A few months ago, we invited our audience to participate anonymously in a survey (and we are really grateful to those who did) designed to ensure we were delivering what our audience wanted and expected, from us. The analysis of the results revealed some intriguing insights which we would like to share. The first is that about 8% of our UK audience expects everything in Baily’s to be updated daily but in addition wants it to be free to access and share as they see fit – this is not surprising as there is a well recorded generational expectation that ‘access to the internet should be free’ and that copyright does not exist in cyberspace. Unfortunately, neither of these things are true and though that metric is a commonly cited one for the demand for online access, it [deliberately?] overlooks the difference between access and the provision and consumption of online services.
In addition, we learnt that although 98% of the anonymous respondents ‘supported’ hunting with hounds (yes, we had some trolls!) 11% of the real respondents stated they resented paying anything whatsoever towards supporting mounted hunting specifically and 12% would apparently not pay anything whatsoever to any organization set up to support ‘their’ sport! Not even, as we described it ‘less than the cost of a cup of coffee per day’.
A cynic might suggest that these statistics suggest there is a large degree of truth in the quote ‘With friends like these [hunting] does not need enemies’.
However, we believe it has more to do with the fact that hunting has somehow overlooked the core ‘audience need’ which can be summarized as ‘What’s in it for me?’. Respondents suggested that too often governing organizations appeared to be: – ‘elitist’ ‘irrelevant’ and ‘unaccountable to the ordinary follower of hounds.’
This attitude of wanting everything at no personal cost or effort is not new and has been recorded in mounted hunting for some time. Historically riders to hounds were content that their host picked up the costs for providing entertainment to them together with any reparations to farmers and poultry keepers for damage on one hand and the failure to control foxes on the other. The solution was the introduction of subscriptions followed by capping in the early twentieth century. To provide any form of social utility with hounds without charging for it today is unsustainable and, just like attending a football or cricket match in person, or a day fishing on the riverbank, it is an activity that requires at the very least the purchase of a ticket or the membership of a club.
So how have we got here? There are a number of reasons, a key one of which is that post-war the governance of hunting has apparently failed to move with the times and it appears to have overlooked the need to show to the ordinary follower of hounds why it exists – ‘What does hunting do for me?’ they ask. That should be an easy question to answer and involves amongst other things access to land and participation in a group activity which funds an essential service but somehow, perhaps through the constant ‘Chinese Whispers’ from our opponents regarding ‘wildlife crime’ though such incidents are invariably unseen and unrecorded, the audience has lost this vital core message.
Opponents of hunting have become adept at using the political process coupled with online communication channels in increasingly brazen attempts to regulate hunting out of existence. To counter this Hunting must rapidly rethink its message for a new generation of participants. Following hounds should be seen to be accessible to all whether they follow on foot, bike or mounted, and be acknowledged as an integral part of an essential and effective animal welfare strategy.
Worldwide the model of funding hunting with hounds increasingly relies at least in part on Supporters Clubs enabling stalwart supporters to provide vital funds to specific hunts. This locally driven mechanism has, through online channels, given hunts access to international support and as a result, we can proudly say we have regularly supported a large number of hunts regardless of the geographical location of those packs. But in the UK at least this ad hoc revenue collection is increasingly no longer enough and just as you could not join any other sporting club without being a member and paying a membership fee then the same should be true of hunting moving from a ‘voluntary’ subscription to an ‘if you play, you pay model’. There is a strong possibility that changes to countryside stewardship will over the next few years persuade land owners to adopt a model such that access for specific activities will be only granted on payment of a fee. If that model does gain traction, then it will be essential to have the scheme run by a trusted and accountable central authority. A body with the key remit to ensure that on hunting days participation in following hounds is only made available to those who are members of the national scheme in addition to any membership of their local pack(s) of choice, and who have therefore signed up to a code of conduct. The code would promote a better relationship with the Police, one unfettered by the frequent posturing of politically ambitious local Police and Crime Commissioners as it would meet the PCC’s core remit of ensuring the delivery of an effective and efficient police service within their force area. The scheme would be funded through a National Membership levy which would be equitably shared with accredited packs of hounds and be bolstered by any new rules on unauthorized access to land.
In addition, local fundraising via Supporters Clubs would enable local members to continue to support their local hunt(s) and more importantly feel valued and included at both a local AND national level. Such a mechanism would allow certainty of income for all packs regardless of type, allow landowners to gain income to repay allowing access to hounds as a local social utility and allow new followers to quickly become part of the hunting community. This represents a significant change from the situation where resources and help are perceived as being largely targeted towards ‘favoured’ packs instead of being made available to all sizes and types of hunt.
Hunting with hounds can no longer afford the luxury of being perceived, often incorrectly, as ‘elitist’ and must be brave enough to examine what it delivers so that the majority of followers can answer the question ‘what’s in it for me?’