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.

I know I’ve used it before, but the quotation by American writer Henry L. Mencken is well worth repeating; For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

With a general election only a few weeks away and with the outcome less predictable than anyone can remember, simplicity seems to be the order of the day. For some, short one liners that are designed to stick in the mind of the public, rather than detailed arguments reflecting the complexity of many issues, are the way to go.

There were some excellent examples of this tactic being employed in these final few days of this parliament. MPs are being bombarded with e-mails wanting to know how they would vote on a variety of animal welfare matters, all designed to give the impression that the answer may mean success or failure at election time. The reality is that the next government will not be chosen on how good or bad it appears to be on animal issues.

Despite this, it’s quite depressing how many people involved in welfare groups, and indeed those who should know better, still reduce their arguments down to the lowest level. Maybe they feel the public can only take in a certain amount of information or maybe it’s because they know that issues not directly affecting most members of the public can be portrayed in a totally untruthful manner if that means achieving a desired outcome. It’s probably a mixture of both.

But difficulties come, as Mencken rightly says, when complex issues are addressed by simplistic measures. For all the nonsense spoken about hunting being nothing more than ‘killing for fun’ and the ludicrous claims that the Hunting Act is good law, the fact is there has only been a handful of hunts successfully prosecuted and some of those were for technical, not animal welfare, offences. Numerous attempts by the anti-hunting groups to prosecute hunt staff have often failed at the last moment, resulting in months of anxious waiting by the individuals accused, wasting many thousands of pounds in the process and with this cost often being borne by the taxpayer. The latest case against the Cattistock Hunt, brought by the RSPCA and based on “evidence” supplied by IFAW, failed just this week. The full costs are unknown at present.

The whole situation is a mess. The Hunting Act is claimed to be good legislation, which is an odd statement given that its supporters now want to see it strengthened. Self-appointed people who ‘monitor’ hunts see breaches of this flawed law at every turn, consequently wasting police, CPS and court time and even more money trying to bring prosecutions.

It’s such a ridiculous piece of legislation that even those MPs who oppose hunting find it hard to remember what it actually does. Here’s what Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said to Environment secretary Liz Truss last week in the House of Commons, “Instead of proposing yet more cruelty to animals, why will she not look at extending the Act to grouse shooting and hare coursing, which also are cruel and hugely opposed in this country?” Organised hare coursing was banned by the Hunting Act in 2004.

If MPs don’t understand hunting (or indeed even the legislation they passed!) it’s no wonder they have to portray it in simplistic and untruthful terms. The distaste some people, including parliamentarians, have for hunting appears to know no bounds. At the last general election, I attended a meeting for all candidates in the Kate Hoey’s constituency of Vauxhall. Kate was the Chairman of the Countryside Alliance at the time and an anti-hunt candidate had decided to stand against her. In a wide range of questions put to all the candidates, our anti friend managed to twist his answers into blaming hunting for all that is wrong with the world, even to the point of claiming that climate change is caused by hunting people diving around in powerful 4×4 vehicles. He didn’t win and Kate’s majority rose.

Such blinkered views are not always prevented from entering parliament. Chris Williamson is the MP for Derby North and a committee member of the League Against Cruel Sports. He’s someone I’ve known and worked with for many years in LACS and while our paths took us in different directions regarding the hunting issue, I expected his argument in respect of bovine TB and the badger cull to be slightly less blinkered. I shouldn’t have been so naïve.

According to Chris, the badger cull has nothing to do with curbing bovine TB, but has everything to do with people who just want to cause “unnecessary suffering” – his words, not mine – to badgers. He argues that the whole culling process has not worked and has been enthusiastically sanctioned by hunt supporters in the government. Quite what fun might be had by these blood-lusting government ministers when a marksman many miles away shoots a badger at night was not explained, but obviously someone somewhere was delighted at the prospect of an animal dying in pain. At least that was the reason in Chris’ mind.

