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“Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture.”  

Most level-headed people would see this statement as absolutely ludicrous. They would be even more surprised to know that it is made by an academic, the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey. It’s a sentiment echoed in a letter written by Douglas Batchelor, a former chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports and no doubt chimes with the thinking of certain individuals who hold extreme views on animal rights and see all hunting as being abhorrent.

What such a position doesn’t do is distinguish between the different forms of hunting that exist, along with the motives and justifications behind each particular activity. This suits some very well in their campaigns to hoodwink the public and influence politicians. (An excellent article by Roger Scruton in The Spectator explains why MPs should not listen to such nonsense  http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9605652/why-mps-have-a-duty-to-resist-online-petitions)

The shooting of Cecil the lion just outside Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe made headlines around the world, much of it publicised through social network. It certainly had consequences. Dr Walter Palmer, who shot the lion, went into hiding after the media storm and may still be subject to extradition to face a charge of illegal hunting. It’s not the first time Palmer has had trouble with illegal hunting; he pleaded guilty to giving a false statement and fined $3000 for killing a bear in the USA. The organiser of the African lion hunt, Theo Bronkhorst, has already been arrested. UK Foreign Office Minister, Grant Shapps, has written to the Zimbabwean government calling the shooting ‘barbaric’.  The importation into the UK of body parts of certain species is being re-examined and Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed that the UK government will be at the forefront of the battle against wildlife crime.

Yet animals in this country are shot every day, so what made the shooting of Cecil so upsetting?

Walter Palmer (left) with his trophy.

Walter Palmer (left) with his trophy.

Clearly it was the method and motivation behind trophy hunting that caused such disgust, coupled with the general public’s limited knowledge of wildlife management in countries like Africa. According to reports, the lion was lured out of its protection zone in the National Park; the hunt was therefore illegal. Cecil was shot with a bow and arrow, something that would be illegal in this country, but not Zimbabwe, though why such a weapon would be used when modern-day guns and ammunition are available can only point to a certain desire on the part of the shooter to do things in a more ‘traditional’ way. “It’s more silent. If you want to do anything illegal, that’s the way to do it” one conservationist told the BBC.  Dr Palmer apparently arrived late at the agreed meeting site as night was falling, yet was still determined to go and get his beast in conditions that would be frowned upon by many shooters in this country.

After locating Cecil, a shot was taken which only wounded the lion. It took some 40 hours tracking the animal for him to be found and put out of his misery. The lion was being studied by Oxford University and had been fitted with a tracking collar, which Bronkhorst then hid in a tree. Following his arrest, he said that it couldn’t be seen at night (an obvious response might be what do you expect when taking a shot like this in darkness?).

A further problem could have been that killing Cecil, being head of his pride, might have allowed another lion to move in and kill the cubs he had fathered – a common occurrence when a new dominant male takes over a group of lionesses. Thankfully, it appears that his brother filled that role and the cubs survived, but by removing the biggest and best animals so desired by those who want magnificent heads to hang on their walls, their actions seem to fly in the face of true conservation. This is a major problem with trophy hunting, but by no means the only one.

It is a fact that such big game shooting does put a considerable amount of money into conservation work and local communities in Africa and other countries (Palmer apparently paid $35,000 for the privilege of shooting Cecil) resulting in wildlife being regarded more as an asset than a pest or a danger and helps to fund anti-poaching patrols. But surely this must be tempered to prevent the difficulties outlined above? To what degree ‘photographic tourism’ could bring the same outcomes is certainly worth exploring, but it doesn’t alter the fact that wild animals often die in ways that would horrify us if applied to our pets or domestic stock. That is the consequence of “leaving it all to nature”, a phrase so often used by those who have obviously not thought through that view.

Prince Harry assisting vets with a sedated lion in Namibia Picture: Simson Uri-Khop

Prince Harry assisting vets with a sedated lion in Namibia
Picture: Simson Uri-Khop

That social network storm often contained comments likening the illegal shooting of Cecil to hunting with hounds, yet the method, the motive and the justification could not be more dissimilar.  Princes William and Harry, both of whom shoot and have hunted with hounds, are not being hypocritical when they campaign for the protection of endangered species and support the efforts to curb wildlife crime. Harry was recently photographed helping vets in Africa and has spent time with soldiers on anti-rhino poaching patrols. It was notable that at this year’s CLA Game Fair, an event once described by a previous LACS director as a ‘bloodfest’, numerous hunting people said how much they disapproved of the shooting of Cecil. They were right to make such distinctions for the simple reason there is good hunting and bad hunting.

