Archive for October, 2017

Tactics of the antis

According to Chris Packham, those who shoot are part of “the nasty brigade”, while he compares hunting to “slavery, homophobia and racism”. Brian May thinks hunters are “a bunch of lying bastards.” Even those who should know better use inflammatory language, such as academic The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, who says, “Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture.”

In other words, people who support hunting and shooting are beneath contempt; they see animals as little more than something to be killed for fun. Worse than that, hunters are dangerous, evil people and it begs the question why they haven’t all been rounded up and jailed for the good of society? The Conservative Party is just as bad, as it seeks to protect these ‘bloodsports’.

Anti-hunting animal rights groups would have the public, the media and politicians believe this nonsense and it’s all part of a fairly transparent strategy perpetrated by those who are obsessed with banning hunting with dogs and see it as the worst possible form of animal cruelty. No matter what you may do in the field of animal welfare or conservation, if you are in favour of hunting you are the lowest of the low.

The strategy goes something like this:

  1. Ensure that hunting, regardless of any conservation benefit, is always described as “killing for fun.”
  2. It follows that anyone taking part in such an activity must be some kind of pervert and, now that we have the Hunting Act, they must also all be criminals.
  3. It further follows, given that hunting is in the same category as slavery or child abuse and can never be acceptable, that no debate or justification of it should be permitted in schools, colleges or any place of learning.
  4. Once this point is reached, the abuse of people involved in hunting or shooting, either directly or through social media, is legitimised.

The whole process is underpinned by carefully-worded public opinion polls, designed to convince either naïve or prejudiced politicians that hunting equates to genuine bloodsports like dog-fighting or badger baiting.

The simple fact is, the vast majority who support hunting and shooting do care about animal welfare, but reality is very different to the cosy, utopian picture so often portrayed by antis and animal rightists. It’s in the antis’ interest to argue otherwise and, for a public that’s mostly detached from countryside activities and more and more seems to get its news and information from social media, the means to propagate these views are readily available.

Therefore, it must be uncomfortable for these obsessive antis to hear the recent announcements on animal protection from country sports supporter, DEFRA Secretary of State Michael Gove. We learn that he wants to increase the maximum imprisonment penalty for serious acts of cruelty from six months to five years. Then comes a commitment on banning ivory products and legislation to put CCTV in all slaughterhouses will be introduced next year.

According to some, the Hunting Act is settled and requires no further debate.

Any objective observer, if they bothered to look beyond the propaganda, wouldn’t find it difficult to discount the empty rhetoric of anti-hunting groups and those mainly on the Left who exploit animal welfare for their own political ends, while ignoring facts both past and present.

For example, two of the founding members of the RSPCA – MPs Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and Richard Martin, were hunters – Buxton being the first chairman of the fledgling society and Martin championing the very first animal welfare law. Both were also significant players in the anti-slavery movement, which makes any accusation of their pastime being likened to slavery somewhat ironic, as well as being utter nonsense.

Anyone who has attended a hunt meet will see an array of families with their pet dogs. Hunting friends of mine delight in gardens full of birds hovering around the feeders they diligently ensure are full. At least three hunt masters have told me of the different steps they have taken to prevent the suffering of foxes on particular occasions, actions that would certainly surprise even the most ardent animal rightist. Numerous prominent hunting individuals, like Baroness Mallalieu, President of the Countryside Alliance, are involved in horse welfare groups. A foxhunting friend, who also shoots, just recently gave a very large donation to a dog rescue charity, helping that organisation purchase an overseas centre threatened with closure.

I’ve lost count of the number of hunting people who have agreed with me in saying we need new wildlife protection legislation that outlaws genuine acts of cruelty to all wild mammals, but crucially one that also recognises the need for sensible and humane wildlife management. It’s only their worry about the authorities and politicians misunderstanding management methods – a totally understandable fear – that gives them cause for concern.

A typical hunt meet – complete with “animal hating” supporters.

These are not the actions of people who dislike animals or see them solely as targets of their bloodlust and amusement; nor is it the sort of image or information that antis want the public to see and this explains the new response from anti-hunt groups. At a Labour animal rights group fringe meeting this year, speakers claimed there was nothing left to discuss on the issue of hunting. No one should even be allowed to question the validity of this law, the whole thing now having been settled. Just as in extreme regimes of either the Right or the Left, (or perhaps some mad, fundamentalist cult like ISIS) you simply must not deviate from “The Truth.”

