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.



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.

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?

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:


For those who attended the Countryside Alliance Awards at the Houses of Parliament on 22nd March 2017, it will always be day to remember.

The annual ‘Rural Oscars’ event was a special occasion for the winners, who were invited to the House of Lords to accept their awards in various categories of countryside businesses. Andrea Leadsom MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, presented the awards saying, “Today’s winners and nominees represent the very best of Rural Britain and I’m delighted to celebrate the crucial role our post offices, farm shops and food start-ups play in connecting communities across the country.” It was also a day to celebrate the simple fact that their customers felt so highly of these local enterprises that they nominated them for regional and national awards – a consoling thought given the power of the ubiquitous supermarkets.

Andrea Leadsom: “Today’s winners and nominees represent the very best of Rural Britain.”

Yet, in a way, one thing was missing and that was the recognition of these awards to businesses and their achievements by the animal welfare/rights organisations that tend to see the Countryside Alliance only through the prism of hunting and shooting. Any vegetarian, and I speak as one of many years, must surely understand the benefit of locally sourced, free-range meat that avoids transportation of animals over long distances. This is precisely what those in the butcher category achieve in welfare terms and they are rightly recognised for this by the Alliance. If this was somehow achieved nationwide it would undoubtedly be a momentous step in the right direction for animal welfare. Yet the good that is achieved here is obviously far less important than keeping your image ‘pure’ and avoiding being seen to ally yourself and your organisation with, horror of horrors, a ‘hunting and shooting’ body. It is a perfect example of muddled and blinkered thinking.

Ian Clarke of Clarke’s of Queniborough, Leicestershire, joint Midlands Champion in the Butcher category

Thankfully, reasonable people are not so confused and the day was a total success, until, that is, another blinkered individual took centre stage moments later, but this time with devastating consequences.

The terrorist attack at the Houses of Parliament cost the lives of four innocent people, including that of PC Keith Palmer who gave his life trying to stop this madness. It meant that the Palace of Westminster was in ‘lock-down’ for five hours or more and while this was inconvenient for literally thousands of people kept inside the various buildings on the estate, it pales to insignificance compared to the many other victims of a deluded thug who were caught up in the attack, some with life-changing injuries. To say this self-appointed ‘jihadist’, who had a string of previous convictions for violent offences, was muddled would be an understatement, but when an individual has managed to convince himself of the absolute righteousness of his beliefs, sometimes terrible things happen.

Social media firms like to avoid taking responsibility for the content on the websites they make available or the communication links they provide. Their view is to uphold the right of “free speech”, conveniently ignoring the fact that few would welcome a society that permits absolutely no curb on what can be said at any time and in any circumstance. They appear reluctant to impose such restrictions and, as a result, those with simple minds or criminal intent can be influenced or worse, radicalised. Co-ordination of terrorist activities is made easy via these forms of communication, while vile messages are commonplace. None of this is new to the hunting world, who just recently faced another spate of insults and threats of violence on an anti-hunting website following the death of horse rider and showjumper, Sue Webb. Were it not for the tragic circumstances, the ignorance of those posting such comments would almost be laughable, as she was taking part in a drag hunt.

The Crown Prosecution Service has recently issued new guidelines on threatening and insulting comments on social media and the Countryside Alliance has reported this abusive Facebook page to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, currently inquiring into “Hate crime and its violent consequences”. Just as a newspaper is responsible for the content it prints, even if it disagrees with the author, social media companies should not be allowed act as innocent bystanders. Distancing themselves from the views expressed after the event is simply not good enough.

Social media and the promotion of rural businesses have come together in a new dispute involving the Kent Wildlife Trust. Michael Bax, is the former High Sheriff of Kent and is involved in Kent’s rural economy, making him a useful link with corporate supporters of the charity and allowing it to undertake numerous conservation projects. Again, most reasonable people would probably think his appointment as chairman of the trust in 2014 was a good idea. But Mr Bax is a former Master of the Blean Beagles and naturally, according to those who see red every time the word ‘hunt’ appears, he must go. The Kent Wildlife Trust’s slogan is “Protecting Wildlife for the Future” and that, in the minds of the naïve and ignorant, means “no killing”. Now the trust being targeted by keyboard warriors calling for Mr Bax to be sacked.

