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To many people the word compromise means an end to an ongoing conflict or argument, that at least a point of agreement has been reached and now something positive might be achieved.

To others it means capitulation, giving in to the opposition and is a sign of weakness or failure. Many animal rights ‘activists’ (though that can hardly describe those who seem to spend all day tweeting) fall into the latter category.

Two meetings, one earlier this year and the other just this month, showed that people with different views coming together to discuss and debate their particular priorities can point to a way forward.

In May, a conference was organised to discuss the problems bats can cause in historic buildings. Their droppings and urine can seriously damage valuable and ancient monuments as well as creating ‘no-go’ areas for people with respiratory trouble. Clearing the mess is usually a daily task, often left to the older members of the congregation. All bats in the UK are protected and while steps can be taken to remove them from domestic dwellings, moving them on from a building such as a church (some 6500 are affected in this way) can be far more problematic and costly.

Bats in churches conference: working to find a compromise.

Bats in Churches conference: working to find a compromise.

The conference brought together representatives from the Bat Conservation Trust, Natural England, Historic England and the Church of England, as well as other interested organisations and individuals. The Bats in Churches Partnership had previously submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project to tackle the problem, but this had failed. However, the good news is that, with guidance from the HLF, a new bid has just been re-submitted. If successful, the results of the project could lead to a sensible settlement of the issue which is acceptable to both sides.

The point to be made here is that it is through dialogue and a willingness of the various parties to attempt to see the problem through the eyes of opponents, this may lead to fair and positive results. While this is not so rare in the animal welfare world, it is almost akin to blasphemy within animal rights organisations. So when the Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC), a body of scientists brought together by the Scottish animal welfare group One Kind, was formed, it was understandably viewed with some scepticism in certain quarters.

The WAWC held its inaugural conference in Edinburgh this month, with speakers addressing a range of issues currently affecting wild animals. Those attending also represented a range of views on wildlife matters and it would be wrong to suggested that everyone present all suddenly agreed, but it must be said that many of the points made were well-balanced and realistic. The tone of the meeting was moderate and professional, touching upon issues which avoided the simplistic banning mentality that is so prevalent in other animal welfare meetings. The speakers, while all being pro animal welfare, did not seek to hide or avoid difficult and sensitive subjects and it was interesting that when topics, such as hunting, were raised there was not the usual ‘shock horror’ reaction from the audience.

My initial feeling is that the WAWC, rather than wanting to be just another forum in which everyone present is of the same ilk, genuinely wants to see progress in animal welfare and that means talking to people who do not necessarily see things the same way. In doing so, the WAWC will have the usual animal rights critics on one side and suspicious hunters, shooters and land managers on the other side, so the route may not be easy.
It’s early days, but this is a voice that is long overdue and deserves to be heard.

A knight’s tale

The 2016 political party conferences did not seem to have the usual collection of fringe meetings dedicated to animal issues.

The Countryside Alliance attended each conference, addressing differing issues from accessing broadband in rural areas to how the BBC portrays countryside matters, but one noticeable feature was that the three main parties all had a reduced number of exhibition stands. According to one exhibitor who attended the Labour Party conference, newly-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn personally vetted those who could and could not have a stand, barring the larger companies and businesses he dislikes.

This doesn’t explain the reduced number of animal stands. The RSPCA, for example, normally holds a ‘Beer and Curry’ evening at each conference which is always well attended, yet no such event this year, perhaps as a result of the recent internal turmoil and a shortage of funds. Those opposed to the badger cull, usually highly vocal both inside and outside the conferences, were nowhere to be seen or heard.

Two fringe meetings concerning animals that did take place are worth a mention.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002

A strong message: Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002.

The Liberal Democrat conference was held in Brighton and a fringe meeting was organised by the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association to discuss the difference between animal welfare and animal rights and how well the Animal Welfare Act is working. Unlike events organised by certain other groups there was an opportunity here  to ask questions, though the answer to the most pertinent query i.e. what is the plan to give all animals rights and avoid all use of them, was a little hazy. There was a call for an increase in penalties for the most heinous acts of cruelty to animals, something with which I and many others would agree. Some might say that talking to those opposed to hunting is futile, but I have found that often it is worthwhile engaging in conversation, if for no other reason, to make people think. It allows for an explanation of wildlife management, the use of scenting hounds in that process and a chance to ask that crucial question: “We know what you may dislike, but what do you actually support?”

