Shortly after the Hunting Act was passed, a significant number of people felt it important to record the process by which this legislation had come to change the activity of hunting with hounds. The result was a book written by environmental journalist Charlie Pye-Smith that revealed a catalogue of duplicity, fabricated evidence and bigotry at both government and activist level. Here, John Parkes revisits that book and reminds us of the falsehoods on which the Hunting Act is based.


When the Saxon kings reigned in England every man was entitled to hunt. This was mainly for the pot to add meat to the diet on a more regular basis. Then the Normans came and after the Conquest, brought with them formal codes for hunting which was restricted then to the King and the nobles to whom he had granted ownership under the crown of large swathes of the country. This was backed up by draconian Game Laws, where contravention was subject to punishment up to death. These laws remained in much the same form until the 19th Century when transportation to the colonies was an additional punishment for poaching. The effect on countryside dwellers was severe.

The industrial revolution in the late 18th and then 19th Centuries saw migration from the countryside to the towns where people sought employment that offered more than their low standard of rural living. They took with them the feelings of resentment towards their feudal masters who, among other things, deprived them of their ancient rights to hunt. Country dwellers continued to exist but still saw poaching as a way to supplement their diets. This led to a disconnect between urban and rural dwellers in their attitude to those who they each looked on as an oppressive class. As political consciousness grew among the working classes in urban England, this attitude hardened, particularly towards those who continued to live well and to hunt freely, exacerbating the class divisions that were growing and which to an extent still exist today.

Hunting was latched on to by the Labour Party after its emergence as the representative of the working poor and it was held as a useful political tool when stirring up class resentment. At the same time early animal welfare was becoming an issue in the Victorian era, largely devoted to the protection of horses, which were the main mode of transport and agricultural working power available in the country.

The 20th mid-Century saw the emergence of a variety of animal welfare and animal rights organisations that offered their services to the growing middle classes who in latter days were shown in film and television broadcasts images of animals, wild and domesticated that stirred feelings of sentimentality that have become widespread. This too has become a useful political campaigning tool which is used by those seeking support for their own interests. The Labour Party in particular exploited what it proclaimed was a Tory pursuit to death of defenceless wild animals for their immoral personal gratification. This reached its peak when the Blair Government decided to use hunting as an issue for electoral advantage.

Legislation for a Hunting Ban

Blair misjudged the policy that he thought would only affect a small minority of the population so he decided to go ahead to legislate for a ban on hunting. This became effective in 2004 and he assumed, wrongly, that hunting would wither and die and thus remove a long-running political sore as a sop to the Labour Left.

The story of this unhappy affair has been thoroughly investigated and reported in the 2006 publication RURAL RITES: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice. This 96 page survey commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group was written by the impartial professional journalist Charlie Pye-Smith.

Chapter One entitled `Outlawing Your Enemies` describes the skilful way in which those who hunted were demonised on a regular basis by a small band of Labour MPs who were determined to use a hunting ban as `payback for the miners`; a matter of revenge for the way in which the Thatcher government defeated the miners` strike and their attempts to bring down the Conservative Government. There was no question that the ban would be relevant to animal welfare or its possible effects on the lives of those creatures. It was a political tool to be used in a cynical attempt to gain political ends.

Chapter Two is called `Corrupting the Evidence`. This shows in detail the way sympathetic scientific academics manipulated what they described as `incontrovertible evidence` to support the justification for a ban. Pye-Smith quotes chapter and verse to show how misinformation and falsification were employed when presenting cases to government enquiries and he names those involved. The ban was achieved by a government that was more interested in justifying its legislative plans than to create laws that would offer protection to what it declared were endangered species.

Chapter Three, titled `Lobbyists or Liars?` shows the way in which the animal rights lobbies added their weight to the `scientific evidence` put forward by their tame academics. It reveals the way in which political favours were sought in return for cash so that Parliamentary support for a ban could be bought. The questionable content of the lobby groups` assault on hunting proved successful and was thus utilised in an enhanced form in the social media blitz that took place during the campaign before the most recent general election.

In Chapter Four, Pye-Smith writes about `Searching for Solutions`. The summary he draws from his study is that hunting plays a crucial part in wildlife management and that the current legislation has adversely affected the welfare of the wild animals it said it aimed to protect. He outlines the way in which new Wild Mammals Protection legislation should be introduced to replace the existing raft of laws that are now inadequate for the task. He shows clearly how hunting under licence, strictly controlled by legislation can make a positive contribution to the wild population of the British countryside. This masterly publication deserves to be read again even more widely and used as a model for the future so that there really can be a solution to a long-running problem that can be resolved with the agreement of all those who have a genuine interest in this subject.

John Parkes has been closely involved in hunting with hounds for 70 years and since his early teens has taken a keen interest in natural history and the welfare of our wild creatures. As a professional soldier and then farmer he has been well placed to observe the way in which attitudes have changed and the way in which our urban population has become separated from countryside matters. He believes that better information and education will help close that gap.

RURAL RITES: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice by Charlie Pye-Smith (2006) is available to be read and/or downloaded free of charge at: http://charliepyesmith.com


On 6th November, the recently ousted League Against Cruel Sports committee member and somewhat fanatical Corbyn supporter, Chris Williamson MP, secured a Parliamentary debate on the badger cull, possibly timed to coincide with the publication of the Government commissioned Bovine TB Strategy Review chaired by Sir Charles Godfray.