It’s in the interest of anti-hunting groups to confuse the two in the public’s mind and it’s one of the reasons they cling to the flawed Hunting Act when a far better law as suggested by Labour Peer Lord Donoughue could properly address genuine cruelty to wild animals. Having to prove cruelty on the basis of evidence is not something they’d wish, or in many cases are able, to do.

No reasonable person would see the use of scenting hounds hunting a fox in the same light as the shooting of Cecil the lion…unless, of course, they see all hunting as being the same as rape or child abuse.

The constitutional debate surrounding animal welfare and in particular the welfare of wild animals subject to control is not something new.
In the UK we have lead theScottish CA logo way in legislating the methods and methodology used, seasonal protection even the religious question has been considered but nothing has proven as divisive as the control of foxes with hounds.
Despite well over 1,000 hours of debate in two parliaments the political and public division still stands, however the events of 14th July 2015 brings the debate to an all-time low.
For reasons that had no meaningful contribution to the debate or indeed animal welfare the Scottish National Party MPs elected to side with the Labour party to vote against the Government proposals and in doing so forced the Government to withdraw. It is important to understand that there had been discussions between the government and the SNP prior to the introduction of the amendments, and that they would not have been brought forward had the SNP signalled that it was going to enter the debate.
The Scottish Countryside Alliance Director Jamie Stewart said the decision to withdraw the vote was ‘the correct one’, because the issue had now become a constitutional one, rather than a debate over animal welfare.
“The Government was due to introduce amendments to the Hunting Act under a free vote, which would have represented a significant improvement,” he said. “The amendments would have removed the arbitrary two dog limit in exempt hunting, making it legal to flush and shoot foxes.If the changes had been passed it would have been legal to manage foxes and some other wild mammals in a more effective and welfare friendly manner whilst representing a significant improvement for many farmers and wider biodiversity and moving the law into line with our own Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

“For reasons that have little, if anything, to do with the amendments under consideration or indeed animal welfare, the SNP have decided to break their often repeated commitment not to vote on the Hunting Act which only affects England and Wales.

The most disappointing outcome for those operating fox control under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 has been the calls for review and tightening of our legislation, something that hasn’t until now been on the cards. Indeed I received a letter from the Minister on 1st July 2015 stating that there was no intention to amend the Act.

I am therefore hugely disappointed in the position taken by the SNP and indeed the comments from Nicola Sturgeon and Angus Robertson in calling David Cameron arrogant and suggesting a tightening of the Scottish legislation covering wildlife control, the two things are poles apart.

Consequently despite her previous public statements the SNP would not engage on this issue she has painted the Scottish Government into a corner and we now find ourselves a political pawn in the constitutional divide between our two parliaments and sadly animal welfare and biodiversity might suffer at that hands of parliamentary posturing. The hunting world is as one over this issue and Scotland ‘s interests are also English and Welsh interests”

CA logoTomorrow the Government was due to introduce amendments to the Hunting Act under a free vote, which would have represented a significant improvement. The amendments would have removed the arbitrary two dog limit in exempt hunting, making it legal to flush and shoot foxes using packs of hounds. If the changes had been passed it would have been legal to manage foxes and some other wild mammals using packs of hounds representing a significant improvement for many farmers and hunts, whilst moving the law into line with Scotland. The requirement to take reasonable steps to shoot would, however, have remained. 

For reasons that have little, if anything, to do with the amendments under consideration, the SNP have decided to break their often repeated commitment not to vote on the Hunting Act which only affects England and Wales.

As recently as February Nicola Sturgeon said: “The SNP have a longstanding position of not voting on matters that purely affect England – such as foxhunting south of the border, for example – and we stand by that.”

Yesterday, however, the SNP said that they would be voting against the proposals to remind “an arrogant UK government of just how slender their majority is”.
In the face of the SNP’s u-turn the Government has postponed the vote. This was the correct decision. This is now clearly a constitutional issue rather than one about wildlife management or animal welfare and we look forward to the Government bringing the amendments back to Parliament in due course.

