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Can starvation be humane?

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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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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Land of Plenty

LAND OF PLENTY
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIELDS AND FOODS OF MODERN BRITAIN

Charlie Pye-Smith

 

Our farmers are facing the most uncertain future for a generation given the decision to withdraw from the European Union and its Common Agricultural Policy. In Land of Plenty, Charlie Pye-Smith travels the length and breadth of Britain to provide a rich and timely portrait of an essential aspect of our national heritage: farming.

 

No other walk of life possesses such a diversity of people and enterprises and Charlie Pye-Smith spends time with all of them. From lowland estates which use the latest computer-based technologies to remote hill farms; from ultramodern indoor dairy units producing millions of litres of milk a year to small, old-fashioned farms making cheese with 20 or 30 cows; from tenants who have just joined the industry to landowners whose families have farmed the same bit of land since Norman times.

While interest in the natural world is flourishing, most people have to go back several generations or more before they can find an ancestor who worked on the land. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority are ignorant about country matters and have only the haziest knowledge about the people who are supplying us with the most essential thing in life: our daily bread and butter, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables. Travelling around Britain during the past year, Charlie Pye-Smith shines a light on this most vital national industry.

The great British countryside has changed immeasurably over the past century. Land of Plenty explores its past, present and future alongside topics such as agricultural labour, self-sufficiency in food production, farming subsidies and Brexit. Covering the dairy industry in Somerset and Gloucestershire; beef in the Scottish Borders; sheep in North Yorkshire; pigs and poultry in East Anglia and Hampshire; vegetables in Norfolk; fruit in Essex and the West Country, Land of Plenty captures an industry with a remarkable ability to adapt and embrace innovation.

Before taking up his place at university, Charlie Pye-Smith spent a year working on a mixed farm in the Yorkshire Dales and farming remains his first love. He reports regularly on global farming and environmental issues for international research and development agencies and the media. He has written numerous books, including The Facts of Rural Life, Trees for Life and The Subsidy Scandal and co-authored Working the Land and The Wealth of Communities.

 

 

Reviews

“This book is a quest. A couple of years ago, the writer and broadcaster Charlie Pye-Smith set off in a Dormobile around the British countryside in search of British agriculture. I know, I know – I’ve already lost my younger readers…But we need to take where our food comes from seriously. As well as health, ethics and cost, there’s the matter of sustainability – how much food will we grow in these islands after Brexit and what are the implications for security of our supply? Pye-Smith’s investigation is thorough and at times remarkable.” The Times

“If you want to know the countryside, get out into it. Charlie Pye-Smith did just that for his book Land of Plenty and the result is a brilliantly well observed story of the British countryside, its history and its future.” Western Morning News

“Charlie Pye-Smith has done his work thoroughly and produced a welcome corrective to the kind of hysterical, ill-informed rubbish spouted by the like of Chris Packham on the issue of badgers and bovine TB. The story he tells is full of hope and trepidation. We can make a better, cleaner job of producing the food we need. We can repair the land. We can clean the rivers. We can bring back birds and mammals and butterflies. But we need the farmers to do it.” Literary Review

“Charlie Pye-Smith’s lifelong love of agriculture, and the countryside, is self-evident in his timely new book… It’s not just recommended reading for all those who have a special affinity with rural Britain, warts and all, but it should be top of the summer reading
list for every Cabinet minister. If Brexit is to work for all, the country needs a farming and food policy that is fit for purpose.” Yorkshire Evening Post

“Land of Plenty by Charlie Pye-Smith is a much needed exploration of farming in the UK today… In writing this he returns ‘ownership’ of food to us all and suggests that domestically grown food is too valuable to take for granted. It is up to everyone, urban or rural, young or old, Brexiteer or Remainer, to support our food producers (and by default landscape managers) by buying British, helping to ensure out rural communities remain resilient long into the future.” http://www.thinkingcountry.com

“Interested in how your food gets to you in Britain? Then Land of Plenty is a must-read…This accessible introduction to farming is a nuanced account of the countryside that is neither romantic or damning but refreshingly balanced. Its closing message is hard to forget, shining a light on our collective responsibility for the resilience of our farmers and security of our food: “Living in a land of plenty should be a reality, not just an aspiration, and we consumers have as much of a part to play as our farmers.””  http://www.farmdrop.com

 

LAND OF PLENTY
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIELDS AND FOODS OF MODERN BRITAIN
CHARLIE PYE-SMITH
Pub date: 27 July 2017
Price: £20 Hardback

Land of Plenty is published by Elliott & Thompson Books and can be bought from
amazon.co.uk, Waterstones or hive.co.uk

For more information, contact Ollie Dewis at olliedewis@icloud.com or
07531 803 375 http://www.eandtbooks.com / Twitter: @eandtbooks

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Keep beavering on!

