itself in very unsavoury terms. Shortly after Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader last September, he said that he wanted to see a “kinder, more honest form of politics”, yet just the next week, when he had addressed his followers at a meeting in Manchester where the Conservative Party was holding its annual conference, we saw those attending verbally abused, spat at and intimidated. Anyone queuing to go into the conference, whether an ordinary Conservative member, reporter or fringe meeting organiser, was fair game for obscene comments or threats.

FLOF corbyn

Only the naïve believe in Corbyn’s ‘kinder politics’; in reality he has links to anti-Semitic groups and other extremists.

The noises coming from Corbyn and co are reminiscent of a class struggle of yesteryear in which the rich are to blame for everything (conveniently ignoring the fact that some 27% of the total tax income is provided by the top 1% of high earners). They play the social media game of inferring mass support, when in reality they are mainly talking to themselves, though the messages are attractive to the naïve, the ignorant and those sympathetic to anti-establishment causes. As so often is the case, they highlight what they see as injustices without giving thought to the consequences or offering any realistic solutions.

Whatever the outcome of these difficulties, one has to recognise the importance of the need for a proper parliamentary opposition party. It’s worth considering those decent Labour parliamentarians who are now facing the type of bigoted spite that another group has encountered over the years – by that I mean the hunting world. It is no exaggeration to say that there are clear parallels in the way the Corbyn’s class warriors go about their business and the manner in which anti-hunting groups operate; the absolute self-belief in their cause; ignoring inconvenient truths; eschewing reasonable debate; reducing arguments down to simple, exaggerated extremes; regarding detractors as traitors; demonising any opposition as ‘the enemy’; playing down links with extreme groups and turning a blind eye to violence and intimation.

How many ordinary voters will support Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party?

Polls indicate that ordinary voters reject the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

If there is to be some sort of re-alignment of the Labour Party perhaps those who have witnessed the tactics of these extremists (or have been on the receiving end of their exploits) will see a similarity in the type of politics they may have supported, albeit unwittingly, in passing the Hunting Act; each and every one of those tactics mentioned above has been employed in reaching that end. Predictably, it resulted in a law that has been widely criticised, not saved a single animal’s life, made wildlife management more difficult and now is regarded, even by anti-hunting groups, as a failure; the only ‘successful’ aspect being that bigotry and prejudice won in this instance due to the public’s lack of understanding of hunting and the consequences a ban inevitably entails.

A cursory examination of comments made in the press and on social media reveals just how many anti-hunters support Corbyn and, adding to their naivety, consider him to be a suitable future prime minister. At least one prominent committee member of the League Against Cruel Sports , a former Labour MP currently being criticised for using thousands of pounds of public money to fund his constituency office, falls into that category.

Hunts: the perfect target for class warriors

Hunts: the perfect target for class warriors

The surprising  thing is that there are some Conservative MPs who can’t see that they’ve been duped into thinking a hunting ban is good for animal welfare and oppose overturning this legislation. It surely is no coincidence that shortly after making clear her view that the Hunting Act should be repealed, MP Andrea Leadsom was made Environment Secretary by new Prime Minister Theresa May. This is a positive move and indicates discussions on the future of hunting with hounds will be meaningful and on the basis of evidence. Those shaky Conservative MPs who have cosied up to the ‘Blue Foxes’ really should consider who their bedfellows are and stop playing into the hands of people who have ulterior motives and will never be genuine supporters of their party, no matter what is claimed or offered in the never-ending stream of e-mails the antis are so fond of sending.

If Corbyn’s people look, sound and act the same as those who oppose hunting… it’s because they are one and the same.

Most people will change their views on a range of issues, to one extent or another, during their lifetimes. One issue, however, appears to fall outside this natural maturing process and, like some strange religious sect, once you are a member of an anti-hunting group, you must always remain a member. It doesn’t matter that evidence and experience tells you something is wrong.

