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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared in the Countryman’s Weekly.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before and after the offending image was removed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Political posturing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can this ever be regarded as natural?

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

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

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

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

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

Speculation about a change of heart within the Conservative Party over its stance on hunting and shooting would seem to stem from Number 10’s new environment advisor, former MP Sir John Randall, who, according to the latest report, supports new curbs on grouse and pheasant shooting and firearms licensing. Having met Sir John some time back and explained, to no avail, that simple protectionist policies generally don’t work, he presumably believes that ditching certain views will attract votes.

The Daily Telegraph predicts a ‘War on field sports’

Whether the media stories about Theresa May dropping the commitment to revisit the Hunting Act are true or not, it didn’t seem to dampen spirits on Boxing Day this year. Hundreds of hunts met all over the UK, some meets seeing thousands of supporters in attendance. A different theme was raised by Baroness Mallalieu in an article in the Daily Telegraph in which she argues that the real motivation behind the Hunting Act is not the welfare of animals but the hatred of the people who hunt. It’s a bold statement and, for those who dislike hunting, one that clearly ruffled some feathers.

It prompted an LBC radio interview in which the presenter let me know that he was implacably opposed to hunting, quoting the “chasing and tearing of an animal apart just for sport” as his reason. It’s a commonly heard view and those who concur with that standpoint will naturally feel annoyed at the Baroness’ comments, but that is to overlook a crucial point her article was making.

The Beaufort Hunt, Boxing Day 2017

Most people have little or no direct experience of hunting with hounds and indeed why should they? Hunting bears little or no relation to their lives and those who do take a passing interest in the activity probably gain their knowledge from news reports or social media, meaning that they are likely to accept without question the propaganda put out by the anti-hunting groups. It’s that propaganda which paints hunting people as law-breakers and cruel animal abusers. It’s easy to see why those who give the matter minimal consideration would be likely to hate the perpetrators of such blatant cruelty, especially when all that is shown on websites is blood and gore. Imagine if very few people owned or drove cars and all they saw were the horror of accidents, the environmental destruction and the pollution vehicles cause, it wouldn’t be too challenging to mount a campaign to totally ban the car.

The real hatred of hunting, and consequently those who take part, is driven by the obsessive anti-hunting groups. I can recall one League Against Cruel Sports committee member saying that she did not want hunting to ‘clean up its act’ as that may mean hunting as a whole might never be banned; a perfect example of wanting to get at the people involved rather than improving animal welfare.

That view is still prevalent even years after passing the Hunting Act, the anti-hunting groups having argued before the ban that all hunts could change to following a false scent, yet now seeking to end trail hunting too.

Social media sites tend to show numerous incidents of abuse towards hunt saboteurs, or self -appointed ‘hunt monitors’, but it’s simple to film selected segments of any confrontation and easy to understand why those feelings boil over when the two sides meet in the hunting field. I can’t think of any other activity that would contend with similar provocation at such a consistent level. A cursory glance at the literature produced by ‘activist’ groups reveals a far greater hatred of hunting people that of hunting itself.

Being the executive director of the LACS inevitably brought you in contact with hunt officials in debates, interviews and in the hunting field. Talking to those holding a different position was, unsurprisingly to most reasonable people, part of the job, yet, in the eyes of some, accepting an invitation to discuss hunting over a meal was viewed as heresy. It would be wrong to imply that such discussions didn’t make an impression – hearing another point of view is generally a good idea – but the reaction from certain erstwhile colleagues put their intense dislike of hunting people into focus. The most common question was, “How can you talk to these people?” as if somehow this was the most outrageous act. I could never understand that attitude, especially towards people with a different opinion who simply want to talk.

It had a detrimental welfare result too. A request from what was then the British Field Sports Society to co-operate with the League to combat certain forms of poaching was snubbed.