Dr Nick Fox OBE is Director of International Wildlife Consultants.
He is a raptor biologist who has worked on research projects around the world, involving breeding, conservation, heritage, event management and education. As a farmer and author, Nick is interested in rural issues including farmland restoration, re-introductions, animal welfare, access, fieldsports and low impact leisure activities. Here, with his first-hand experience, he argues the case for allowing beavers to once again become established as part of Britain’s fauna.

Our native beaver is back and it’s here to stay! Current estimates put the population at about 800 in Scotland, 300 in England and 50 in Wales. The question now is: how to manage them? Having been absent from our countryside for the best part of 400 years, the beaver comes back to us with a clean sheet. It is up to us to make this species a shining example of wildlife management rather than a whipping boy of polarised prejudice. We are a nation which has got itself into a complete fiasco over the management of foxes, and of badgers and bovine Tb, which has gone completely over the top on legislating for dormice and great crested newts, and yet is prepared to let cats roam uncontrolled hunting and, in some cases, exterminating precious wildlife.

Eurasian beavers have been extinct in Britain for about 400 years.

I was at a meeting in Nairobi some years ago for CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Us Brits were earnestly preaching to the African
nations on how they should manage their elephants. All good stuff, after all there are so many species, such as elephants, that really need help to survive into the future. But in four of the African countries, the elephant populations had increased to the extent that they were not only destroying farming and livelihoods, they were wrecking their own habitats, on which a whole trophic cascade of other species also depended. A the end of a long and heated debate in which the western nations pressed the third world nations, the delegate for Botswana came up to me in frustration and said ‘Nick, this is all very well but we are over-stocked and we have 10,000 surplus elephants. Will you take them?’ I had visions of 10,000 elephants being off loaded from jumbo jets (what else?) at Heathrow and marching down Slough High Street. Imagine if we had just one elephant on the loose living wild in Britain! How can we have the gall, the arrogance, to tell impoverished nations how to manage wildlife when we have made such a comprehensive cock-up ourselves?

Of course elephants need saving. So do tigers. And all the rest. The hypocrisy is not our desire to help elephants, it is in our inability to tackle our own wildlife management issues here at home. We pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers, we love individual animals, especially cuddly ones or ‘under-dogs’. We call in vets and welfarists to deal with individual animal welfare. But population management requires a different professional mind-set, and must take priority over individual animal welfare. Our priorities should go like this:
1. Entire ecosystems. 2. Habitats. 3. Populations. 4. Individuals.

That is all pretty simple and obvious, surely? And yet time and time again we focus on what is in front of us – an individual – and lose sight of the bigger picture. We rescue an injured seagull and show a vet doing something heroic to save it, and at the same time have no effective methods of dealing with burgeoning urban gull populations. The pest control companies have to operate clandestinely for fear of upsetting people who don’t want to face facts. And how good we are at ignoring facts that are inconvenient! Our mouse traps that we use despite them not meeting International Standards for humane operation. Our millions of cats that at this time of year are killing and torturing young birds and mammals because we don’t want to control our pets.

Nature’s water engineers: beaver dams hold back water, slowly redirecting it and in doing so create wetland environments for other species.

The beaver is the first mammal in all our lifetimes to be given back to us to resume its rightful place amongst the British fauna. It is a unique opportunity for us to show the world how we can welcome and accommodate this iconic keystone species. Will we let the media exploit it as a ping pong ball of prejudice that sells copy? The media love to portray itself as the epitome of fairness by ‘telling both sides of the story’. Stirring up ill-informed and polarised attitudes not only sells newspapers, it also puts off weak politicians and civil servants from making any decisions. Social media send people rushing into opinion corners like super-charged flocks of sheep.

So despite the UK government having signed up to the Habitats Directive, Article 22, which commits us to at least assessing the return of endemic species that we have exterminated, and despite the five year Scottish Beaver Trial having been completed in 2015 at a cost of £2.2m, the beaver still has no protection in law and devolved governments have shown little sign of managing.

