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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The skins of hedgehogs left after predation by a badger.

The skins of hedgehogs left after predation by a badger.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the real reason for announcing this process.

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

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

Unreliable evidence

In any debate about hunting you will invariably hear the claim that the British public is overwhelmingly opposed to the activity. How do we know this? Well, it’s simple; public opinion polls tell us.

For some months before the general election, all polls seemed to predict a hung Parliament. But the image of the opinion poll companies took a bit of a knock when subsequently all were proved to be very wrong. A recent inquiry by the University of Southampton looked into the reasons for this dramatic miscalculation. Methodologies differed, samples of respondents differed yet the results all appeared to be roughly the same. The report pointed to a failure to ensure those they were asking represented a fair cross-section of the public. Many young people were interviewed, while we know it’s the older generation that is more likely to go out and vote. Amazingly, too many people sympathetic to the Labour Party had also been included and had all this been made clear at the time, even a five-year old might have been able to predict the result was likely to be more than a little off the mark.

Then we have social media, which in many cases turns out to be very unsocial media, enabling swarms of comments, demands, insults and threats to be made by “activists” who needn’t even get out of bed to make their voices heard. Groups like 38 Degrees rely on giving the impression to MPs and others that there is a vast swathe of people all demanding action on a particular point. Sometimes that may be true, but it is not a healthy way to operate in what should be a true democracy, which is not just about acting on what the majority wants; minorities have rights too.

“MPs should do what their constituents demand!” is a rallying cry for these people. Nice idea, but how does that work? Constituent have all sorts of different views and wishes, many of which clash with each other; no MP can act as everyone demands. Such campaigning fails to understand that MPs are not simple bean counters, totting up e-mails and tweets for and against a particular issue and voting accordingly; their role is to consider all options and make a considered decision. Get it wrong too often and no doubt an election will ultimately decide the MP’s future, but let’s not pretend that they can always do everything their constituents want.

An interesting article by Daily Telegraph columnist Janet Daley put her finger on it recently when she said that many older people are turned off by such campaigning methods and simply and quietly vote or act in the way they always intended. This is probably a major factor in upsetting the polls, but such pressure on Parliamentarians, who should know better, is a another matter and they certainly can be influenced by such tactics.

It would be nice to imagine that MPs think for themselves, as indeed many do, and that opinion polls are there only to provide a rough guide to public views, as opposed to being a straightjacket that dictates a particular action. If that were really the case, we wouldn’t need MPs at all.

Maybe it’s too much to ask that public opinion polls have to be fair and balanced in their questions – even their controlling body, the Market Research Society, finds it difficult to ensure that. Far better to understand that given the doubtful nature of certain opinion polls, any argument that relies so heavily on them rather than say science, must be regarded with some suspicion.

The best we can hope for is that polling companies at least ask straight questions on subjects most people understand, such as what issues affect voting intentions at a general election? When the Countryside Alliance commissioned a poll using precisely that question only 4 out of over 1500 respondents mentioned hunting with dogs. So much for hunting being a voting issue as is so often claimed.

Not all polling companies and polling methods are the same, but rarely can a poll be as blatantly disingenuous as this example. A few years ago the League Against Cruel Sports commissioned a poll implying repeal of the Hunting Act would legalise dog-fighting and badger-baiting and, unsurprisingly, they got the figures in opposition to repeal they wanted.

It was totally untrue, of course, but the results were widely reported and the Market Research Society saw no problem.

Boxing Day blues

Boxing Day must be a very frustrating time for many people who oppose hunting.

The usual mantra throughout the year is that those who go hunting are cruel, barbaric and worse, being likened to rapists or child abusers. So when television cameras and reporters attend the many hunts taking place up and down the country they tend to highlight a very different picture. Families, children, even toddlers, all gathering in support of an activity that is supposed to be nothing more than terrorising and sometimes killing a wild animal just for fun

Thankfully, many people choose to add to their knowledge of a subject by experience and research, rather than swallowing the propaganda of pressure groups, and they know that hunting with hounds is a much more complex matter.