Once again, we see a complex and difficult situation reduced down to a level that that not only dismisses the seriousness of this disease, but denigrates those involved in tackling it. In fact, it is not true to say that the badger culls have not worked, but more on that in a later blog.

The one thing that antis seem to have learned very well is “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”…and I think most people know who said that.

The appalling attacks at the Tedworth Hunt last month reminded the world that, despite the Hunting Act being law for 10 years, a few hunt saboteurs are still around. The violence meted out by them to hunt supporters, in particular the Joint Master Michael Lane who suffered concussion and teeth knocked out after being kicked in the head, was caught on camera and police are currently investigating the incident.

Masked hunt saboteurs attack member of the Tedworth Hunt

Masked hunt saboteurs attack members of the Tedworth Hunt

It raises questions in a wider context, the first being what is the motivation to become a hunt saboteur? I used to be one back in the 1970s when I opposed hunting and I’m still very clear as to what encouraged me at the time to take part in an activity that sought to prevent an animal from being hunted. I had recently joined the League Against Cruel Sports and it seemed like a natural step to join the ‘sabs’, given that the LACS wasn’t too active in those days and hunt sabotage appeared to be the best way to achieve some kind of success.

However, the aim then was to genuinely sabotage a hunt – that is to cover the trail of the hunted animal, put the hounds off its scent and hopefully not get caught doing it. Confrontations with the hunt would be kept to a minimum or simply not happen at all. That all changed in the 80s, with attitudes within the hunt saboteurs becoming more aligned to the punk era, which was emerging at the time. It brought with it the anarchist element that has stayed with many hunt saboteurs right up to the present day.

Just as some people join the political campaign against hunting for their own misguided party political reasons, others will be attracted to the more confrontational aspects of hunt sabotage. You can see the thinking; if these hunting people are all rich toffs – basically seen in the same category as despised bankers – and they’re killing animals for fun, they are the perfect target. There’s little difference between the ‘Stop the City’ and ‘Occupy’ campaigns and sabotaging a hunt, as those on the sharp end are all perceived to be the same people. The only difference is that on a hunt you can physically confront your enemy. The campaign against the badger cull has undoubtedly had a spin-off effect in reinvigorating hunt saboteurs, given that many of the ‘protesters’ were not protesting at all, but attempting to sabotage the process.

This isn’t to say that those involved don’t care about animals – some do, some don’t. Many people in the anti-hunt campaigns are concerned about how animals are treated, but fail to properly understand hunting, the consequences of a ban and the wider picture of wildlife management. They get drawn into campaigns that are portrayed in simple ‘black and white’ terms and tend to believe their own propaganda because that’s what they want to believe. But it also can’t be denied that others join for darker reasons.

The grave of Huntsman John Peel was desecrated, as was the grave of the 10th Duke of Beaufort

The grave of Huntsman John Peel was desecrated, as was the grave of the 10th Duke of Beaufort

There’s a point worth noting here, though one that does not necessarily apply to all animal rights supporters. It is the view held by some that they are absolutely right in their thinking and, as such, whatever they do or say is always justified. It means that abusive language, threats and intimidation are all par for the course, in particular via social media. Damage, theft and sometimes violence are all acceptable if done ‘in the name of the animals’. It means that even desecrating graves is legitimate if the deceased or their relatives have a link to what the activists see as animal abuse. Following the tragic death of hunt supporter Trevor Morse in 2009, when he was decapitated by an anti-hunt activist’s gyrocopter, a hunt saboteurs’ website carried this comment, “This man got all he deserved pity a few more were not killed.” A comment on a national newspaper’s website covering the story about Mike Lane’s attack could hardly be regarded one stemming from compassion –“Good job! I hope he dies.”

This is a form of fundamentalism that has a parallel with the acts of terrorism which have sadly become common on our TV screens and as such shares basic similarities. The covered faces, the anonymous social media comments and threats, on occasion even the black dress code. But more worryingly is the absolute blind faith in their ‘cause’ and any hint of questioning that belief is regarded as something akin to blasphemy.