This will be a deep disappointment to many of you, but we can take heart from the fact that we have shown that there is a clear majority of support for the proposals amongst English and Welsh MPs. The fact that the Labour party were ready to whip their MPs on the vote shows how desperate they were.

We cannot stress enough the appreciation we have for all those of you who have taken part in our campaign for fair, effective and humane law. It is far from over.

 

Sir Barney White-Spunner

Executive Chairman

 

This week will see an important vote in the House of Commons on the future of the Hunting Act; the consequences are equally important for the fox, farmers and other land managers.

This is not repeal of the Hunting Act and the Prime Minister’s official spokesman stated that the government will stand by its commitment in the Conservative manifesto to hold a free vote on repealing this law at some point.

It is important, therefore, to be absolutely clear on precisely what the proposed measure coming forward this week can and cannot do. The vote will be on amendments to the Hunting Act by way of a Statutory Instrument, a process by which an act of parliament can be altered in a minor way when it becomes clear that certain aspects of a law do not work. Crucially, these changes cannot overturn the prime purpose of that legislation. Hunting would still remain illegal.

The Hunting Act 2004 does not prevent the use of dogs in wildlife management in all circumstances and exemptions are included within the legislation that lay down conditions and restrictions on their use. What has prompted this particular move is the fact that some of these exemptions simply do not work. Unlike the hunting law in Scotland, which allows any number of dogs to be used to flush a wild mammal out of cover to be shot, the legislation for England and Wales permits the use of only two dogs.

"Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns" LACS, 2005

“Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns” LACS, 2005

Why? Well, anti-hunting groups saw that hunts could still operate legally under the Scottish law and they insisted upon the two dog limit when the Hunting Act was being passed in England and Wales. Where the scientific or veterinary basis for the magic number two comes from is anyone’s guess, but the likelihood is that two dogs cannot be regarded as a ‘pack’ and remember the aim here was always to ban hunting with dogs; improving wild animal welfare was never the real concern of the anti-hunting groups or many of the politicians who backed them.

Sheep farmers, especially those near large areas of forestry, found fox control using only two dogs difficult as the fox could double back time and time again and draw out the whole process. The proposed amendments allow the use of an appropriate number of dogs for a particular terrain and other relevant circumstances. Once flushed out of cover, reasonable steps must still be taken to shoot it dead. Research commissioned by the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs showed that using a larger number of dogs would be more efficient and shorten the whole process, ironically reducing the pursuit period to which the antis object. (see http://fedwfp.co.uk/ )

Some other restrictions in these exemptions are odd to say the least. A terrier can be used underground to flush out a fox and for it to be killed for the protection of birds preserved to be shot. But exactly the same process cannot be used to protect a farmer’s lamb or indeed a rare ground-nesting bird. This came about because anti-hunting MPs (and probably those animal rights groups advising them) did not realise that gamekeepers use terriers too. As the Labour Party had promised the hunting legislation would not affect shooting, this exemption had to be hurriedly drafted and included. This was just one of numerous unprincipled exemptions that make up this strange, almost anti-dog law. The proposed amendment would alter this exemption to permit terriers to be used in the same way for the prevention and reduction of serious damage to livestock.

Finding such awkward realities was a recurring problem during the passage of the Hunting Act, as it became clear that a blanket ban on the use of all dogs in wildlife management would be unworkable. Hounds and other dogs are used in pest control, following and finding wounded animals and also for scientific research and observation. So a whole range of exemptions had to be included and crucially these were agreed by both sides of the hunting debate. Bear in mind that those opposed to hunting were in the majority at the time in both the committee stage and in the House of Commons. The Hunting Act is therefore entirely the product of the anti-hunting world and these exemptions were included with the claim by MPs and anti-hunt groups that they would work. But this would be to assume that those opposed to hunting are really acting in the best interests of animal welfare and that they have knowledge of the difficulties farmers and other land managers face.

What we now see is the duplicitous nature of anti-hunting groups and their political friends coming to the fore. Adverts in the national press claim that the Hunting Act is being sabotaged. It’s not true, of course, as previously explained, but it is an indication of how far a campaigning group, and a charity at that, is prepared to lie about the government proposal. No doubt at some point the Charity Commission will be examining this advert very closely.

As the director of the League Against Cruel Sports in 2005 revealed in a leaked memo, “Pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns.” So why were these exemptions included in the Hunting Act if they were never intended to work?