“Anti-hunt activism is predominantly entrenched in left-wing politics”, says Miles Cooper

“Anti-hunt activism is predominantly entrenched in left-wing politics”, says Miles Cooper

Miles Cooper is one of a number of people who have bucked that trend, but in doing so has travelled further than any other former ‘anti’ whose views have changed.

Miles admits that his reason for joining his local hunt saboteur group in the late 1980s was more out of interest in what his friends were doing rather for than any deeply felt ideological purpose. As someone who had always loved animals and the countryside, he saw a way of combining his then left-wing views with an opportunity to “actively do something” by protesting against and sabotaging hunts. While some of his fellow saboteurs were genuine in their belief that hunting was cruel and tried to understand the complexities of hunting with hounds, many did not and, according to Miles, were there more to confront the people who hunt because of what they represented, rather than prevent any perceived cruelty. “Anti-hunt activism is predominantly entrenched in left-wing politics”, says Miles, “and that means clearly defining a ‘them’ and an ‘us’. There can be no room for discussion or real consideration of alternative viewpoints. There is simply a determined focus that ‘we’ are right and ‘they’ are wrong.”

Whipping-in to the Hunsley Beacon Beagles. Photo credit: Philip Reese

Whipping-in to the Hunsley Beacon Beagles.
Photo credit: Philip Reese

Miles Cooper moved on from hunt sabotage during the 1990s to become an employee of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), both of which had joined forces with the RSPCA to form the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal. The Labour Party had taken power in 1997 and MP Michael Foster was quick to make his name by introducing an anti-hunting Bill. Miles’ role was to supply detailed information in support of the measure, but his frustration was growing in terms of the lack of evidence that would definitively support a hunting ban, the bending of ‘science’ to fit the argument and indeed what potential effect an overall ban would have on the welfare of wild animals and the countryside.

By the late 1990s, the doubts in Miles’ thinking about the whole hunting ban argument had grown considerably, bringing him under the suspicion of colleagues and the hunt saboteurs with whom he had previously operated. Then in 2002, motivated to contribute to Alun Michael’s Hunting Bill consultation process, he made the decision to say what he now believed; that his views as a prominent anti-hunt protester and activist had altered through the experience he had gained. Unlike some others who had developed similar doubts, crucially Miles was prepared to say why the position he had previously held, and that of his former colleagues at the LACS, IFAW and RSPCA, was fundamentally flawed: a ban would not deliver any meaningful welfare benefit and would in all likelihood lead to a worse state of affairs emerging.

Press conferences in Westminster and national media coverage followed, inevitably angering colleagues and friends of many years standing. They found Miles’ straightforward criticism of the anti-hunting arguments too uncomfortable, having placed their allegiance in a political cause that took precedence over genuine animal welfare and personal relationships. A few ‘warnings’ about his new direction followed, suggesting that he should keep quiet or things could get unpleasant. Looking back on that time, Miles is clear when he says, “There are times in life when you simply have to do the right thing, to speak your mind on the basis of experience no matter how uncomfortable or difficult the consequences are.”

 

The Highmoor Bloodhounds have developed and grown considerably during Miles’ Mastership. Photo credit: Dawn Walmsley

The Highmoor Bloodhounds have developed and grown considerably during Miles’ Mastership.
Photo credit: Dawn Walmsley

In December 2003, the BBC radio programme “The Choice” invited Miles to explain his change of heart and even today people who heard the original broadcast still remark on his knowledge and sincerity. During the run-up to the passing of the Hunting Act, Miles played an important role in the Portcullis House Hearings and helped in putting together the case against a ban. The fact was, however, the minister in charge of the Bill, Alun Michael, was opposed to hunting and intended to see a ban at any cost despite having acknowledged, as had the Burns Inquiry previously, that all of the legally available control methods had their comparative strengths and weaknesses dependent upon context and circumstances and that no control method could be considered as outright best or worst. “Why then single hunting out?” asks Miles. “Politics? … Undoubtedly so. The Hunting Bill had nothing to do animal welfare on any level and everything to do with class war politics at its unashamed worst!”

