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Archive for July, 2011

“If we let the hunters clean up their act, we’ll never get hunting banned.”  That was one of the last comments I remember hearing in my final few days as Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports. I had dared to suggest that changes could give hunting with hounds a new lease of life. However, that response said a lot. Clearly, the implication was that banning hunting was of greater importance to those in control of the LACS at the time than seeing an improvement in animal welfare. Hunting had to be seen as “cruel” as possible in order to secure victory.

Others decided to put their views in more a strident form, such as the letter saying I should “watch my back”, another expressing that I be “hung, drawn and quartered.”  Perhaps the most peculiar proposal was that I should “spent the rest of my life with the lovely Rosemary West in her Gloucester terrace”  (Rosemary West was the wife of Fred West, both of whom were convicted in the 1980s of torturing, raping and murdering at least 12 young women).

Unfortunately, attitudes at the LACS and that of some other animal rightists have hardly changed. For all the bravado about the Hunting Act expressed in articles, blogs and “tweets”, there is a strong reluctance to engage in the detail of the hunting debate and the arguments, including welfare issues, in its favour. In writing this blog, what comes forth is a series of childish or even obscene insults that would not be out of place in school playground.

The point was emphasised just recently when speaking to a journalist friend at the CLA Game Fair and shortly afterwards with a former LACS colleague. Both informed me that I was “hated” by certain anti-hunt activists who were at one time also friends. Hate is a strong word and not one that I would use to describe former colleagues and it begs the question why? I can understand people disliking hunting and disagreeing with my views. I can’t, however, understand those who are or have been in senior positions within the anti-hunt movement avoiding a proper discussion about the rights and wrongs of hunting and resorting instead to infantile insults. It is further beyond me that one can “hate” someone who simply holds a different view, especially when, as in this case, an alternative animal welfare law is advocated.

When I left the League, there were colleagues and friends who said they wanted to meet and talk about why I had changed my opinions. Meetings were arranged, but slowly, one by one, they pulled out. I recall a number of occasions being invited to take part in media debates, only to be asked later by the organisers if I would mind not attending as the anti hunting person lined up would pull out if I was present. Even within the past few weeks, a former LACS employee  suggested a debate with old colleagues, but, just as before, this has been now been cancelled.

One of the more obvious traits that exist within some animal rights groups, though not all, is the ability to insulate themselves from the realities of the outside world and convince themselves that they are absolutely right. Anyone who holds a different position or who may rock those beliefs must be denigrated or insulted. Imagine how such attitudes would work in Parliament or a council chamber or indeed many other walks of life.

If the argument in favour of a hunting ban is so strong, as we are constantly told, why not be prepared to put it? Sooner or later important debates on the future of hunting with hounds will take place and I for one will definitely not be trying to avoid them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To seek to reduce the suffering of wild animals is undoubtedly an honourable aim.

Yet where this aspiration went wrong was the concentration of enormous amounts of time and money targeting and campaigning against just one of the numerous ways in which wild animals are controlled – hunting with hounds. At the same time the other methods of control that would inevitably take its place were conveniently ignored.

I am well aware that anti-hunting groups constantly state that, in relation to foxhunting, “the evidence shows that the hunted fox suffers unnecessarily both during the chase and the kill.”  This supposedly justifies singling out hunting and, when one adds in the pseudo morality and class war elements, the scene was set for a ban.

Despite numerous requests to anti-hunting groups over years to supply or even point to research that would back up a hunting ban, nothing was forthcoming. Not surprising, as no such evidence exists.

So, back to the original point about reducing suffering. Given that it is difficult to make comparisons between various methods of control when different conditions and circumstances apply, the obvious way forward would be to create a new law that places a “safety net” under all activities, thereby keeping standards high. If a person can be shown by way of evidence that their action has dropped below that which is acceptable and caused unnecessary suffering to a wild mammal, that person should be prosecuted.

This is a very different situation to that which currently exists. Those who support the Hunting Act assume that the chase and kill causes excessive suffering, but cannot supply any evidence to prove their view. One would have thought that if those who hold anti-hunting views were so sure of their case, they would nevertheless support a new, wider and evidence-based law – but not so.

Conflicting messages come out of the League Against Cruel Sports and not for the first time. In July last year, the League’s Chief Executive, Douglas Batchelor said of a law that would make it an offence to be cruel to a wild mammal, “The problem with that suggestion is that someone would actually have to be cruel to the animal before they could be charged with any offence.”  However, this month he said, “…cruelty is cruelty, whether the animal is wild, farmed or domesticated. It would be marvellous if the law here in the UK were to provide such similar protection for all animals.”

This comment raises two interesting points.

There already is a part of the UK in which all animals have protection from cruelty – Northern Ireland. It is also the only part of the UK which is not covered by the Hunting Act. Some years ago, the League started a campaign to have the ban extended, yet this was an own goal. If evidence existed to prove hunting with hounds caused unnecessary suffering, the means to end the practice in Northern Ireland were there. Instead, the League tried to do what they did in England and Wales, which is to ignore the absence of evidence and simply rely on having the right number of supportive politicians to vote through a ban.  Just last year an anti-hunting Bill was brought forward in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was defeated, with one MLA in referring to their existing legislation stating that “we have good law”.