Why did anti-hunting groups hail the Scottish law just last year as, “a hugely important piece of legislation, as it seeks to protect foxes and other mammals from the sickeningly cruel blood sport of hunting.”  Yet in trying to bring the English and Welsh law into line with Scotland, this is now something akin to repeal. Either Scotland has banned hunting or it hasn’t – it cannot be both.

Why do anti-hunting MPs and groups claim this is repeal of the Hunting Act when they should know full well that the  Statutory Instrument process cannot overturn the main purpose of a law?

The LACS advertisement giving blatantly false information.

The LACS advertisement giving blatantly false information.

Will the Scottish National Party MPs hold to their public statement that they will not vote on purely English and Welsh issues? There could not be a clearer case of a law that is totally devoid of any Scottish angle or involvement.

Why, in what should be a free vote, is the Labour Party so obsessed with banning hunting that it is now apparently whipping its MPs to vote against amendments to improve exemptions they agreed should be included in the Hunting Act in the first place?

It is vital that people, both pro and anti–hunting, as well as the politicians and the media understand what is going on here. Looking at some of the unbelievably misinformed press stories it goes without saying that many individuals do not know what they are talking about. It’s also clear that the situation is being blatantly exploited by certain groups for their own ends.

We elect politicians to make decisions for us and not to simply weigh-up the views on both sides of any awkward argument and vote according to numbers. We expect politicians to analyse all the available evidence and come to a conclusion that they can honestly say is the right one, rather than the one public opinion polls or social media campaigns demand. If they get it wrong too often they can be voted out of office – that is how our system of having parliamentary representatives should work. The alternative is that we do away with politicians all together and instead run the country via Twitter. Where would that lead us?

So often people say that all politicians are the same, but that’s not true and they can be divided into two groups. There are many in all parties who are honourable, hard-working and will do the right thing, but when it comes to hunting there are some, many in the Labour Party but also a few in the Liberal Democrats, who will play party politics with people’s livelihoods and unashamedly use issues, in this instance animal welfare, for their own prejudiced point-scoring ends. The Conservative Party is not without its small group of dissenting MPs, who should be asked some of the questions outlined above and why they too are playing along with the antis’ duplicitous game.

The 15th of July vote will reveal some answers and then we will know precisely which of our Members of Parliament fall into each category.

Last year, environmental journalist Charlie Pye-Smith wrote an article about a new book project, the aim of which was to explain the need for better wildlife management and its benefits. (Wildlife management: Guest blog – Charlie Pye-Smith)FORL 7

This week saw the launch of The Facts of Rural Life, which has already received much well-deserved praise, not least from the two main speakers at the event, MPs Sir Nicholas Soames and Kate Hoey. Speeches were introduced by Brian Fanshawe, who had done so much of the ‘behind the scenes’ work in supporting the project. Those attending included academics, writers, conservation and animal welfare groups, as well as MPs and Peers, including five former ministers.

Sir Nicholas referred to the book as an outstanding and extraordinarily important project saying it is, “a masterpiece of sensible, down-to-earth, practical, knowledgeable words”. He added, “I am wholly confident that it will provide guidance for the Government, for opinion formers and above all that it will prove useful to conservationists, land-holders and the poor, wretched practitioners who strive against the odds to improve or maintain biodiversity in our truly marvellous and much put upon countryside.”

Kate Hoey recalled a previous book on foxhunting written by Charlie Pye-Smith, which she found extremely helpful in parliamentary debates, and read out a very supportive letter from conservationist Robin Page. She went on to say, “Certain animal rights groups have convinced the public, much of the media and many politicians that there are only two camps – one that likes wild animals and doesn’t kill them and another group that kill them just for fun. That situation suits the animal rights groups, but it could not be further from the truth. Wildlife management covers a range of activities, not all involving the culling of wild animals, but it is naïve to think that wildlife can be properly managed without some form of culling.” Kate echoed Sir Nicholas’ words about how useful the book will be and added that it should also be read by those who are genuine about improving the welfare of our wild animals.

Charlie Pye-Smith concluded the speeches by thanking everyone who had helped, saying, “If there is one message to be taken from this book it is that legislation should be based on hard evidence. This should be supplied by scientists and practitioners and not ageing rock stars.”

Why, then, is this book so important?

