WE are delighted to promote the extensive efforts of Charlie Pye-Smith and Jim Barrington over the last two years in which they take an objective look at the most blatant attempt by government to adopt legislative cotrol of a moral issue without any peer reviewed evidence supporting that punitive stance.
In a book published two years after the passage of the 2004 Hunting Act, Rural Rites: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice, I predicted that the legislation would fail to improve wild animal welfare and almost certainly have the opposite effect. That is precisely what has happened.
Parliament may have spent a staggering 700 hours discussing and debating hunting with dogs, but many MPs paid no attention to the facts. They simply wanted to ban an activity carried out by a group of people they despised – snobs and yobs, as one Labour MP memorably called them. They used animal welfare as a Trojan horse, encouraged and guided by animal rights groups.
Astonishingly, neither the organisations which represent hunting nor the organisations which spent an estimated £30 million on campaigning for a ban, nor the government itself, have commissioned studies to assess the impact of the Hunting Act. That is the purpose of the Rural Wrongs project, which attempts to answer the question that nobody else has dared to ask: are the three main species which used to be hunted better off than they were before 2004, or are significant numbers dying a more horrible death?
Over the past two years animal welfare campaigner Jim Barrington and I travelled across the country talking to farmers, landowners, gamekeepers, hunters, shooters and others involved in field sports and farming. We began our journey in the West Country, then made our way to the Scottish Borders, East Anglia, South-east England, Gloucestershire, Lancashire and Wales before visiting Northern Ireland, the last corner of United Kingdom where hunting with dogs remains legal.
Our findings will be published this autumn in Rural Wrongs: Hunting and the Unintended Consequences of Bad Law. Here you will be able to read about the ways in which the Act and its equivalent in Scotland have affected the welfare of our wildlife. Seldom can legislation have so dramatically achieved the opposite of its stated intentions.
But this is not just a story of political incompetence and unremitting ecological gloom. Rural Wrongs suggests how the current legislation could be replaced by a law which will effectively protect wild animals from unnecessary suffering and cruelty, and at the same time – perhaps this is a pious hope – help to create a healthier countryside and a less censorious attitude towards a cultural minority.