This should be a quiet time for hunting with hounds as one season closes, hunt staff change or move, and some take up new positions or decide to retire. This year more than most things are more active and over recent months hunting with hounds along with other field sports has been thrust into the limelight. In a number of countries authorities seem to be under the illusion that they can effectively regulate any countryside activity out of existence as long as ‘they’ decide it is ‘inappropriate’.
For example in France, despite the turmoil of what could be described as a ‘neither of the above’ election there has been an attempt to restrict field sports to weekdays only leaving the countryside free for ‘nice people’ to ‘enjoy’ presumably in a politically correct fashion. Such activity will be at the weekend to ensure that participation is no longer open to anyone who has to work during a normal working week, restricting attendance to those who are able to take time off – the retired, the self-employed, or those who have to use some annual leave.
Across the border in Spain, anti field proposals organisations from around Spain joined forces with several agricultural groups in Madrid to stage a mass protest against the government’s treatment of rural sectors. More than 400,000 demonstrators turned out in the capital to demand urgent aid to guarantee a “future for the countryside” as the central government is accused of trying to solve rural problems by considering them with “urban eyes,” This sentiment is echoed by the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation, which has criticised Pedro Sánchez’s anti-hunting policy. The Federation claim that the Spanish President is more concerned with “environmentalism and animalism,” and that the sport is being sunk by the “ideological suffocation of some politicians who are unaware of the countryside and its people” – Sound familiar?
In Northern Ireland John Blair’s ill-conceived bill anti-hunting bill received short shrift and yet and you will read in the article by Ed Swales elsewhere in Baily’s he has not had a rethink. It seems South Antrim’s Alliance Party candidate, is at it again in the run-up to the Stormont election on May 5th. He has apparently unveiled plans to re-introduce his ill-judged and prejudiced Bill to ban hunting wild mammals with dogs in Northern Ireland at the ‘earliest opportunity’
However, we do have some calm sane voices, for example, Sir Bill Wiggins MP (North Herefordshire) in a recent Parliamentary debate. A debate initiated as a result of 100 000 people from the Falklands, Malta, and slightly closer to home, Bromsgrove, having an opinion on an unusual and highly unfortunate incident in the West Country
“I remember when the Hunting Act 2004 was passed, which banned intentional hunting of mammals with dogs. I was a teller, and I was in the Chamber when Tony Banks decided to amend Alun Michael’s Bill, which would have licensed hunting. Banks wanted a total ban, and the Secretary of State climbed along the Back Benches to where he was sitting, which was right in the middle of the Chamber. On seeing this, Nicholas Soames called on the Speaker to protect the hon. Gentleman. Banks replied that he could look after himself. As a result, he pressed his amendment, and we got the ban on intentional hunting. That was the conclusion of hundreds of hours of debate, amendments, and emotion, and we ended up with an Act that the Government promised not to revisit.
Sir Bill went on to say
Trail hunting or drag hunting is where an artificial scent is laid down for hounds to follow. It is usually a rag dipped in scent, often aniseed, and it is an entirely legal alternative to hunting. It is overwhelmingly practised in this way throughout the country. There are, as I think the hon. Member for York Central mentioned 300 packs of hounds in this country, some of which are in my constituency. With the owner’s permission, they follow a drag or trail over land and feed their hounds on fallen livestock—calves that are born dead or cows that die—which is a tremendous help to farmers, who face bills for the removal of their fallen stock at a time when margins are tight.
Over the most recent hunting season, it is reported that Forestry England granted 34 licences for trail hunts. The tsunami of lawbreaking that the petition suggests does not appear to have taken place. The petition states:
“Despite hunting wild mammals with dogs being illegal, two of the licensed/previously licensed trail hunts have been associated with convictions under the Hunting and Animal Welfare Acts.”
Being “associated with” seems a bit thin. However, there is another issue with that assertion: no fox and hare hunts are licensed by Forestry England. The only hunting that is licensed is trail hunting. Furthermore, no licensed hunt has ever been convicted of a Hunting Act offence while operating on Forestry England’s land. The premise of the petition is therefore misleading. People have been encouraged to sign something that is deliberately designed to mislead them.
The petition harks back to the awful, bigoted, hate-filled nature of the debate on hunting, which always comes back to class war. It may be triggered by people feeling that they are being looked down on by people sitting on horses—I do not know. It is constantly fed with inflammatory stories that are designed to upset kind-hearted, generous animal owners so that they fund nasty and sinister groups.
Forestry England is a public body with the freedom to decide what activity takes place on its land. It can rightly suspend or stop events if [an] illegal activity takes place, meaning that decisions are left in the hands of those who can decide the correct course of action on a case-by-case basis, instead of political activists. Once again, we see pressure being brought to bear or bullying. In reality, it is just another attack on rural people.
The lobby groups and saboteurs that feed off the subject would have people believe that every hunt and every pack of hounds are lawbreakers. That is wrong. As with any lawful activity, it is possible to break the law. Offences that do take place are prosecuted accordingly. The possibility of lawbreaking is not used as a reason to prohibit other lawful activities. Therefore, petitions such as these need to be rejected.
Each year, thousands of people attend Boxing Day meets such as the one in Ledbury. It is a tradition that has been going on longer than records show. However, last Christmas, the local town council came under pressure to try to ban the meeting in the centre of town. Thankfully, a vociferous majority came out in defence of the meet.”
His final words are of most importance if we are going to push back against the wall of deceit and hyperbole we currently face.
“Hunting is about liberty and livelihood for rural people. It is a chance to meet and enjoy traditions passed down through generations. The class warriors are out of date. They choose to mislead and spin. What better proof is there that they are wrong? We must continue to support the rule of law and not be bullied by those who find the truth inconvenient.”