It was a question that I would like to have asked a couple of weeks later in Birmingham at the Conservative Party conference where the League Against Cruel Sports held a reception with the famous explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes as guest speaker. Sir Ranulph had taken part in the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002, yet now here he was at the Conservative conference calling on the government not to repeal the Hunting Act. He explained that he had never been in favour of hunting and had marched for other rural and libertarian reasons. This came as a surprise, given that the enormous media interest at the time left absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the march was about opposition to the forthcoming anti-hunting law and how liberty was being curtailed, not on the basis of sound animal welfare evidence, but prejudice, bigotry and blinkered class war.

Sir Ranulph at the Conservative conference with a different message.

Sir Ranulph at the Conservative conference 2016 with a very different message.

What many who were present wanted to know was why Sir Ranulph had changed his mind so dramatically? What new evidence had come to light that prompted such a volte-face? Apparently, it was the sight of a fox “injured and clearly distressed following an exhausting chase at the hands of the Cheshire Hunt.” The animal, we were told, took six days to die.

There is something rather strange here. Had the fox actually been caught by hounds? If so, it is highly unlikely to have escaped. If not, how does Sir Ranulph know its injuries were caused by a hunt? His explanation does not take us very far, “How did my wife and I know that the fox had been suffering the effects of the hunters’ chase? Because we had watched it being chased with our own eyes.”

If some kind of dirty trick had been played by the hunt, such as releasing a wounded animal, a criminal offence would have been committed and should have been reported to the police. So many questions and yet no time was allowed to put them. Time was available, however, for ‘selfie’ pictures with some of the audience, but an attempt to talk to Sir Ranulph about his experience was blocked as he was whisked out of the room.

Nevertheless, conversations with some present did take place, with one former LACS employee being the perfect example of how the Hunting Act is supported by a kind of blind faith. Asked if this is good law, the answer was, “Of course!” But then, when illogical (and certainly not animal welfare-based) exemptions were described, that view changed to one of the need to strengthen the legislation. And there is the anomaly; the Hunting Act is either good law or it is bad law – it cannot be both.

I asked a LACS official if a meeting with Sir Ranulph might be arranged and was told that a message could be passed on to him…but only if I purchased a copy of his book.

The Government has announced the culling of badgers will be extended to Devon, Cornwall and Herefordshire, adding to the existing cull areas in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset in the attempt to curb bovine TB. In addition, new scientific work has shone further light on how the disease is transmitted.

Whenever a new aspect to this heated debate is added, the calls to re-evaluate the culls come thick and fast and invariably claim such ‘new information’ backs the case for ending the cull. It’s an easy thing to do when the science appears to be so divided and complex.

I can remember doing jury service many years ago and when the arguments both for and against in any case became too difficult to follow or understand, it was the smaller, simpler things about the defendant or a witness that seemed to decide whether the person in the dock was guilty or not. I know that wasn’t the right way to make a decision, yet I’m fairly sure that many verdicts are reached on just such a basis.

It’s really no different in the case of badgers and the attempts to control a disease that has already cost the tax payer well over half a billion pounds, quite apart from the animal welfare concerns. The science surrounding this serious problem has been used, abused, exaggerated and cherry-picked. Add into the mix a fair amount of lies, intimidation, ‘celebrity’ campaigning and a degree of political nervousness and you have the situation we face today.

While no one should decry any genuine science on this, or indeed any other issue, I know there are numerous experts in this field who are slightly bemused by the conclusions of a recent report by Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London. The findings, which indicate that the disease is more commonly spread from badgers to cattle through urine and faeces in the environment, seems to confirm what many scientists have been saying for years. The Guardian newspaper, which has been vocal in its opposition to any badger cull, implies that this study somehow justifies their stance. It does not.

A response to the report was submitted to the newspaper by the secretary of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management and while it sums up the situation perfectly, it’s no surprise that the letter was not published, but it can be read here:

Dear Editor

As your perceptive readers will realise Professor Woodroffe delivers us a dazzling glimpse of the obvious from her recent study on the transmission of bovine TB from badgers to cattle (Carrington, report 5.8.16). With over 30% of badgers in large areas of the country infected with bovine TB and the advanced clinical cases shedding vast numbers of tubercle bacilli into the agricultural environment it doesn’t need much imagination to realise how cattle sharing the same pasture and yards become infected.

