The government website Gov.uk is a mine of interesting, though often Kafkaesque mix, of information and policy. Take for example the following from DEFRA, where it seems that:-
“Ferret and other Mustelinae (sic) keepers can join a register to share information about their animals with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). APHA will use the information on the register to contact you with information and guidance about disease prevention if there is an outbreak of disease affecting your animals. It will also help APHA understand how many ferrets and other kept Mustelidae there are in Great Britain, and where they are.
You can sign up if you keep one or more Mustelidae, including: ferrets, polecats, stoats, mink [and/or] hybrids of these animals. You are a keeper if you are responsible for the day-to-day care of the animals. This includes animals kept as pets.
You do not have to join the register by law at the moment. [our emphasis] It is likely to become compulsory in the future if you keep more than a certain number of ferrets or other Mustelidae. The number has not been decided yet.”
If you join the voluntary register, APHA will include your details on the compulsory register [what compulsory register? This is just guidance isn’t it?] when it is created. You will not need to re-register.
Ferrets, mink and other members of the Mustelidae family are particularly susceptible to SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They can infect members of their own species and there is evidence that mink can pass the infection back to humans. [our emphasis]
So, there you have it, regulation by stealth under the ever widening remit of public health policy. We can but hope that the nasty implications of this ‘guidance’ appear to have escaped those organisations supporting field sports, and that they will take the necessary action.
BUT, if there really are grounds to suspect mink as a vector for SARS/covid-related virus transmission, would not good public policy include the recommendation that all methods of mink control should be allowed and encouraged? Surely the best way to begin and help restore confidence in both public health policy and the wider government’s desire to regulate and control would be an immediate derogation for Mink (which is classed as an invasive species anyway) from the Hunting Act?
With regards to health, few people go to the Doctor’s surgery for a diagnosis and then tell him how he should do his job and what drugs he should prescribe. Yet from the daily email barrage, we receive it is strange how many people with no expert knowledge or identifiable experience ‘know’ exactly how stag, mink, foxes, or hares should be controlled or not, and by what method. They then share these thoughts on social media with a scandal hungry audience that appears to want to be both outraged and shocked that wild animals are just that, and not the latest Disney designed playthings.
As a result and regardless of the utility and welfare argument that we promote for hunting with hounds we are constantly having to counter the prejudices of an audience that has been fed on a diet of sugary coated emotional deceit, and as a result ‘knows’ all the answers. This ‘forget the facts I know a bad thing when I see it’ mentality is cynically exploited by AR groups to increase their reach and funding and allows them a degree of legitimacy together with the ability to influence public policy through groups such as PAW ( Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime).
Under the auspices of DEFRA PAW is described as a collaboration of organisations who work together to reduce wildlife crime through prevention and awareness-raising, better regulation, and effective and targeted enforcement. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yet the membership list which was last updated in 2018 has some very curious bedfellows working towards those ‘common’ aims.
Despite PAW, the reality, as seen at a recent visit to a large agricultural show, is one of a local focus. On one stand the police were encouraging the public ‘to find, report and combat illegal hare coursing’.
There are good reasons for the police interest in illegal coursing. Evidence, both real and anecdotal, suggests that the individuals (estimates give figures of less than 200) are frequently involved in more serious and lucrative criminal matters. Because of this link to criminal activity, the priority for the police in most areas is not the animal welfare aspects, but the allied anti-social, criminal damage, and theft issues that are part and parcel of illegal coursing.
Some years ago, Baily’s was invited to attend a conference on Rural Policing. Following extensive discussion and research, we made the decision to support what became Operation Galileo. We did so because we were made aware that anti-hunt groups had discovered that most police officers including those at an operational control level did not have the ability, or local knowledge, to quickly distinguish between reports concerning fictitious ‘illegal hunting’. Responding to these calls often resulted in the ‘wasted’ deployment of scarce police resources attending and observing the legitimate activity being undertaken by registered foot packs rather than targeting the activities of gangs involved in illegal coursing.
The active pursuit, removal, and report for prosecution of those involved in trespass/ criminal damage of any sort, but particularly those who use ‘their’ dogs to course hares, should be welcomed by anyone interested in Animal Welfare.
Today information collated through Operation Galileo can be shared between forces across the country and it would be hoped that the opportunity for such deliberate misidentification as outlined above has been reduced, but then why let facts get in the way of government policy on the countryside?