Mr Williamson hit the headlines recently when he revealed that there had been moves by the LACS to illegally hack into the e-mails of Tim Bonner, the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance. The revelation came after he had been removed from that organisation following an internal dispute and prompted the Charity Commission to investigate the allegation.

During the debate, Mr Williamson, well-known for his support for animal rights as opposed to animal welfare, repeated his view that the culling of badgers to curb the spread of bovine TB was totally unjustified, was unscientific and was not working. On this occasion, he stopped short of giving his bizarre explanation that the cull was simply a consequence of the Hunting Act preventing Tories from killing foxes, so having to turn to killing badgers instead – a laughable statement he made in front of students at a mock debate in the House of Commons some years ago.

Nevertheless, this debate was peppered with the usual self-assured comments about the efficacy of vaccination of badgers, how the badger population was now threatened and why the Government was on the wrong path – all delivered with the absolute confidence of someone who can never see the worth of any argument that doesn’t fit his animal rights philosophy. Mr Williamson stated in response to George Eustice, the DEFRA minister, “My conclusion from what he says is that it is pretty clear that the only way in which the badger cull will be brought to an end is with the election of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Government.”

Testing for bTB: arduous, time-consuming and expensive

Fellow MP Luke Pollard joined in by claiming “Labour is the party of animal welfare”, as ever citing the “landmark Hunting Act” while conveniently ignoring the detrimental effects this law has had on wildlife. The Conservative Government’s announcements to increase sentences for animal cruelty convictions to up to five years and making CCTV compulsory in all slaughterhouses appear not to have registered with Mr Pollard, who continued, saying, “We need animal welfare policies that are based on science, not ideology.” Very honourable, but it’s a pity he and his party don’t follow that advice.

Williamson and his erstwhile LACS colleagues were no doubt delighted during the Labour Government’s Portcullis House Hearings on hunting in 2002 when openly anti-hunting Professor Stephen Harris cited the research of American scientist Dr Terry Kreeger, which ‘proved’ that hunted foxes suffer as much, if not more, than being held in a leg-hold trap. The only problem was that this was not what Dr Kreeger had discovered and indeed he wrote to British politicians, and the UK media stating that Harris’ conclusion was incorrect as he had combined two separate studies to give the results he desired. Indeed, Harris had been informed of his misuse of this information years previously, but still repeated it in the Parliamentary hearings. Nevertheless, the falsified science had done its job as far as the Government ministers were concerned, giving them their ‘scientific’ basis for a hunting ban.

During the subsequent parliamentary debate once the Hunting Bill had been introduced, Alun Michael, then the minister in charge of handling this legislation, had a sharp response from the late Professor Sir Patrick Bateson who had undertaken research into the physical effects of hunting deer with hounds. Mr Michael had argued that the evidence to ban deer hunting outright was incontrovertible, yet in an e-mail Professor Bateson said, “Only somebody who is scientifically illiterate could argue that evidence from a new area of research was incontrovertible.”

Even with recently published scientific research into aspects of the Hunting Act showing that the two dog exemption does not work as efficiently as when a full pack is used, the Labour Party announced that they will tighten up this law if they ever take power.

So much for policies based on science, not ideology.

That attitude hasn’t changed, as MPs in this debate who disagreed with the badger cull were happy to praise organisations such as the Badger Trust. It’s worth remembering that this body’s chief executive is not beyond ‘bending’ the truth about the success of vaccination and its cost, while misinforming the public rather than relying on science. Simon Hart MP, rightly pointed out that claiming vaccination of badgers is cheaper than culling is misleading, as having to repeat such actions year after year will inevitably increase the costs.

An extract from The Facts of Rural Life by Charlie Pye-Smith

During the debate there were calls for the Godfray Report to be published, well it is now available (see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/review-of-governments-bovine-tb-strategy-published ) and while it argues for better bio-security on farms and more accurate testing, it confirms that badgers do transmit the disease to cattle and “contribute to the persistence of the disease.” The report accepts that culling badgers has a role in the range of methods currently being used to combat bovine TB, while having concerns about perturbation (the disturbance of badger family groups, thereby spreading the disease to other areas). One suggestion contained in the report is that if culling is to continue, “then carrying it out over sufficiently large geographic areas to reduce the relative effects of perturbation and utilising natural barriers to badger movement, as is done at the moment, is in our view correct.” Importantly, the Godfray Report confirms what many have thought, which is that the effectiveness of the whole badger vaccination process is not proven and further research is required. Comparison of areas that only vaccinate with areas in which badgers are culled should be made and whichever is found to be the most effective, then adopted. It would be hard to see, therefore, how these views equate with many of the claims made by those opposing the badger cull.

The trouble with Williamson and his kind is that they see things in purely ‘black and white’ terms (no pun intended). His views, like those of so many animal rightists, are always accurate and any opposing argument, by the very nature that it is different, must therefore be wrong. Strange that his deep concern about badgers doesn’t extend to those animals that suffer, often for months, with bovine TB. He concluded by saying, “I repeat that there is no scientific evidence to support the Government’s position.”