What should be a position based on a common sense understanding of wildlife, its welfare, management and conservation can so easily become extremely muddled when those joining and leading organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports have a variety of motives, some of which are highly dubious to say the least. You could argue that people heavily involved in anti-hunting activities tend to fall into one of two main categories – those who don’t know and those who don’t want to know.

Then there are opportunists who in reality couldn’t care less about hunting, but use it for their own political ends.

Are anti-hunting protesters happy with the Hunting Act? Seems not.

Are anti-hunting protesters happy with the Hunting Act? Seems not.

At the Labour Party conference in 2004, just before the Hunting Act was passed, left-wing MP Dennis Skinner told me – or rather shouted at me – that a hunting ban was nothing to do with animal welfare and instead was revenge for the Conservatives closing coal mines. Recently, but still in the same vein, the Scottish National Party suddenly became interested in English and Welsh foxes in order to give the Government a bloody nose by scuppering an attempt to make an exemption in the Hunting Act work as originally intended. In the longer term, the duplicity of the SNP has probably strengthened the case for a more robust version of English Votes for English Laws.

Expect more class warfare under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, which still sees the Hunting Act as one of its “proudest achievements”. Last week Labour MPs were invited to a ‘photo opportunity’ with Shadow Secretary of State for DEFRA, Kerry McCarthy, in support of a Keep the Ban campaign for Boxing Day. Isn’t it odd that when the Government raises hunting it’s accused of focussing on a trivial matter, yet with all that’s going wrong within the Labour Party at the moment they can still see retention of their flawed hunting ban as a priority? Perhaps thinking about hunting the fox will give Corbyn a few tips when hunting down some of his own MPs, which will no doubt happen in the New Year.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is that the Hunting Act is still the law – albeit an unprincipled and badly drafted one. It is the perfect example of what results from such confused campaigning. The ludicrous claims by anti-hunting groups that 99% of hunts are breaking this law are simply not borne out by the fact that 99% of hunts do not end up in court. Unfortunately for the antis we still have a judicial system based on evidence not blind prejudice. This adds to the frustration clearly felt by many anti-hunters, usually resulting in them turning on each other and that seems to be exactly what has happened…but not for the first time.

The current problems within the LACS have become so bad that they’ve been hitting the media headlines. Ousting the LACS’ president, John Cooper QC, in a rather unceremonious manner caused him to publicly reveal splits and disagreements, along with accusations of bullying and sexism, amongst staff members. It must be bad when changing the locks on the LACS HQ is suggested, presumably to exclude certain individuals.

Too close? Professor Stephen Harris (second from left) applauds Michael Foster's anti hunting bill. Inset, Professor Harris addresses a LACS audience in the West Country

Too close? Professor Stephen Harris (second from left) applauds Michael Foster’s anti hunting bill. Inset, Professor Harris addresses a LACS audience in the West Country

Then there is the disastrous case brought against the Lamerton Hunt. Set down for a 10 day hearing in court, the case crumbled when the expert witness chosen by the LACS, one Professor Stephen Harris, was shown not to be as independent as he and they claimed. To those in the hunting world this is no surprise. Harris has undertaken numerous research projects for anti-hunting organisations, spoken at anti-hunting events and was photographed applauding MP Michael Foster outside Parliament when he introduced his anti-hunting bill.

The situation wasn’t helped by Professor Harris stating in court that he had been told by Rachel Newman, the LACS’ acting chief executive, not to reveal his close relationship with individuals in the organisation. Even worse is the fact that Ms Newman is a qualified solicitor and must have been aware of the requirement to inform the court of such a link between the prosecution and an expert witness it relies upon. Ms Newman has, I understand, now resigned and one can only wonder what the newly appointed chief executive of the LACS, one Eduardo Gonçalves, a former Liberal Democrat candidate at the last general election, will face when he moves into his £90,000 per year job in 2016.