But make no mistake, beavers are back. We are talking King Canute here. Biology trumps politics. While politicians sit on the fence with both ears to the ground, beavers are, well, beavering away. Here at the Bevis Trust in Wales we have three families of beavers breeding naturally on the farm so that we have been able to study their effects and enable others to visit and get first-hand experience of the species. Beavers are really good engineers of wetland habitats creating opportunities for a myriad of other species. Where we once had just rushes, we now have small pools and ponds, reed beds and dragonflies, reed warblers, kingfishers, dabchicks, water rails, water voles, the list goes on increasing each year. They reduce the downstream flooding by holding back water in peak flows, and they filter farm slurry and organic sediments. Beavers have many benefits, but they can also be inconvenient. Like children, they can be messy and need management. They can block culverts or cut down prized trees. Management techniques for beavers are well-known and thoroughly tried and tested in Europe and America. There are handbooks on what to do and how to do it. Other countries have long since led the way and there is no need for us to re-invent the wheel. Politicians love to call for more research to avoid making decisions, and universities are quick to claim grants for research. But the reality is, this is all old hat. Many have been there before us and got the tee shirt.

What we don’t have in place is sympathetic legislation to manage the species. Beavers in the wrong places need managing. This may entail trapping them and moving them elsewhere. In the long term it could entail killing unwanted beavers, and this is what happens in other parts of Europe where populations have peaked and there are no longer any wolves or bears to provide natural controls. We need to learn our lessons. We have over-protected some species making legal management impossible. We have under-protected other species and tried to ignore their suffering. Can we make a balanced approach for the beaver, one that will ultimately ensure a stable, healthy population? And can it be tied in with environmental payments to farmers hosting beavers?

Dr Nick Fox releases a male beaver after a check-up.

The turmoil of Brexit means that politicians have other things to think about. But maybe Michael Gove will have more courage than his predecessors? Civil servants see no benefit in sticking their heads above the parapet. The Bevis Trust and others are approaching NGOs ranging from the National Farmers Union to the Country Land and Business Association, the Countryside Alliance, The National Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts to see if stakeholders, the people who at the end of the day will have to manage the species, can come to a consensus for a strategy plan for beaver management. We are calling for protection of the beaver and its lodges but with a Class Licence system in place so that managers can carry out various practices without needing to apply for individual licences. Those practices are in a hierarchy, starting with educating land-owners about managing beavers, to physically removing dams, to trapping and translocating beavers away from sensitive areas, to ultimately killing beavers where there is no other solution. These beaver managers would function only with the permission of the land-owner and the licence would cover actions for a number of specified purposes, such as public safety, flood prevention and so on.

If key NGOs can agree amongst themselves a Management Plan, then we are in a good position to approach the devolved governments, and politicians, seeing an open door, are more likely to walk through it. It will be a win-win. If, on the other hand, we all squabble and fight, egged on by the media, nothing will be done, we will have another wildlife mess, and people, like my friend from Botswana, will look at us and… well you can guess what he will say.

 

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Anti-hunters are not averse to believing their own propaganda, but the claim that the recent general election result swung away from Theresa May in favour of Jeremy Corbyn because of foxhunting really is a classic case of self-delusion.

Ignore Brexit, national security, the NHS and blatant uncosted bribes to the young and naive, apparently just one method of managing the fox population – something that affects fewer than 99% of the public – somehow rose to the top of the list of issues that affected how the country voted.  Never mind that when it comes to issues influencing voting intentions, only a handful of people raise hunting as a reason (a recent ORB poll showed that 8 out of 2038 people interviewed mentioned hunting). Even the media, as well as every politician who mentioned it, couldn’t get it right; it was not a “vote on bringing back foxhunting” – it was a vote on the future of the Hunting Act, which means an opportunity to see how effective this law has been in improving wild animal welfare…or not.

It might be argued that a letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph signed by 26 veterinarians may have had a bearing on a relatively small number of people. It stated that repeal of the Hunting Act would be wrong for a variety of reasons, but closer examination of their arguments reveal far more of an old anti-hunting prejudiced position than a scientifically-based view.

The first questionable point made was, “Studies suggest that since the introduction of the Hunting Act, fox populations in Britain have remained roughly stable” No reference was given. This is puzzling because the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has just released results of a 2017 survey which found that the fox population had dropped by 34%. Either the BTO finding is correct or the anti hunting vets’ view is correct – it cannot be both. At the very least, the BTO has based its results on work undertaken, while these anti-hunting vets appear to have no evidence to back up their statement.