When interviewed by Horse and Hound magazine in 2006, Miles described the LACS as a ‘paranoid’ organisation. With the passage of time, has Miles’ standpoint been diminished or diluted at all? “The LACS is not simply paranoid any longer, I think it is also a schizophrenic organisation” he says qualifying his original viewpoint. “Those controlling the organisation are not ignorant to the fact that the Hunting Act has been a miserable failure and that this law hasn’t delivered any welfare benefit, yet LACS fails to support legislation proposed by Lord Donoghue which would protect all wild mammals from genuine acts of cruelty.” Miles points out, “Improving animal welfare is in the LACS’ own constitution as a founding principle, yet they deny a sensible way forward. It’s a crazy position for any organisation which claims to care about animal welfare to be in. But they’re in this position because LACS decided many years ago to wed itself to a political anti-hunting campaign that was, at heart, motivated by nothing more than the politics of old left-wing class war.”

"All forms of properly organised hunting have their place in the countryside."

Miles Cooper: “All forms of properly organised hunting have their place in the countryside.”

Changing his views so publicly on hunting would have been significant enough, but Miles’ next move was remarkable.

Convinced of the robustness and value of the pro-countrysports argument, Miles, who had been an angler even prior to joining the hunt saboteurs, took up shooting some years ago, breeds and works ferrets and has even hunted his own beagles when he lived in Oxfordshire. Moving to Yorkshire in 2010, Miles began hunting with, and whipping-in to, the Hunsley Beacon Beagles. His involvement with hunting has, on both sides of the fence, spanned a quarter of a century. Then, in 2012, he had the opportunity to contribute to establishing a new pack, the Highmoor Bloodhounds, becoming a Joint Master the following season. The Highmoor have developed and grown considerably during Miles’ Mastership and are now a securely established and thriving hunt within Yorkshire’s hunting landscape.

These passions match his keenness to achieve a workable solution to the hunting debacle, prompting one journalist to write that he is “motivated only by the best interests of the countryside, its wildlife and the people whose livelihoods depend upon it.” Miles’ view is clearly defined, “Hunting, when conducted within the rules of the governing associations and in conjunction with other management techniques, remains a valuable and viable wildlife management tool. I might be a Master of Bloodhounds and we may hunt a human quarry, but we need to get one thing straight right from the start: there is space enough in the countryside for all country-sports if we work together and represent, and respect, each other’s best interests. All forms of properly organised hunting have their place in the countryside. We all have certain characteristics that we share, but we each perform different functions within a vibrant and determined working countryside.”

Hunting, as much as those opposed to it would have you believe otherwise, is a complex matter. The anti- hunt argument is based on simplistic, often untruthful statements that proponents know members of the public will accept at face value because they will not spend time studying the detail, the alternatives or the consequences of a ban.

Confrontations in the hunting field are hardly a forum for sensible discussion and so it’s all the more remarkable that Miles Cooper, someone from that background, not only took the important and extraordinary initial step to give hunting a fair hearing, but then to become an active and passionate member of the fieldsports’ community.

This article first appeared in the Countryside Alliance magazine and Countryman’s Weekly.

FOXES UNEARTHEDThe one thing you can certainly say about the fox is that many people will have opinions about it and whether those views are correct, misinformed, naïve or simply misunderstood, such perspectives have served to keep alive numerous debates.

Lucy Jones, in her new book Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain, interviews a wide range of individuals and organisations who, for a variety of reasons, have an interest in the fox and she ably steers us through those various standpoints and the different actions and activities they inevitably provoke.

Foxes have existed for many tens of thousands of years. Part of the reason for their success is that they are generalist predators allowing them to survive in both Artic and desert conditions. But another aspect is the relationship with man, in particular hunting with hounds. Lucy has researched the subject well, going into the workings of a day out sabotaging a hunt and describing in equal detail the intricacies of the hunt itself. The book addresses the problems urban foxes can cause and talks of the people affected and the steps they take, whether they be to kill, move or protect the animal.

