Archive for September, 2017

The vote at the forthcoming National Trust AGM to prevent the organisation from issuing licences permitting trail hunting on its land is reminiscent of previous actions taken by anti-hunting activists that go back to the 1990s.

That last attempt concerned a motion put forward by the then League Against Cruel Sports director, demanding that dates and times of hunting activity be published in order that they could be ‘monitored’. Another motion on the same occasion tried to prohibit the use of hunts to search for and dispatch wounded deer, despite operating under the exemptions in the Hunting Act. The motions were voted down.

Exemptions were regarded as necessary for conservation or pest control reasons and were written into this law by anti-hunting MPs pushing for this measure. They were advised by the coalition of anti-hunting groups, including the LACS, during the passage of the legislation. In other words, this is legal hunting based on a law drafted by anti-hunting groups and sympathetic politicians. And yet they still weren’t satisfied, because the Hunting Act hasn’t turned out to be the death knell of all hunting with dogs.

That frustration continues and could easily apply to Helen Beynon, the proposer of this new motion. There is no law preventing the hunting of a trail with hounds, yet because antis tend to see actual hunting at every turn, the accusation has been made that this form of legal hunting is just a front and a smokescreen for live quarry hunting. Ms Beynon says she was under the impression that hunting was illegal, indicating that she does not understand the various exemptions under the Hunting Act and at the same time revealing a serious lack of knowledge about what has been happening since this legislation came into force in over 12 years ago.

In support of this motion, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) has produced a report containing numerous unsubstantiated incidents which, they claim, support this charge. A similar document was produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I wonder how many times these ‘breaches of the law’ have been reported to the police or the National Trust and, if so, what was the response? Anti-hunt ‘monitors’ can hardly be regarded as unbiased, so their ‘evidence’ must always be questionable, yet both reports have been quoted as if somehow their findings are fact.

A further report has been produced by Professor Stephen Harris, someone who makes no secret of his anti-hunting views. In what is presumably supposed to be a scientific document designed to impress the National Trust council, Harris uses ‘evidence’ that clearly comes from anti-hunting groups. Furthermore, while he attempts to draw a line between drag hunting and trail hunting, the only conclusion that can be reached is that both are detrimental to wildlife. Indeed, the Harris report raises concerns about the effects dogs generally might have on wildlife, which chimes very well with the Hunting Act; both appear to be very anti-dog.

If the National Trust does indeed ban trail hunting on the basis of Harris’ views, there can be no excuse for drag hunting either. Of course, if the ridiculous demands made by the LACS are ever accepted by a future government and the Hunting Act is amended in the manner they wish, that will mean the end of drag hunting as, in their words, the artificial trail must be laid in an area of countryside where there are no wild mammals. If anyone can point out where this fictitious part of the countryside happens to be, I’m sure the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association would be delighted to know. As usual, however, this report, like so many other anti-hunting documents, refrains from examining any consequence of a hunting ban and the effect it has had on wildlife – something that is typical of people and groups obsessed with banning hunting at all costs.

If certain activities are to be banned on National Trust land, or indeed any area of the countryside, it would be good to know what methods of wildlife management are advocated by these groups, who appear very reluctant to explain their alternative vision of the countryside and what sort of relationship we should have with wildlife. A review of another LACS document shows their preferred policies seems to be little more than a list preventative measures, such as fencing, disturbance or, oddly, “blocking” rabbit burrows when empty. They avoid any possible form of lethal control, though amazingly refer to ‘No control’ as one viable option, saying it is “reasonably efficient”. That would no doubt please many supporters of LACS who would repeat that well-worn phrase, “Leave it all to nature”, conjuring up an image of a kind of wildlife utopia. Such a view fails to recognise that this means no disease control, no protection for vulnerable species and no means to prevent livestock or crop losses; animal welfare would certainly not be improved.

Even so, I doubt any of these ‘alternative’ methods will be included in the written motion to the National Trust. Were that to be the case, at least there might then be the opportunity for a sensible debate at the trust’s AGM on the merits of the evidence supporting each of the various options. The LACS and their anti-hunting colleagues are very good at telling other organisations how to manage their land and yet when land in the hands of this group is examined, a very unsavoury picture emerges.

For years, the LACS’ Baronsdown sanctuary has been the subject of criticism. Deer were encouraged to enter the land by feeding, resulting in an unnaturally high concentration of the animals. Various diseases, including lungworm, were reported in deer around the area and wounded animals were sighted, some being involved in road traffic accidents, which, according to local reports, were due to the animals being in such poor condition that they could not respond quickly enough to oncoming vehicles.

The latest LACS report includes another allegation, which is that is hunts and their hounds spread disease, one being bovine TB and this really is ironic, as explained below. Dogs, by the way, are regarded as a ‘dead-end host’ as far as being a risk is concerned. As Dr Lewis Thomas of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management states, “The suggestion demonstrates ignorance of how bTB transmits between animals and humans. It requires protracted exposure to high challenge doses which, clearly, is not the case with hunting hounds.” Deer can be placed in the same category, as they tend to avoid humans and cattle.

Somehow, maybe through badgers, bovine TB entered Baronsdown, perhaps in the 1990s. However, due to the unusually high concentration of deer in the sanctuary, the disease could pass easily from one deer to another because of ‘nose-to-nose’ contact – something that generally does not happen in normal sized herds. It was directly due these almost unique conditions that such an extraordinary outbreak of bovine TB occurred – something that scientist examining the health of the red deer on Exmoor regarded as one of the largest they had witnessed. The disease has diminished since its high point in the early 2000s, but there are continuing effects on the deer on Baronsdown that concern experts and conservationists to the present day.

So before the National Trust takes advice from supporters of the League Against Cruel Sports, perhaps they should take a very close look their version of conservation.

See: http://www.countryside-alliance.org/full-guide-voting-national-trust-agm/



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