Years ago, with a yard full of horses and ponies we decided to take up carriage restoration as those that were available were either the wrong size, too expensive or full of rot.
Carriage restoration sounds very grand, but the reality was, as it often is, somewhat different. At the time there were all sorts of ‘barn finds’ of woodworm and rotting carriages available, ‘barn finds’ is a phrase that glosses over those carriage remains that were dragged from ancient muck heaps or that were semi-submerged in dew ponds. Once found, and extensively photographed, I had the job complete with a gallon of fuel of ensuring that we could start the rebuild process with just the metal framework and a pile of Victorian books and scaled plans.
It was soon apparent that we had a problem. The quality and quantity of wood required to rebuild a carriage from the ground up was either not available or was prohibitively expensive. With the help of techniques learnt while building high performance racing dinghies or gleaned from old craftsmen, we came up with alternatives that were stronger and enabled a better paint finish than the solid wood planking used before. Initially, we felt guilty about using modern techniques and glues, but this was put in perspective by craftsmen, way past legal retirement age, who, in between long drags on a hand-rolled cigarette, stated that he was “—- sure —-ing Chippendale would have used laminated wood and marine ply as they were right inventive —gers in them early days” With the encouragement and unstinting help of this old craftsman who turned out to be the foreman of the Royal coachbuilders, we began to look at traditional techniques as guidance as opposed to a rigid set of unbreakable rules, and as a result, we produced carriages that were in every respect, better, stronger, safer and yet just as elegant as their ancestral forebears.
In a similar way, and much like some Dickensian orphan, hunting’s leadership, in particular, has held out its begging bowl for funding from participants without offering any visible strategy to enable hunting to compete with a 21st-century media savvy opposition. It has constantly relied on ‘tradition’ as being its unique selling point. This is no longer enough. To regain the initiative, we must address issues that have been used most successfully by animal rights activists. Their most effective weapon has been emotion. Field sports enthusiasts will never gain majority support by appealing to fact or logic alone. It’s no contest; emotion wins every time. If the public is told by the media to see our activities as “cruel” or “inhumane”, or believes “stress” is wrong for animals, then we lose. In addition, we continue to give our opponents the advantage by scoring own goal after own goal and are apparently unwilling to do anything realistic about it. As a result, the mass media perception is that we are too ashamed of hunting with hounds to defend it.
We must, develop a strategy that gets ‘buy in’ from all involved in hunting, not just a self-selected few, and one that counters current deceits. For example, animal rights groups have had success getting the media to show films of dead animals being torn apart by hounds. Patronising presenters encourage the viewer to perceive this as cruel or inhumane. But put in the proper context, it can be understood as a natural process. A dead animal being torn apart is just a different means of consumption and, regardless of social media assurances to the contrary, dead animals don’t feel pain.
To prevail against animal rights and their simplistic message that all stress is a form of animal abuse our focus must be the same. We must do three things
Those who seek to lead field sports must be willing and able to convince government that country minorities have the right to live their lifestyles and their heritage is just valuable as any other minority group. If we learned one thing from the London marches it was that sheer numbers are now not enough on their own to convince a government to listen.
Part of the appeal of hunting is that it has a long sense of values – there are certain ways things are done, and an expected level of behaviour from all those involved whether staff, subscribers or followers. It is important that this adherence to convention and traditional values must not be allowed to lead hunting with hounds to become a ‘museum exhibit’. Something quaint to be dragged out on high days and holidays when the masses demand picturesque entertainment. History has shown that hunting has adapted to the changes imposed by wire fences, railways, motorways and of course the Hunting Act. Yet, despite these changes, the core values that underpin hunting have not really changed, largely because those involved in the local management of packs tend to be those with a strong interest in maintaining the local area.
Recently government has somehow come to the conclusion that younger farmers will be more open to new nature-friendly ideas and more inclined to seek income by diversifying into businesses such as camping or glamping despite the fact that this rather naïve viewpoint ignores the impact of the massive, commodity-driven, agribusinesses who answer only to shareholders and not the local population.
Under the new post-Brexit scheme, grants will be used to incentivise so-called “public goods”, such as protecting water supplies; holding floodwater on land; capturing carbon in soil and trees, and ‘increase’ wildlife. Fieldsports MUST position themselves to be an integral part of that new vision.
Here is our suggested Action Plan.
Baily’s has always been a stalwart defender of field sports roots and values, however, we are acutely aware of the need to maintain the continued welcome of hunts by landowners. Landowners who are facing a post-Brexit government flexing its muscles with a new financially driven set of rules. This is why we urge the hunting community not to forget the past but help to secure the future of field sports by opening opportunities within the wider hunting world to a new audience and not to continue to rely solely on tradition. We are sure Chippendale would have been excited at the opportunities to influence change.