This may also explains the shock expressed by anti hunters when National Trust members voted down a League Against Cruel Sports motion to ban trail hunting on its land. They just can’t comprehend it and now are apparently taking legal advice to get the vote overturned. No, the fact is, despite all the flaws in the Hunting Act, the lack of any scientific evidence to support it, the failure to even examine what its effects on wildlife may have been and the army of people who have criticised it, hunting with dogs is beyond the pale and must never, ever be talked of again. Welcome to the UK in 2017, land of free speech.

Thankfully, not everyone is ready to kowtow to such bigotry and some actually want to hear arguments from both sides, because, unlike many of our blinkered  anti hunt friends, they have minds of their own and prefer to come to their own conclusions.

No doubt this was the view of some students at York University a few months ago when they tried to organise a debate on foxhunting. But try as they might, no one was available to put the anti-hunting case, something that was slightly surprising as we’re constantly told that 80% of the population is supposedly opposed to hunting. Instead, it was agreed that I would give a presentation, which the organisers welcomed. The event was advertised and tickets sold.

But then the keyboard campaigners heard of it, ‘tweeting’ about the talk to other antis around the country who prefer sniping to debating. The event was cancelled on the day it was due to take place, with a failure to arrange security being cited as the reason. The student union organisers stated that they had never had to make a request for security in the past, so such precautions were not the norm. Clearly, on this occasion, the university had concerns about ‘counter protests’ and the safety of those attending. The ‘keyboard activists’ made no secret of their delight in achieving their aim on this occasion, ‘tweeting’ in their usual frenzied manner and often using rude, hateful or obscene language. It’s the same tactic they’ve adopted to force pubs or hotels hosting meets or hunt balls to cancel events; it’s as destructive as it is cowardly…and unfortunately it sometimes works.

It isn’t always like this. I took part in a debate at the student veterinary school at Exeter University a couple of years ago with the RSPCA’s Head of Public
Affairs, David Bowles. A good-natured and informative discussion resulted in a 50/50 vote at the end, which seemed to satisfy everyone. Numerous similar talks and presentations on hunting and wildlife management are always well-received and that should be no surprise when reasonable people with open minds are in the the audience. Just a few weeks ago, a presentation on foxhunting at a London school concluded with a vote in favour of repealing the Hunting Act.

How is it that young people in a suburban area and veterinary students are not only willing to listen to the arguments, but many can be convinced by
them? And that’s the point – they are exposed to arguments that antis don’t want them to hear.

Despite numerous flaws in the Hunting Act, there should be no further debate. Just one of the more repeatable tweets.

If the anti-hunt argument is so sound, it’s puzzling why is there such reluctance to see it put to the test in a live debate. How would relevant questions, such as those raised in a previous blog on starvation, ever be addressed? Far better to close down any discussion by any means available.  It’s therefore regrettable that a university, a place of listening and learning, is put in a difficult position because of concerns about disruption, but it is even more worrying that it appears free speech can be curtailed by a bigoted few who prefer the safety of ‘tweeting’ from their own homes to live debates.

As the French moralist, Joseph Joubert said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”

The question has to be asked, “What are the antis scared of?” The answer would appear to be any view that’s not theirs.

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A few days ago, the animal rights group Animal Aid accused the UK’s Royal Parks of “callously” slaughtering tens of thousands of wild animals including deer, squirrels and foxes, calling instead for ‘humane’ control.

It’s puzzling, because when it comes to deer and foxes, such culling would be done via a rifle in the hands of a professional – precisely the method argued to be ‘humane’ by the anti-hunting groups during the debates in the run-up to the Hunting Act.

In tactics that would make the EU’s Chief Negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier, look reasonable, goalposts in the animal rights world are constantly moved and new demands wait in the wings. What was humane for foxes, is not so humane for badgers and so the ‘banned wagon’ rolls on.

Normally, animal rights groups are very good at saying what they want banned but not so quick to explain what they actually support. Not so in this rare instance, in which Animal Aid explains that in their view a ‘humane’ alternative would be to limit the available food supply. That may sound feasible to those who rely on saying leave it all to nature, given that in areas of the world pretty-much devoid of human activity wildlife populations do indeed often find a balance dictated by factors such as predation, territorial availability, disease and food supply. But to get to that position from a man-managed environment a dramatic curve has to be followed, which comes down to one thing: starvation. Quite how this can be described as ‘humane’ certainly stretches the imagination, yet this is not the first time an animal rights group has taken a similar view.