Recently, the BBC Countryfile programme covered the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force. While many anti-hunt groups and their supporting politicians like to pretend that this matter is over, the fact is the issue is as alive as it ever was and no doubt will continue to be so until a sensible resolution is reached. Yet the producers of this programme were condemned for even contemplating addressing such an item, let alone inviting the hunting world to take part. Such is the blinkered, bigoted view of the obsessive anti-hunt activist.

Advice or a threat?   A response to the  Countryfile programme on hunting on a BBC website

Advice or a threat?  A response posted on a BBC  website regarding the Countryfile episode on hunting

See the comparison here with other groups that feels they have the exclusive right to say what can and can’t be published? While obviously not creating the same degree of mayhem, pain and destruction, the intolerance of these obsessive antis is really no different to that of the fanatical terrorist.

One gratifying point is this; a few weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited to give a presentation on wildlife management and hunting on behalf of the Countryside Alliance at the Royal Veterinary College, where my fellow speaker was Chris House, Chairman of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. A few days later, I gave a similar talk at a college specialising in animal care. If any aspect of the pro-hunting case being made was incorrect or flawed, these would have been the very first people to highlight it, yet not one person did. The response at both events was very positive.

So, are we to believe the angry ranting of individuals who claim to care for animals and who try to shut down any genuine debate, while some in their ranks resort to insults, abuse or even physically attacks on those who hold different views? Or should we take a lead from people who have dedicated their lives to animals and their welfare and are prepared to listen to the argument?



The 18th February 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the Hunting Act coming into force.

It was also the day that Shadow Environment Secretary, Maria Eagle, chose to launch the Labour Party’s general election pledges on animal welfare. The document, entitled Protecting Animals, claims, “No other major political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals at home, on farms and in the wild.” (see http://www.labour.org.uk/blog/entry/six-things-you-need-to-know-about-labours-plans-to-protect-animals )

There are certainly some good things here, such as addressing the problems with puppy farming, an issue the Countryside Alliance has been actively involved with in Wales. Removing wild animals from circuses would be a good step too, as forcing the larger wild animals to perform unnatural tricks in unnatural circumstances, while denying their natural behaviour cannot be right. However, the current government has stated that it supports legislation to end the practice, though that promise has not yet been fulfilled.

Labour's Protecting Animals pledges, but mainly those attracting votes

Labour’s general election pledges for animals, but mainly those issues that they think will attract votes

But then we come to hunting and the badger cull. As expected, the document pledges Labour’s support for the Hunting Act, making the bold claim that, “The hunting ban is a testament to the progress made since the days of bear baiting and other such barbaric bloodsports.”  Of course it is ridiculous to compare hunting to the baiting of any animal and what is conveniently forgotten is the fact that the baiting ‘sports’ were banned as a direct result of the work of Richard Martin MP, one of the founders of the RSPCA and a foxhunter.

There is an obvious concern amongst anti hunting groups and their political supporters that the Hunting Act may be repealed, hence the pledge to defend it. Groups that support a ban have based their opposition on the assumption that hunting with dogs must automatically be cruel and Protecting Animals follows that line without question. There has been no assessment of the Hunting Act’s effect on wildlife after 10 years by any anti hunting organisation and, at the very least, it would have been good to see a more responsible move like this included.

The impression is that the Hunting Act is a good piece of wildlife legislation because of the number of successful convictions, conveniently forgetting that the vast majority are for poaching offences. Claims that science backs a hunting ban are nothing short of lies and when anti hunt groups are asked to produce validated research, the silence is deafening. Labour’s position appears to ignore what is now happening to foxes, deer and hares and relies on poorly worded public opinion polls – indicating this policy is more about vote grabbing than genuinely improving animal welfare. If it were the latter, the excellent proposal put forward by Lord Donoughue for a wild mammals welfare law would be included in this document. The real irony here is that this comes from a Labour Peer – the party has the perfect solution, suggested and supported from within its own ranks, but Maria Eagle is too blinkered to see it.

