In what could be described as a ‘horrendum mensis’ (Horrible month) for hunting with hounds in the UK, hunting has yet again been shown to be ill-prepared for combating opponents in the 21st century. Faced with a catalogue of media exposes of carefully edited incidents, each timed to perfection to negatively impact upon the credibility of those involved in the governance and management of hunting with hounds and influence the vote regarding NT controlled land, hunting has been found wanting.
A number of incidents involving high profile hunts have been repeatedly played out in the media for wider comment and deliberate overreaction by some very astute opponents. So how did we get here?
In the gladiatorial arena of social media, those who follow countryside sports are pilloried by ill-informed vitriol from commentators across the globe who, having no experience of their own, cite as fact the opinions of second rate ‘celebrities’ because it happens to offend that individual’s moral code- Why is the ‘moral code’ of a TV ‘personality’ more important than those who are actually involved in countryside activities?
It would be too easy and perhaps too convenient to dismiss the events as unfortunate ‘one offs’ in which hunting with hounds is a victim of a wider anti-establishment viewpoint, sandwiched as it is between a large chunk of misinformation and the bulwark of bigotry. Whilst it is true that those who oppose animal welfare and see the promotion of Animal Rights and the end of hunting, as some sort of rural nirvana, and will manipulate facts and data to achieve this, the facts are that the unintended consequences of the hunting ban has been a 40% reduction in fox numbers (mammal society) through increased eradication of foxes through nonselective but effective methods. In short the Hunting Act, if it were ever intended to do so, has not saved the life of a single fox.
However, despite the contrived misinformation, it must be accepted that hunting has suffered from some spectacular ‘own goals’. These do not appear to be the direct result of any one person’s act or omission but can be held to be the unintended consequences of long term ingrained leadership and process failings combined with deliberate indiscipline at a local level. Recent events have put the credibility of everyone involved in Hunting’s leadership at rock bottom – both with the public and with those who follow hounds, and no one involved should assume that they are Teflon coated.
In some areas of law, there is a ‘due diligence’ defence which in summary means being able to show to the ordinary person that all reasonable precautions were taken to avoid the occurrence of an incident. Is it unreasonable for a governing body worth the name to put measures in place such that hunt staff are able to show that on the day they took all reasonable precautions to avoid the commission of an offence and the fact that hunting with hounds transcends a noisy minority’s transient moral code should not be of any relevance whatever.
Hunt staff do not go into their profession without accepting its long, often lonely hours, the stark reality of which is that at some stage difficult decisions about a hound’s quality of life must be made. For an external audience fed on a diet of tear jerk daytime TV it is an uncomfortable fact that not all hounds benefit from being rehomed, they are a pack animal who need pack dynamics. It is not an event any members of hunt staff wants to undertake and before that decision all options that are in the best interest of the hound are explored. However, reporting of recent events show the mass media audience was more aggrieved that a euthanised hound was moved by wheelbarrow post-mortem -what were the hunt staff supposed to do? arrange a hearse pulled by 3 couple of sombre younger healthy hounds perhaps? Carefully edited events were played in the mass media for sensationalist comment as if it were a cheap imported soap opera. Yet not one TV report ever mentioned the RSPCA’s preferred solution to the same problem is the use of a small captive bolt gun to incapacitate but not kill the animal followed by the vigorous and bloody use of a ‘pithing rod’ in the brain, or the sad black bags outside rescue centres after 7 days. The rules around the disposal of non pet animals are very strict and are rigorously followed by hunt staff yet none of this was mentioned- the vocal minority, much like the Witch finders of old had but one verdict, it is a hunt so its ‘guilty’! But where was the fact-based push back?
The use of group communication technology particularly during the pandemic was a useful stop-gap for many organizations but all broadcast technologies require the hosts to establish and maintain effective authentication of their intended invited audience. Zoom lost credibility with government and big corporate users when they understood that ease of use, meant easy to [ab]use. Though it is ‘Free’ informed commentators have been clear for some time that Zoom isn’t the place to discuss confidential government, or corporate information. It was not a suitable method of conducting what appeared to be an unscripted training seminar nor was it ever intended to be so – there are much better more secure toolsets available which are equally easy to use but less easy to abuse. A consequence of the illicit broadcast of those private seminars has been the public trashing of reputations, a conviction, and massive reputational damage. From the perspective of the ordinary country sports follower, let alone the disinterested majority, the unintended consequence of those broadcasts is that Hunting with hounds now has a massive credibility problem across the board including anti, non-aligned and partner organizations. This was demonstrated by the vote at the recent National Trust AGM.
In reality, the situation is a bit more complex than indicated by the resulting vote. Of a membership base of 5 million potential voters, very few voted for the motion compared to the 407,000+ that attended the ‘Liberty and Livelihood’ march against the ban on hunting. That was a mass protest worth the name and yet the March illustrated the cold hard reality of today’s sound bite society which is that merely voting for something and ‘winning’ does not deliver change. Perhaps an unintended consequence of the NT vote was proof that the much-heralded ‘80% of people are against hunting with hounds’ is little more than traders puff wrapped up in vindictive wishful thinking.
The Hunting Act, imposed as it was by political connivance, is widely recognized as ‘bad law’ and it is not the only example of a politically expedient or ‘knee jerk’ statute but, given the perception of hunting with hounds today its chances of repeal are even more tenuous now than they were a decade or so ago, when a revisit, and a ‘free vote’ was suggested. What all country sports enthusiasts and organisations must do is work together with the aim of bringing about a sea change in government thinking to deliver an acceptance and realization that country sports and its participants are worthy of protecting and are core to any future governments ‘green agenda’. Government must be encouraged to recognise and accept that country sports shape the very thing both sides want to protect, the current ‘look and feel’ of the countryside. But one of the many unintended consequences of recent events is the perception that the current ‘governance’ for hunting is no longer credible in the view of potential partners, and is it able and willing to deliver that change? Evidence suggests that it is not, and time is running out.