But these views are simply not borne out by the Godfray Report, which correctly addresses the economical, ecological, farming, trading and animal welfare aspects of this awful disease. Williamson’s simplistic views on this difficult situation may supply ammunition for his political point-scoring friends, please animal rightists and confuse the public into believing that his is the only answer, but it will do nothing to help resolve this complex and costly problem.





Wild animals are killed for a variety of reasons – wildlife management, pest control, food and sport – and by numerous methods, some intentional, others unintentional. Here, Woody Webster of the Good Trapping Company raises some relevant points. 

Fluffy photographs of cute animals is something adults use for children as learning tools around the world. Most people, of course, know the reality is not as depicted in cartoons or adoring animals living in harmony with each other. Rather it’s a messy and chaotic world animals live in and that is the way they like it.

Animal rights groups fully neglect animal species that they cannot catch on film or are unattractive to the eye, and which haven’t been glorified by Disney.

The brown rat – often ignored by animal rightists.

Not once has the League Against Cruel Sport ever protested about the killing of rats for either pest control or sport and their hypocrisy was made clear when hunting a rat with dogs was excluded from the Hunting Act.

Not once has the League Against Cruel Sports stood up against the use of poisons on mammals, especially the rat.

Rats may be small, often out of sight and at times surprising and unnerving, but mostly harmless when kept away from the build environment. Rats have a higher cognitive ability than most large mammals including foxes, badgers and deer.

But the poor rat hasn’t been glorified by the media or taught to 4-year olds as a ‘cute pretty thing’.

So how is it that the League and other animal rights groups conveniently forget that poison is used throughout the country in and around the built environment, often by low paid pest control technicians, to kill rats and inevitably causing a slow and agonising death.

How is it that dogs are used with great effect in catching rats and killing them promptly, aided by the thrill of the chase from the huntsmen – both for pest control and for enjoyment. How is it the League has not once fought to protect the lowly rat?

It is clear. They prey on the fans of Disney who hold on to what they were told as children. They appear to be prejudiced towards thinking those who are rich should be punished and banning hunting with hounds seems a plausible way to do it. Nothing to do with animal welfare.

Animal rights activists claimed success of the Hunting Act 2004 in preventing foxes to be hunted with dogs. These same activists hate laws that allow ‘Disneyfied’ animals to be left happily in the wild and the managed sensibly through sport. Their hatred is built on fantasies of Disney, fake news and class prejudice. The animal rights activist never stands up for the rat. The lowly, but highly intelligent rat will never be protected as long as the animal rights activists think Disney is real life.

Woody Webster, The Good Trapping Company       http://www.goodtrappingcompany.co.uk

If you go onto the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) website and read the history of this organisation, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a highly efficient body with a team of united, dedicated and knowledgeable staff all working together like a well-oiled machine. You’d be very wrong.

Almost from its inception, disagreements arose splitting those who stayed with the originally named League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports from others who formed the National Society for the Abolition of Cruel Sports. A cynic might say this was the inspiration for Monty Python’s Popular Front of Judea/ Judean People’s Front sketch.

The League held its Annual General Meeting a few weeks ago and once again it appears that the direction of attack was not so much towards hunting or shooting, but fellow members and with the advent of social media this is all laid out for anyone to see. But more of this later.

Let’s go back and review the history of the LACS so as to remind the world of the rocky path that led to the passing of the Hunting Act, the people behind it and the troubles that have persisted ever since.

Up to late 1960s, the League was a fairly benign organisation, home to many people who did not care for hunting with hounds but were generally well-meaning. That decade, however, saw the arrival of hunt saboteurs, whose actions were clearly more attractive to younger people, while grabbing the attention of the media, who saw this as a new twist to an old story. The LACS was in danger of being overshadowed by this vibrant new movement that had more to do with animal rights than boring old animal welfare. Steps were taken to wrestle the LACS committee from the old guard and at the forefront was Richard Course.

Course saw politics as the only way of banning hunting and that Labour was the only party in a position to achieve it. He was seen as a champion of the saboteurs too, writing letters that admitted he liked “punching hare coursers” when disrupting coursing events. It was no surprise that when the British Field Sports Society offices were burgled by antis in the 1970s that the stolen documents ended up on Course’s doorstep.

In what would now probably be termed ‘cash for policies’, a large donation was given to the Labour Party to include in its 1979 manifesto “the banning of hare coursing, stag and deer hunting”. When a subsequent court hearing brought by an enraged Conservative League member forced the return of this sum, money was channelled back but this time into local Labour Party constituencies. The annual accounts were falsified by Course (by now the Executive Director) to avoid making this obvious to the membership and crucially to circumvent the court ruling. Many of the prominent anti-hunting MPs during the Hunting Act debates received these payments and this might explain why, despite evidence to the contrary, they remained committed to banning hunting at all costs.

There was always tension between those committee and staff members who took a more pragmatic approach to banning hunting as compared to those who were animal rightists – a difficulty that remains to the present day. A book entitled “Fettered Kingdoms” written by one-time press officer John Bryant espousing his clear animal rights views (the publication of which was strongly advised against by Course) was frequently referred to as “Bryant’s Bloody Silly Book”.

That cosy relationship with animal rights had more damaging consequences when another LACS press officer, Mike Huskisson, became involved with a militant group. In 1984, he brought into the office over a weekend some people who had undertaken a particularly nasty animal liberation raid on an animal testing establishment. This was a time before digital photography and secure darkroom facilities, which the League had, were needed.

