16_summer_20_miles-cooper-the-masterMiles Cooper has written for the Countryside Alliance magazine: In the interview “From Hunt Sab to Hunt Master” published in the Summer edition I stated my belief that the Hunting Act must be repealed and replaced with legislation and a wider statutory framework which protects all wild mammals from acts of unnecessary suffering. I also outlined that this regulatory approach should incorporate the full range of lethal control methods currently available enabling farmers, landowners and countryside managers to make habitat and wildlife species management decisions informed by conservation, business and welfare considerations. This approach, I explained, would provide the country’s land managers and associated businesses with an evidence based, transparent and equitable legislative framework: a framework which could enjoy the confidence of practitioners, the public and parliament.

Importantly this approach would sweep away the Hunting Act, which in the course of a decade has increasingly come to be seen as based upon prejudice not principle and political expedience over proper scientific evidence. This approach could also provide an opportunity to undertake a wider review and reappraisal of wildlife and countryside legislation.

It is important to get a few basic points set straight. The Hunting Act did not ban hunting, it materially altered the operating criteria. Hunting with hounds or dogs continues to be legal. Farmers and landowners have, for hundreds of years, carried out their own hunting activities jointly with neighbours, or invited other people to bring their hounds/dogs to hunt and kill foxes, hares and deer on their land. They have done this, and continue to do so, because they know that hunting with hounds or dogs as a method of control does assist when balancing farming interests against the competing impacts of wild mammal populations. Farmers also use a range of other methods for different species: shooting by day or night with shotgun or rifle, snaring, cage trapping, long nets, terriers and long dogs for instance. Each method has its comparative strengths under differing circumstances. Farmers and land-managers, and not the anti-hunt political organisations, are undoubtedly best placed when deciding which method is most appropriate given the prevailing circumstances on their own land. Prior to the Hunting Act, and every day since, farmers have made these balanced judgements as to which method of control is most appropriate and which will “get the job done”. This compared to the anti-hunting organisations contribution which is to insist that one method, hunting with hounds, is above all others and in every circumstance the worst option. How they come to this conclusion I have no idea: it is not a view supported by wider peer-reviewed scientific research, or by inquiries or hearings into hunting such as the Burns Inquiry (2000) or the Portcullis Public Consultation Hearings (2002). It is not even a view which enjoyed any significant interest or support within our farming communities or the organisations which represent countryside and farming interests. It was, however, a view that was indulged by back-bench Labour MPs some of whom determined to avenge the Miners’ Strike and others who answered the call to “right great social wrongs” and to make a parliamentary name for themselves.

I am certain that the overwhelming majority of “anti-hunting opinion”, which is actively fermented by the League Against Cruel Sports and other groups, starts out in members of the public as a genuine and sincere concern that wild animals should not be treated cruelly. On this point, no right thinking person could disagree: it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on any animal and people who do so should be prosecuted, fined, imprisoned and/or banned from keeping animals where the courts deem necessary. Nonetheless, the anti-hunting organisations claim to “represent” public opinion, and present their campaigns as socially or ethically advancing or even that they contribute to the construction of a more modern and caring country. They achieve this deception by taking advantage of the British public’s genuine concern for animal welfare through two principle methods

The public are actively encouraged into adopting the view that hunting is carried out by people belonging to a cruel, land-owning, social elite and for no other reason than to satisfy their lust for blood. That is; people who are entirely ‘other’ and ‘alien’ and who therefore can be misrepresented and condemned with not only moral but also political justification. In the last issue I put forward the view that the politics of the anti-hunt movement functions on the basis of clearly defining a “Them” and an “Us”: this approach allows for clear battle lines to be drawn, a clear “enemy” to be identified; it provides the basis upon which it becomes culturally acceptable, even desirable, to diminish the concerns, views and aspirations of “the enemy”; it becomes acceptable to disregard and to sneer at the contribution hunting people make to their communities, the countryside, the country’s artistic and cultural heritage and the economy; it becomes acceptable to write hate filled posts on social media platforms revelling in, and mocking, the death of colleagues and children; it is judged acceptable to undertake covert operations and secretly film “the enemy” without the agreement or knowledge of the police, the courts or the people themselves. Ultimately it becomes its own moral justification for achieving a political end at any cost and damn the consequences. Importantly, for the individuals responsible, whether they be the anti-hunt organisations’ official representatives and officers, hunt saboteurs or Members of Parliament, it provides the opportunity for personal sanctification on the grounds that a great evil, namely; the cruel, blood-thirsty and tyrannical social elite has been triumphed over and will one day be swept away and consigned to a sort of cultural revolution year zero. In short, the anti-hunting movement presents itself as highly principled and socially advancing. However, the anti-hunt movement should be seen as entirely distinct from people who want to see animal welfare improved since it has substantially more to do with, and is motivated by, class war politics and mythical prejudices belonging to a different era altogether. It manipulates and distorts public concern over animal welfare issues in the countryside and transforms this concern into what it calls “public opinion”, using this as the justification to pursue campaigns of intolerance and prejudice in the public’s name. It is possibly not surprising, although distasteful, that a campaigning and politically motivated organisation such as LACS operates in this way. For a government to become seduced into complicity should be of substantial concern and serve as a cautionary tale: If by the works of the devil you shall know him, then the LACS have already shown themselves to be unfit to be involved in discussions about the future of wildlife management and the full range of control methods including hunting.