Mr Batchelor is right in one sense – cruelty is indeed cruelty, whether it is to a wild or domestic animal, but we must understand that these two categories of animal live in very different states. How they are treated will, by necessity, also be different. In order to correct and clarify these misunderstandings the public, the media and politicians would do well to read Life in the Wild.

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Life in the Wild

 

What is the difference between a wild animal and a domestic animal?

 

Most people will say they know the answer and to a degree they may be right. Yet, the differences go much deeper than at first might be obvious. To say that wild animals live in a different state to that of domestic ones is not an exaggeration. That is not to say they don’t suffer or never feel scared, that they can’t feel hunger or don’t care for their young – of course they do, but the life of a wild animal has to be different for it to survive.

 

Domestic animals have, over many thousand of years, had certain aspects of their being altered by man for a variety of reasons. It would be wrong to automatically state that something done to a domestic animal, whether good or bad, would necessarily be the same for a wild animal. Sometimes an action that would be welcomed or comforting to a domestic animal, such as stroking a pet, could be frightening or detrimental to its wild cousin. Just the scent of a human in close proximity can be enough to panic a wild animal.

 

There are further dissimilarities which have to be acknowledged and addressed. The health of a domestic animal, whether companion or farmed, will probably be noticed and dealt with by the owner. The health of a wild animal may pass unnoticed. If the cause of a domestic animal’s poor health is disease, it is unlikely that the whole of that species will be affected. Yet this is precisely what could happen in the wild.

 

Apart from strays, the problem of population levels does not really have an effect on domestic animals, but forms of control in the wild, either by nature or man, will be exerted. The fact that wild animals are not under the direct control of humans is another obvious distinction and raises the question what methods should be used. What may be a devastating experience for a domestic animal could be totally natural for a wild mammal. It is the fundamental misunderstanding of these important differences that has led to flawed thinking by the public, the media and politicians and resulted in defective legislation.

 

In order to address this problem, the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management has produced a new document Life in the Wild, which will be launched at the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace next week and will be available on their website www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org.uk thereafter.

 

 

 

 

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HRH vs PM

The new volume of Alastair Campbell’s diary, now being serialised in the Guardian, reveals a clash on a number of issues between Prince Charles and the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

According to the former spin doctor, the Prince was critical of the government’s plan to outlaw foxhunting – something that seemed to dominate the first years of the new Labour administration. This “interference” was regarded as overstepping the constitutional boundaries normally accepted by the royal family. So who was right in this matter?

The Prince certainly knows about foxhunting, having ridden with various hunts for years. Tony Blair, as far as I know, has never even attended a hunt. The Prince is known to have a strong interest in the environment and one of the points he raised was that foxhunting is beneficial in this regard. The arguments that Tony Blair was hearing from some of his backbenchers seemed to be about everything but the environment, or indeed animal welfare for that matter, as confirmed by the following:

Now that hunting has been banned, we ought at last to own up to it:
the struggle over that Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal
freedom, it was class war.”

Peter Bradley (former MP for
The Wrekin)

“This has nothing to do with animal welfare – this is for the miners”

Dennis Skinner MP

“This is a dispute we must win, having long ago ceased to be about the
fate of a few thousand deer and foxes. It’s about who governs us. Us or them?”

Chris Mullin MP

Yet the most surprising thing is that Tony Blair himself came to realise that banning hunting with scenting hounds was wrong. In his book, A Journey, he spoke of a meeting with a hunting woman and said of her, “Instead of berating me, she took me calmly and persuasively through what they did, the jobs that were dependent on it, the social contribution of keeping the hunt and social consequence of banning it, and did it with an effect that completely convinced me.”

 The former Prime Minister later said in an interview on BBC television in 2010, “I’m not particularly in favour of foxhunting myself, but in the end I came to the conclusion that it was a mistake to have gone down this path.”  Too late, however, to prevent such a flawed law reaching the statute book.

So, the heir to the throne was ultimately proved to be correct and heads a list of critics of the Hunting Act that includes politicians from all parties, the media, the police, the judiciary, veterinarians, former League Against Cruel Sports chiefs, senior Whitehall officials and now Tony Blair himself. But was the Prince wrong to raise these concerns? I would argue that he had every right to state his objections to the proposed ban, as he should on any issue about which he is knowledgeable and has strong feelings.

Ultimately, of course the Prime Minister and government have the upper-hand and will, no doubt, do what they think is right. The real problem is in not listening and passing legislation that is based on prejudice, rather than knowledge – the result being that many people feel resentment about such a law. Consequently, hunting will not be removed from the political agenda until the Hunting Act is repealed and replaced with fair and principled legislation that genuinely improves animal welfare and, as Prince Charles has argued, allows the sensible use of scenting hounds to benefit the environment.

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