Archive for October, 2013

Cheap lines

Looking through some old files the other day, I came across a letter I had sent back in the 70s to the then Liberal Member of Parliament for the Isle of Ely, the late Clement Freud.

There was a campaign to ban hare coursing at that time and he had declared his support for the activity, something to which I was then vehemently opposed. My letter sought his reasons for justifying coursing and made a cheeky reference at the end to the dog food advertisements on TV in which Clement, later Sir Clement, had famously taken part.

The truly barbaric dog meat trade. Same as hunting with hounds?

The truly barbaric dog meat trade.
Same as hunting with hounds?

It was a mischievous comment that was not rude or obscene and didn’t really seem out of place with the thrust of my rather ill-informed letter. The reply I received from the Member for the Isle of Ely, while disagreeing with my view, was courteous and he thanked me for writing.

No matter how passionately one might feel about an issue, resorting to insults is more an indication of ignorance and frustration, rather than of an honestly held belief and strength of argument. So what should one to make of the following e-mail sent just last week to MP Kate Hoey?

I’ve read that you are trying to bring back hunting, and are chair of Countryside Alliance.
Countryside has an ‘o’ in the name that needs removing.
You are an evil bitch and every piece of s**t like you who supports hunting deserves to die in agony.
Nature balances out fine without persecution by bloody human a***holes.”

Perhaps certain things should be made clear.

Firstly, I’ve known Kate Hoey for many years and she certainly does care about animal welfare. Indeed, she raised welfare issues with colleagues just a few days ago.

The overcrowded, unnatural cages of a fur farm. The same as hunting?

The overcrowded, unnatural cages of a fur farm. The same as hunting?

Kate was a founder member of the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group, formed to find a welfare solution to the hunting debate. Secondly, of course not everyone who opposes hunting thinks or acts like the writer of this e-mail, far from it. And it’s also the case that similar comments have been aimed at anti-hunting people; I should know, having been one once.  But it does seem that the level of anger, often incensed rage, comes mainly from the anti-hunt side, though thankfully mostly in written form.

Overworked to death. Same as hunting?

Overworked to death. Same as hunting with hounds?

It points to a certain mind-set and more general view held by the antis that no form of hunting can ever be justified. Calls for severe penalties and even jail sentences for breaches of the Hunting Act – legislation that has been widely criticised by people unconnected to the hunting world and a law currently subject to possible repeal – are not uncommon. This, despite the police view that sees breaches of the Act at the level of a fixed penalty charge.

It’s easy to say all activities involving animals are wrong and should be prohibited, but that is too blunt and simplistic a position and often doesn’t achieve anything. It also places all activities that may involve animals being used or killed on the same level and this is sheer nonsense.

Tortured and terrified. Same as hunting?

Tortured and terrified. Same as hunting with hounds?

When properly organised hunting with hounds, which plays a unique role in wildlife management, is placed against some of the truly horrendous activities that go on in countries that are our near neighbours, there is just no comparison. Take, for example, the Spanish “tradition” in which flaming wax or fireworks are attached to a bull’s horns and a drunken mob allowed to taunt and attack the terrified animal. Such a spectacle is an absolute abomination, but totally legal within a European Union that seeks greater unanimity in so many other areas. Look further abroad, where animal welfare is non-existent, and the abuses are even more jaw-dropping and heart-breaking.

Force feeding for foie gras. Same as hunting with hounds?

Force feeding for foie gras. Same as hunting with hounds?

Understanding that campaign funds are limited and that priorities have to be made appears to be beyond the thinking of people who write letters like the one above and the organisations that sometimes spend inordinate amounts of money on publicity gestures, rather than genuine animal abuses. No wonder, then, at the outrage of anti–hunt groups over proposals to amend the Hunting Act. All they see is the return of hunting (even though it was never actually banned, just altered) and can’t seem to grasp that if it is the pursuit they despise, this amendment would actually reduce it.

The problem is a straightforward one of spin by those who are so blinkered in their anti-hunting zeal, cranking up the heat by using inflammatory language and then standing back when some gullible individuals oversteps the mark by sending obscene letters, damaging property or worse.

These are not the people to whom we should be listening when genuine concerns about animal welfare are raised. For sure, hurling abuse about is no way to achieve success, but in answering the letter sent to her in the way the late Sir Clement Freud might have done, Kate Hoey did precisely the right thing:

“Thank you for the kind words.”


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VAWM: A body of evidence

I was very pleased to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM) this week and to discuss current wildlife issues.

VAWM started life in 2002 in the run-up to the Hunting Act, publishing A Veterinary Opinion on Hunting with Hounds. Authors Dr Lewis Thomas and Professor Twink Allen argued that, “Hunting with hounds is the natural and most humane way of controlling the population of all four quarry species”. Other papers were produced highlighting the animal welfare consequences of a hunting ban. Yet despite this sound veterinary evidence being placed before parliament, certain politicians were hell-bent on banning a unique form of wildlife management regardless of the consequences.

The stark difference between the anti-hunt and pro-hunt camps is that one has remained static, while the other has continued to develop, evolve and inform. How often have we heard that hunting is “barbaric”, “cruel” and “out of place in the 21st century”?  Little has changed in the emotionally-charged anti-hunt argument as their campaign has raged over the decades.

Basically, it was a war of attrition, with the same tired old phrases being thrown around time and time again until a political party came to power that contained enough gullible MPs to swallow such nonsense.

And for sure it was nonsense, because in amongst the class war prejudice, the pseudo morality and the sheer ignorance surrounding hunting with hounds, there was a good degree of fake ‘science’ that supposedly supported a ban. Take, for example, the research undertaken by Dr Terry Kreeger, whose work on foxes in America was blatantly twisted to suit the anti-hunt case. Even when Dr Kreeger himself disputed the incorrect conclusions claimed by anti-hunting groups his work continued to be quoted in the parliamentary Portcullis House Hearings by those supporting a ban.

And don’t imagine that such warped thinking has gone away. Consider, just for a moment, where this delegate at one of the political party conferences this year must have obtained her information. “The only reason they are now killing badgers is because we’ve stopped you hunting foxes” was her bewildering claim…and it wasn’t the only one. “Well, of course it is bovine TB” said another delegate, implying that only cows suffered from the disease and that badgers simply carried it. In response, he was asked if he thought that only Germans caught German measles.

So the emergence of a veterinary organisation whose aim is to consider, discuss, review and address wildlife issues and to then produce authoritative literature, organise symposia and respond to government consultations is an absolute necessity. VAWM stands in total contrast to certain campaigning groups that seem to think all they have to do is play the emotion card and laws will automatically follow. The trouble is there are too many politicians ready to oblige, so VAWM’s task is doubly hard.

Science cannot be the sole consideration when political policies are being formulated, but it must be allowed to properly inform those who are charged with making law. It certainly should not be ignored, as it blatantly was during the run-up to the passing of the Hunting Act, the result of which was illogical and unprincipled legislation that damages animal welfare and creates difficulties for farmers.

Now it appears that common sense based on science might be starting to unravel the ridiculous Hunting Act. As reported in today’s Daily Telegraph  (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10376295/Pressure-mounts-to-ease-the-hunting-ban.html) proposals are being considered to change the illogical restriction in being allowed to use only two dogs to flush quarry animals out of cover to guns. More on this soon.

The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management is supported by over 570 veterinarians and all publications and submissions are available at their website :



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