Due to the violence that had occurred during this attack, the police quickly traced the perpetrators and in the following days the League HQ was itself raided by the police and an illegal firearm was found on the premises. Huskisson was duly arrested, though luckily for the LACS its name was kept out of the media at the time. He was later sentenced to 18 months in prison for participation in another raid. This was the second time he had been jailed, the first being for desecration of the grave of famous Victorian Huntsman John Peel in 1977.

This isn’t the only occasion a LACS employee has received a criminal conviction, far from it. In 1999, Andrew Wasley, then the LACS’ press officer was convicted of violent disorder at an animal rights demonstration. In 1986, Peter Anderson was sentenced to two years youth custody for an animal rights break-in that caused £14,000 worth of damage. Mr Anderson is still on the League’s committee. Course himself had served time in prison, though for an offence unrelated to animal issues. In 2013, Director of Campaigns, Steve Taylor, was sentenced to 16 months in prison for stealing £14,925 from the League.

Following a brawl in a pub in 2014, the erstwhile chief executive of the League, Joe Duckworth, was arrested and pleaded guilty to the charge of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour and was bound over with a conditional penalty of £500. However, Duckworth, who was on a salary of £105,000 per annum, had his legal fees paid out of the LACS funds. This was brought to the attention of the Charity Commission, who later stated that they had not been informed of the charity using its funds to pay the legal fees. But this was not the first time the LACS, which became a charity in 2007, had been in difficulties with Charity Commission.

It is questionable that the LACS should be a charity at all. The numerous times the organisation has transgressed Charity Commission guidelines would seem to strengthen the view that the trustees responsible for the body either do not fully understand what a charity is permitted to do or that they are simply willing to disregard those rules, in particular in the political field.

Regarding political work, Charity Commission guidance states, “…such activity must never be party political.” In 2007, LACS produced a document for specific use at the Labour Party conference designed to attack the Conservative Party.

In 2009, the Charity Commission was sufficiently concerned to contact the League regarding its claim to be working in constituencies prior to the 2010 general election.

In January 2010, the LACS produced an advertisement with the letters “Cruel Tory” highlighted within the phrase, “Keep Cruelty History”. It was banned by the Charity Commission.

In April 2010, the Charity Commission again had to step in when LACS commissioned a poll that contained a loaded question about the Conservative Party. The Charity Commission’s highly critical report stated, “The question appeared to be designed to elicit a particular response for the purpose of criticising the party.”

In 2011, the LACS targeted corporate sponsors of the West Somerset Vale Hunt – an action clearly outside the remit of a charity. The Charity Commission once again found it necessary to contact the trustees over the matter.

The LACS’ anti- Conservative stance is hardly surprising, given the make-up of its committee and most of its staff over the decades. It currently includes Chris Williamson, a Member of Parliament, a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and someone who was subject to an injunction for his involvement in inciting disruption to a grouse shoot. It was Williamson who told an invited group of students in the House of Commons that the only reason badgers were being culled was not due to curbing bovine TB, but because hunting foxes was now illegal and the Tories had to find something else to kill.

Also in 2011, the League used an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) logo on its website, no doubt to imply that their ‘Hunt Crimewatch’ campaign had some sort of police sanction. All use of police logos must be authorised and in this instance no such permission had been sought or granted. The logo was removed following action taken by ACPO.

Numerous other comments run very close to crossing a line of acceptability in terms of what a charity is permitted to do.

Sometimes LACS’ practices were as dodgy as the public opinion polls they rely upon. Certainly, reliance on polls seems to be the mainstay of every League argument. Thankfully, the country is not run on the basis of public opinion poll results and when a poll contains loaded questions designed to elicit ‘the right’ answers it is even more discredited. In 2009, LACS commissioned a poll on the public’s view on hunting with dogs, which also included questions on dog fighting and badger baiting. It was clear that the inclusion of such fighting and baiting ‘sports’ was to imply that these activities could become legal again if the Hunting Act was repealed. It is little wonder these selectively worded polls give the desired results and equally there is no surprise why the LACS uses them.

Given that the League Against Cruel Sports is supposed to be an animal protection group, animals haven’t featured much in this article up to now, so let’s look at how LACS’ policies have affected the creatures it was set up to protect.

Despite ploughing significant sums into campaigning for the Hunting Act in the first place, and the considerable amounts that continue to be spent to try to enforce it, not a penny has been used on research to ascertain what effect this law has had on wildlife. If such research proved, as the League claims, that hunting with dogs was cruel and that wildlife benefited from a hunting ban, that would surely be an end to the debate; all the money, time and effort would undoubtedly be seen by the public to be worth it. However, there is no scientific evidence to show that the use of dogs in wildlife management is inherently cruel – quite the opposite. The Hunting Act became law because of two simple reasons – the make-up of the House of Commons at that particular time and the bigoted, class-war views of some backbenchers.

The fact is, the Hunting Act directly caused tens of thousands of brown hares to be shot out on some estates and since 2004 the fox population has dropped by one third. The deer herds of the West country are now threatened because of changes in practices caused by this legislation. This is entirely due to the policies, ignorance and mismanagement of the League Against Cruel Sports and other groups like them who fought for this law.