There is scarcely an acre of Britain which is truly wild.

Farming, forestry, hunting, water extraction and urbanisation have all had a profound effect on our flora and fauna. Top predators such as brown bear, lynx and wolf have been lost and as a result many of their prey species, including middle predators such as the fox and badger, no longer have any natural enemies. At the same time, other species have been introduced, frequently with disastrous consequences for livestock, crops and our native wildlife. Think, for example, of grey squirrel, mink, muntjac deer, rabbits and rats.

This prompts a fundamental question: who is responsible for managing wildlife?  Indeed, what exactly does it mean and what are its aims? I suspect if you ask many people they will have little or no grasp on the answers. Listen to any of the numerous television or radio debates on, for example, hunting or the badger cull and you would indeed be forgiven for thinking that there are only those two simple camps mentioned by Kate Hoey.

Not only is it untrue, but it has an incredibly destructive factor in creating an atmosphere in which bad legislation is made. Yet despite being almost ignored in the popular media and poorly understood by many politicians, wildlife management – or more precisely a lack of wildlife management – is absolutely central to many of the difficulties we face today regarding our relationship with the flora and fauna of the UK.

Some people maintain that everything should be left to nature. But if that were to happen, many species would become increasingly rare, or even extinct. Diseases, some possibly affecting humans, would just be left to do their work unhindered. Wild animals, as one animal welfare advocate said, die horribly in the wild, as if that was some kind of reason not to intervene.

Others believe human beings, having so profoundly altered the environment, must take full responsibility for managing wildlife. When wildlife management – its aims, its benefits and the problems its absence can cause – are properly explained, reasonable people really do ‘get it’.

It is to address this state of affairs that The Facts of Rural Life has been written. It draws on extensive research in the field and interviews with scientists, farmers, conservationists, vets, gamekeepers, huntsmen and others involved in the study and management of wildlife, and it addresses many of the crucial conservation controversies of our time. It also exposes the consequences of ill-thought through legislation.

This is an important book and should be read by everyone who claims to care for the countryside and its wildlife.

The Facts of Rural Life (£10 per copy or £8 each for five copies or more) is published by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (http://www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org.uk)

For further information and order enquiries please contact:

Brian Fanshawe, e-mail: brian.fanshawe@btconnect.com

 

Polls apart

Well, now we know the Conservatives will form the next government and it isn’t quite the result the public opinion polls predicted.

Who would have thought that in the space of just a few hours one party would have an overall majority – something all the political pundits refused to contemplate – and three party leaders would resign? Virtually all the polls were so out of step with the final result that the British Polling Council, a body consisting of polling firms, has announced it will conduct an inquiry into how they managed to get it so wrong.

David CameronNor is it the outcome suggested by anti-hunting groups, who for years have claimed that being a pro-hunt candidate could seriously damage your election prospects. Even the saintly Brian May, through his attempts to put what he calls ‘common decency’ into politics, boasted, No quarter shown for any attempted return to blood hunting; and an end to the cruel (and entirely ineffective) badger cull.”  The last party political conference season saw a series of fringe meetings organised by anti-hunting groups arguing that very point. Since then, even up to this morning, there has been a tsunami of ‘tweets’ boasting how the Hunting Act will be strengthened.

This general election has proved them all wrong.

Look at the inner-London seat of Vauxhall, where Labour’s Kate Hoey increased her previous majority, despite being a former chair of the Countryside Alliance. Strange how hunting is supposedly opposed by 80% of the population, even amongst Conservative voters, and yet Simon Hart, a former Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, can still be elected also with an increased majority. In the face of numerous defeats for the Liberal Democrats, pro-hunting Mark Williams comfortably held onto his Ceredigion seat.

In any debate on hunting, or indeed the badger cull, public opinion poll figures are the main weapon used by anti groups, as if somehow this is all that’s required to bring about a new law or change of policy. Social media is another weapon in the armoury that was supposed to change everything, which no doubt is what Russell “don’t vote” Brand had in mind when he made his film plugging Ed Miliband. Interestingly, Mr Brand has stated he is now leaving politics, which will come as a surprise to many who never thought he was involved in the first place.

The arduous process of testing for bovine TB

The arduous process of testing for bovine TB

Often the people who express their views either on hunting or the badger cull have little or no experience of these issues. The LACS’ Director of Campaigns admitted on radio recently that he hasn’t even witnessed a hunt (or the alternatives) and yet he knows the activity must be banned.

