Archive for January, 2012

The Wrong Stuff

Watching a discussion about hunting on the TV programme The Wright Stuff  last week was a depressing affair. Normally there is a fairly balanced panel debating all sorts of topical issues and Matthew Wright himself can be very entertaining…but not this time.

Prime Minister David Cameron had said on the BBC the previous day that he saw the Hunting Act as bizarre piece of legislation – something with which any reasonable person would agree if they’d bothered to examine this law – and that the House of Commons would have an opportunity to vote on its repeal. This prompted The Wright Stuff to discuss the issue. The panel consisted of Anita Dobson, wife of the strongly anti-hunting Queen guitarist Brian May, TV presenter Terry Christian and that expert on everything, Sally Bercow, wife of The Speaker of the House of Commons. Hardly surprising then that it took only seconds before the words like “posh”, toffee-nosed” and “big estates” were used in the defence of the Hunting Act, as if somehow they relate to animal welfare.

According to Anita Dobson there is no one, apart from the Prime Minister, who is in favour of repealing the Hunting Act, an indication perhaps of the circles in which she moves. Terry Christian thought foxhunting to be cruel, but wouldn’t mind it coming back if it meant David Cameron going.

Sally Bercow, showing her vast knowledge of hunting, declared, “If you must kill foxes, and I don’t think you should, there are far more humane ways of doing it than hunting.” Then quickly back to her central theme, “Cameron is just the embodiment of fox-slaughtering Tory tofftdom.” The law is “effective and humane” she says, without providing a shred of evidence to show what is now being done to those foxes by other means.

So, a well-balanced and informative piece…at least in the minds of the show’s producers.

What this nonsense, especially the rubbish spouted by Mrs Speaker, indicates is that the arguments against hunting with dogs have not changed over decades. And why should they? All that is needed is an attack on “toffs” and empty phrases claiming that there are better ways to control wild mammals – but without explaining what those ways might be. Contrast this with the views and work of those who doubt that the hunting ban has been such a good idea and it’s clear that the scientific basis for a hunting ban simply does not exist. This work, such as that undertaken by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, shows the benefits in using scenting hounds, which are selective and non-wounding. It highlights the need for proper wildlife management, as opposed to simple pest control, to keep populations in check and healthy and how the use of hounds is natural for both hunter and hunted.

In addition, there is the obvious sense in having a genuine wild mammal welfare law based on evidence and not the type of class-ridden prejudice heard on this TV programme, but none of this was raised in a programme that really didn’t want to know. Researchers from The Wright Stuff were in contact with the League Against Cruel Sports, but not the Countryside Alliance or indeed anyone opposed to the hunting ban as far as I know. Perhaps if they had done so they might have been told about the totally unprincipled, illogical and downright anti-animal welfare sections contained in the Hunting Act. They might have questioned why millions of pounds have been spent in support of the Hunting Act, yet not a penny in examining its effects on wild mammal welfare. The debate might, had animal welfare been the central issue here, even touched upon the wounding issue. But of course the main point here wasn’t animal welfare.

The trouble is, many people will happily tell you how much they dislike hunting with hounds without really knowing anything about it or its alternatives and the same people will think that this law must be good legislation without ever reading a word of the Hunting Act. This is the situation exploited by certain politicians and pseudo-politicians like the Sally Bercows of this world, who see the hunting issue as the perfect vehicle for their prejudices.

Yet, try to engage with these die-hard antis in an attempt to point out some of the anomalies in the Hunting Act and they simply refuse to accept a different point of view, saying that nothing will change their minds – and in that they are probably right. Again, why should they let facts get in the way when they think they are winning? In virtually every debate in which I have taken part, whether in the media or a face-to-face talk, the extreme antis have an obsession with the hunting ban that will not be shaken. It doesn’t matter what evidence is produced that undermines their position or what else one may do in terms of benefiting animal welfare, if you are in favour of hunting you are “evil” and “vile”, just two of the range of colourful words used to describe hunters during a recent radio debate in which I took part.

The anti hunting politicians, for the time being at least, can also get away with the same tactic and avoid awkward questions, but when the occasion arrives for the vote on repealing the Hunting Act the challenge will be to raise the debate to a higher order. That will be the test, not only of the arguments in favour of hunting with hounds, but also of the calibre of politician we have elected to the House of Commons.





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Falconry has a long and varied history throughout the world that continues just as strongly to the present day.

The first Festival of Falconry was held in the UK in 2007, with the second in 2009. This year, the Third International Festival of Falconry was held in Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates at the kind invitation of His Excellency Mohammed Al Bowardi and the Emirates Falconers’ Club. The week-long event involved a stop-over at a desert camp from which falconry trips were arranged; falconry training exercises; visits to conservation and animal welfare centres; a conference and the main festival in the grounds of Jahili Fort. In total, falconry clubs from 72 nations were involved – probably the largest gathering of falconers in the world. Much credit must go to Dr Nick Fox and his team from International Wildlife Consultants www.falcons.co.uk who, having organised the previous two festivals, successfully managed the enormous logistical task of putting on a much bigger event in the UAE.

I was extremely pleased to be invited to make a presentation in the conference part of the festival and the whole experience is one I shall never forget. What struck me in spending time with the numerous individuals from these clubs and other organisations involved with falconry was the depth of knowledge they have, not only about birds of prey, but the wider variety of wild birds and mammals.

The section of the conference in which I took part concerned the public image of falconry and the lessons learned from other fieldsports. Falconry is seen by many in a different light to that of other fieldsports, such as hunting with hounds, even though both are natural to hunter and hunted. Traditionally, falconers have engaged with the public to a greater degree through events and displays, even though the image of falconry in the minds of many may not be so much one of hunting and killing, but more akin to birds flying to a lure. Consequently, opposition is not as prevalent as that towards the hound sports.

Yet, in the UK and around the world, birds of prey, from kestrels to eagles, are flown to a live quarry and this brings it into conflict with those who argue against an activity that involves sport and the death of an animal. But, in so many ways, falconry is much more than this, which is why UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, has recognised the practice as a living human heritage.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

“Falconry is the traditional activity of keeping and training falcons and other raptors to take quarry in its natural state. Originally a way of obtaining food, falconry is today identified with camaraderie and sharing rather than subsistence. Falconry is mainly found along migration flyways and corridors, and is practiced by people of all ages, men and women, amateurs and professionals. Falconers develop a strong relationship and spiritual bond with their birds, and commitment is required to breed, train, handle and fly the falcons. Falconry is transmitted from generation to generation as a cultural tradition by a variety of means, including mentoring, learning within families, or formalized training in clubs. In Mongolia, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, falconers take their children to the desert and train them to handle the bird and build a relationship of trust with it. While falconers come from different backgrounds, they share common values, traditions and practices such as the methods of training and caring for birds, the equipment used and the bonding between falconer and the bird, which are similar throughout the world. Falconry forms the basis of a wider cultural heritage, including traditional dress, food, songs, music, poetry and dance, all of which are sustained by the communities and clubs that practice it.”

This small sample of photographs may help explain why.

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