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Archive for December, 2017

A war on field sports

Speculation about a change of heart within the Conservative Party over its stance on hunting and shooting would seem to stem from Number 10’s new environment advisor, former MP Sir John Randall, who, according to the latest report, supports new curbs on grouse and pheasant shooting and firearms licensing. Having met Sir John some time back and explained, to no avail, that simple protectionist policies generally don’t work, he presumably believes that ditching certain views will attract votes.

The Daily Telegraph predicts a ‘War on field sports’

Whether the media stories about Theresa May dropping the commitment to revisit the Hunting Act are true or not, it didn’t seem to dampen spirits on Boxing Day this year. Hundreds of hunts met all over the UK, some meets seeing thousands of supporters in attendance. A different theme was raised by Baroness Mallalieu in an article in the Daily Telegraph in which she argues that the real motivation behind the Hunting Act is not the welfare of animals but the hatred of the people who hunt. It’s a bold statement and, for those who dislike hunting, one that clearly ruffled some feathers.

It prompted an LBC radio interview in which the presenter let me know that he was implacably opposed to hunting, quoting the “chasing and tearing of an animal apart just for sport” as his reason. It’s a commonly heard view and those who concur with that standpoint will naturally feel annoyed at the Baroness’ comments, but that is to overlook a crucial point her article was making.

The Beaufort Hunt, Boxing Day 2017

Most people have little or no direct experience of hunting with hounds and indeed why should they? Hunting bears little or no relation to their lives and those who do take a passing interest in the activity probably gain their knowledge from news reports or social media, meaning that they are likely to accept without question the propaganda put out by the anti-hunting groups. It’s that propaganda which paints hunting people as law-breakers and cruel animal abusers. It’s easy to see why those who give the matter minimal consideration would be likely to hate the perpetrators of such blatant cruelty, especially when all that is shown on websites is blood and gore. Imagine if very few people owned or drove cars and all they saw were the horror of accidents, the environmental destruction and the pollution vehicles cause, it wouldn’t be too challenging to mount a campaign to totally ban the car.

The real hatred of hunting, and consequently those who take part, is driven by the obsessive anti-hunting groups. I can recall one League Against Cruel Sports committee member saying that she did not want hunting to ‘clean up its act’ as that may mean hunting as a whole might never be banned; a perfect example of wanting to get at the people involved rather than improving animal welfare.

That view is still prevalent even years after passing the Hunting Act, the anti-hunting groups having argued before the ban that all hunts could change to following a false scent, yet now seeking to end trail hunting too.

Social media sites tend to show numerous incidents of abuse towards hunt saboteurs, or self -appointed ‘hunt monitors’, but it’s simple to film selected segments of any confrontation and easy to understand why those feelings boil over when the two sides meet in the hunting field. I can’t think of any other activity that would contend with similar provocation at such a consistent level. A cursory glance at the literature produced by ‘activist’ groups reveals a far greater hatred of hunting people that of hunting itself.

Being the executive director of the LACS inevitably brought you in contact with hunt officials in debates, interviews and in the hunting field. Talking to those holding a different position was, unsurprisingly to most reasonable people, part of the job, yet, in the eyes of some, accepting an invitation to discuss hunting over a meal was viewed as heresy. It would be wrong to imply that such discussions didn’t make an impression – hearing another point of view is generally a good idea – but the reaction from certain erstwhile colleagues put their intense dislike of hunting people into focus. The most common question was, “How can you talk to these people?” as if somehow this was the most outrageous act. I could never understand that attitude, especially towards people with a different opinion who simply want to talk.

It had a detrimental welfare result too. A request from what was then the British Field Sports Society to co-operate with the League to combat certain forms of poaching was snubbed.

That attitude prevails to the present day with many threatening and obscene comments on social media, some outraged that a school or college might dare to invite a pro-hunt speaker. Just earlier this year, a Countryside Alliance talk at York University was cancelled at the last minute following security concerns raised by numerous comments by anti-hunters using social media. The irony being that this was originally planned to be a debate, but no one from the anti-hunting side was prepared to take part – a cowardly but effective way of curbing a view that a small vociferous group doesn’t want anyone to hear.
It’s a wider problem and something Universities Minister Jo Johnson is trying to combat by stating in a recent speech that universities must promote free speech and encourage open minds. To hold a strong view is one thing, but to avoid any form of debate and then go on to close down an opportunity for an alternative opinion to be expressed by implicit threats of disruption sits awkwardly with the claim that the motivation is purely compassionate, as do other social media comments, some of which delight in the death of anyone involved in hunting. And that’s not hatred of hunting people?

Understandably, most people say they dislike the idea of animals being killed and yet at the same time they accept killing in certain situations that suit their lifestyles. They rationalise their views depending upon their own circumstances, yet they fail to see that this is precisely what those who support hunting are doing. Too much attention is paid to the main anti-hunting groups, who will always condemn actions that lead to violence, but are happy that their ‘celebrity’ supporters use language that can only be described as hateful, inevitably encouraging others to go further.

People will, no doubt, strongly disagree with Baroness Mallalieu, but the reaction on social media to her article, and probably to this one too, will prove her point.

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