How do you equate, for example, 340,000 signatories on an e-petition against the badger cull with, say, 500 farmers who have to live and deal with the scourge of bovine TB day after day?

Sometimes, depending on various factors, this tactic can work, most obviously in the relentless campaign to pass the Hunting Act, but inevitably it translates into a law or policy based on a false premise. No surprise then that a wide range of people, totally unconnected to hunting, have joined the ranks of critics of the Hunting Act.

Shortly before the 2010 general election the then chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports saw the Hunting Act as, “rock solid and working well” and said, This is legislation which is clearly workable and effective and five years on it is time to send a clear message to politicians who wish to repeal that they must not go against the will of the vast majority of the public.”

Goodbye to the Hunting Act 2004

Goodbye to the Hunting Act 2004

Now in 2015, the LACS admits the Hunting Act is not so rock solid and calls for it to be strengthened.

But that’s not going to happen. In fact, rather than being toughened, this law looks to be doomed. The Conservative Party manifesto states, “We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that these activities bring. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”  It’s now for the Countryside Alliance and the other hunting bodies to ensure a vote takes place and is won, a job that should be easier if the Scottish National Party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, keeps to her promise that no SNP MP would vote in such a debate.

A few points on which to end.

The first is that repeal of the Hunting Act is not the end goal; taking hunting off the political agenda should be the aim. That can only be done by the introduction of a sensible wild mammals welfare law along the lines of the proposal by Labour’s Lord Donoughue, attracting those concerned about genuine cruelty to wildlife.

The second point is the need to properly explain wildlife management, its aims, its benefits and how hunting with hounds fits perfectly into that process, thereby paving the way for a genuine solution not only to the hunting question, but many wildlife issues.

Finally, be wary of those who shout loudly about things they don’t fully understand, whether they be pollsters, press or the prejudiced.

According to anti hunting groups, the sole reason people hunt is simple; their “bloodlust” drives them – regardless of age, gender or background – to see an animal suffer. The reality is very different, though this is not always an easy message to relay to the public, the media and politicians.

In a recent article in Horse and Hound magazine, Brian Fanshawe and Ian Addison reveal the often hidden reasons, motives and complexities surrounding hunting with hounds. Fittingly, they have sub-titled this piece An explanation for those who don’t understand and for some who think they do.

 

The answer to why people want to go hunting is so multifaceted that any analysis is daunting and perhaps doomed to inadequacy. However here is an attempt to provide answers. Though the importance of the individual features will vary from one person to another, all will play a part and will reinforce each other to create the time-honoured ”passion for hunting”. For many it is a way of life.

The Blencathra...

The Blencathra…

There is in our genes a deep hunter-gatherer heritage at work which had to be employed in tracking wild animals for both food and clothing. Interestingly the gatherer component has now cropped up as a ‘new world’ recreation known as ‘foraging’, as the millions who watch Countryfile are repeatedly made aware.

There is the fascination of watching hounds and huntsman at work that would be well understood by the millions of viewers who enjoyed One Man and his Dog at its peak in the 1980s.

There is the enjoyment and renewed awareness of the countryside crossed during a day’s hunting, some of which would not normally be visited or even accessible.

There is the challenge of exercising cross-country skills, on foot, or on horseback, while trying to match the wiles of the prey.

There is a sense of achievement in surmounting challenging terrain using one’s own feet or jumping gates, walls, fences and hedges on a horse, when seeking to stay with hounds.

There is the stimulus to risk even extreme winter weather which in this context is tolerated because “it goes with the game” and can turn out to be surprisingly rewarding – it is only hunting that would get me out under such conditions!”

There is the almost unnoticed, extended periods of exercise for horse, rider and foot follower.

There is the companionship of like-minded people – the Meet and more as discussed below.

...or the Beaufort...

…or the Beaufort…

There is anticipation but no certainty. Professor David Macdonald, the Oxford wildlife expert, wrote in his book Running with the Fox, “I study foxes because I am still awed by their extraordinary beauty, because they outwit me, because they keep the wind and rain on my face and because they lead me to the satisfying solitude of the countryside; all of which is to say – because it’s fun.”  Even though these words come close to summing up what is felt by those who follow hounds, an essential element remains unspoken.