Labour also states that the badger culls to curb bovine TB would be stopped if they win the forthcoming general election. Yet again, this document seems to be re-writing history when it says that previous culls played no meaningful part in curbing the disease. That is simply not true – every trial going back decades resulted in incidents of bovine TB being reduced to one degree or another. The party states it will work with scientists to produce a workable strategy, including vaccination, to address the disease. Yet that is what is happening now, but to imagine that diseased badgers should just be left to suffer and die without some form of culling is certainly not good for the health of the countryside or good for animal welfare. Labour’s pledge received an immediate response from NFU President, Meurig Raymond, “Labour claims no other political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals on farm.  If this is a pledge to protect animals, as Labour says, it must protect all animals, including the tens of thousands of cattle that are compulsorily slaughtered every year in England because of bTB.” He went on to say, “We do not consider it good animal welfare to allow a disease that is devastating farming family businesses, and for which there is no cure, to be left to spread unchecked in wildlife and create more misery.”

The Labour Party says more should be done to curb the killing of raptors on shooting estates, but when a sensible proposal is put forward, such as the Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan, it seems to listen more to the people who would prefer conflict, rather than working with land owners, shoot owners and gamekeepers who have to be involved if workable solutions are to be found.

Reading this document you might think that everything is fine in the farming world, yet there is no mention of the worst forms of factory farming or religious slaughter without pre-stunning. Obviously these issues are far too hot to handle, despite the fact that this aspect of the debate on animals and their welfare covers the lives of billions of animals. They have simply been ignored by the Labour Party in this document.

Rather than putting forward a sensible range of genuine welfare proposals that could improve the lives of so many animals, this document concentrates more on attacking activities Labour thinks are unpopular with the public. It’s clearly more about attracting votes than improving animal welfare. Rather than engaging with the organisations representing farming, hunting and the people who will be directly affected by such policies, those organising this launch barred the NFU and Countryside Alliance from attending. Obviously, awkward questions weren’t part of the day’s schedule.

Protecting Animals represents the true meaning of the phrase ‘the curate’s egg’, which is not, as commonly believed, something that is just partly good and partly bad. The real meaning is something that has its good content destroyed by the bad.



The headline in the wildlife magazine read “Help save our badgers”. Not an uncommon statement and one that probably has many people giving a passive nod of support. Yet the more discerning reader might ask, “From what exactly?” Badger baiters? Landowners? Disease? Road accidents? Habitat loss? Government sanctioned shooters?

These are all different factors and it raises questions about what precisely ‘protectionist legislation’ is and what it seeks to achieve.

Badger protection laws have been strengthened from 1973 to 1992

Badger protection laws have strengthened significantly from 1973 to 1992

For example, the first badger protection law was passed in 1973 with the main aim of combatting badger baiting and any illegal killing. At the time, local badger populations were under threat from such actions, so it could be argued that this legislation was both a conservation and anti-cruelty measure. Over the years, the law has been tightened on a number of occasions to the point where the badger is now perhaps the most protected mammal in Europe.

The result is that numbers have risen significantly and in no way could badgers be described as an endangered species. Some would say that this is a successful outcome, but is it? A sizeable rise in any species is inevitably going to have an impact on some other species, whether it be plant or animal. At the political party conferences last year, an RSPCA official spoke of the charity’s concern over the decline in hedgehogs, apparently unaware of the link between the rise in the badger population and its predation on hedgehogs. The spread of bovine TB, too, cannot be excluded from this situation.

The 18 bat species in the UK have similar total protection and again there are unintended consequences in that, like the badger, places where they reside are also protected. Bats like to live in caves and in the absence of such dwellings see churches as a good alternative. The trouble is that many churches are old, contain ancient and valuable monuments and try to accommodate a variety of community groups, while of course being places of worship.