The Kent Wildlife Trust must decide if it wants to stand with hunt saboteurs and other blinkered anti-hunt activists or with those who understand the complexities of managing wildlife and the countryside. Unfortunately, some members of the various wildlife trusts around the country can be guilty of holding irrational views, in just the same manner as those who argued for the Hunting Act – a law that is undoubtedly detrimental to animal welfare. Those who hate beagling and are so concerned about the quarry should note that this piece of legislation led directly to the death of tens of thousands of hares by farmers and landowners, the animals’ status having changed and population reduced to prevent poaching.

Remember, in the muddled thinking of some in the wildlife trusts, “no killing” is fine if you are a badger, but not if you are a deer or a grey squirrel; if you’re a hare, clearly your biggest threat appears to be a pack of beagles.

A letter to China

At the end of 2016, I received a copy of an extremely depressing letter from Dr Nick Fox OBE, the director of International Wildlife Consultants.

I’ve known Nick ever since I left the League Against Cruel Sports – he was the first person to congratulate me for walking out of that organisation. That was in 1995 and since then we have worked on a few joint projects, the most relevant for me being the exploration of wounding rates in foxes that are shot. That research, which was validated by peer-review in 2005, was not, as some alleged, an attack on shooting, but rather proof the claim heralded by anti-hunting groups at the time the Hunting Act was being debated that shooting is always preferable to hunting is simply wrong.

A hunter, shooter, but foremost a conservationist, Nick is also highly respected around the globe, mainly for his work in falconry, sustainable use of species and animal welfare – it is for this work he was awarded the Order of the British Empire. It is also because of this work that he felt so strongly about the contents of the open letter he copied to me, which was written by Dr Chris Brown, the Chief Executive Officer of the Namibian Chamber of Environment to the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia, Xin Shunkang.
The letter refers to ways in which China is exploiting natural resources in Africa and here are some extracts:
“While we recognize that not all Chinese nationals are involved in wildlife crimes, Namibia’s environmental community believes that the situation regarding Chinese nationals committing wildlife crimes in Namibia is far more serious and broad-based than you have acknowledged.”
“As Chinese nationals moved into all regions of Namibia, setting up businesses, networks, acquiring mineral prospecting licenses and offering payment for wildlife products, the incidence of poaching, illegal wildlife capture, collection, killing and export has increased exponentially. Chinese nationals have been involved in, and/or are the commercial drivers behind: the escalating poaching of rhinos and elephants in Namibia and the illegal export of rhino horn and ivory, the capture, trade and export of pangolins, the import of Chinese monofilament nets in industrial quantities via Zambia to the northeast of Namibia, which are destroying the fisheries of the Zambezi, Chobe, Kwando and Okavango Rivers, the unsustainable commercialization of fisheries in these north-eastern rivers and wetland systems for export to cities and towns in neighbouring countries, the capture and killing of Carmine Bee-eaters at their breeding colonies by means of nets, the rise in bush-meat poaching wherever Chinese nationals are working on road construction and other infrastructure, including tortoises, monitor lizards, pythons and any other form of wild meat, including from protected and endangered species, the illegal collection of shellfish on the Namibian coast, the illegal transit through Namibia and attempted export of poached abalone from Cape waters through Namibian ports.
We are also aware of long-standing interests by some Chinese nationals to start a shark fin industry in Namibia, a practice that has caused widespread damage to shark populations in many parts of the world, including in South Africa.
And more recently, Chinese nationals have proposed to capture marine mammals and seabirds for the Asian aquarium market. The Namibian scientific and environmental communities have strongly rejected this proposal on sound conservation and ethical grounds, as has the Namibian public.”

