So, the Avon Vale has been thrown out of the new BSHA for a serious transgression of the new body’s rules of operation and associated statutory provisions. The selfish stupidity of a tiny minority has shown that ill-considered actions have far reaching consequences.
Lesson one – Understand that the Hunting Act, although politically and emotionally driven with no animal welfare benefits whatsoever, is not going to be deleted from the statute book any time soon. Politicians of any hue are not great at admitting they might have made an error of judgement and a statute that enables party political fund raising on the back of a visceral hatred for the opposition and which can be cited as being ‘for the animals’ will not be anywhere near the top of the tree for revocation.
Being blunt, what is in it for the politicians to admit that with the benefit of hindsight and without the additional carrot of considerable external funding to go through the pain of admitting ‘we got it wrong’?
Lesson 2 social media broadcasts have an immediacy, a permanence and a reach far outside your intended secure audience – so if you are going out with the intent to do or say something that given your occupation you should know, or be expected to know given your position and experience is unwise or likely to cause unnecessary issues– do not commit it to video- EVER!
Regardless of both salutary lessons above NONE of the actions of anyone involved in the video would have been permitted even before the enactment of the Hunting Act and they are very likely to lead to reports for prosecutions and further undeserved negative press for those associated with the hunt. It will no doubt be an unpleasant but rather short storm
Failure to learn these lessons, despite having time to do so since 2005 has resulted in a hunt, its support team together with all of its many local community interrelationships which have grown roots and a proud history since 1888 being effectively wiped out.
The removal of the Avon Vale as a member was inevitable given the circumstances but though keen to be seen as governing body the BHSA is at heart still only a membership organisation. As such individuals who have ‘disgraced’ their sport may still be able to participate out of the glare of publicity. However, hunting with hounds is so much more than ‘a sport’ that the reality is today an unlicenced renegade pack would not be able to function for long, if only because of its total reliance on numerous external stakeholders. For example, landowners or more likely their local agents are unlikely to allow access to land to anyone who was or who might have been involved in this or any similar event. Obtaining any sort of insurance is likely to be a problem and, as we have seen in the tabloid and social media channels it would be ‘Open season’ for any fanatic to insidiously attack or encourage attacks on any business, which given the circumstances, still wanted to be seen to support them.
This might come as a shock to some, but it is not for any governing body to reallocate or distribute permissions to hunt any geography. That permission remains with the landowner or tenant and it is they and they alone who can grant or deny access. It is therefore vital that landowners continue to be consulted at all times and their wishes respected, if there is no access to land, then despite it being totally unfair to the vast majority who were not involved, then there simply is no hunt. Hopefully that situation will not arise but plans should be in place if that is the outcome.
In casting the name of the Avon Vale out into the cold light of negative scrutiny the new BHSA and its governance process has given notice, that, unlike it predecessor it has teeth as opposed to a broom and carpet marked ‘Here Lieth Bad News’ , and, at long last is prepared to use them. But we could have had a robust governance process a decade or so earlier. The Phelps Review of Hunting with Hounds (1997) made a recommendation which led to the creation of The Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting (ISAH) in 1999 and the foundation stones of an independent Hunting Regulatory Authority (HRA) proposed by and Chaired by Lord Bernard Donoughoe.
The HRA’s original brief was to provide a route for genuine complaints to be heard and processed; to establish independent regulation of hunting, coursing and terrier work; to administer justice fairly where rules are breached; and, not least, to promote and protect good practice. It would have achieved this through the production of a code, or codes of conduct, that would govern the activities of all hunts to achieve in the words of Lord Donoughue “a proper balance between the needs of animal welfare, the need to avoid deliberate cruelty and the rights of the countryside to pursue its sports such as hunting.”
At the time Lord Donoughue argued that the HRA and a properly constituted independent body to oversee hunting would lead to repeal of the Hunting Act (HA), which was never intended as an animal welfare measure and would be seen by the reasonable majority as superfluous. There would be no point in any MP truly concerned with animal welfare arguing to retain the HA as it does nothing for the welfare of animals; the proposals under this “package” provide a more robust route to enforcement for the appropriate authorities, and the HRA would be the vehicle that would provide the assurance they require. Of the highest importance was that it would not return to a pre Hunting Act era, instead providing an evidenced based platform for accountability in the management of, and participation in, hunting with hounds.
Why these proposals were effectively buried in the long grass is difficult to understand or rationalise, perhaps it was the common ‘fear of change’ combined with a distant hope that it would just ‘Do nothing and go away’ if we pretended it wasn’t happening.
When the MFHA was originally constituted most of the ‘Master’ members were also the major landowners and pack owners. Unlike today there were no committees to question decision making or unaccountable pseudo governmental bodies who provide, seemingly at a whim, licensed access to land, much of which had been gifted to the nation by the supporters of fox hounds and the community that supports them.
Just leaving the Avon Vale outside the ‘Club’ would be petty, unnecessary and is fraught with issues many of which the BHSA is in no position to control, but they could and should be seen to help with them. We hope they seize the opportunity for a range of positive outcomes, and they see this as an opportunity to push back against the tide of emotional rhetoric outside hunting and the complete incredulity of the world of hunting with hounds. Now is the time to step up and support a future with hounds.
To achieve that, the most important but voiceless stakeholders are the hounds whose very existence depends on sound decision making. Baily’s records are full of hunts that hunted both quarry and drag during different days in a hunting week without issue, so transitioning from ‘trail’ to fully observable ‘drag’ that caters for all followers should be achievable. There is no doubt that foxhounds and beagles enjoy ‘hunting’ whether it be drag or clean boot, and packs obtain support for that activity from those both inside and outside the hunt. If this is the case then the best option would be a new hunt with a new name, and a brand new but experienced management team prepared to manage what would be, initially at least, a sort of ‘hunt under special measures.’ Such a pack could continue to interact with local farmers and landowners, enable a credible approach to insurers and attract paying supporters, but as far as we know there is currently no provision for such ‘protection’ and it would need to be agreed, tested, and in place before next season.
Lots of organisations have ditched names that are ‘tainted’ including some close to home, so it would be difficult for anyone to decide that ‘NEW hunt’ should not get the wider hunting community’s support for such a move – perhaps go further and have ‘New hunt’ as a training base for those who want the challenge of a future career with hounds and thus turn a negative situation into a series of positive ones.
Here is hoping that we rise to the challenges ahead.