While the author clearly has strong sympathies for the fox, she understands the motivation of the hunting world. Lucy’s grandfather hunted foxes, yet respected them (as many hunting people do) and was strongly in favour of animal welfare, working alongside the RSPCA in helping to improve the lives of timber ponies. Such views stand in stark contrast to those of ‘celebrity’ campaigners like Ricky Gervais, also interviewed in the book, who displays little knowledge of foxes, but does reveal his hatred for fox hunters, even wishing some dead.

Interestingly, the book shows that those who kill foxes (for whatever reason) and those who campaign against any form of control do not fall neatly into the two camps of loathing or loving the animal.

In the man-managed environment of the UK, fox numbers will be controlled and perhaps the strongest message this book sends is that foxes do not need to be ‘loved’, nor do they deserve to be ‘loathed’; they need to be understood and respected for what they are, along with the place they hold in the natural order of the British countryside.

It’s how that end is reached that helps makes the fox such a fascinating creature.

Foxes Unearthed: A story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain by Lucy Jones is published by Elliott and Thompson

The decline of any native species should be a concern for us all. It is a fact that the number of hedgehogs in the UK has dropped dramatically over recent years and the reasons for this are numerous.

What should also concern us is how politicians are informed, so that they can make proper and sound decisions when it comes to making policy and legislation. So it is more than a little surprising to see a glaring omission in a new campaign that seeks to curb the hedgehog’s falling numbers, which will be announced in Parliament this week. There again, perhaps it’s not so unexpected given who is backing the event.

“Amazing Grace Challenge” is the campaign, named after a rescued hedgehog, and is promoted by the Harper Asprey Wildlife Rescue and backed by Brian May’s Save Me organisation. All the hazards and difficulties the creature faces in the wild are helpfully listed on the websites of the two organisations, along with a good many facts about hedgehogs.

The skins of hedgehogs left after predation by a badger.

The skins of hedgehogs left after predation by a badger.

Ponds, chemicals, slug pellets, bonfires, fencing, motor vehicles and loss of habitat all play their part in reducing the hedgehog population, but one hazard for the hedgehog doesn’t even get a mention: the badger. Strangely, according to Brian May’s website, even male hedgehogs (because they sometimes eat the young) appear to be a bigger threat to the hedgehog population than brock!

Badger predation on hedgehogs is an inconvenient truth for a group that campaigns strongly against the culling of the animal in the fight against bovine TB, yet the facts appear indisputable. The badger is the principle predator of the hedgehog, being strong enough to break in through the protective spines and scooping out the meaty contents. The empty skins, like discarded fast food containers, point to such predation.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, hedgehogs tend not to habit areas of high badger numbers. It is clear that the badger population has risen dramatically over the past couple of decades spreading into traditional hedgehog territory. Can the decline really be just a coincidence? Some clearly think so, because it doesn’t fit their animal rights philosophy, but a blog by writer Matt Ridley gives compelling evidence for the link between badgers and the decline of hedgehogs. (see http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/badgers-and-hedgehogs/ )

No one is saying the increase in the badger population is the only reason for hedgehog numbers being so low, but equally it is totally wrong to ignore the situation as if it doesn’t exist, simply to fit in with an animal rights agenda.

 The BBC reported last year that the badger population could be 400,000, which means every single one has been snared!


The BBC reported last year that the UK badger population could be 400,000, which, according to LACS, means every single one has been snared.

Being passionate about cruelty is easy, but it has to be coupled with reality, something this example of a recent tweet from the new chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, clearly fails to do. But how many people will believe it?

Politicians should be very wary about the source of the information they may subsequently use. In a political world that sometimes appears to be driven more by social media than sound evidence, it might be worth remembering that pressure groups who conflate genuine information with doubtful material in support of their own agendas ultimately do no favours for the animals and causes they claim to champion.

