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Archive for August, 2013

Jamie Foster, a Partner in the solicitors firm of Clarke Willmott, gives his view on the CLA Game Fair and some rather coarse exchanges at the Country Life Debate.

 

On 19 July, along with over 150,000 other people, I attended the CLA Game Fair.

I attend the Game Fair as a lawyer who specialises in country pursuits and who spends a lot of my working life representing clients sent to me by the Countryside Alliance. I can therefore persuade my partners that this is an event I attend on behalf of the firm and it should be considered to be work. If they ever see through this ruse I will take the Friday off as holiday and go to the Game Fair. It is a fantastic event that everyone who attends looks forward to throughout the year. It brings people from all over the country together in a celebration of rural pursuits. Which is why it received wall to wall coverage on the BBC, just like Glastonbury. Actually that’s not completely true. The BBC did not report from Ragley Hall. Countryfile didn’t even mention that it had happened, because, for some reason the BBC does not feel it is necessary to report what really happens in the countryside. Maybe the upcoming review of rural programming will make a difference. We will wait and see.

They really missed a trick though. The Country Life Debate would have been worth sending a camera crew for alone. Gavin Grant, the Chief Executive of the RSPCA was the guest of honour. It really was a case of Daniel entering the lions’ den. Despite the sweltering heat the tent was packed with people determined to hear what Gavin had to say. We listened politely to Barney White-Spunner and Ian Coghill speak eloquently on the topic, but we were all waiting to find out how Gavin would react. As I was sitting there I thought he really had a golden opportunity. He could have been funny and charming and self deprecating. He could have tried to win the assembled throng over and give an insight into an alternative point of view. Gavin did not choose to do this.

He began speaking and almost immediately he reminded me of the black and white footage of the speeches from the Nuremberg rally. He was as a man possessed, determined to let the audience know that he was not very keen on humanity in general and despised those who had attended the debate in particular. “If humanity makes war on nature”, he railed, “there is only one possible outcome, humanity will be destroyed.”  He appeared to revel in the prospect.

I asked him a question, which didn’t seem to improve his mood. I asked him why, given that the RSPCA deals with a population problem caused by stray and unwanted animals by culling thousands of them every year, he feels that he should tell other people dealing with population problems that culling is unacceptable. He ranted for a while about the nature of the question, until the audience suggested to him that he answer it. He then ranted for a while about not being shown enough respect. He then said that the RSPCA only euthanizes a couple of hundred dogs every year, which is palpably untrue. The numbers have been in the thousands annually for many years.

My favourite moment however came when Gavin said that he didn’t mind people killing animals to eat. “After all”, he said “coarse fishermen eat everything they catch.” The tent fell about and Ian Coghill tried to gently let him know he was mistaken at which point he shouted at the Chairman of the debate “control your panel.” It was truly hilarious and I am still enjoying receiving the recipes for fried Tench that people who attended the debate have been sending me.

One interesting suggestion that Gavin made was that there should be a group of Hunt Monitors set up who didn’t have criminal convictions or a political axe to grind. I am not sure if he realised the devastating effect that this might have on the League Against Cruel Sports. Barney White-Spunner quite properly told him that the hunting community would not engage with the RSPCA and their ideas on hunting until the Society cleaned up its act and stopped promoting the animal rights agenda that it was currently embracing.

Over all it showed very clearly what is wrong with the RSPCA today. It is headed up by a man who embraces the Animal Rights agenda over animal welfare concerns and who clearly thinks part of loving animals is to hate humans. It is a very sad direction for an organisation with such a distinguished history to have gone in.  It showed very clearly that the people who are really concerned with ensuring that wildlife in the countryside is protected, the farmers and gamekeepers who manage the environments that wildlife thrive in, continue to do that job and enjoy the Game Fair.

Long may it continue.

 

You can hear all the 2013 CLA Game Fair debates at http://www.877fm.co.uk/

This article first appeared in Countryman’s Weekly http://www.countrymansweekly.com/

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It would appear that the League Against Cruel Sports has finally begun to recognise the folly of the Hunting Act – though of course publicly the group points the finger of blame at others.

