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Archive for December, 2018

Shortly after the Hunting Act was passed, a significant number of people felt it important to record the process by which this legislation had come to change the activity of hunting with hounds. The result was a book written by environmental journalist Charlie Pye-Smith that revealed a catalogue of duplicity, fabricated evidence and bigotry at both government and activist level. Here, John Parkes revisits that book and reminds us of the falsehoods on which the Hunting Act is based.

 

When the Saxon kings reigned in England every man was entitled to hunt. This was mainly for the pot to add meat to the diet on a more regular basis. Then the Normans came and after the Conquest, brought with them formal codes for hunting which was restricted then to the King and the nobles to whom he had granted ownership under the crown of large swathes of the country. This was backed up by draconian Game Laws, where contravention was subject to punishment up to death. These laws remained in much the same form until the 19th Century when transportation to the colonies was an additional punishment for poaching. The effect on countryside dwellers was severe.

The industrial revolution in the late 18th and then 19th Centuries saw migration from the countryside to the towns where people sought employment that offered more than their low standard of rural living. They took with them the feelings of resentment towards their feudal masters who, among other things, deprived them of their ancient rights to hunt. Country dwellers continued to exist but still saw poaching as a way to supplement their diets. This led to a disconnect between urban and rural dwellers in their attitude to those who they each looked on as an oppressive class. As political consciousness grew among the working classes in urban England, this attitude hardened, particularly towards those who continued to live well and to hunt freely, exacerbating the class divisions that were growing and which to an extent still exist today.

Hunting was latched on to by the Labour Party after its emergence as the representative of the working poor and it was held as a useful political tool when stirring up class resentment. At the same time early animal welfare was becoming an issue in the Victorian era, largely devoted to the protection of horses, which were the main mode of transport and agricultural working power available in the country.

The 20th mid-Century saw the emergence of a variety of animal welfare and animal rights organisations that offered their services to the growing middle classes who in latter days were shown in film and television broadcasts images of animals, wild and domesticated that stirred feelings of sentimentality that have become widespread. This too has become a useful political campaigning tool which is used by those seeking support for their own interests. The Labour Party in particular exploited what it proclaimed was a Tory pursuit to death of defenceless wild animals for their immoral personal gratification. This reached its peak when the Blair Government decided to use hunting as an issue for electoral advantage.

Legislation for a Hunting Ban

Blair misjudged the policy that he thought would only affect a small minority of the population so he decided to go ahead to legislate for a ban on hunting. This became effective in 2004 and he assumed, wrongly, that hunting would wither and die and thus remove a long-running political sore as a sop to the Labour Left.

The story of this unhappy affair has been thoroughly investigated and reported in the 2006 publication RURAL RITES: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice. This 96 page survey commissioned by the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group was written by the impartial professional journalist Charlie Pye-Smith.

Chapter One entitled `Outlawing Your Enemies` describes the skilful way in which those who hunted were demonised on a regular basis by a small band of Labour MPs who were determined to use a hunting ban as `payback for the miners`; a matter of revenge for the way in which the Thatcher government defeated the miners` strike and their attempts to bring down the Conservative Government. There was no question that the ban would be relevant to animal welfare or its possible effects on the lives of those creatures. It was a political tool to be used in a cynical attempt to gain political ends.

Chapter Two is called `Corrupting the Evidence`. This shows in detail the way sympathetic scientific academics manipulated what they described as `incontrovertible evidence` to support the justification for a ban. Pye-Smith quotes chapter and verse to show how misinformation and falsification were employed when presenting cases to government enquiries and he names those involved. The ban was achieved by a government that was more interested in justifying its legislative plans than to create laws that would offer protection to what it declared were endangered species.

Chapter Three, titled `Lobbyists or Liars?` shows the way in which the animal rights lobbies added their weight to the `scientific evidence` put forward by their tame academics. It reveals the way in which political favours were sought in return for cash so that Parliamentary support for a ban could be bought. The questionable content of the lobby groups` assault on hunting proved successful and was thus utilised in an enhanced form in the social media blitz that took place during the campaign before the most recent general election.

In Chapter Four, Pye-Smith writes about `Searching for Solutions`. The summary he draws from his study is that hunting plays a crucial part in wildlife management and that the current legislation has adversely affected the welfare of the wild animals it said it aimed to protect. He outlines the way in which new Wild Mammals Protection legislation should be introduced to replace the existing raft of laws that are now inadequate for the task. He shows clearly how hunting under licence, strictly controlled by legislation can make a positive contribution to the wild population of the British countryside. This masterly publication deserves to be read again even more widely and used as a model for the future so that there really can be a solution to a long-running problem that can be resolved with the agreement of all those who have a genuine interest in this subject.

John Parkes has been closely involved in hunting with hounds for 70 years and since his early teens has taken a keen interest in natural history and the welfare of our wild creatures. As a professional soldier and then farmer he has been well placed to observe the way in which attitudes have changed and the way in which our urban population has become separated from countryside matters. He believes that better information and education will help close that gap.

RURAL RITES: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice by Charlie Pye-Smith (2006) is available to be read and/or downloaded free of charge at: http://charliepyesmith.com

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