 

To those people who can never see anything wrong with the causes and organisations they support, no matter what they do, the revelations about the League Against Cruel Sports’ financial mismanagement will simply be dismissed.

Such blinkered views are symptomatic of an unwavering belief in the absolute certainty of their cause and usually result in a spokesman justifying and condoning almost any flaw or failure; it’s no different this time.LACS logo

Those who actively oppose hunting, whether it be through political work, direct confrontation or as a ‘keyboard warrior’, are relatively few in number, but they do have loud voices. It would be a mistake to place these people into neat separate categories, as often loyalty to “the cause” creates a kind of united front. Remember the internet trolls who delighted in the accidental death of Hunt Master Gemma McCormick? Some weren’t your typical black garbed, face-covered animal rightists; they were middle aged, middle class women who held respectable jobs. I suspect the same type of person will be found amongst the individuals who posted vile comments online about the tragic death of nine year-old Bonnie Armitage, also killed in a hunting accident. We’ll find the answer if the current police investigation bears fruit, but isn’t this the natural consequence of filling campaign literature with accusations about all hunters being blood-lusting barbarians out to kill animals for fun?

Repudiation is the antis’ default position; those who criticise in any way must be hunt sympathisers or part of a right-wing media conspiracy. The denial that anything was wrong with the use of LACS’ money to fund overseas trips, substantially increasing salaries and paying legal defence fees after the highly paid chief executive Joe Duckworth got into a pub fight, as The Times recently revealed, was certainly no surprise, but it wouldn’t be the first time the League has been in trouble.

Of course it may be the case that new employees at the LACS (and there have been quite a few over recent years) simply have no idea of the history of the organisation, an example being the statement made by the then chief executive Douglas Batchelor who said in 2001, “The League has not funded the campaign of any MP, pro or anti-hunting.” It may therefore cause a degree of discomfort for current employees and the wider membership to learn a little more of that history, though I suspect for the blinkered hardliners in the ranks such revelations are more likely to be praised, rather than condemned.

As far back as the 1970s saw financial sophistry within the organisation and its particular way of operating.

League funds that helped pay for election addresses was kept hidden from the membership

League payments that helped pay for election addresses were kept hidden from the membership

A donation of £80,000 to the Labour Party in 1979 (a sum of approximately £400,000 in today’s money) caused serious upset amongst the membership and prompted legal action from one Conservative supporter. The court case, which finally concluded some years later, found that the LACS was in breach of its own constitution in that the funds it raised were for animal welfare purposes and were not to be used for any other reason. It was agreed that while £30,000 could be used by the Labour Party to promote its animal welfare policies, the remaining £50,000 had to be returned plus interest, thought to be in excess of £20,000.

The 1983 general election was approaching and executive director at the time, Richard Course, did not want to see the relationship between the LACS and the Labour Party soured. After the court case, Mr Course wrote to senior Labour figures promising the money would be returned.

Instead of a large single donation that would stick out a mile in the published accounts, numerous smaller payments were made to local Labour groups. While a few favoured Liberals received cash, the overwhelming majority of payments were made to the constituency Labour parties (CLPs). Contributions by the League were made towards the election address leaflets for Labour candidates in over 100 key marginal constituencies. In addition six million leaflets promoting Labour, but unrelated to animal issues, were supplied by the League. This would all be hidden from the membership under vague headings of ‘publicity’ or’ political activity’ in the annual accounts. The process was repeated for the 1987 general election. Some of the most vehement anti-hunting MPs who later championed the Hunting Bill, including Alun Michael the minister responsible for the anti-hunting legislation, had their campaigns boosted by this financial support.

