Another May has arrived but this one threw a new set of challenges to hunt staff moving to new hunts or taking on new responsibilities for the administration of hunting with their hounds. The global pandemic continues, and its effects will no doubt last longer than the finger pointing and blame game that is the mainstay of many tabloid headlines worldwide. Why, they ask is no Government Minister in the UK ever blessed with the gift of hindsight?
The biggest offenders are the tabloids who seem unable to let facts get in the way of a headline but then as I learnt some years ago whilst having dinner with the Editor of a national tabloid newspaper, it is not the role of tabloids or their electronic alter egos to report the bare facts. Their role is to tell a story which people socializing in pubs and sports clubs (you do remember pubs and socialising don’t you?) can rehash and promote as an opinion over their drink without ever being troubled by reality. It should therefore come as little surprise that during ‘lockdown’ when no-one was allowed to roam the countryside the news media were reporting a surge of killings of foxes complete with edited video footage and other reports from pressure groups of the ‘wholesale slaughter’ of birds of prey, including Red Kites and Buzzards, where ‘unnamed witnesses heard shooting’ . Yet on the same page it was reported that the police were being vilified for preventing people walking in the country in accordance with the national guidance for preventing the spread of the virus. So, either these reports were delayed from pre lockdown until they would make maximum impact amongst a fractious audience already unhappy about the national restrictions, or alternatively, the reports were in fact accurate, and both the perpetrators and the witnesses (including the investigating team) somehow managed to evade the attention of the police who were actively preventing people travelling to the countryside and, worse still, effective police action against those who shoot raptors is not helped by such reporting.
This manipulation of news to paint a negative picture of field sports is not unique to the UK and is a growing trend. This is largely because an urban biased population had no or very little interest in field sports, it was totally outside their frame of reference and they have become a key target audience for though with an anti agenda and the promotion of ‘fads’ such as veganism complete with bottomless coffers to fill with donations from an ‘outraged’ audience.
Prior to the current pandemic there was a constant demand for exotic fruit and vegetables throughout the year without even a nod to the concept of ‘seasonality’ through large commodity buyers attached to supermarkets, leaving the local suppliers with an ever decreasing market share unable to compete either on price or range. The fact that such supply chains were underpinned by the need to cull any species that may have predated on that supply was information that was carefully hidden. Such inconvenient truths were never actively pursued by consumers who seem to see it as their right to consume an ever increasing range of products at constantly reducing prices, the true cost of that consumption having no bearing on the need to complete the weekly shop. Add to that the fact that having strawberries at Christmas or asparagus imported from South America to the UK racks up a huge carbon footprint, contributing to climate change in a way that seems to be ignored in favour of vilifying local, seasonal food production (especially meat), and it really does look like there was an ever-widening gulf between the beliefs of a wide part of society and reality.
As a result of the pandemic it seems that the new normal has turned this unquestioning demand on its head, with the wish to grow your own vegetables and make your own bread for your family now becoming paramount in many people’s minds. Many who may previously have turned up their noses in disgust at the idea have even gone so far as to buy chickens to produce their own eggs. We cannot help but wonder how many of those birds have been, or will be, lost to the ravages of inexperienced keepers, or even worse the depredations of local predators. The positive that we can hope for is that, by more people reconnecting with food production at even a small scale, there will be an increased understanding of the realities of the natural world. Something the Countryside Alliance and it Rural Oscar Scheme has been promoting for a number of years.
The new normal is highly unlikely to be a return to the pre-Hunting Act past despite the regret often espoused by those in government at the time who now grudgingly admit they ‘did not understand the impact’ of their need for political expediency.
And yet, perhaps some good might come from the impact of the pandemic. It might lead to an increasing understanding of the ‘How’ and the ‘Why’ that underpins the rural landscape and associated activities supporting local food production, and perhaps, the new normal might introduce more tolerance into a way of life that has become perceived to be out of touch and out of reach of many.