Secondly, that well-worn phrase from the Burns Report is quoted, “hunting with dogs has serious welfare implications for quarry animals”, conveniently ignoring the accompanying statement, “None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications.” Lord Burns and the members of his committee of inquiry have said on a number of occasions that their findings cannot be taken as showing hunting with dogs to be cruel and more recently Lord Bonomy, when asked to examine foxhunting in Scotland, reported that the use of a full pack of hounds was necessary to allow fox control to be effective. It’s a pity these “veterinary  professionals who are committed to upholding the highest possible standards for animal welfare” don’t appear to be too concerned about the methods that have filled the vacuum in the absence of hunting.

Fox hunting, as explained by Lord Prescott: “Freddie the fox is saved !”

Thirdly, the veterinarians suggest that hunting hounds are spreading bovine TB, a view that is refuted by Dr Lewis Thomas of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, “The proposal by Ian McGill that hounds infected with bovine TB running around the countryside might be spreading the disease is clearly self-serving nonsense. Even supposing they were, which is highly improbable, the proposal demonstrates a profound ignorance of how bovine TB transmits between animals (and humans).” According to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), there is no evidence of dogs spreading bovine TB as they are regarded as ‘dead-end hosts’.

Finally, for scientists to use the results of selectively-worded public opinion polls as a basis for continuation of a law that has had very little examination as to its effect on wildlife, is shameful. I would hope that the wider veterinary profession will look more closely at what is happening in this post hunting ban period and, importantly, take into account those BTO fox population figures.

Fox hunting, as explained by the LACS. Watch the full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqPQwcQUxNE

At the other end of the campaigning spectrum, maybe the sight of John Prescott holding up a toy fox and claiming, “Freddie the fox is now safe” will be enough to convince you that the hunting ban means foxes are now living in some sort of vulpine utopia. Or you might be the type of person who doesn’t see the need to bother with scientific evidence at all and instead is convinced by a crowd  of adults prancing around like rejects from a children’s TV show.  If so, then the League Against Cruel Sports’ “Votes for Vinny” bus tour is for you, though I suspect film of this campaign stunt will leave most normal people speechless.

The very different ways in which the anti-hunting argument is put; one making pseudo-scientific statements, another hijacking the issue for a pathetic class war and the other…well, quite frankly it’s difficult to find the right words.

Surely a serious debate about conservation, wildlife management and animal welfare deserves better.

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The hunt for votes

It’s a sure sign Prime Minister Theresa May runs a very tight office that no one leaked the announcement of a general election. It seemed to catch everyone by surprise, not least the anti-hunting groups who normally have time to prepare the ground for their campaigns by a series of predictable steps.

The pattern is a familiar one. Firstly, these groups commission public opinion polls on hunting, complete with loaded questions, for example linking repeal of the Hunting Act to the legalising of badger baiting and dog fighting. This ensures they get the desired answers. Secondly, the results are given to the media implying that this is an issue so uppermost in peoples’ minds that it is highly likely to influence how they vote. Thirdly, on the back of this ‘solid evidence’ of public feeling, the next tactic is to get a question in quick to the candidates, again usually framed in highly emotive terms such as how do they feel about “killing for fun”?; is it right to “terrorise and rip apart wild animals”?; aren’t there more important issues than “bringing back hunting”? Unsurprisingly, those candidates unfamiliar with hunting and shooting sometimes give the answers the antis want.

Finally, once this happens, the candidate’s response is publicised, in effect ‘nailing their colours to the mast’ and, regardless of information that subsequently shows they have been duped, being seen to change your mind appears to be a sign of weakness and so initial positions and statements on hunting tend not to alter. For those who don’t give the compliant answers sought by the antis, their offices will be bombarded with e-mails and their names dragged through the social media mire – a threat no parliamentary new boy or girl wants to face – even though those threatening not to vote for them could well live outside the constituency or even in another country.

Briefly, this is what we’re going to see over the next few weeks, so it would be worthwhile reminding candidates that they can either play along with this silly game or they can look at the facts, both in terms of the issues involved and the totally fatuous claim that hunting plays a part in choosing the next government.

The LACS’ poll that implies repeal of the Hunting Act legalises dog fighting and badger baiting.

Clearly, anti-hunting groups are worried about this election, given Theresa May’s comments in support of foxhunting and the likely return of a Conservative government with a strong majority. It provides a real opportunity to address the idiocy of the Hunting Act… and this time even those anti pals in the Scottish National Party may not have sufficient numbers to interfere with a vote that has nothing to do with Scotland, despite a call for them to interfere once more. I suppose that will depend on how much money is on offer.