The point in question is the drop in red deer numbers on the Quantock Hills, as reported by the Quantock Deer Management and Conservation Group. LACS claims the report shows only 9 older stags now living there, for which the group blames stag hunting and calls for a moratorium. While the QDMCG report does indeed show a drop in numbers, it actually says, It is important to note that we do not pretend to achieve a complete count of the entire Quantock red deer herd, as some proportion of those within the count area will always be missed in concealing cover, and others – not least some older stags – tend to move well off the hills from late winter onwards until rejoining mixed sex herds in the autumn.”

It was clearly stated in the numerous debates in the run-up to the passing of the Hunting Act that banning or curbing the organised hunts would allow a free for all…and this is what may have happened on the Quantocks. The QDMCG surveys show a steady decline since 2005 – the year the Hunting Act came into force.

The anti-hunting groups are quite content to claim that the law is perfectly sound – they say it’s just the police and the Crown Prosecution Service that are at fault for not pursuing cases vigorously enough. So sure were they that a ban on hunting would benefit wildlife that they didn’t even need to commission research into the effects of this law. The limited work that has been done in this area certainly shows no improvement in welfare terms. Yet we understand that privately the LACS, and others too, realise the Hunting Act contains serious loopholes that allow certain forms of hunting to take place legally – it’s just that they can’t admit this publicly for fear of losing face and it’s causing internal difficulties. LACS President John Cooper said last year, “To say the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened only serves to support the hunters’ argument that the Act doesn’t work. This is not only incorrect, but puts the entire future of the legislation at risk.”

Cynical or just confused?

Cynical or just confused?

So what’s to be done?  It would seem that plans are underway for a “review” of the Hunting Act by LACS at the law’s 10th anniversary, which, no doubt, will find that there are things that could be changed to ensure that nasty law-breaking hunters can’t get through those loopholes. The “loopholes”, by the way, are the exemptions included in the Act that allow for certain wildlife management practices and were agreed by both sides during the committee stage of the Act. (Anti-hunting MPs were in the majority on that committee, so claims of the hunters hijacking parts of the Act are nonsense) While portraying this as a kind of tidying up exercise, what the LACS would actually like is something far more radical. This was revealed during a debate earlier this year when its chief executive said that all the exemptions in the Hunting Act should be removed.

Of course a major hurdle to achieving this change is a still bigger change – that of the government – and even then it would not necessarily be the view of every Labour MP or supporter that they should rush headlong into another confrontation with the rural community over hunting. Last year’s Labour Party conference saw some delegates eager to ‘build bridges’ after what they felt was an unnecessary (and probably embarrassing) battle that has achieved nothing in animal welfare terms and simply alienated them from rural voters.

The fact is, while the anti-hunting argument has remained virtually the same since well before the Hunting Act became law, the pro-hunting argument has developed and evolved. Much more is now known and explained about wildlife management, about top (apex) predators, middle-ranking (meso) predators and about the differences between domestic and wild animals and their welfare needs. Much credit should go to organisations such as the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management in this regard. The Countryside Alliance understands how hunting with hounds plays a crucial and unique role here and puts this information to good use, coupling it with political acumen and hard-hitting literature to produce the case for repeal of the Hunting Act. Ultimately, a sensible resolution will be reached, but of course it is harder starting from a post-ban position.

So it’s no surprise that some Labour MPs who voted for a ban are keen to avoid discussing hunting, just as Barry Gardiner, the shadow DEFRA minister did at a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Game and Wildlife Conservation Group. Basically, he and numerous other politicians probably know they were conned into thinking that a ban on the use of scenting hounds would be good for animal welfare.

It all started decades ago when Labour was targeted as the party to implement a ban on hunting and for a long time there was no opposing voices at any meetings or conferences. Year after year the antis had an open goal. Of course there were those who jumped on the bandwagon and saw a hunt ban as useful vehicle to attack their class-war enemies and even now it would certainly be a mistake to think that such people have gone away. Yet one can’t help wondering how all this might have been avoided.

One thought takes me back to when I worked for the LACS and how a certain hunting advocate called Ian Coghill scared the life out of us when we had to oppose him in any forum. I remember a debate at Aston University in which the audience, which was overwhelmingly anti-hunting, was charmed and entertained by his knowledge, quick-witted humour, all delivered in his dry Brummy accent. Ian is now the Chairman of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, but I can’t help wondering where we would all be now if the hunting world at the beginning of the 1980s had had the foresight to put him on a stand at every Labour Party conference.

I suspect we wouldn’t be looking down the wrong end of an unprincipled, unworkable and detrimental Hunting Act.