That attitude prevails to the present day with many threatening and obscene comments on social media, some outraged that a school or college might dare to invite a pro-hunt speaker. Just earlier this year, a Countryside Alliance talk at York University was cancelled at the last minute following security concerns raised by numerous comments by anti-hunters using social media. The irony being that this was originally planned to be a debate, but no one from the anti-hunting side was prepared to take part – a cowardly but effective way of curbing a view that a small vociferous group doesn’t want anyone to hear.
It’s a wider problem and something Universities Minister Jo Johnson is trying to combat by stating in a recent speech that universities must promote free speech and encourage open minds. To hold a strong view is one thing, but to avoid any form of debate and then go on to close down an opportunity for an alternative opinion to be expressed by implicit threats of disruption sits awkwardly with the claim that the motivation is purely compassionate, as do other social media comments, some of which delight in the death of anyone involved in hunting. And that’s not hatred of hunting people?

Understandably, most people say they dislike the idea of animals being killed and yet at the same time they accept killing in certain situations that suit their lifestyles. They rationalise their views depending upon their own circumstances, yet they fail to see that this is precisely what those who support hunting are doing. Too much attention is paid to the main anti-hunting groups, who will always condemn actions that lead to violence, but are happy that their ‘celebrity’ supporters use language that can only be described as hateful, inevitably encouraging others to go further.

People will, no doubt, strongly disagree with Baroness Mallalieu, but the reaction on social media to her article, and probably to this one too, will prove her point.

At a conference on animal welfare last year, some staggering figures were revealed. While certain animal rights groups obsess about hunting with hounds, the number of wild animals that die through other means, intentional or otherwise, is mind-boggling.

A major problem here is that if an action is termed ‘pest control’ this apparently is fine in the public mind, yet, as Dr Nick Fox has said, “In pest control, welfare is treated as a secondary priority over efficiency in many cases…it appears, across the board, that ‘pest control’ has been the justification for some of the worst excesses in animal welfare.”

In the case of trapping, inhumane traps are easily available and are in use. The fact is, traps will be employed whether we like it or not, and the use of poison is being scrutinised. A responsible attitude to rodent control is to ensure traps are as humane as possible.

Here, Woody Webster, a director of the Good Trapping Company, gives his view.

In spite of the often hysterical response from animal rights activists that free trade deals with the US will result in factory farmed beef and the like coming into the UK after Brexit, I am going to set out why leaving the EU and the rise of the cost of labour is going to be a fillip to the area of rodent and pest control in the built environment, especially around the issues of poisons and traps.

Wherever humans have lived and built their environment, rodents have followed and it is a simple step to see that within those built environments, rodents including rats and mice will happily set up their homes. In doing so, these rodents cause large amounts of damage from chewing, pooing and breeding in and around the dark corners of our buildings, along with the resultant health risks.

Without going into the details of how pest / rodent control methods actually work, even those that are regulated and licensed by law in the UK and the EU, rest assured there are some phenomenally poor and very cruel practices that are actually encouraged by the EU and happily used in the built environment, notably in the area of rodent eradication.

Large multi-national firms have been built around the service provider of both killing and limiting rats and other rodents within the built environment. A range of methods is available, including ‘glue traps’ that even the industry regards as a product that should be used as a last resort because of the suffering that may be caused. Poison is one of the key tools deployed in the killing process. Rats, mice, moles and squirrels are targeted using poison along with larger animals including rabbits, though via a fumigant.

I’ll spare the reader the graphic way in which mammals die from poison, however it doesn’t require much imagination to understand the suffering caused by the ingestion of a substance that causes internal bleeding.

The irony of animal rights activists is that they corrupt the debate about animal welfare, ignoring that it is likely a weaker wild animal being hunted is caught by a pack of hounds, rather than the horrific poisoning of many more wild mammals all around the built environment. The cognitive ability of a rat is pretty close to a fox and yet the animal rights activists choose to conveniently ignore the indiscriminate use of poison on target species, while running the risk of non-target mammals also being killed.

Why will Brexit will be the catalyst of change? The market forces of higher wages in what is the historically low wage environment of pest control means the industry is adjusting to the higher cost of a post-Brexit labour market. Reloading, self-setting humane traps, which can be left alone to guarantee a quick and certain kill in and around the built environment, with no risk of maiming the animals is an important step forward in welfare terms. They have a lower maintenance cost and keep pressure up on the rodent population without the use of poison. With the growing demands to outlaw poison, in most cases the use of self-loading humane traps is the answer in the pest control field in a post poison, higher animal welfare standard world.