The cost for this farce will be paid out of central funds – yes, that means the taxpayer – though this might be challenged, as indeed may previous prosecutions that involved Professor Harris as an expert witness. Whatever the outcome, this is undoubtedly a major blow to the credibility of LACS and how it operates.

If that wasn’t enough, recently the Sunday Times carried another intriguing twist to LACS’ current problems. When Joe Duckworth, the League’s previous chief executive, left some months ago the reason was a little unclear, though a fight in a pub was thought to have contributed to his departure. However, the newspaper reports that vice-president Bill Oddie and Duckworth had “fallen out” over an “irresistible” younger woman, with whom they had both campaigned.

The year ends on yet another sour note for the League. The Charity Commission has criticised the political neutrality of the organisation in a case report published last week. The LACS trustees have been informed of this breach of charity guidelines. The report states that, “We further gave clear advice to the charity that it must not support or oppose a political party and to be careful to ensure that any language used was not inflammatory to those who may hold opposing views.” That last point is worth noting, bearing in mind that much of what the LACS produces is designed to be inflammatory.

Former colleagues Bill Oddie and Joe Duckworth.

Not too close. Former colleagues Bill Oddie and Joe Duckworth.

The fact is, arguments are nothing new in the LACS (I, more than most, should know). Just three years after the League was formed in 1924, one of its founding members, Henry Amos, fell out with his co-founder, Ernest Bell, who left to form another organisation. The basic problem is that anti-hunt activists start from a fundamentally flawed position. They see hunting in the same light as the baiting ‘sports’, which rightly have been banned, and argue the hunting ban is the next logical step. It’s a nonsense, of course. Quite apart from the crucial differences between hunting and baiting, nothing fills the vacuum if a baiting activity is prevented – a cruel act has simply been stopped. On the other hand, hunting with hounds is part of a spectrum of wildlife management activities and by removing it – or restricting it as the Hunting Act has done – some other method will be used.

A determining factor in drawing all this together is the degree of frustration felt amongst those antis who, having achieved their “goal” in getting a hunting ban onto the statute book, still see hunting continue in a form they just simply hadn’t anticipated. Not a single registered hunt had been successfully prosecuted this year.
Tim Bonner, the Countryside Alliance’s chief executive, said: “It’s clear the Hunting Act is in tatters. It was never about foxes or animal welfare, but rather an attempt to eradicate hunts and the communities which surround them. After 11 years of the Act support for hunts is as strong as ever and the Hunting Act is mostly being used to prosecute poaching offences.”

It’s worth recalling what the LACS said about a hunting ban back in 1996, “Within a couple of months it would all be over and everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about.”

As ever, they may have been convinced by their own propaganda, but no one else was.

 

Fundamental world

Fundamentalism is a marvellous thing.

No struggling with inconvenient truths about views that don’t quite add up. Awkward aspects of a position can just be pushed aside as irrelevant if they don’t fit the argument and of course there must be no hint at all of anything approaching self-doubt. Listen to some of those involved in any fundamentalist group and the overriding message is clear: “We are right and anyone who disagrees is simply wrong.”

Fundamentalism can reveal itself in numerous forms. In the extreme, one manifestation is what some would see as the next logical step, which is that anything done in the name of their ‘cause’ must therefore be justified. Violence to people or property is not uncommon, nor is the weapon of intimidation – the most horrific example of  a combination of all three having occurred in Paris just days ago.

Gemma McCormick

Gemma McCormick

Another incident, though of course not on the same scale, nevertheless follows that pattern of peddling hate. Comments of delight made by some anti-hunters were made via the internet following the death of Gemma McCormick, Joint Master of the Cottesmore Hunt. Gemma tragically died in a riding accident at the opening meet of the Fitzwilliam Hunt a few weeks ago.

Despite the fact that she was hunting within the law – just as the Hunting Act and its anti-hunting promoters demand – she was still regarded by fundamentalists as a target for hate. That speaks volumes about the motivation of some of these “compassionate” people, who clearly have no concerns about grieving relatives and have obviously swallowed the propaganda produced by anti-hunt groups that most hunts are breaking the law by pursuing a live quarry.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. This lady certainly is for turning.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. This lady certainly is for turning.

