Attending a recent social event with a local hunt the conversation naturally turned to why anti hunt vigilantes are so successful at playing the ‘victim card’ or the ‘saviour card with a plea for funding’ as the need and opportunity arises. During the conversation the following astounding statement was made ” Of course what we need is another march, and a return to the days prior to the Hunt Act and …get back to normal” the statement was emphatic and final, there would be no discussion or debate.
There was a complete lack of understanding of why we are playing catchup in the media (social or tabloid) and a complete denial of the part that hunting and hunting people have played in getting us to a point where we are not moving forward in the perception of the public but are running on an invisible treadmill just to try to maintain our current position. Some hunting people have not accepted that the world has moved on and that we are now playing a game. A game in which we do not know the rules, where the umpire is fickle, and much like the Gladitorial games of ancient Rome is frequently guided by the whims of the baying audience- they want sensation, not fact or evidence just social media popularity. And at the moment we are mere pawns in that game.
The truth is we do not help ourselves – even since our last well-read and well-received Editorial, hunting folk have still not got beyond liking cute imagery- harking back to ” Do you remember when…” But never looking forward – always waiting for someone else to do something, and then criticising, rather than supporting the efforts made to reach our objective.
Unfortunately, rigid adherence to 1950’s based ‘ostrich thinking’ has led to hunting with hounds to apparently become devoid of a long term strategy or fit for purpose 21st-century animal welfare based governance. Those who should have directed and led that strategic thinking, either do not or will not, accept that the world has changed. This has had led to hunting being unable to effectively engage in the post Hunting Act environment either actively or passively. The unintended consequence of this has been that many hunting supporters have done exactly the same thing, they have indulged in pre Hunting Act Luddite thinking (and look where that got the Luddites…), or refused to really drive forward an inclusive strategy that involves the myriad of organisations that purport to support all field sports.
The result has been a lack of focus on the real issue, which is that WE need to change- and a growing resentment that nothing appears to be changing for the better. But why should it? The old truism that ‘if you point a finger at anyone for failing you must accept that you have three of your own fingers pointing back at you’ very much applies. We can, with some justification provide examples of where those we expected to lead hunting into a successful post Hunting Act environment have apparently failed to do so, this is just not acceptable. The most recent would be the Cheshire Police report prepared at great expense for the local PCC. TWO days after the error-strewn report was published, we demonstrated to a number of organisations that the report’s authors had used figures from all types of hunting, mounted and unmounted, to attempt to bolster an anti foxhunting position. These erroneous conclusions were then used to embarrass the local Chief Constable in a public meeting where both the audience, and apparently the questions, had been cherry-picked beforehand. We wanted the PCC to answer specific questions such as:-
1) In a review where the Terms of Reference were specifically about allegations of fox hunting can the Chief Constable explain why ‘hare hunting’ related offences were used to bolster the statistics? According to the review’s findings, only a tiny number of ‘Hunting’ related offences occur in Cheshire compared with other offences. Based on this anomaly in the data is he confident that the introduction and publication of this error in the report will not lead to the suboptimal deployment of skilled Police resources, as it indicates an issue where none exists?
2) What specific actions has the Chief Constable undertaken to mitigate the public safety risks posed by use of technology by certain anti hunt groups in Cheshire? And is he aware that this technology has been used to facilitate the publicly stated aims of those groups to ‘take control of hounds’ after which it is then claimed, supported by heavily edited filming, that:- no trail was laid; hounds were out of control; or, were not being used in accordance with the exemptions provided under the Hunting Act?
3) A somewhat surprising view from LACS given in the report states that “In summary, the Hunting Act might not be perfect, and clearly will not satisfy everyone, but it is workable and enforceable, however, it is acknowledged that there can often be challenges in securing sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.” Does the Chief Constable agree that this statement can be applied to any number of offences, it is the way that justice works. E.g. the onus of proof to be on the prosecution rather than the defence, and that is a challenge that his officers completely understand, and use their best efforts to address on each and every shift?
Though circulated in advance amongst all of the hunting groups that were present at the meeting, disappointingly none of these questions were even asked! However, given the political nature of the role of the PCC and particularly the anti-hunt agenda of many of the Cheshire MPs this is not surprising. From a political standpoint rather than a policing one the role of a PCC is a brilliant wheeze. They politicize policing such that a local police strategy becomes a tool of constantly changing political whims. If successful, the PCC accepts the plaudits and is in a prime position to become a political candidate- if not, then the Police senior team can become sacrificial lambs for not achieving expected outcomes. Win-win for the PCC!
To meet this bias, we need to radically change our thinking and actions. The first step is to demonstrate to all those involved in any fieldsport that we all have the same challenge. Then work towards coming together as a federated group and present a factual buffer – a shield wall if you like -to those who play fast and loose with our pastimes. We can start this process by putting aside rather petty differences between types of hunts – even members of the same Association who happen to be in different parts of the country. Our challenges are bigger than any one hunt or individual. And start pulling together instead of trying to point-score in a ridiculous parody of modern politics. Finally. we as a community need to take the advice in another frequent quote – ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’ – step up to the mark and start taking control of our own destiny; waiting for those ‘influencers’ to accept a reality they might find unpalatable or too difficult will see us in an ever-worsening position.
We at Baily’s are ready to take the next steps, even where they do mean we have to adapt to the modern world. For example, our move from an annual Directory to an online publication which we update daily but which allows us to control our readership.
Is it too much to hope that you join us and be proactive about trying to preserve fieldsports in general, and hunting with hounds in particular, for future generations?
The alternative is to see it wither away in much the same way as the Luddites of the title saw their pre-industrial worldview disappear.