There are not many instances of where animal rights thinking has been put into practice, but the League ‘sanctuaries’ are good examples. Bought originally to block hunts, they slowly became larger areas that required management. The LACS’ Baronsdown ‘sanctuary’ has been mismanaged for years and from time to time the media has covered stories of diseased, starving and injured deer, left to suffer because of the LACS’ confused management policy.

In 2002, Gordon Pearce, a deer culler who had worked occasionally for the League since the 1960s, took photographs showing the poor state of the animals he has been forced to put down.”In most cases the deer were so malnourished they could not get up,” he said. “On one occasion a league worker called me to say a big stag had a broken back leg but that I could not shoot it until the sanctuary manager, Paul Tilsley, said okay.
“But he was on his way to London. By the time he got back and agreed the stag had to be shot it was nearly two weeks later and for all that time it had been in agony, with a broken leg.”

A study by scientists in 2008 showed that the methods and systems operated by the League, which included feeding the deer to encourage them to gather on this land, had caused one of the biggest known outbreaks of bovine TB in Red deer.

LACS have always favoured research that suits their purposes and are quite happy to dismiss science when it doesn’t. A fox wounding rate study undertaken by the appropriately named Dr Nick Fox was supposedly rubbished by Professor Stephen Harris, someone who openly holds anti-hunting views, following his own research. Yet, despite the Dr Fox’s work being validated by peer review and publication in a scientific journal, the Harris work, while still quoted by antis, has never seen the light of day.

The LACS is now on its ninth chief executive in recent years, a previous one managing to hold the post for just a few days before quitting, saying the organisation was “ungovernable”. Another was Rachel Newman, a former solicitor, who ‘forgot’ to reveal in a court case against the Lamerton Hunt the close working relationship the League has with the expert witness, Professor Harris. Oddly, he also ‘forgot’ to mention it, despite there being a legal duty on expert witnesses to declare any potential conflict of interest. The court case collapsed, costing the LACS £25,000.

A hold on the finances has not always been as tight as perhaps it should have been at the League Against Cruel Sports. A legacy of £3.5 million, left to the LACS in 2014, apparently saved the organisation from financial difficulties, but then led to an “extravagant spending spree” according to an investigative report in The Times. As well as the failed prosecution against the Lamerton Hunt, it revealed the payment of Joe Duckworth’s legal fees, that salaries had risen above inflation and that there were trips abroad on a futile campaign in Malta. Clearly, a major embarrassment for a charity, prompting the League to challenge the newspaper through the Independent Press Standards Organisation, only to lose on every count.

It’s worth noting that recent LACS’ chief executives have all received a salary of over 100k per annum and with the number of staff members having grown in recent years to 47, some of the ‘heads of departments’ are close behind that figure in remuneration costs. It begs the question what precisely do they all do?

The latest problem is a dispute over the dismissal of Jordi Casamitjana, the League’s former Head of Policy and Research, who exposed the LACS’s pension fund investing in companies that involve animal testing. He is currently seeking legal action against the LACS.

The recent AGM contained all the elements of some previous meetings with the proceedings being disrupted by shouting and accusations flying around about ‘investigators’ being dismissed. The tone of the meeting was displayed by the new chair referring to a former government minister as, “a f***ing nutter”, prompting one member to say, “What a sad day in London yesterday. In nearly 20 years of attending the League AGM I never experienced anything like this.”

The problems at the League appear to be never-ending, though they are always quickly forgotten by a new wave of people who hold anti-hunting views and can never see anything wrong in their way of perceiving the world. Yet numerous politicians and people like Chris Packham, Mark Avery and even the RSPB and RSPCA will align themselves with this organisation and one has to ask why?

One thing that the LACS is successful at is conning a public that knows little or nothing about countryside management methods and hunting in particular. A combination of juvenile or anthropomorphic films mixed in with class war activists and keyboard warriors produces a fairly effective machine …or rather it would be if they could get on with each other.

To label someone an extremist is to imply an involvement in criminal or even terrorist activities, but there can also be extremists in thought too– those who believe totally in their own often exaggerated views and refuse to accept any other, despite evidence to the contrary. The LACS has more than its fair share of such people and this is their biggest problem.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is not why do some politicians and well-known individuals listen to the League, but why does anybody take them seriously?

This article first appeared in the Countryman’s Weekly.

Three topics deserve to be highlighted in this month of June.

It was on the 16th June 1824 a small group gathered in a coffee shop in London to form the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later receiving its Royal status thanks to Queen Victoria and becoming the RSPCA.

These were harsh times for many humans, let alone animals, yet those present could see that by advocating reasonable policies real advances could be made in animal welfare. Even then it certainly wasn’t easy with many in authority, including the judiciary, wondering why on earth people were worrying about animal suffering. Richard Martin, one of the founders of the RSPCA, had to fight a court case himself to highlight the fact, even to magistrates, that animal cruelty was now an offence. The policies proposed by the group were seen as reasonable and genuinely improved animal welfare; they changed society for the better.

Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and Richard Martin. Foxhunting founders of the RSPCA.

Undoubtedly, that fledgling movement contributed significantly to the now accepted view that animals should not be made to suffer unduly (though this isn’t to say that everything is perfect in the UK). But around the world there are millions of people whose attitudes towards animals stretch back way beyond even those harsh times in the early 1800s.