The damage bat droppings and urine cause can be extensive and the smell can make some churches ‘no go’ areas for people with respiratory conditions. Repairs and renovations now have to come second to preserving the bats and their roosts, while cleaning becomes a demoralising, almost daily, necessity. The costs for bat surveys and delays in building repairs often run into many thousands of pounds. Some 6500 churches are affected in this way and the same restrictions apply to other property owners, such as those who wish to renovate barns.

Cover-up and clean-up.  The only options for 6500 churches.

Cover-up and clean-up.
The only options open to 6500 churches.

A simple change to the law, as proposed by Christopher Chope MP with his Bat Habitats Regulation Bill, seeks to enhance natural bat habitats, while limiting the protection for bat habitats in places of worship where the presence of bats has a significant adverse impact upon the users of those buildings. It is a good, common sense move that doesn’t involve the death of any bats and indeed one that should not even be necessary had the original protectionist laws been properly thought through and been slightly more flexible.

The default position for certain groups, some of which blur the line between conservation and animal welfare to suit their own needs, is to always call for greater protection, yet often it doesn’t work. Take the case of the Irish hare. Though numbers fluctuate, there has been a decline over recent years and scientists studying hares argued that it was important for those with an interest in this species and its habitat, including hunters and coursers, to be involved. The government minister at the time decided to ignore that advice and listen instead to the animal rightists. A Special Protection Order was granted in 2004 giving the animal total protection, yet numbers of Irish hares continued to decline. Typically, the calls for greater protection kept coming and could very well be answered by asking how? The Irish hare was now fully protected!

Raptors are also all fully protected, yet the outcome is not always what most would desire. Without acceptance of a sensible balance between shooting interests and the conservation of these birds, the protectionist groups will always face resistance and conflict…and often stalemate. Some might even say that such conflict is a useful form of fund-raising, preferable to seeking compromise which might achieve a higher success rate for the animals concerned.

Perhaps in recognising the flaw in calling for simplistic measures, a recent campaign to give the brown hare a close season for breeding takes a slightly different route. What is not said too loudly is that hares can breed in most months of the year, so a close season could be quite lengthy. Given that there is an uneven distribution of brown hares across England leading to the animal sometimes being shot as a pest in some areas, this simplistic measure could cause ‘pre-emptive’ shooting just before a close season begins. Such a move might very well upset the slow increase in numbers we currently see, a situation that is in stark contrast to some countries that do have close seasons and yet continue to see numbers decline.

The Hunting Act, while not granting the hunted species full protection as in the legislation mention above, nevertheless claims to ‘protect’ the fox, deer and hare (the mink doesn’t get much of a mention) and yet anyone who has the slightest knowledge of hunting and the other management methods knows it does nothing of the sort. This is why not a penny has been spent by any of the anti-hunting groups on assessing the effects the Hunting Act has had on the quarry species. One might have thought that if this legislation is as good as it’s claimed, a little bit of research would be very useful to counter the arguments of those calling for repeal and secure this law for the future.

What is needed is a proper explanation and understanding of wildlife management in all its forms and a willingness at government level to sometimes avoid the fashionable option. Protectionism sounds good, and indeed in some cases it is, but if the laws become too rigid, too illogical, too intrusive or simply not needed in a different era, they become counter-productive.

Boxing Day 2014

The Boxing Day meets this year, being the 10th anniversary of the hunting ban, showed that those who disagree with the Hunting Act have not gone away and, if anything, are stronger than ever.

National and local newspapers ran numerous stories of town squares and high streets up and down the country packed with people coming out to support their local hunt. All this despite that show of bravado by the League Against Cruel Sports years ago when they claimed that everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about just a couple of months after a hunting ban.

