The appalling attacks at the Tedworth Hunt last month reminded the world that, despite the Hunting Act being law for 10 years, a few hunt saboteurs are still around. The violence meted out by them to hunt supporters, in particular the Joint Master Michael Lane who suffered concussion and teeth knocked out after being kicked in the head, was caught on camera and police are currently investigating the incident.
It raises questions in a wider context, the first being what is the motivation to become a hunt saboteur? I used to be one back in the 1970s when I opposed hunting and I’m still very clear as to what encouraged me at the time to take part in an activity that sought to prevent an animal from being hunted. I had recently joined the League Against Cruel Sports and it seemed like a natural step to join the ‘sabs’, given that the LACS wasn’t too active in those days and hunt sabotage appeared to be the best way to achieve some kind of success.
However, the aim then was to genuinely sabotage a hunt – that is to cover the trail of the hunted animal, put the hounds off its scent and hopefully not get caught doing it. Confrontations with the hunt would be kept to a minimum or simply not happen at all. That all changed in the 80s, with attitudes within the hunt saboteurs becoming more aligned to the punk era, which was emerging at the time. It brought with it the anarchist element that has stayed with many hunt saboteurs right up to the present day.
Just as some people join the political campaign against hunting for their own misguided party political reasons, others will be attracted to the more confrontational aspects of hunt sabotage. You can see the thinking; if these hunting people are all rich toffs – basically seen in the same category as despised bankers – and they’re killing animals for fun, they are the perfect target. There’s little difference between the ‘Stop the City’ and ‘Occupy’ campaigns and sabotaging a hunt, as those on the sharp end are all perceived to be the same people. The only difference is that on a hunt you can physically confront your enemy. The campaign against the badger cull has undoubtedly had a spin-off effect in reinvigorating hunt saboteurs, given that many of the ‘protesters’ were not protesting at all, but attempting to sabotage the process.
This isn’t to say that those involved don’t care about animals – some do, some don’t. Many people in the anti-hunt campaigns are concerned about how animals are treated, but fail to properly understand hunting, the consequences of a ban and the wider picture of wildlife management. They get drawn into campaigns that are portrayed in simple ‘black and white’ terms and tend to believe their own propaganda because that’s what they want to believe. But it also can’t be denied that others join for darker reasons.
There’s a point worth noting here, though one that does not necessarily apply to all animal rights supporters. It is the view held by some that they are absolutely right in their thinking and, as such, whatever they do or say is always justified. It means that abusive language, threats and intimidation are all par for the course, in particular via social media. Damage, theft and sometimes violence are all acceptable if done ‘in the name of the animals’. It means that even desecrating graves is legitimate if the deceased or their relatives have a link to what the activists see as animal abuse. Following the tragic death of hunt supporter Trevor Morse in 2009, when he was decapitated by an anti-hunt activist’s gyrocopter, a hunt saboteurs’ website carried this comment, “This man got all he deserved pity a few more were not killed.” A comment on a national newspaper’s website covering the story about Mike Lane’s attack could hardly be regarded one stemming from compassion -“Good job! I hope he dies.”
This is a form of fundamentalism that has a parallel with the acts of terrorism which have sadly become common on our TV screens and as such shares basic similarities. The covered faces, the anonymous social media comments and threats, on occasion even the black dress code. But more worryingly is the absolute blind faith in their ‘cause’ and any hint of questioning that belief is regarded as something akin to blasphemy.
Recently, the BBC Countryfile programme covered the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force. While many anti-hunt groups and their supporting politicians like to pretend that this matter is over, the fact is the issue is as alive as it ever was and no doubt will continue to be so until a sensible resolution is reached. Yet the producers of this programme were condemned for even contemplating addressing such an item, let alone inviting the hunting world to take part. Such is the blinkered, bigoted view of the obsessive anti-hunt activist.
See the comparison here with other groups that feels they have the exclusive right to say what can and can’t be published? While obviously not creating the same degree of mayhem, pain and destruction, the intolerance of these obsessive antis is really no different to that of the fanatical terrorist.
One gratifying point is this; a few weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited to give a presentation on wildlife management and hunting on behalf of the Countryside Alliance at the Royal Veterinary College, where my fellow speaker was Chris House, Chairman of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. A few days later, I gave a similar talk at a college specialising in animal care. If any aspect of the pro-hunting case being made was incorrect or flawed, these would have been the very first people to highlight it, yet not one person did. The response at both events was very positive.
So, are we to believe the angry ranting of individuals who claim to care for animals and who try to shut down any genuine debate, while some in their ranks resort to insults, abuse or even physically attacks on those who hold different views? Or should we take a lead from people who have dedicated their lives to animals and their welfare and are prepared to listen to the argument?