The internet has allowed footage of horrendous animal suffering in various countries to be spread by campaigning groups, but addressing this situation is not straightforward. While such abuses are widely condemned, some animal issues can really only be tackled by the peoples and governments of those countries. On the other hand, other abuses are so bad that they cross a line of acceptability and are rightly subjected to outside pressure. Some groups use ‘celebrity power’ to heighten awareness though with differing degrees of success, usually depending upon how that ‘celebrity’ acts. Drawing attention to an issue is one thing, becoming a mouthpiece (and often getting facts wrong) does more harm than good.

Whatever the issue, all campaigns are hampered by limited resources, so one might think that a little prioritising would be a good idea, but clearly not.

Because of a blinkered, often bigoted, obsession with hunting with dogs held by a vocal minority who siezed control of key organisations, including the RSPCA, literally many millions of pounds were, and continue to be, spent on this issue. It’s ironic, therefore, that two of the founding members of the RSPCA, Richard Martin and Thomas Fowell Buxton, were foxhunters, the latter chairing the first meeting. They were also great humanitarians, Fowell Buxton being a key supporter of the movement to abolish slavery. Perhaps ardent antis might like to reflect on that when they are smearing all those who hunt as nasty people.

Before and after the offending image was removed.

Another issue hit the headlines this June, though for more frivolous reasons. Earlier this month, Google has said it will remove a cartoon picture of an egg from salad bowl to avoid upsetting those who now find anything to do with animal farming wrong. Presumably some who have recently been bitten by the vegan bug find the ’emoji’- those little images that can be sent with phone texts and e-mails – so offensive, that they mustn’t be exposed to such an obscene drawing.

Quite why such an image might be ‘upsetting’ is beyond me, but if they really want to see something that is upsetting – in fact something that’s a million light years away from a silly emoji – then look no further than the Yulin dog meat festival currently taking place in China. The summer solstice in June sees the start of this vile ritual and it is truly the stuff of nightmares.

Dogs and cats, many being strays or stolen pets, are literally squeezed into cages with hardly a spare inch to move, they are transported and thrown around as if they were tins of beans, they are held in blistering heat with no food or water and finally dragged to their death, either by being bludgeoned or having their throat slit. And all this can take place on a Chinese street, in front of a cheering, leering crowd. China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Cambodia, North and South Korea all play host to the disgustingly cruel dog meat trade.

Perversely, some people think that the meat will taste better if the animal is stressed, presumably because cortisol is pumped into the blood giving it a particular flavour, so the method of killing may take on an even more horrendous phase; some dogs and cats are boiled alive. The skin and hair have to be removed and skinning the dog alive serves two purposes or, as one particularly shocking video shows, perhaps it’s easier to burn off the dog’s hair with a blowtorch, again while the animal is still conscience.

There will be some people who will say that because many in the West eat cows, pigs, sheep and poultry, there is no real difference to those in the East eating dogs. I don’t accept that excuse for one second.

We have laws against treating any animal in the way China and these other countries somehow think is acceptable. Even if the country has some animal welfare laws these will apply to livestock and often dogs are exempt from such legislation. Furthermore, the dog is part of a unique relationship with humans stretching back over tens of thousands of years, helping us in so many beneficial ways and there are aspects of the dog about which we are still learning. Brutalising and eating dogs is the very worst betrayal of that relationship and is bad enough, but treating them in such a barbaric and cruel way also reduces the tormentors to a primitive kind of human being. Anyone who believes, as some do, that eating dogs ‘wards off evil spirits’ displays their ignorance.

Some will say that this is their culture and tradition, but this deserves not the slightest credence – Yulin is a recently organised festival and in any case no right-thinking person should accept certain activities just because they may belong to a different culture. Those who are so fond of claiming that no one should be ever be offended – some animal rights groups and many on the Left – avoid criticism of other cultures in the fear that it might make them appear to be racists, colonialists or just people with double standards. Yet turning a blind eye to certain atrocities for reasons of ‘multiculturalism’ is a big mistake.

It allows our laws on humane slaughter to be ignored. In the extreme, it leads to marriages arranged between teenage girls and men four times their age; to the grooming of young vulnerable girls by sections of society that have a ‘different’ culture; to children being ‘exorcised’ and tortured because they might be ‘possessed by a demon’; to so-called ‘honour’ killings occur when an action ‘displeases’ the family group. Female genital mutilation is commonplace in numerous countries and despite being illegal in this country, not one successful prosecution has taken place. These aren’t things to accept, let alone celebrate, just to be ‘multicultural’ – they are simply wrong.

The dog meat trade, in all its obscene facets, falls into the same category.

I cannot understand why people who say they care about animal welfare often fail to think through the consequences of their campaigns and can’t get their priorities right. Equally, I cannot understand why the dog charities in this and other countries don’t highlight this vile trade more. Maybe they shy away from criticising so-called traditions of others, maybe it’s because they feel they can do little about it, but the longer they remain silent, the longer this shameful torturing of dogs and cats will continue.

