The annual ‘Rural Oscars’ event was a special occasion for the winners, who were invited to the House of Lords to accept their awards in various categories of countryside businesses. Andrea Leadsom MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, presented the awards saying, “Today’s winners and nominees represent the very best of Rural Britain and I’m delighted to celebrate the crucial role our post offices, farm shops and food start-ups play in connecting communities across the country.” It was also a day to celebrate the simple fact that their customers felt so highly of these local enterprises that they nominated them for regional and national awards – a consoling thought given the power of the ubiquitous supermarkets.
Yet, in a way, one thing was missing and that was the recognition of these awards to businesses and their achievements by the animal welfare/rights organisations that tend to see the Countryside Alliance only through the prism of hunting and shooting. Any vegetarian, and I speak as one of many years, must surely understand the benefit of locally sourced, free-range meat that avoids transportation of animals over long distances. This is precisely what those in the butcher category achieve in welfare terms and they are rightly recognised for this by the Alliance. If this was somehow achieved nationwide it would undoubtedly be a momentous step in the right direction for animal welfare. Yet the good that is achieved here is obviously far less important than keeping your image ‘pure’ and avoiding being seen to ally yourself and your organisation with, horror of horrors, a ‘hunting and shooting’ body. It is a perfect example of muddled and blinkered thinking.
Thankfully, reasonable people are not so confused and the day was a total success, until, that is, another blinkered individual took centre stage moments later, but this time with devastating consequences.
The terrorist attack at the Houses of Parliament cost the lives of four innocent people, including that of PC Keith Palmer who gave his life trying to stop this madness. It meant that the Palace of Westminster was in ‘lock-down’ for five hours or more and while this was inconvenient for literally thousands of people kept inside the various buildings on the estate, it pales to insignificance compared to the many other victims of a deluded thug who were caught up in the attack, some with life-changing injuries. To say this self-appointed ‘jihadist’, who had a string of previous convictions for violent offences, was muddled would be an understatement, but when an individual has managed to convince himself of the absolute righteousness of his beliefs, sometimes terrible things happen.
Social media firms like to avoid taking responsibility for the content on the websites they make available or the communication links they provide. Their view is to uphold the right of “free speech”, conveniently ignoring the fact that few would welcome a society that permits absolutely no curb on what can be said at any time and in any circumstance. They appear reluctant to impose such restrictions and, as a result, those with simple minds or criminal intent can be influenced or worse, radicalised. Co-ordination of terrorist activities is made easy via these forms of communication, while vile messages are commonplace. None of this is new to the hunting world, who just recently faced another spate of insults and threats of violence on an anti-hunting website following the death of horse rider and showjumper, Sue Webb. Were it not for the tragic circumstances, the ignorance of those posting such comments would almost be laughable, as she was taking part in a drag hunt.
The Crown Prosecution Service has recently issued new guidelines on threatening and insulting comments on social media and the Countryside Alliance has reported this abusive Facebook page to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, currently inquiring into “Hate crime and its violent consequences”. Just as a newspaper is responsible for the content it prints, even if it disagrees with the author, social media companies should not be allowed act as innocent bystanders. Distancing themselves from the views expressed after the event is simply not good enough.
Social media and the promotion of rural businesses have come together in a new dispute involving the Kent Wildlife Trust. Michael Bax, is the former High Sheriff of Kent and is involved in Kent’s rural economy, making him a useful link with corporate supporters of the charity and allowing it to undertake numerous conservation projects. Again, most reasonable people would probably think his appointment as chairman of the trust in 2014 was a good idea. But Mr Bax is a former Master of the Blean Beagles and naturally, according to those who see red every time the word ‘hunt’ appears, he must go. The Kent Wildlife Trust’s slogan is “Protecting Wildlife for the Future” and that, in the minds of the naïve and ignorant, means “no killing”. Now the trust being targeted by keyboard warriors calling for Mr Bax to be sacked.
The Kent Wildlife Trust must decide if it wants to stand with hunt saboteurs and other blinkered anti-hunt activists or with those who understand the complexities of managing wildlife and the countryside. Unfortunately, some members of the various wildlife trusts around the country can be guilty of holding irrational views, in just the same manner as those who argued for the Hunting Act – a law that is undoubtedly detrimental to animal welfare. Those who hate beagling and are so concerned about the quarry should note that this piece of legislation led directly to the death of tens of thousands of hares by farmers and landowners, the animals’ status having changed and population reduced to prevent poaching.
Remember, in the muddled thinking of some in the wildlife trusts, “no killing” is fine if you are a badger, but not if you are a deer or a grey squirrel; if you’re a hare, clearly your biggest threat appears to be a pack of beagles.