It puts into perspective the degree to which wild animals are being killed for a variety of reasons and it highlights why the focussing of so much time, money and effort on activities such as hunting with hounds in the UK is so misguided. For a country that prides itself on being a world leader in so many fields, it is a sad fact that, unlike the conservation groups that co-signed the letter and indeed the numerous countryside organisations in the UK, many Chinese appear not to understand the meaning of animal welfare, wildlife management or sustainability and even those who do know better seem powerless to stop such exploitation.

A Day to Remember

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is a day to remember the horrors of where a twisted and brutal ideology can lead and it’s important because, as time goes on, fewer people will have had first-hand knowledge of what actually happened.

When I was still in my teens, I met someone who had been one of the first soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany in the last months of the Second World War. Benny had been part of the British 11th Armoured Division that had liberated the camp in April 1945 and he told this dumbstruck boy how he’d used a bergen-belsenbulldozer to push the dead, emaciated and diseased bodies into mass graves.

I say this because Benny had no reason to lie to me, no reason to exaggerate or make a political point – it was the truth and he rightly felt that we should never forget what the Nazis had done and why they had to be stopped.

So when I see anarchists or far-right groups using the swastika as some kind political statement and acting like their fascist heroes, I remember what Benny told me, just as I do when comments are made on social media likening fox hunters and the Countryside Alliance to the Nazi Party. The perfect combination of idiocy and ignorance, but there is something of an irony in this claim, given the history of the hunt saboteurs.

The name Dave McCalden may not mean very much to today’s sabs, but back in the early 1970s he was a leading light in the anti-hunting movement. McCalden sat on the Hunt Saboteurs Association committee and edited HOWL, the official magazine of the HSA. In the very first issue, a centre page was almost entirely dedicated to attacking Jewish form of slaughter known as shechitah, in which the animal is not stunned before being killed by a cut to the throat. As a vegetarian for over 40 years, I don’t condemn people who eat meat, but I do not accept any argument, religious or otherwise, for not properly pre-stunning animals destined for slaughter – a position held by the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA. But the point here is that kosher slaughter is hardly an issue central to the pro/anti hunting debate, so why it was included in an anti-hunting newsletter is odd to say the least, unless of course it suited the ideology of the editor.

The first issue of HOWL

The first issue of HOWL

McCalden was a member of the National Front and helped form their policy on hunting, which of course was to oppose it. The news of the stance was happily reported in HOWL.
It was no secret in hunt saboteur circles at the time that McCalden had links to the National Front and other far-right groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. These were the days when the NF and the Anti-Nazi League often clashed and it was inevitable that McCalden’s involvement in the anti-hunting movement would come to a head, as it did at an HSA annual general meeting in Newcastle, when a motion for his expulsion had been tabled. The arguments from both sides became very bitter, with the Holocaust frequently being quoted. I can remember vividly the reaction when a prominent animal rightist said, “Well, if they were meat eating Jews, so what?”. It must be said that the majority of those present did not hold this view and McCalden was expelled from the HSA, though other prominent saboteurs made it clear they regretted the move, one saying in an outburst, “Why are we doing this? We’re all anti-hunting, aren’t we?”

That comment sums up the gullibility, naivety and obsessive nature of those who see everything – human abuse, animal abuse, human welfare or animal welfare – through the narrow prism of hunting.

Dave McCalden continued to argue his case both in this country and later in the USA, becoming a vocal supporter of Holocaust denial and founder of the Institute for Historical Review. He published books and newsletters on the ‘facts’ as he saw them and even produced films that supposedly ‘proved’ the Nazi concentration camps did not exist. He died nazi-commentin 1990.

The next time a saboteur tries to denigrate those who hunt by comparing them to ‘Nazis’, ‘ISIS’ or any other manifestation of human wickedness and brutality, it might be worth reminding them that some of the original members of their organisation were not as compassionate as they might think.

Today should also remind us where blindly following any bigoted ideology might lead.