There are signs of change, brought about mainly by the young in these countries who are turning against this hideous practice, but their job will be all the more difficult without wider publicity and condemnation. Boycotts can sometimes work and while virtually everything nowadays is made in China, that country wants trade and cooperation around the world, so raising the issue of the dog meat trade as the mark of an uncivilised country may slowly change attitudes. There are many in China, including academics, who recognise that animal welfare is an important factor in how a country is perceived; the dog meat trade is surely not the face China wants to show to the world.

As far as the smaller dog meat countries are concerned, we can all look for the products they sell here. South Korea is a major manufacturer of mobile phones, televisions and other technology items (Samsung and LG). It also produces well-known car makes (Kia, Hyundai, SsangYong). These companies could so easily put pressure on their government and at the very least should be asked if they find these images of torture from their country acceptable.

It’s too late to stop the Yulin festival this year, but the recent successful prosecution of a dog meat ‘farmer’ in South Korea may set a precedent and signal that the tide is slowly turning.

The torture and suffering of dogs in these countries is a dwindling trade. The more it is highlighted, the more people, especially the young in those countries, will condemn this horror and the harder it will be for the dog meat trade to continue.

More than anything, this obscene trade deserves what it never gives to those unfortunate dogs and cats– the quickest death. That’s a bit more important than worrying about cartoon images of eggs.






There are numerous wildlife issues that will be familiar to many people, including  most politicians, and wildlife management is a central element to virtually all of them. Yet it is one that is often overlooked or rarely discussed in the limited media interviews once the matter becomes topical.

Politicians are often bombarded by e-mails, tweets, petitions, demonstrations, postcards and letters all demanding action in one direction or another. Campaigning organisations and social media groups are well organised, disseminating valid material for genuinely good causes, but also sending out misleading or even totally untruthful information to get  parliamentarians to act.

It doesn’t help that wildlife issues tend to be seen in isolation and dealt with as and when the matter arises in the media, sometimes subsequently reaching the political agenda. The Hunting Act is a perfect example of the aim of campaigning groups ultimately being achieved. It was only when this law was passed that the flaws and inconsistencies started to become apparent to a wider audience, including some who had initially supported the measure, but by then it was too late. It is obvious that the anti-hunting campaign was only the beginning of an animal rights agenda and other campaigns will continue along the same lines and a good example is shooting; once argued to be the ‘humane alternative’ to hunting, but is now targeted in precisely the same way.

Preferential legislation, which can also lead to problems, is another difficulty. Laws that were needed at a certain time to protect a species appear inflexible once a population has recovered.

The importance of a proper understanding of wildlife management cannot be overstated. It is the lack of such knowledge that allows numerous issues to be portrayed in the media as a simplistic choice between people who care for animals and those who kill them for fun. In reality, this is nonsense, but it suits perfectly the campaigning style of certain groups who know full well that the public (and some politicians) will give only fleeting attention to such matters and, of course, by this route they feel they can achieve their aim.

One interesting aspect when discussing issues from a wildlife management perspective is that the vast majority of people will agree with the concept, to one degree or another. This has the advantage of avoiding the simplistic and false ‘kill or no kill’ choice. It also begs the question what do supporters of extreme animal rights actually support, rather than oppose, something that is rarely addressed.

It was for these reasons that the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM) organised an event at the Houses of Parliament last week, to explain wildlife management, its aims and, importantly, the consequences of a lack of management.

The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management event provided an opportunity for MPs and Peers to discuss the various aspects of managing wildlife.

The Wildlife Management Day ‘drop-in’ session, sponsored by Labour’s Kate Hoey MP and the Conservative’s Simon Hart MP, saw the Countryside Alliance, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Moorland Association, Songbird Survival, Bats & Art in Churches and the St Hubert Club of GB brought together in a common call for  politicians to recognise the need for the responsible and humane management of wildlife. There is a trend, promoted by certain groups, that wildlife should be left to nature with no interference from mankind. While this view is understandably attractive, the consequences would be dire; no protection for farming, no population control of dominant species, no disease control and no protection for vulnerable species. In addition, the outcome for numerous forms of employment in rural areas could be in jeopardy. Such a view is basically theoretical and the very few living examples of such thinking being put into practice have proved to be disastrous failures.

Hunting, Wildlife Management & the Moral Issue is available on the VAWM website: http://www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org.uk

Dr Lewis Thomas, secretary of VAWM, said, “Whilst we could always have wished that more politicians had visited us last week at Portcullis House, especially some of those who are so vehemently opposed to certain countryside activities, we were content that our parliamentary profile had been raised and the need for wildlife management communicated at least by letter to all politicians of both houses. This was in large measure due to Kate Hoey MP and Simon Hart MP who sponsored the event. We were pleased also to be joined on the day by representatives of several major wildlife organisations, all of whom realise the importance of sensible wildlife management.”

The Wildlife Management Day coincided with the re-launch of a VAWM document, Hunting, Wildlife Management and the Moral Issue, that addresses the issue of managing wildlife and how the use of scenting hounds fits into that process, as well as tackling the morality surrounding such matters.





Political posturing

It certainly wasn’t a very informative discussion on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme last week.

The Labour Party had just produced its new 50 point plan for animal welfare, following in the steps of the government’s Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. While there are definitely good measures in both, there are also reasons to be concerned. The government bill contains some ill-defined wording that could lead to unintended consequences and legal challenges by some groups. The Labour Party document, as usual, sets its sights on hunting and shooting, as if they were the very worst things that wildlife faces.