Red deer carcass at Oostvaardersplassen

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) argues that wildlife does not need to be managed, its website stating, “Contrary to what hunters often say in defence of their cruel pastime, hunting has nothing to do with ‘conservation’ or ‘population control’…If left unaltered by humans, the delicate balance of nature’s ecosystems ensures the survival of most species. Natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals.”

This statement is full of contradictions. Firstly, “If left unaltered by humans” translates into no disease control, no protection for farming and no saving of vulnerable species. In effect, it means removing humans from the picture. Secondly, what happens when there are no natural predators for a particular species, such as deer or wild boar? I can hear ‘rewilding’ being the response.

Rewilding has its place, but only in particular environments and, importantly, with the involvement of people who have to live and work in the areas with the re-introduced species. Proper planning is crucial, which must include ‘exit strategies’ if numbers become too high.

But, when talking about the re-introduction of predators, can something so abhorrent to animal rightists. i.e. the chasing, terrifying and ripping apart a wild animal be humane? If they claim it’s natural, why then are such groups opposed to hunting with dogs when they operate in a very similar way to those natural predators removing “only the sickest and weakest individuals”?

Presumably it’s the involvement of nasty humans and removing them somehow diminishes the suffering of the animals hunted. And while talking of nasty humans, that description must also apply to most conservation organisations too, such as the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust and RSPB, all of which advocate the culling of various species to maintain properly balanced wildlife populations. It must also include the RSPCA and the Wildlife Trusts, both of which are partners in the Deer Initiative, a body that oversees and co-ordinates culls of hundreds of thousands of deer every year. Its website states, “With a lack of natural predators in the UK, the role of human control becomes more important.”

Leaving the countryside “unaltered by humans” may well be an attractive phrase for those who have no idea of life and death in the wild and do not have to bear the responsibility of managing any land, but for those who do, even some who might be regarded as natural bed-fellows of groups like Animal Aid and PETA, harsh realities soon arise.

‘Sanctuaries’ purchased by the League Against Cruel Sports since the late 1950s have long suffered from wildlife management problems, from deer with lungworm to a massive outbreak of bovine TB on the Baronsdown sanctuary in the mid 2000s. Even now, with cases of bTB having dropped significantly, there appears to be very low breeding success for the red deer on this land. And yet the LACS have the audacity to put a motion on trail hunting to the National Trust, telling them how to manage their land.

Elk in the absence of predators had a devastating effect in Yellowstone National Park

What Animal Aid, PETA and others are advocating cannot be compared with rewilding projects, such as the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, which is a natural wilderness. Wolves had been mercilessly exterminated over decades, the last one being killed in the 1930s. Elk numbers then rose to such a point that they ranged over wider areas and were destroying their own habitat, which of course was also habitat for many other species. The knock-on effect was that the condition of the herds became very poor. In the mid-1990s after careful planning, wolves were re-introduced and started to reduce the elk numbers, taking out the old, weak and injured, leaving a much smaller, healthier elk population. In addition, the undergrowth was allowed to recover, providing rich habitat for many other species.

No, what is being advocated here by these animal rights groups, although they probably wouldn’t admit it, is an experiment.

Wolf re-introduction project leader, Doug Smith, shows regenerated habitat in Yellowstone

A different type of rewilding has been taking place in Holland, in a 15,000 acre reserve that might be described a re-established wilderness called Oostvaardersplassen. The aim is to recreate a Paleolithic landscape and to bring back much of the wildlife, or as much as possible, that would have lived there at that time. Red deer were imported from Scotland and other animals – old breeds of cattle and horses – were brought in from various countries to help rebuild a stone age world, but, as in the wild, these animals would have to fend for themselves. Some meso (middle) predators, such as foxes, moved in naturally, but no apex (top) predators, such as wolves, arrived that were of sufficient size to control the growing numbers of large herbivores. Filmed images of starving, dying and dead animals, caused by over population, limited resources and harsh winters, outraged the public and the Dutch government had to form a special committee to deal with the situation. They recommended selective culling.

While the Oostvaardersplassen experiment continues in the hope that wolves do eventually reach the reserve and reduce the deer population, it cannot be denied that many animals have suffered, sometimes eating things like reeds, branches and bark because of severe hunger. It is, therefore, even more bizarre that an animal rights group would want to repeat it in the UK, where the re-introduction of natural predators such as wolves or lynx is hardly likely in Royal Parks.

As ever, in debates and arguments over hunting, shooting, culling and wildlife management, it is imperative to look beyond the clamour of animal rights groups’ demands and ask what do they actually stand for and where do their policies lead?

Little wonder there is reluctance to give answers to those questions once we get a glimpse of the real consequences.

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