There is true adventure with its unpredictability and excitement – apprehension even. The experience of trying to keep with hounds following the scent of a live animal has a unique quality; when the day begins, no human being knows exactly where they will be taken. No human trail-layer or course-planner can reproduce the vagaries and fascination of the way scent lies; the behaviour of a wild animal who gives no quarter to human frailties. This vital element is absent from every other apparently similar challenge such as drag-hunting, trail hunting, race riding, or team chasing.

There is the value of social grouping and the security of belonging. The social contact at the meet attracts rural neighbours from far flung parts of the hunting country, in a way reminiscent of a market day. This social grouping mixes in people of all ages and diverse backgrounds across the social spectrum, urban as well as rural. Hunt members and supporters create a sense of belonging to their local Hunt which provides loyalty, friendships and, not least, a means for a voluntary workforce that supports the activities of the Hunt. Each Hunt is similar to a social club within its own hunt boundaries.

There is the visual impact of a Meet with its red-coated huntsman and hounds clustered around, an iconic and a peculiarly British spectacle.

In the minds of those who participate hunting is justifiably perceived to be complementary to wildlife management. The Burns Report stated: “Even those who hunt essentially for recreational purposes, though, usually believe their enjoyment is ultimately in a good cause, managing the population of the animal concerned.” Participants would also claim that the sporting interest promotes healthy populations of the three indigenous species of what, pre-ban, were the hunted wild mammal, at levels that are acceptable to local land managers and stakeholders with interest in wildlife management and biodiversity.

There is the contribution traditional hunting makes to the local economy and its social and cultural importance to rural communities as is widely recognized. Hunts and their utilitarian activities are largely funded by hunt followers.

...the reasons for going hunting are numerous and varied.

…the reasons for going hunting are numerous and varied.

There is NOT the requirement for a kill. While the kill for the huntsman may be his reason for hunting, it is definitely not the reason for the hunt follower’s enjoyment. On returning from a day out with hounds, one may be asked: ‘Did you catch one?’, as if you had been fishing. The catching or killing, however, is not the measure of the day’s success. The followers may not instantly recall or even know whether there was a kill. The thought that goes through their minds is likely to be along the lines of ‘So what? We had a great day’s hunting.’ The Burns Report made the following finding: “Generally, few riders and followers will be present at the kill”. So it is not the killing but the whole ‘hunting experience’ that is the core of the enjoyment. This suggests a subtle difference between the motivation to follow hounds and the motivation of other field sports. In hunting one obtains a recreation while the activity is under the control of others regardless of whether the quarry is caught or not, in other sports one aims to catch (shoot or hook) the quarry oneself.

Few people ever analyse exactly why they do things, especially something so complex as hunting. So, if challenged, the response tends to be “off the cuff” – incomplete, unconvincing or even damning in some people’s eyes. For instance when asked why they can’t go drag or trail-hunting instead, the most many will come up with is “It’s not the same. It’s not like the real thing.” which of course is wide open to misunderstanding and suspicion of base motives.

Having seen how complex and various are the motivations for “going hunting”, some of which may be sub-conscious, it is not surprising that we hear many inadequate responses. It is difficult when ‘put on the spot’ to home in on the clear reason for this failing: drag/trail hunting is not ‘true adventure” it is predictable, it is but a man-made stunt, it lacks any sense of contributing to the welfare and management of wildlife, the “good cause’ that Burns noted.

Even from this brief explanation it should be clear why hunt supporters react vigorously and indeed emotionally, to the loss of something they valued so much, in so many ways for so many reasons, consciously and unconsciously. All this is now banned – unjustifiably and irrationally: “A cruel loss” indeed.

"There is the visual impact of a Meet with its red-coated huntsman and hounds clustered around, an iconic and a peculiarly British spectacle."

“There is the visual impact of a Meet with its red-coated huntsman and hounds clustered around, an iconic and a peculiarly British spectacle.”

Finally, an answer to “They would say that wouldn’t they” comes from a truly independent source and one of the finest legal minds of the century, the late Lord Bingham speaking of hunting folk,  “They include very many people imbued (unlike many of their urban critics) with a deep knowledge and love of the countryside and the natural world, who would shrink from any act of what they saw as cruel.”

Brian Fanshawe is a former Master of Foxhounds and Dr Ian Addison is a member of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management.

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