Animal welfare or animal rights? MPs Sir David Amess and Luke Pollard appear unsure on the BBC’s Daily Politics.

Therefore the sight of Conservative Sir David Amess and Labour’s Luke Pollard trying to score points off each while debating issues that neither appeared to really understand was not edifying. It does, however, provide an insight into the thinking of some of today’s politicians, who are more concerned about saying what they think is popular, rather than explaining how complex issues can be sensibly resolved.

No doubt Sir David and Mr Pollard are both aware that most people have nothing to do with hunting (and probably don’t like it), so opposing the activity is a comfortable position to hold. The same applies to the badger cull. What was glaringly missing from these two anti-hunting, anti-culling politicians was any hint of the consequences of their ‘animal welfare’ stances. There was no mention, let alone consideration as to what is now happening to wildlife as a direct result of the hunting ban – fox numbers fallen by one third, thousands of hares shot out after outlawing coursing and deer herds in the West Country threatened by the wrong individuals being killed.

Labour’s animal welfare plan. Hunting once again is a target, though not the hunt pictured…as UK hounds do not wear collars.

Not a word either about the suffering of TB infected badgers taking months to die and this quite apart from the tens of thousands of cattle slaughtered and the cost to the public purse. But then these are ‘animal welfare’ concerns – not something that tends to bother animal rightists in their pursuit to achieve a kind of animal utopia.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is the direction in which some politicians are heading too.

Look at the phrases used by Labour in its new plan, “Labour is the party of animal welfare” and then later in the same document, “Labour has always lead the way on animal rights”. There appears to be no understanding of the difference.

There is a clear distinction between ‘animal welfare’ and ‘animal rights’ and confusing the two can be particularly counter-productive in some areas. Many in the hunting, shooting, falconry and fishing world fully understand this and rightly argue against the destructive nature of an animal rights ‘philosophy’ being put into practice, which now leans towards opposing any form of wildlife management. A good example of mismanagement is the League Against Cruel Sports’ Baronsdown ‘sanctuary’, which was responsible for a massive outbreak of bovine TB in deer.

The difficulty arises when the fight against this flawed thinking begins to obscure a genuine debate about what we should and shouldn’t do to animals. The situation isn’t helped by a news media that can’t distinguish between the two and often broadcasts a welfare matter as being undertaken by “animal rights activists”.

No argument about ‘culture’ or ‘neo-colonialism’ can justify the vile dog meat trade.

It’s understandable why many in the field sports world feel suspicious of animal groups who seek to make changes to hunting or shooting and for very good reason. Often ‘change’ means ‘ban’ in the language of the animal rightist, but not all campaigns should be seen in that light. There is a danger if genuine animal welfare measures are resisted; the public and some politicians, both of whom are often unfamiliar with certain activities, will be likely to side with the whatever cause is being advocated for animals if they are forced to make a simplistic choice. To see things in such ‘black and white’ terms is precisely what the animal rightists want.

Yet talk to most people who hunt, or indeed anyone involved in field sports, and they clearly do care about animal welfare and strongly refute the accusation that they are ‘killing for fun’. They correctly cite evidence that often convinces those members of the public who are prepared to listen with an open mind and they can point to the major problems that occur when wildlife is not managed in a responsible way. It then becomes clearer to understand the argument for the use of scenting hounds in the wildlife management process.

Can this ever be regarded as natural?

Hunting rules say that the quarry species are hunted in their wild and natural state, but how would anyone be able to convince the public that a tiger would naturally jump through a fire hoop in a circus? That a horse would be happy to have a tiger and lion riding on its back? That the worst extremes of factory farming are acceptable just because they produce cheap food? That excuses relying on so-called ‘culture’ or spurious claims of ‘neo-colonialism’ justify the sheer brutality of the way in which millions of dogs are bred, kept, transported and finally killed for the dog meat trade in some countries. That keeping wild animals in a manner that could not possibly allow them to display their natural behaviour, such as in a fur farm, is natural?

For these reasons, it is a major error to write-off every animal welfare campaign, as if somehow they are all based on furthering the animal rights cause – not all are. And seeing field sports supporters vacating that genuine animal welfare ground is precisely what opponents wish, resulting in a real disservice to the argument for proper wildlife management.

Thankfully, that old view has significantly diminished over the years, as can be seen by the Countryside Alliance Awards scheme that recognises good welfare-minded businesses, effectively breaking down the artificial barriers between those who ‘love animals’ and those who ‘kill animals for fun’.

It’s a pity certain politicians of all parties can’t put aside for a moment their desire to appear more popular and be more discerning about what is and what is not an authentic animal welfare measure. That is, after all, the role of an MP, who should be aware that sometimes well-intentioned proposals may be less beneficial to animal welfare and more aligned with a flawed animal rights agenda. Politicians should understand that welfare in wild animal populations is a complex matter and consider a bit more carefully the very necessary benefits, including animal welfare, brought about by responsible field sports.

That’s not always easy in a world influenced so much by social media, but a good starting point would be the excellent series of essays by wildlife experts published by the Countryside Alliance in its document Wildlife Law – The Big Conversation (see:  http://www.countryside-alliance.org/wildlife-law/ )