On a recent visit to the premises of well-known auctioneers, one of those that is regularly featured in the media it rapidly became apparent that in terms of household furniture, quality is no longer valued. Things have to be the latest, newest, blandest. This shift in ‘taste’ meant that in order to locate the items we had purchased we had to walk through mounds of well-made 1st-3rd period Georgian and Victorian furniture. Its destination was not to be to remodel a home but the ignominious end of becoming landfill or to fuel the power companies’ generators. Quality and experience it seems are no longer valid currency.
Looking through over a century of Baily’s there is a definite and worrying trend in hunt management undergoing what could be seen as some sort of ‘mid-life crisis’ One result of which is that there seems to be an urge seek to replace staff with expertise gained over 10, 20, 30+ years with a ‘newer’ younger, cheaper, perhaps more easily ‘managed’ unquestioning replacement.
Amazingly, becoming a ‘Master’ of hounds is the only position of ‘Mastership’ we can find in which you can acquire the title, the uniform and the anticipated adulation, without actually ever demonstrating the ability to ‘Master’ anything whatsoever. There are no ‘tests’ and currently no compulsory continued professional development (CPD). You can arrive and if you are so inclined, derogate any day to day animal welfare responsibility and drive your hunt into the ground from day one.
This is not a modern problem it is one that hunting with hounds has failed to grapple with for some time. For example, there is a tale in Baily’s -one we hope is apocryphal, in which a 19th century huntsman who walked to a neighbouring kennel to bring back a bitch with which to improve his hounds. A round trip of some 60 miles. This effort to improve the pack was dashed the following afternoon when the new MFH arrived, and on taking instant dislike merely to the colour of the bitch, and without consultation with the huntsman who was busy elsewhere or listening to any of the hunt staff he dictated that it should be shot on the spot! A dramatic example of the abuse of power without consultation or knowledge.
The time has come to be realistic and admit that the current perception of hunting is as much a result of hunting with hounds as a body not doing enough when it should and could have done so. In that respect, it is to blame for the current debacle as much as certain isolated instances of idiotic and reprehensible behaviour, a solution for which we proposed in 2016 and which is only now coming into effect. That behaviour largely occurred because a lack of management, experience and robust oversight created a perfect storm for poor behaviour to flourish. A result of collective high level ‘taking your eye off the ball’. We all like to think that ‘we aren’t like that’ but where was the corrective action to stop it happening in the first place?
As part of any new strategy for all hunting with hounds including trail, drag and clean boot can we develop a system so that at least some of this knowledge is available to younger staff anywhere in the hunting world? Perhaps through a system of paid mentoring or consultancy driven and guided by the experienced staff we seem so keen to pension off
We appear to be far too keen to ‘throw away’ the skills and experience of those skilled but ‘ageing’ hunt staff both amateur and professional. But here is a novel idea…why not capture it? That way it can be passed on from old head to new enthusiastic young shoulders through a funded ‘mentoring system’ so that the inexperienced committee, Master or Huntsman can call on the services of a wise old head to help them in times of overwork, illness etc and the experienced professional is well compensated for passing on that knowledge or expertise. That means that no one feels isolated, or out of depth and remedial action can be put in place swiftly. The concept is not new and can be likened to the occasional need for a relief milker, farm hand or tractor driver or locum professional. The need for, and benefit of, such support is self-evident in the countryside. But it is important to ensure this pool of expertise and advice is always available to ALL packs so that potential risks and issues can be caught and managed before they become gossip, rumour and then become ‘social media fact’.
Outside scrutiny can be a good thing but let’s use the new season to put all hunts in a position where there is never anything untoward to see in terms of animal welfare. Eventually, our opponents will then get bored and drift off to be outraged somewhere else.