Another reason for the antis to be concerned is that their ‘Conservatives against Foxhunting’ ploy has been exposed as a fraud at this most sensitive time. The organiser of the group is a trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports – a body that for decades has openly supported (including financially) the Labour Party. Following an investigation into the group by Conservative Central Office, the CAFH was told to withdraw the use of the Conservative Party logo and recently had to reveal that funds have been received from other Labour-donating groups. Now a prominent member has defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Any genuine Conservative should think very carefully about supporting this group and anyone who is genuinely concerned about wildlife should also be wary of listening to some of the propaganda spouted by anti-hunting groups too. In recent radio debates prompted by Theresa May’s comments, we learned from a representative from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that NO wild animal population needs to be controlled, as they will all control their own numbers. Is there even one conservation or farming organisation that would agree with this view?

The League Against Cruel Sports leans this way too, when in another debate its CEO stated that foxes take very few lambs and that poor husbandry is the real culprit. He forgets to inform the listeners that the extent of fox damage is against existing widespread control by various methods. The only possible way in which that claim could be justified is if every single form of fox control across the country were to be suspended for a year, or possibly even longer, to enable a proper scientific study to be undertaken.

And what about those public opinion polls? Well, while the most recent YouGov poll still shows a majority against bringing hunting back onto the political agenda (67%) – that is a far lower figure than those used by anti hunt groups, so perhaps people are slowly realising that the Hunting Act has done no good whatsoever for animal welfare.

Part of the problem is that even the respectable end of the media spectrum sometimes gets it wrong. Here’s what Clare Foges in The Times says about the opportunity to look again at the ridiculous Hunting Act, “Mrs May can talk all she likes about working people; she can throw the arms of government around the “just about managing” classes and work hard to alleviate poverty — but if a free vote leads to the repeal of the foxhunting ban, and wall-to-wall news pictures of hunters anticipating the disembowelment of a fox with a swig of port from the stirrup cup, the ambition of restoring the Conservatives’ reputation as a party for the many will be truly sunk.” If the writer really believes that people will change their vote on an issue that is so removed from most people’s lives, she really should seek help. She says she’s not a class warrior, but does a fairly good impersonation. Far more relevant is a ORB poll produced a few years back asking what issues influence voting intentions; from a total of a 1509 people, four mentioned hunting with dogs.

Facts and figures always appear to be a little flexible during a general election, so it’s worth reminding everyone of a few facts that we know are absolutely irrefutable.

1. The Hunting Act was claimed to be a watershed in the way we treat animals, yet since 2004 RSPCA cruelty figures have risen year on year.
2. The Hunting Act was claimed to be good law, but because it doesn’t work as intended, antis blame everyone else and now want it strengthened.
3. The Hunting Act was claimed to be simple. LACS said in 1996, “Within a couple of months it would all be over and everyone would wonder what all the fuss was about.” Yet 12 years after the Hunting Act came into force, the hunting debate remains unresolved.

The Hunting Act has not improved animal welfare. Those opposed to hunting are reluctant to have the detrimental consequences examined.

Why should anyone believe anti hunt groups now when they make claims about voting intentions?

The commitment from the Conservatives to revisit the Hunting Act is absolutely the right thing to do, especially as no anti-hunting group has spent even a penny on assessing what effect this law has had on wildlife. One ominous indication came from a former LACS colleague of mine who is now a hunt master. He informed me that in one area near to him virtually every fox has been shot out; so much for this legislation ‘saving lives’ as is so often claimed.

There is one simple and obvious test to see if any of the political assertions made by the LACS, CAFH or any other anti-hunting group are true. If the anti-hunting polls are correct and if most people are indeed opposed to hunting with dogs and if it is an issue on which they are willing to make their choice at this election, then the result is a foregone conclusion – the Conservatives will not form the next government.

But if the Conservatives do win, doesn’t that prove once and for all that the antis’ claims about widespread support for the hunting ban, and the more exaggerated articles in the media, are just meaningless nonsense?

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It is an unfortunate fact that stories about animals in Asia often turn out to be distressing tales of cruelty and indifference, so the news that Taiwan is outlawing the sale and consumption of dog and cat meat is truly heartening.