On a different point, becoming involved with those who hold extreme animal rights views and employing individuals with criminal records or including them at committee level (as the LACS has done on numerous occasions) was bound to create problems in any campaign, but especially one dealing with such an emotive issue as hunting. One instance resulted in the LACS offices being raided by the police following a particularly nasty animal liberation raid on a testing establishment. The League’s darkroom facilities had been used by a staff member and other activists to develop films of the event and during the police search an illegal firearm was found on the premises and an arrest was made.

Internal strife is nothing new in the LACS, almost becoming a cyclical event. After a few years of functioning like some kind of co-operative during the late 1990s (a newly appointed chief executive had resigned after only days in the job saying that the organisation was ungovernable) the next chief executive, Douglas Batchelor, started to create a stricter regime. In doing so, office harmony was not at its highest level and in 2000 Mr Batchelor employed an American student who did not have a permit to work in the UK. She was ‘paid’ in jewellery bequeathed to the League for the purpose of buying a new sanctuary. Not only did this action ignore the donor’s final wishes, it resulted in a false audit, left the League open to prosecution and exacerbated staff unrest and prompted departures.

Becoming a charity didn’t seem to alter the LACS’ way of working, despite the requirement that all charities must have as part of their remit some form of public benefit and the League meeting that condition is doubtful to say the least. Old Left-leaning habits die hard and in early 2010, with the next general election just months away, a LACS advertisement accusing the Conservative Party of being “Cruel Tories” was banned by the Charity Commission as it broke rules on political impartiality.

Even after this censure it seems no lessons had been learned. A few months later, with the general election just days away, a LACS public opinion poll and press release again broke Charity Commission rules on political impartiality by using wording referring to the Conservative Party that, “appeared to be designed to elicit a particular response for the purpose of criticising the party.”

It seems obvious that those Conservative MPs who have publicly aligned themselves with the League and its campaigns, perhaps for innocent reasons, know little of the history of the organisation. They should, at the very least, be made aware of the type of organisation with which they align themselves.

The first AGM of what was then the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports

The first AGM of what was then the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports

There are numerous other problems in the League being a charity, such as its failure to supply a “legitimate evidence base” for some of its claims and policies, which point to the LACS again being in breach of Charity Commission guidelines. The inclusion of dog fighting and badger baiting in public opinion poll questions (giving the impression that repeal of the Hunting Act might also legalise such so-called ‘sports’) was a clear example of this organisation acting outside its charitable status.

The recently reported LACS troubles and those referred to in another blog (see https://jamesbarrington.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/boxing-day-blues/) follow on from accusations that were made by other disgruntled ex-employees that were equally shocking if true; mismanagement of sanctuaries, funds used for non-charitable purposes, high salaries and massive staff expenses.

It’s probably true to say that those who formed the League Against Cruel Sports back in the 1920s had the best interests of wild animals at heart. Some may have been misguided and they were certainly wrong in their overall attack on hunting with hounds, but they did highlight some activities that today we rightly condemn. In that sense, it could be argued they achieved some genuine animal welfare success.

But then their attitude and style of operation is a world away from the politically motivated, sometime illegal, often hate-filled anti-hunting campaigns that we see today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act was passed in 2002 and while the title of this legislation sounds very worthy, in fact its real aim was to do nothing other than ban hunting with dogs. Some obviously argue that this is indeed a laudable step, but they would be wrong.

Unless a genuine examination of all legal methods is undertaken and, as far as possible, comparisons made regarding degrees of suffering and the utilitarian value each method contributes, it is totally disingenuous to claim animal welfare has been improved. As those other methods of control will inevitably be used, the “protection” this law supposedly affords to wild mammals is non-existent.