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CLA Game Fair 2013

As if to prove how extreme the British weather can be, the 2013 CLA Game Fair was held during a rare English heat wave – the 2012 event having been cancelled due to excessive rainfall.

Ragley Hall in Warwickshire was the sun-drenched setting and, as always, provided something for town or country dwellers alike. Stands covering every aspect of country life and trade are here, with a wide range of displays – just like many country shows but on the grandest of scales. If you want to buy a 4×4 or a dog lead, you can get it here.

SAM_0213A major feature of every CLA Game Fair is the debating theatre, which, over the years, has hosted numerous discussions and presentations on a variety of rural topics. With the cull of badgers given the green light to go ahead, the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM) arranged a presentation on how bovine TB has affected badgers and the pressure this disease has placed on cattle farmers.

On the panel was VAWM’s Chairman Dr Tony Mudd, the organisation’s Secretary Dr Lewis Thomas and dairy farmer Phil Latham. A short film produced by VAWM was shown (available to view at www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org) and was followed by a detailed analysis of the disease and options available to curb it. A very personal and often harrowing experience of trying to cope with the spread of the disease was given by Phil Latham. Speakers from the audience were united in their support for the views expressed.

(L to R) Phil Latham, Dr Tony Mudd and Dr Lewis Thomas

(L to R) Phil Latham, Dr Tony Mudd and Dr Lewis Thomas

A different kind of debate had taken place the previous day and it was a session that was always going to attract attention. Country Life’s Big Debate was titled Nature: should we interfere?

The panel, chaired by the Deputy Editor of Country Life, Rupert Uloth, comprised Sir Barney White-Spunner, Executive Chairman of the Countryside Alliance; Hugh Raven, Managing Director, Ardtornish Estate; Ian Coghill, Chairman, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust; David Whitby, Head Keeper at Petworth Park and Gavin Grant, Chief Executive of the RSPCA. Following what appeared to be a general agreement amongst panel members that humans by their very existence inevitably interfere with nature, the debate became heated on the ‘how and why’. It was clear from the audience reaction that the slide of the RSPCA towards animal rights and away from animal welfare was unwelcome, unhelpful and unpopular. It seemed as though Gavin Grant had decided that this audience was never going to agree with him so why bother to hold back. As Sir Barney said, “We are quite happy to talk to the RSPCA in the interests of animal welfare when the RSPCA drops its increasingly radical and politicised animal rights agenda.”  But the RSPCA did not make many friends that day.

Some of the comments reminded me of a similar debate in 2010 involving Douglas Batchelor, the erstwhile Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports. It was really Mr Batchelor’s description of the Game Fair on his LACS’ blog that was so extreme that one could be forgiven for thinking that he was talking about a totally different event. Here are his opening lines, slightly tinged with a little bit of toff-bashing:

“My visit to the CLA Game Fair last week was a profoundly depressing experience. It was like stepping into a time warp where change was not the order of the day. The fair was situated in the grounds of a Palladian mansion and was a show case for cruel sports. Guests who couldn’t be bothered to wait in the traffic queues flew in by helicopter while mere mortals queued to be allowed into the grounds of a country estate, home for a few days to the hunt, shoot and kill for sport brigade.”

That year was no different to this year, so it’s strange how he missed the tens of thousands of ordinary people happily browsing the huge variety of stands. The different crafts and food products that were on show; the dog, horse, ferret and falconry displays and the delight of children being invited into show rings to take part in one of the dog events. Odd how he was blind to all of this, as well as the numerous animal charity stands. Would such groups attend a genuine ‘bloodsports’ festival? Would Help for Heroes be present at an event if it was, as Mr Batchelor describes it, just a “home for a few days to the hunt, shoot and kill for sport brigade.”

There again, despite the CLA Game Fair being perhaps the largest event of its kind in Europe and one of the best attended, the majority of people in the UK will not have seen these things and perhaps some will believe the propaganda put out about this being some sort of bloodsport festival for the ‘country set’. That’s the way certain groups operate these days, relying on the fact that most members of the public will not question their simplistic and often flawed views, whether it be on hunting, shooting or bovine TB and badgers.

The response should always be see these things for yourself and talk to the people who are involved and affected…then make up your mind.

You can hear all the 2013 CLA Game Fair debates at http://www.877fm.co.uk/

This article first appeared in Countryman’s Weekly http://www.countrymansweekly.com/

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