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Archive for February, 2013

The Hunting Act came into force exactly eight years ago. Due to its flawed drafting, there were unintended consequences. Here, West Country farmer Giles Bradshaw explains how this law has affected him.

During a recent debate with James Barrington, the current Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, Joe Duckworth, was challenged to justify the illogical exemptions in the Hunting Act. He replied that maybe the exemptions should all be scrapped. Afterwards on twitter he suggested a ‘review’ of the legislation might be required.

This could well mark a major shift in LACS policy towards the Hunting Act, which up until now has been to fully support the law. It should be borne in mind that the exemptions which LACS now appear to oppose make up almost half of the law. Their position on the Hunting Act appears now to be at the very least ambivalent.

When the Act was passed I became concerned that it meant that I would no longer be allowed to chase wild deer from my woods with my five collies. I find that doing this disperses and deters the deer, thus reducing the level of damage they do to my coppiced woodland. I contacted Defra and although initially they told me it would be legal for me to ‘chase away’ wild deer they then later decided that I could no longer do this unless I used only two dogs and shot the deer.

The law has since been clarified by the courts who, in a case against the Quantock Staghounds, ruled that deer can be flushed using dogs but enough guns must be deployed to shoot them all.

The reasoning behind wildlife having to be shot in this manner was explained at the time of the ban by minister Alun Michael, who stated at the time that it was to ‘prevent the possibility of an extended chase.’ This reasoning was further expounded by the Government in the human rights challenge bought against the Hunting Act by the Countryside Alliance and amongst others myself. They, with the formal support of LACS, the RSPCA and IFAW, stated in court with reference to my case that my actions were illegal unless I limited the number of dogs to two and took steps to kill all the wildlife I flush.

I am writing this blog in an attempt to persuade people from both sides of the hunting debate that in my case it should not be necessary for me to kill wildlife. I appreciate that there is an argument for deer to be lethally managed, however if required this should be on a landscape scale. Wild deer, especially wild red deer, roam far and wide and for the small landowner dispersal and deterrence techniques can be enough to reduce unacceptable levels of damage to property.

The knee jerk response to wildlife problems to reach for a gun is very deeply entrenched especially amongst members of the League Against Cruel Sports and many anti hunt MPs and so much so that in their case they believe that it should be a criminal offense for me not to shoot the deer that I flush from cover.

The Labour MP Tom Harris recently explained the logic behind the Hunting Act when I questioned him on twitter. “They are pests, they have been pursued, they must be shot. Simple.”

I think there is another point of view. A pest is after all just an animal in the wrong place. Move the animal to another place and it is no longer a pest. I find my collie dogs are ideal for this.

Given that flushing from cover involves using a dog to chase animals out of cover there are several reasons why shooting them is a rather stupid way to prevent them being chased. These include:

a) The animals already have been chased, being also shot does not reduce their suffering.

b) Shooting running animals is far more likely to wound them than shooting stationary animals.

c) If one waits till the animals are stationary so it won’t be wounded it will no longer be being chased, so why shoot it to prevent something that isn’t happening?

d) Deer often come in herds, it’s quite likely that you won’t manage to gun down the entire herd and if you don’t then the one’s you do kill will have died in vain as the remaining animals could still be chased.

e) It’s often easier and more effective to just call the dogs off.

I have talked to various people in the movements for and against hunting and it is clear that not everybody agrees with the current legal situation. Three RSPCA inspectors have raised doubts. One telling me that what I do is a ‘pretty good way to move deer out of a wood.’ Another told me in writing that ‘I have read plenty blogs/letters by you on this subject. I don’t have any argument with you on this one.

Jim Barrington, the ex chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, wrote to me to say: ‘You’re right. When you think about how stalking is carried out (careful lining up on one static animal etc) the thought of ten shooters all taking aim at a running herd doesn’t bear thinking about.

Perhaps even more importantly Richard Benyon MP, a Defra minister, recently voiced his agreement that the Hunting Act should not require wildlife to be killed.

This is just one of many ways in which the Hunting Act as it stands does not make sense. In my opinion the Hunting Act does need to be reviewed. Not only by LACS but by Parliament and the sooner the better. We need an open and honest debate in which its obvious shortcomings are acknowledged and a democratic decision is taken on a legislative route to rectify the current situation which is unsatisfactory to all parties, not least the nation’s wildlife.

In my opinion the legality of my actions should be based on one factor and one factor alone, not my class, the number of dogs I use, nor indeed whether I use any dogs at all, whether people like or dislike me nor on whether or not I am prepared to shoot wildlife.

What to me is important is whether or not through my actions I am causing cruelty to animals.

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Blind faith

I’m sure that most people involved in animal welfare, particularly those who donate their money or time to the myriad of different organisations, have the relief of suffering as their core motivation. The frustration often felt at the speed (or lack of it) of change is understandable. Look, for example, at the flouting of EU rules by numerous countries on ending battery cages and sow stalls, (not to mention the British farmers who are then undermined by cheaper, poorer welfare imports).