This clear and obvious fact, however, has not deterred the Scottish Government from asking former High Court judge Lord Bonomy to head a review of the hunting with dogs legislation in Scotland and describes the examination in the following terms:
“The review will look at whether current legislation is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals while allowing for the effective and humane control of these animals where required.” It goes on to say, “The review will not consider the following:
– whether predator control is necessary to protect livestock or wildlife
– the operation of other wildlife legislation unless it has a direct bearing on the operation on the 2002 act
– other types of predator or pest control”

A Scottish Hunt moves off, with one of its shooters to the left

A Scottish Hunt moves off, with one of its shooters to the left

In announcing this review, the Scottish Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod, said, “Scotland led the way in addressing animal welfare concerns with legislation in 2002, and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals. The aim of this review is to ensure current legislation is providing the necessary level of protection for foxes and other wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control of these animals where needed.” The trouble is because this law, which is itself is based on a false presumption, concentrates on hunting with dogs and excludes all other methods of control, her statement is as meaningless as it is futile. It cannot possibly fulfil its aim due to its limited scope.

The background to this review is simple and, as ever, has more to do with politics than animal welfare. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Hunting Act 2004 were both products of prejudice, ignorance and political opportunism, rather than a genuine desire to improve animal welfare and reduce suffering. Both start from a position of believing (or at least claiming) that hunting with dogs is inherently cruel, even though there is no science that supports such a view.

The Scottish legislation, however, does differ from the English and Welsh law in one important aspect. While both laws allow for an exemption to use dogs to flush wild mammals to guns, under Scottish legislation any number of dogs can be involved; the Hunting Act allows only two. No veterinary, conservation or welfare reason was given to justify this provision, though obviously two dogs do not constitute a pack, which hints at the real reason behind this restriction. Another clue may lay in a comment from Alun Michael, the minister in charge of the Hunting Act in England and Wales, when he said that having no restriction on the number of dogs during flushing was a flaw in the Scottish legislation.

Dup views of LACSRecently, when Welsh hill farmers argued that the limit on the number of dogs to two just didn’t work in large areas of forestry, the UK Government rightly sought to amend the law to mirror the Scottish legislation. The case was strengthened by a scientific study, which took place in Scotland, and showed using a larger number of dogs would be more efficient and reduce the duration of the flushing process. Indeed, the LACS had admitted such years previously when its then Chief Executive, Douglas Batchelor, had said in a leaked memo, “Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns.”

The Scottish Parliamentary committee which examined hunting prior to the law being passed in Scotland put the position extremely well when it concluded its investigation in 2001 by stating, “It is not the use of a dog in itself that implies cruelty; but the method and intent with which it is used.”

But events got in the way. The Scottish National Party, having won all but three seats in Scotland at the last general election, suddenly found itself in a position to create mischief and annoy the despised Conservative Government at Westminster. Having previously said that it would not interfere in issues that affect only England and Wales (and even used the Hunting Act as an example), the SNP reneged on its promise and forced the UK Government to withdraw the proposed amendment to the Hunting Act.

While the SNP probably couldn’t care less about being seen as untrustworthy, others found themselves in a difficult position. Having previously praised the Scottish hunting ban, SNP (2)groups like the League Against Cruel Sports now opposed making the law south of the border the same as that in Scotland. Did they now accept that the flushing exemption in the Hunting Act was wrong? Not a bit of it. No, now it was the Scottish law that was wrong, despite having proudly announced to their members in 2002 that, “League staff attended every Parliamentary committee meeting and briefed MSPs about the dangers of dozens of pro-hunt amendments… and, despite the claims of the Scottish hunters, there are no gaping loopholes or flaws.” To justify their new position they argued that the law was being flouted, which was refuted by the Police Scotland.

When it was revealed that money had been given to the SNP by an animal rights group, no doubt even the Scots Nats then felt it was time to save at least a degree of face, hence the Bonomy review.

That is the real reason for announcing this process.

As a former senior judge, Lord Bonomy must surely be able to see the purely political motivation behind this review and for its limited terms of reference, compelling him to rely on the false premise of the Scottish legislation. As such, through no fault of his own, Lord Bonomy’s review can never realistically address wild mammal protection in Scotland.

Details of the review can be found at:
http://www.gov.scot/About/Review/protection-wild-mammals

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