Thousands of supporters attended the Beaufort Hunt meet this year

Thousands of supporters attended the Beaufort Hunt meet this year

It poses a dilemma for anti-hunting groups who, on one hand, like to claim this is a dying sport, but then faced with the images of hundreds of thousands of hunt supporters quickly change their tune to say this is because hunting has now been made ‘cruelty-free’ by the Hunting Act. However, that creates another problem, which is the apparent contradictory claim made throughout the year that many hunts have been breaking the law, hence the recent calls for the Hunting Act to be strengthened.

But hold on a minute…this new demand runs counter to what was said many times before by the LACS and others that the Hunting Act is a highly successful and workable piece of legislation which, if true, begs the question, “Why are you calling for it to be amended?”

Perhaps part of the answer lies in this example, given that if you don’t understand a complex activity, you won’t be able to draft legislation robust enough to ban it. I took part in a number of radio interviews over the Christmas period and in one, while debating with a senior LACS spokesman, it transpired that he had never even seen a hunt, arguing that an act does not have to be witnessed to outlaw it. The argument goes something like this: you don’t have to see a murder or a sexual assault to know it’s wrong and therefore you don’t have to see hunting to know this is wrong too. No one could really dispute the first point, but the second?

The Hunting Act 2004 - a law that eve the antis finally accept is flawed.

The Hunting Act 2004 – a law that even the antis have now finally accepted is flawed.

Can this view apply to all issues, especially activities that have significant support from a sizeable number of respectable, law-abiding individuals? If we take that LACS’ proposition to its logical conclusion it will inevitably result in decisions being made and laws being passed on little more than snapshot opinions. Anyone with a degree of first-hand experience and detailed knowledge of a subject would simply be swept aside by the far greater number of individuals who can now be asked loaded questions in opinion polls or via social media, shown edited films and told that hunting has no purpose other than ‘killing for fun’. This is the modus operandi of the anti-hunting groups and, with a general election looming next year, politicians will undoubtedly be targeted relentlessly with these messages.

The likelihood of repeal of the flawed Hunting Act being included in at least one political party manifesto has made some people a bit jumpy, even to the point where the antis have to get their tame journalists to create scare headlines, as the Daily Express did with Top Tories warned that attempting to repeal the hunting ban could be toxic”, though it doesn’t say who in the Conservative Party is making the call. (If it is the so-called Blue Foxes group of anti-hunting Tories, it might be a sobering fact to note that they couldn’t find even one Conservative MP speaker at their fringe meeting this year who was solidly behind the Hunting Act).

The twists and turns of the antis’ arguments, often put by people who, by their own admission, haven’t even seen the activity they so vehemently condemn or indeed those things that may replace it, should make any serious politician or commentator think carefully about who and what they believe. Unless, of course, the aim is to simply score political points in the same cynical way in which the anti-hunting groups do business.

Lord Donoughue's Wild Mammals Welfare Bill is principled, workable and fair.

Lord Donoughue’s Wild Mammals Welfare Bill is principled, workable and could resolve the hunting debate.

The media and, more importantly, politicians should remember these facts when being bombarded with e-mails, postcards and phone calls in this pre-election period. They should also be made aware of the way in which the hunting debate can be properly settled in a manner that addresses genuine cruelty to wild animals, while accepting the need for wildlife management. Labour Peer Lord Donoughue has proposed a principled, fair and workable law, which would prohibit all deliberate unnecessary suffering to any wild mammal. Any conviction under such legislation would be based on sound evidence and not opinion or prejudice, as in the Hunting Act. (see Wild mammal welfare and the Donoughue principle ) 

In its coverage on the Boxing Day hunts, the Independent said hunting was a “tradition that refuses to die” and nor will it until a sensible conclusion is reached. So while the media and political debate revolves around repeal of the Hunting Act, the way in which it will finally be brought to an end is by following the Donoughue principle and putting something far better in its place.

If the groundwork is laid for this to happen in 2015 it will indeed be a very good New Year.






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