The fundamentalist mustn’t be deterred from achieving his or her goal and if that means bribing politicians then so be it.  In June this year a meeting took place between a Scottish National Party MP and an anti-hunting group linked to the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) – a body that had donated £1 million to the Labour Party before it introduced the Hunting Act. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said in February, “The SNP have a long-standing position of not voting on matters that purely affect England — such as fox-hunting south of the border, for example — and we stand by that.”  But she didn’t stand by that and now it’s been revealed that the SNP received a donation of £10,000 from PAL. Money and fundamentalism is a toxic mix.

Language, too, can feed fundamentalism. I doubt that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to a police ‘shoot to kill’ policy has done much to make any would-be terrorist think again about committing another heinous act of barbarism and I’m fairly sure that shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s call for MI5 to be disbanded will not be seen as a peace offering by any mad jihadist.  At a different level, comparing people who hunt with rapists, murderers and child abusers, as one academic did, can only fire up the more extreme anti-hunt individuals and I wonder if the RSPCA is happy with its Vice-President, Brian May, calling all hunt supporters bastards?

Then there is the low-level fundamentalism of just being so blinkered that history is re-written when it doesn’t suit. The validity of an article about Richard Martin, the Member of Parliament who championed the first animal welfare legislation back in the early 1800s was recently questioned. (https://jamesbarrington.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/humanity-dick-martin/)  Martin’s original law provided the basis for further legislation that led to the outlawing of the baiting “sports” and he helped create the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later becoming the RSPCA. What clearly stuck in this doubter’s throat was the fact that Martin was a foxhunter.

Foxhunter Richard Martin MP, founder of the RSPCA and animal welfare champion

Foxhunter Richard Martin MP, founder of the RSPCA and animal welfare champion

As so often is the case, the person making the challenge hid his or her real identity by using a pseudonym and soon other keyboard warriors on social media had joined in the chase, Where is documentary evidence that Richard Martin MP: a) Founded SPCA b) Hunted Foxes? #CAlies

“We all know Martin myth came from you Barrington. He’d turn in his grave if knew CA trying to use him.”

Even Brian May’s ‘Save Me’ campaign chipped in, “Hunts, Stunts & Spin at it again, trying to support a cruel pastime with lies as its all they have.”

Clearly, in-depth research is not something fundamentalists like to do – probably finds too many inconsistencies – so the keyboard warriors had a short period tweeting and retweeting what they thought was a nice little story about nasty pro-hunters denigrating a key person in the history of animal welfare. It was short lived however, because Richard Martin was indeed a hunter and a shooter, a fact confirmed in numerous books about his life and the history of animal welfare legislation. If they had bothered to look a little harder, they would have discovered that Martin, like many other individuals at the time who were concerned about animal suffering, saw the horrendous cruelty inflicted on domestic animals every minute of every day as rightly being the priority.

"I think you're a bunch of lying bastards." Brian May, Vice-president, RSPCA

“I think you’re a bunch of lying bastards.” Brian May, Vice-President, RSPCA  on the BBC’s Newsnight

Indeed, it could very well be the case that had it not been for the support from such hunting people, that first animal welfare law put forward by Martin may not have been passed in 1822.

So back to our fundamentalist friend who, despite being given references proving Richard Martin was a foxhunter, still refuses to believe the fact. At least he (or she) is continuing to adhere to the spirit of fundamentalism, which is to never accept any evidence, no matter how compelling, that you might just be wrong. No doubt such people feel much happier in that strange little fantasy world.

All this is far from those who hold strong views, as most of us do on various issues, yet are prepared to listen to alternative arguments. This is blind faith that dares not even question a belief even if a stack of evidence points in the other direction. Best of all, it allows you to believe what you want to believe, regardless of the facts.

Yes, fundamental world certainly is a very easy and comfortable place in which to live.

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