Archive for December, 2019

Arrogance and ignorance

No doubt the statement in the Conservative Party 2019 general election manifesto, namely that there would be no change to the Hunting Act, will be leapt upon by anti-hunting groups.

In the great scheme of things, this was probably a wise move, knowing that the animal rightists and parts of the media will always exaggerate hunting’s importance as a vote-changing issue when, in reality, it is nothing of the sort.

The Labour Party’s 50 point animal welfare plan.

Nevertheless, it will be taken by some as an indication that hunting’s days are numbered and, as predicted, animal rightists and others with political prejudices can now turn their attention to other field sports. That should be a real worry, not only for those who support hunting and shooting, but also for genuine conservationists. Politicians who are concerned with the realities of the countryside rather than making populist statements should also be wary and apprehensive, because once on that animal rights path it will be very hard to get off it.

Think back to that time in the run-up to the Hunting Act. Shooting was the alternative method advocated by anti-hunting groups and subsequently this law, once it had passed, was hailed as being perfectly worded and enforceable. Now – mysteriously- shooting has become a target itself and the anti-hunting groups’ various reasons to amend the Hunting Act continue to grow. Their vehicle for further tightening this legislation is, of course, the Labour Party and the animal welfare policies contained in their 2019 manifesto cunningly slip into animal rights. Under the guise of ‘closing loopholes’ in the Hunting Act to prevent ‘illegal hunting’, there would be a recklessness clause and the introduction of custodial sentences.

Terrier work, currently allowed in the Hunting Act permitting gamekeepers to use this method when controlling foxes, would be made illegal – a step that reneges on previous promises of the Labour Party not to interfere with shooting. And continuing in this anti field sports vein, there would be a ‘review’ of grouse shooting. The line between cruelty offences towards domestic animals and wild animals would be blurred and while at one level this is sensible, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is leading or how such a new law might be applied to legitimate and properly organised field sports.

One might easily think, if they were to believe the claims of certain animal rights groups and their spurious public opinion polls, that such policies would sway many voters into supporting any political party that makes them an election promise. But no, such bold claims have been proven to be groundless and nothing more than bluster, given the results of the 12th December. The architect of the Labour’s animal welfare policies, shadow DEFRA minister Sue Hayman, lost her Workington seat, an indication that for all the speculation about how Workington Man might vote, obviously he wasn’t too impressed with this class war nonsense, as he voted Conservative.

An anti responds to the Boxing Day tweet of newly elected Greg Smith MP

Even with a clear majority, some in the new Conservative government need a bit of education. Warning politicians of falling for the easy or purely emotional demands from animal rights groups should be a priority for everyone who supports field sports, as is standing up to animal rights groups bullying. The trouble is, if voicing what can appear to be an unpopular policy is uncomfortable, it is doubly so for politicians and so it is sad that one sensible voice has just left the House of Commons.

As one of the few Labour MPs to oppose the introduction of the Hunting Act, Kate Hoey has never swayed from the view that the use of dogs, in particular scenting hounds, in wildlife management. It was because of that commitment that Kate was invited to become the Chair of the Countryside Alliance, a position she held for a number of years. It was therefore a privilege to hear Kate make her first speech after standing down as a Member of Parliament and, fittingly, the occasion was the annual dinner of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. While the Commons has lost a strong supporter of field sports, it would be good to think that this is not the end of her Westminster career, as voices such as Kate’s are vital in the debates surrounding hunting and shooting.

Kate Hoey speaking at the annual dinner of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management earlier this month.

If ever there was a time for hyperbole and untruths to be exposed, it’s now, with exaggeration and outright lies apparently rife everywhere whenever issues such as climate change, meat eating, the badger cull, trophy hunting and shooting are debated, in addition to the perennial arguments about hunting with hounds.

It’s not helped by conservation bodies that sometimes join forces with animal rights groups, as has happened in a recently formed coalition opposed to grouse shooting estates, seemingly in ignorance of their own policies on wildlife that are diametrically opposed to each other.

Neither is it helped by the utter ignorance of some in the media.

Boxing Day this year saw large crowds of supporters attend hunt meets up and down the country, this despite the futile attempts of some antis to have such gatherings banned on council owned properties. Certain journalists do understand the arguments, but other most definitely do not, as was clearly the case in one radio interview in which I took part. Hunting is ‘killing for fun’ and those who take part ‘delight in seeing a terrified animal run for its life and torn to pieces’ – the usual old lines trotted out by those who have never been anywhere near a hunt and gain all their knowledge via social media.

Even when it was pointed out that doctors, nurses and families with children attend the meets, they were all dismissed as sadists. The fact that hundreds of veterinarians, many being members of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, also support hunting with hounds, the response to this was a staggering, “Well, they shouldn’t”.

Somehow, a radio interviewer is more clued-up on wildlife matters than those who have spent years studying the science of veterinary issues, conservation and animal welfare.

The West Norfolk Hunt Boxing Day meet at Raynham Hall

But the most annoying aspect of this interview, which admittedly became somewhat heated on both sides, was the refusal by the interviewer to suggest any other acceptable method of wildlife management when challenged. That, according to the interviewer, was something the Countryside Alliance should invent; so simply because he doesn’t like a particular activity, those who hold a different view should change their ways and take part in something else. Arrogance and ignorance in equal measure.

Even with the overblown, false and frankly ridiculous claims put about on social media that a Corbyn-led government was about to take power, the reality on the ground thankfully turned out to be very different and, in a similar way, the true support for hunting with hounds was very clearly evident on Boxing Day.

To paraphrase what Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “Rumours of the death of hunting have been grossly exaggerated.”

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