Furthermore, Ms Woodroffe is clearly ignorant of the striking difference in the pathology of the disease between cattle and badgers. Whereas badgers suffer a protracted fulminating disease that eventually spreads to all body organs, cattle wall off the infection in fibrous tubercles. Cattle do not therefore shed large numbers of tubercle bacilli into the environment as do badgers, which accounts for why cattle to cattle transmission is not a major factor in the spread of disease. This was declared by the Chief Veterinary Officer as long ago as 1995 and it won’t have changed since then.

Yours sincerely

Dr Lewis H. Thomas

Vaccination has no effect on badgers suffering from bovine TB

Vaccination has no effect on badgers suffering from bovine TB

This new study and the calls for a re-think on how bovine TB is tackled should not be used to suggest that the culling of badgers is fundamentally flawed. Infected badgers suffer over long periods before death and it is unrealistic to think that this can be prevented by vaccination. Some protesters opposed to a cull argue that animals in the wild die awful deaths in any case, as if that somehow justifies a lack of action by humans – a very strange version of animal welfare.

It’s not helped by press reports that are completely untrue and misleading. I like Rod Liddle, the Sunday Times journalist, and get on quite well with him, but his latest piece on the badger cull almost deserves an award for cramming so many falsehoods into one article.

“There is not the slenderest scientific evidence to suggest that killing badgers will stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis to cattle” writes Rod. Really? How then are the figures for a dramatic decrease in cattle reactors in the two culling areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset explained? In the 11 month period to November 2014 the number of cattle showing signs of bovine TB dropped by 42% and 39% respectively and stand in stark contrast to surrounding counties where no culling took place. Furthermore, veterinarian Roger Blowey, an expert in this field, feels that the number of badgers in these areas was over-estimated. This put the numbers to cull (70%) at an unrealistically high level, thereby giving credence to the argument that the operation had failed.

The data produced by the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), which took place between 1998 and 2005, has been re-examined. This latest report includes recent information from the Animal and Plant Health Agency which appears to refute the allegation that culling has a significantly detrimental effect on surrounding areas by infected badgers moving further afield (known as perturbation). The RBCT is often quoted by anti-cull groups as evidence against the effectiveness of culling, yet even this research showed a 23% drop in reactors to bovine TB. The review further states that it is not until the fifth year that the true benefits of a cull were seen, which clearly has implications for trial culls over a shorter period.

Rod claims, “Checking the spread of the disease — which these days is of scant threat to the public — is best done by stopping the spread from cow to cow, or by vaccination.”  Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Well, apart from the fact that it doesn’t work. Cattle to cattle transmission, while it may happen in certain circumstances, is far less likely to occur as bovine TB reacts differently in the animals. The nature of the disease in badgers is quite different from that in cattle, effectively walling off the infection in fibrous tubercles, hence the reason why whole herds are not slaughtered when reactors are discovered. The badger, on the other hand, becomes what is known as a ‘ super excretor’ thereby further spreading the bacterium.

Testing for bovine TB; stressful for cattle and farmers.

Testing for bovine TB; stressful for cattle and farmers.

Vaccination, quite apart from being a time-consuming and sporadic process, is simply not proven in the field. It is only partially successful even in humans and does not help badgers already infected with the disease. Added to this is the fact that there is now a world-wide shortage of the vaccine.

Rod continues, bringing in his dislike of hunting with hounds, “This mindset is hugely out of step with public opinion. There is no appetite whatsoever for a repeal of the Hunting Act.” I can’t believe that Rod really thinks Government policy should be decided on the back of e-petitions or dodgy polls commissioned by pressure groups. How, for example, can the tens of thousands of signatures on an e-petition be equated to, say, a few hundred dairy farmers battling to avoid bovine TB? Come on Rod, get real.

As usual, there are no answers or concerns about the suffering of badgers or the disruption and cost of testing tens of thousands of cattle. No real worry about their slaughter either, just calls to ‘save the badger’ from those who claim to care for the animal.

While the shooting of badgers will continue, DEFRA is rightly looking at other control methods. Identification of infected setts is currently being explored, as is the use of humane fumigants, though frankly this should been done years ago. How do the pro-badger people feel about this route?  It would be nice to hear some answers, because all the time there is a significant reservoir of the disease in badgers, the inevitable link to cattle will always exist unless all cattle are removed from all pastureland – surely a situation no one wants.

Further information on badgers and bovine TB can be found at the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management website:

http://www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org.uk

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