Every new generation seems to want to achieve what the previous one failed to do. The problem is that ‘the cause’ of animal welfare/rights sometimes attracts those with a more blinkered and bigoted attitude and this can lead some campaigns down the wrong route – one, I would argue, that is more about making them feel good, rather than achieving any real improvement.

The Hunting Act is a perfect example. A piece of legislation that has been criticised by a wide range of people unconnected to hunting, yet is still regarded as ‘iconic’ by its supporters, some of whom say it’s working well, some saying it requires amending, others saying it has had virtually no effect. Whatever the truth of the matter, their precious Hunting Act must not be condemned and must be obeyed.

It’s against this background that a parliamentary debate took place last week, secured by MP Simon Hart.  It was the prosecution role of the charity that was to be placed under the spotlight, prompted by the Heythrop Hunt case, its “staggering” cost and the fact that the Charity Commission had, as a consequence, written a letter to the RSPCA cautioning the organisation. Though the commission did not consider that the trustees had breached their duty of prudence, they were nevertheless asked to review their current arrangements for prosecutions. Some MPs felt that the high degree of consternation the action had caused both inside and outside parliament warranted scrutiny and felt it right to debate the role and wisdom of the charity’s decisions. Yet, in true ‘them and us’ style, certain anti-hunting MPs chose to see this debate as an attack on the RSPCA as a whole, despite the opening comment from Simon Hart that the organisation “can be, and often is, a huge force for good.”

There was the usual string of emotionally charged descriptions spattering the anti-hunting MPs’ contributions, “We are asked to believe that the apostles of cruelty, who for many years have campaigned in the House to keep gratuitous killing as part of hunting, now want to be compassionate to animals…” and “Rather than worrying about whether the RSPCA is misusing its funds in bringing the prosecution, should we not as taxpayers be criticising the CPS for not being prepared to spend its funding on bringing fox-hunting prosecutions?” All designed to emphasise that if you hunt or are a member of the Countryside Alliance, you are on one side and the RSPCA is on the other – because no hunting person could possibly be concerned about animal welfare. Total rubbish of course, but a line that is constantly sold to the public by anti-hunting groups and MPs for their own ends.

Just consider for a moment, is it really feasible that no hunting person, for example, was shocked by the disgusting, brutal scenes of horse cruelty that took place at the Red Lion abattoir recently? Are they all so hardened, from five year olds upward, that they are immune to such images? This situation suits certain people who have a particular attitude when it comes to animal welfare. They suffer from a form of blind faith, meaning that anything said or done in the name of their ’cause’ must be right. So the RSPCA’s prosecution is justified… for no other reason than they are the RSPCA. The League Against Cruel Sports wins debates…because they are the LACS.

Conversely, anything remotely critical of ‘the cause’ is wrong and must be attacked at every level, even if that means being personal, irrelevant, threatening, untruthful or obscene, something that is now infinitely easier thanks to Twitter and the like. So Simon Hart was “abusing his position as an MP” by simply calling for a debate on the RSPCA. Worse, Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, can even receive death threats for the proposed badger cull to curb bovine TB.

So back to that ‘iconic’ Hunting Act. Certain MPs – some of whom were quite happy to break the law when it suited them – delight in reminding us about how it is now the law of the land. True, but an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) document, circulated to chief constables shortly before the Hunting Act was passed, stated that it regards breaches of the Hunting Act as “low level wildlife crime” usually dealt with by a fixed penalty. One police force claimed that Alun Michael, the then Rural Affairs minister, had “tried to cajole groups such as the RSPCA to enforce the law…”.  This puts the ₤327,000 spent by the RSPCA on prosecuting the Heythrop Hunt into some perspective and, in the eyes of many, totally justifies the parliamentary debate. Of course this will not be accepted by those who blindly follow their own propaganda and can never be objective.

One can’t help thinking that much of the support for the RSPCA’s prosecution of the Heythrop Hunt was more about seeing “posh hunters” in court, rather than what was actually achieved in terms of animal welfare. If the RSPCA and other groups were truly concerned about wild mammal welfare, they would be supportive of the wider, more principled measure proposed by Lord Donoughue. It prompts the question “Is this about animal suffering or is it really about you?”

Having come through the ranks of animal rights groups and then the League Against Cruel Sports, I am convinced that a considerable number of people actively involved in animal rights are more concerned with how they feel (and perhaps their standing with like-minded colleagues) than what they can actually achieve in welfare terms.  Their’s is the view of the fundamentalist. This would explain to a degree why any sort of compromise, agreement or understanding with those they oppose can never be acceptable. That view is strongest in the case of hunting. It also means that there can be only one way forward – their way – and anyone who may hold a different view is, in effect, the enemy, regardless of what good works may have been done for animal welfare, or indeed human welfare, in other fields.

Before I became an employee of the LACS, I worked with adults who had mental and physical disabilities, though I was already involved in an animal rights group. My superior at the time, someone for whom I had considerable respect, came along to one of our meetings and afterwards, when I asked him what he thought, said, “There are causes that need people… and then there are people who need causes”.

I couldn’t see it then, but now I’m sure he was right.

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