The GoodNature A24 rat trap is a self-resetting, humane, lethal rat and mice trap.  Compact, toxin free, It is easy to install and resets itself after each humane strike, up to 24 times per CO2 canister.


GoodNature traps have entered the UK market to offer a more humane and poison free offering to rodent control.
Automatic, reloading and poison free, the GoodNature traps are an excellent alternative to poison.

For further information on the Good Trapping Company see:  www.goodtrappingcompany.co.uk

According to Chris Packham, those who shoot are part of “the nasty brigade”, while he compares hunting to “slavery, homophobia and racism”. Brian May thinks hunters are “a bunch of lying bastards.” Even those who should know better use inflammatory language, such as academic The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, who says, “Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture.”

In other words, people who support hunting and shooting are beneath contempt; they see animals as little more than something to be killed for fun. Worse than that, hunters are dangerous, evil people and it begs the question why they haven’t all been rounded up and jailed for the good of society? The Conservative Party is just as bad, as it seeks to protect these ‘bloodsports’.

Anti-hunting animal rights groups would have the public, the media and politicians believe this nonsense and it’s all part of a fairly transparent strategy perpetrated by those who are obsessed with banning hunting with dogs and see it as the worst possible form of animal cruelty. No matter what you may do in the field of animal welfare or conservation, if you are in favour of hunting you are the lowest of the low.

The strategy goes something like this:

  1. Ensure that hunting, regardless of any conservation benefit, is always described as “killing for fun.”
  2. It follows that anyone taking part in such an activity must be some kind of pervert and, now that we have the Hunting Act, they must also all be criminals.
  3. It further follows, given that hunting is in the same category as slavery or child abuse and can never be acceptable, that no debate or justification of it should be permitted in schools, colleges or any place of learning.
  4. Once this point is reached, the abuse of people involved in hunting or shooting, either directly or through social media, is legitimised.

The whole process is underpinned by carefully-worded public opinion polls, designed to convince either naïve or prejudiced politicians that hunting equates to genuine bloodsports like dog-fighting or badger baiting.

The simple fact is, the vast majority who support hunting and shooting do care about animal welfare, but reality is very different to the cosy, utopian picture so often portrayed by antis and animal rightists. It’s in the antis’ interest to argue otherwise and, for a public that’s mostly detached from countryside activities and more and more seems to get its news and information from social media, the means to propagate these views are readily available.

Therefore, it must be uncomfortable for these obsessive antis to hear the recent announcements on animal protection from country sports supporter, DEFRA Secretary of State Michael Gove. We learn that he wants to increase the maximum imprisonment penalty for serious acts of cruelty from six months to five years. Then comes a commitment on banning ivory products and legislation to put CCTV in all slaughterhouses will be introduced next year.

According to some, the Hunting Act is settled and requires no further debate.

Any objective observer, if they bothered to look beyond the propaganda, wouldn’t find it difficult to discount the empty rhetoric of anti-hunting groups and those mainly on the Left who exploit animal welfare for their own political ends, while ignoring facts both past and present.

For example, two of the founding members of the RSPCA – MPs Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and Richard Martin, were hunters – Buxton being the first chairman of the fledgling society and Martin championing the very first animal welfare law. Both were also significant players in the anti-slavery movement, which makes any accusation of their pastime being likened to slavery somewhat ironic, as well as being utter nonsense.

Anyone who has attended a hunt meet will see an array of families with their pet dogs. Hunting friends of mine delight in gardens full of birds hovering around the feeders they diligently ensure are full. At least three hunt masters have told me of the different steps they have taken to prevent the suffering of foxes on particular occasions, actions that would certainly surprise even the most ardent animal rightist. Numerous prominent hunting individuals, like Baroness Mallalieu, President of the Countryside Alliance, are involved in horse welfare groups. A foxhunting friend, who also shoots, just recently gave a very large donation to a dog rescue charity, helping that organisation purchase an overseas centre threatened with closure.

