The game fair season got off to a slightly confusing start in 2016.
Following the Country Land and Business Association’s decision not to run the CLA Game Fair this year, other organisers stepped in with their events at various locations, each vying for the title of this year’s official ‘Game Fair’. The simple fact was that not all could succeed. With the uncertainty as to which would ultimately survive, the participating organisations that normally book a sizeable amount of space, such as the Countryside Alliance and Game & Wildlife Conservancy Trust, had to ‘test the waters’ with smaller displays.
The Game Fair at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire was in a more conventional mould, including the whole range of field sports, as well as carrying on the tradition of organising debates on rural topics. Despite the Hunting Act being in force for over 11 years, the organisers know that this is still a contentious issue and a debate was arranged.
Those opposed to hunting and shooting are probably in the minority at any game fair, so inviting speakers to put their case can be a little tricky. Such events are considered ‘bloodfests’, as a previous anti-hunt guest once described his visit. Nevertheless, the two speakers who did accept the challenge to put their case at Ragley Hall deserve credit for doing so.
Chairman Robin Hicks, former chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, asked for a vote on repealing the Hunting Act at the very start and one chap at the back put his hand up – a clear indication of where the audience stood. I was pleased to be asked to take part, as was Dr Lewis Thomas, secretary of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, who has considerable knowledge and experience of animals and their welfare. Our opponents were Robbie Marsland, the League Against Cruel Sports director for Scotland, and long-time hunt saboteur and founder of ‘Hounds Off’, Joe Hashman.
I get on reasonably well with Robbie Marsland, having debated with him on a number of occasions, but an account of the debate written by him for the online newspaper the Huffington Post gave what might be termed as a ‘well-spun’ version, exploiting the fact that it would be highly unlikely any reader would have been present at the debate to know otherwise. Describing the points and questions put by myself and Dr Thomas as “old, tired and sometimes irrelevant arguments”, was disingenuous to say the least. Mr Marsland would not be addressing them and instead would be concentrating on the “political reality” of a law that came into force almost 12 years ago.
Now that really is ducking some very important questions that may well be old and tired, but are continually asked simply because we never hear anything like adequate answers. What, for example, is the anti-hunter’s view of wildlife management? What precise methods of control are advocated? What is inherently wrong about using dogs in wildlife management? Even a question from the audience along the same lines brought a very reluctant suggestion from the LACS’ Robbie Marsland that only if a particular fox was causing problems might it be shot – a view that was almost immediately contradicted by Joe Hashman in saying that such shooting upsets and disrupts fox family units. It would seem that death in other circumstances, whether natural or not, does not do the same.
Odd, that in saying that we should we should all move on, the anti-hunt campaigners conveniently ignore the vast amount of time (some 700 parliamentary hours) and money (around £30 million) spent in putting the nonsensical Hunting Act onto the statute book. In the same breath they argue that there are far more important issues for the government to deal with, but brazenly demand time to be found for this law to be strengthened.
There will be some who say that any game fair audience is bound to be overwhelmingly pro-hunting and that may well be true, but there was a neat little test of the public’s supposed anti-hunting feelings the following weekend.
The BBC’s Countryfile programme has come in for a fair degree of criticism for portraying the countryside in rather rosy terms and sometimes avoiding issues that are deemed unpalatable for the wider urbanised audience. Understandably some countryside organisations were sceptical about appearing at the Countryfile Live show held at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. The Countryside Alliance, along with most of the main rural/field sports organisations, took the plunge and booked stands…and it seems to have been a good decision for more than one reason.
Countryfile Live certainly attracted a different audience to that which normally goes to game fairs, (even the opening hour of 9.30 was nothing like the 6.30 start for most country shows), but where it probably surprised many is in how that audience reacted to the exhibits, stands and views on show. For all the talk about 80% of the public opposing hunting with hounds, it appears that the “wider urbanised audience” of the BBC’s Countryfile does not quite see it that way. There was no hiding the pro-hunting, shooting or fishing campaign posters or literature on the Countryside Alliance stand. Hounds of the Christ Church and Farley Hill Beagles were present attracting crowds of children and their parents. No words of disapproval, no recoiling in disgust, just a fascination for these animals and what they are bred to do. In that sense, Countryfile Live provided an important link between two audiences and showed that perhaps they are not so different.
The staff and volunteers on the CA stand were constantly busy and will verify that throughout the four day show only one negative comment was heard, which begs the question where are all these anti-hunting people? Surely, if 80% of the population is opposed to hunting with hounds, wouldn’t some have attended Countryfile Live?
Or maybe, as is so often the case with many campaigns that rely on fooling the public and politicians, the reality is sometimes very different.