The stray dog hanged by Taiwanese marines

A number of recent incidents in the country had raised the issue of animal cruelty and one in particular outraged the public. A few Taiwanese marines had caught a stray dog on their base, beaten it with sticks and then hanged the unfortunate beast over a wall, finally throwing the lifeless body into the sea. These brave individuals made the mistake of filming the incident which somehow found its way onto the internet. Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, is known for her concern for animal welfare and vowed to do more to protect animals when she first entered office. Now a bill has been passed to end the sordid and obscene practice of selling and killing dogs and cats for food in Taiwan.

Other Asian countries too are beginning to alter their attitudes towards dogs, although in certain cases only the sale of dog and cat meat is prohibited, rather than its consumption. Part of the problem in some countries, such as South Korea where the farming of dogs for meat is prevalent, is that while there are laws supposedly protecting animals, they are rarely enforced. Adding to this difficulty is the extent to which those laws apparently cover only “livestock”… and dogs are not regarded as livestock, so are raised and slaughtered as a cheap form of food.

Occasionally, when this issue is raised, I hear a few people say that cattle, sheep and poultry are consumed in this country, so we should not condemn people with different traditions and eating habits. That argument could not be more erroneous.

Firstly, what we now know about dogs and indeed what scientists are still discovering about them, is remarkable. The relationship with humans is unique, perhaps going back as far as 100,000 years and, as a consequence of that long-term contact, dogs’ brains are adapting to a point whereby they can anticipate the wishes of their human owners. This really does make them something special.

Dogs await their fate in the evil dog meat trade.

Secondly, the conditions in which dogs and cats are kept, the inhumane manner in which they are transported (usually crammed into cages on top of each other), and slaughtered by multiple blows to the head and a cut to the throat , often in full view of others awaiting the same fate, is something no animal should suffer.

Next year, South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and apparently officials there understand the sensitivity about dog meat and are emulating the Chinese.  In 2008, the BBC reported that during the Beijing Olympics dog meat had been taken off the menus of local restaurants as it might offend visitors, yet the reporter spoke glibly about how she had eaten puppy meat and casually described its taste. I well remember that news report and how nothing of the way dogs are treated was mentioned by that heartless BBC reporter. My disgust and anger at the time led to a BBC Radio 4 interview on why this this trade must stop.

Thirdly, the dogs involved in this obscene trade are not all from breeding farms; many will be stolen pets. The thought that a once loved animal could end its life in such a way is sickening.

Finally, the view that all cultures and customs must be respected, as if they are all equal, is ludicrous and dangerous. Some practices, such as FGM, the gender inequalities in so-called Sharia law, the ‘exorcism’ of children supposedly cursed by demons, ‘honour’ killings and marrying off a 13 year- old girl to a man four times her age can all be defined as another ‘culture’ but can never be described as civilised, let alone acceptable. In my view, the dog meat trade falls into this same category.

Yet in saying this, there will be some who may think that this is no more than just another animal story. And on the other side, there will be animal rights supporters, those who think they are the only ones who speak for animals, unable to understand that there are people who eat meat, use animal products, who hunt, shoot or fish and are as equally strong in their condemnation of the dog meat trade. This was obvious from the numerous supportive messages from hunting/shooting folk when the Taiwanese ban was first announced. It shouldn’t be surprising, as dogs form a crucial component in many field sports and hark back thousands of years to when man and dog first found each other mutually beneficial.

The San people and their dogs out hunting

Just consider this for a moment. The San people have inhabited the countries of Southern Africa for 20,000 years, living as hunter/gatherers. Their history includes poverty, oppression, exclusion and enslavement, yet despite such hardship they still cherish the relationship they have with dogs. Of course, many people use dogs as a hunting accessory, but as far as the San are concerned this is a real partnership, seeing them as guardians too; in effect dogs are the eyes and ears of their community. “We love our dogs” they proudly say. Put simply, the San understand dogs.

So why, given that hardship, and what we would regards as the primitive nature of the lifestyle of the San, can they find the dog so worthy of genuine love and care, while a technically advanced country like South Korea still permits the cruel and uncivilised abuse of man’s best friend, as if devoid of any sense of compassion?

The San people: “We love our dogs”

In an internet world, it is very easy to mount campaigns, gathering large numbers of people to support or oppose a variety of issues. Sometimes those involved in such campaigns can do so because all that is required is the touch of a computer button or because they are unaffected by the outcomes or are just ignorant of the consequences.

But some human actions cross a line of acceptability that justify widespread total condemnation. The dog meat trade crosses that line.

For more information see:
http://koreandogs.org/

 

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