I’ve lost count of the number of hunting people who have agreed with me in saying we need new wildlife protection legislation that outlaws genuine acts of cruelty to all wild mammals, but crucially one that also recognises the need for sensible and humane wildlife management. It’s only their worry about the authorities and politicians misunderstanding management methods – a totally understandable fear – that gives them cause for concern.

A typical hunt meet – complete with “animal hating” supporters.

These are not the actions of people who dislike animals or see them solely as targets of their bloodlust and amusement; nor is it the sort of image or information that antis want the public to see and this explains the new response from anti-hunt groups. At a Labour animal rights group fringe meeting this year, speakers claimed there was nothing left to discuss on the issue of hunting. No one should even be allowed to question the validity of this law, the whole thing now having been settled. Just as in extreme regimes of either the Right or the Left, (or perhaps some mad, fundamentalist cult like ISIS) you simply must not deviate from “The Truth.”

This may also explains the shock expressed by anti hunters when National Trust members voted down a League Against Cruel Sports motion to ban trail hunting on its land. They just can’t comprehend it and now are apparently taking legal advice to get the vote overturned. No, the fact is, despite all the flaws in the Hunting Act, the lack of any scientific evidence to support it, the failure to even examine what its effects on wildlife may have been and the army of people who have criticised it, hunting with dogs is beyond the pale and must never, ever be talked of again. Welcome to the UK in 2017, land of free speech.

Thankfully, not everyone is ready to kowtow to such bigotry and some actually want to hear arguments from both sides, because, unlike many of our blinkered  anti hunt friends, they have minds of their own and prefer to come to their own conclusions.

No doubt this was the view of some students at York University a few months ago when they tried to organise a debate on foxhunting. But try as they might, no one was available to put the anti-hunting case, something that was slightly surprising as we’re constantly told that 80% of the population is supposedly opposed to hunting. Instead, it was agreed that I would give a presentation, which the organisers welcomed. The event was advertised and tickets sold.

But then the keyboard campaigners heard of it, ‘tweeting’ about the talk to other antis around the country who prefer sniping to debating. The event was cancelled on the day it was due to take place, with a failure to arrange security being cited as the reason. The student union organisers stated that they had never had to make a request for security in the past, so such precautions were not the norm. Clearly, on this occasion, the university had concerns about ‘counter protests’ and the safety of those attending. The ‘keyboard activists’ made no secret of their delight in achieving their aim on this occasion, ‘tweeting’ in their usual frenzied manner and often using rude, hateful or obscene language. It’s the same tactic they’ve adopted to force pubs or hotels hosting meets or hunt balls to cancel events; it’s as destructive as it is cowardly…and unfortunately it sometimes works.

It isn’t always like this. I took part in a debate at the student veterinary school at Exeter University a couple of years ago with the RSPCA’s Head of Public
Affairs, David Bowles. A good-natured and informative discussion resulted in a 50/50 vote at the end, which seemed to satisfy everyone. Numerous similar talks and presentations on hunting and wildlife management are always well-received and that should be no surprise when reasonable people with open minds are in the the audience. Just a few weeks ago, a presentation on foxhunting at a London school concluded with a vote in favour of repealing the Hunting Act.

How is it that young people in a suburban area and veterinary students are not only willing to listen to the arguments, but many can be convinced by
them? And that’s the point – they are exposed to arguments that antis don’t want them to hear.

Despite numerous flaws in the Hunting Act, there should be no further debate. Just one of the more repeatable tweets.

If the anti-hunt argument is so sound, it’s puzzling why is there such reluctance to see it put to the test in a live debate. How would relevant questions, such as those raised in a previous blog on starvation, ever be addressed? Far better to close down any discussion by any means available.  It’s therefore regrettable that a university, a place of listening and learning, is put in a difficult position because of concerns about disruption, but it is even more worrying that it appears free speech can be curtailed by a bigoted few who prefer the safety of ‘tweeting’ from their own homes to live debates.

As the French moralist, Joseph Joubert said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”

The question has to be asked, “What are the antis scared of?” The answer would appear to be any view that’s not theirs.