Of course, a distortion and deception can only be achieved through propaganda which in turn has to play fast and loose with science in order to generate what the anti-hunt organisations like to call “evidence”. The LACS are especially fond of what they term “evidence” and how it proves conclusively that hunting with dogs is always the worst and that other forms of control are always better. LACS like to talk a lot about “evidence” and how it proves this or disproves that. LACS are so fond of “evidence”, I suspect they must keep it firmly under lock and key at LACS HQ since not the faintest hint of an evidential crossed ‘t’ or dotted ‘i’ has ever been produced by them. The LACS produce a lot of reports and propaganda of course they do but they insist on misrepresenting these documents as “evidence” and then “sell” them to the public and politicians in much the same way that Victorian Travelling Shows sold remedial tinctures and ointments to the unwary and willing to be convinced. Where the LACS continue to find certainty perhaps Lord Burns might act as an historic word to the wise: “Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel… The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty. It is a complex area.”

It is complex indeed and unfortunately when people who neither have the knowledge or experience of something complex insist on knowing better than the people who are actually responsible for it there are bound to be unforeseen and negative outcomes. In this respect, the Hunting Act has singularly failed in delivering any measurable animal welfare benefit and has, more likely than not, perversely contributed to a less regulated state of affairs having emerged in the last decade. There are certainly more unregistered packs of hounds operating in England than there were in 2004. The two I am acquainted with operate over approximately 4 to 5 MFHA hunt countries each and kill in the region of 600-650 foxes a season between them through the combined use of hounds, terriers, lurchers and shotgun. They get a job done to the satisfaction of the farmers who invite them onto their land. Since the Act, registered MFHA packs have found the changed operating criteria exceptionally challenging. Not so the unregistered packs who have nothing to fear from the LACS or the hunt saboteurs, being as they are closer in attitude to the Peaky Blinders with a pack of hounds . All forms of prohibition create a market vacuum which is quickly filled by those prepared to make their own rules and take advantage of a demand for whatever they supply. Hunting has proved no different. This isn’t the sort of “evidence” the LACS likes to dwell on though.

Further, let’s take the LACS’ much vaunted claim that there is “evidence” to demonstrate that there is no need to control or manage fox populations. This claim stems from LACS funded research carried out by Dr Ray Hewson at Eriboll in Sutherland between 1987 and 1990. The study looked into the predation upon lambs by foxes in the absence of control. Despite Dr Hewson, having made clear that the study’s results should not and could not be applied to the rest of the UK, LACS continue to do so and continue to use this as “evidence” in their campaigns. Crucially the study was never subject to peer-review and has never been published in an academic scientific journal. If the study had been peer-reviewed it would have been vulnerable to the straightforward observation that the results could equally support the claim that fox control is necessary and effective.
Further, LACS state clearly that shooting is always better than hunting. There’s no evidence to support this view at all but that doesn’t seem to put the LACS off one tiny jot. There is only one piece of peer-reviewed and published research that I am aware of in the UK. It was original research entitled “Wounding rates in shooting foxes” led by Dr Nick Fox in 2003 and it indicates that wounding rates could well be very much higher than previously anticipated. I worked on the project as a researcher to Dr Fox and contributed to establishing the initial field trials, protocols and recording of the data sets. Crucially, having been peer-reviewed and published in the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare journal “Animal Welfare” in 2005 it has been judged to have scientific or evidential merit and is replicable. This means that if the LACS really wanted to engage in a serious scientific debate they could easily fund for the study to be replicated in order to verify or counter the data legitimately. Of course LACS has no interest in this. I suspect because there’s far too high a risk that the results would demonstrate that when foxes are shot, they are not all killed as cleanly as is portrayed by the LACS and that wounding followed by starvation is an inevitably.

LACS are clear in their intention to strengthen the Act. By “strengthening”, they mean an end to all use of terriers, even those currently allowed under the Hunting Act to protect game birds, and to put an end to trail hunting. The motivations for this I believe are straightforward. Firstly, it would progress the animal rights agenda further toward its historically stated aim of one day ending all recreational sports which involve the use of dogs and horses. Secondly, it guarantees further campaigning for any number of years and by so doing justifies the enormous salaries and expenses benefits of their employees.

The LACS has been oblivious for too long as to the illogical and unequitable inconsistencies created by “their” legislation. For instance, the law allows the use of terriers to protect game birds being reared to be shot for sport but doesn’t allow terriers to be used to protect lambs being reared for food or to protect Hen Harriers for conservation reasons. Evidence if ever it was needed that the LACS approach is unprincipled and expedient: the concession to protecting game birds only being agreed to because of an historic commitment made by the Labour Party while in opposition that legislation “banning” hunting would not impact upon shooting’s interests. A political necessity which ultimately the LACS has not been able to accommodate itself to. But let’s remember this is the organisation which has failed to ban hunting, claims that shooting is preferable but would like to see it abolished as well and doesn’t much like snares either which … you’ve guessed it they actively campaign against and want to see banned. The LACS should come clean and adopt a principled stance which we could all at least respect for its honesty: that the fox be designated a protected species and all forms of control whether that be dog, gun or snare should be banned outright.

The anti-hunt groups also like to claim that draghunting or riding to bloodhounds is an alternative to foxhunting. A year ago, IFAW wrote to the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association asking for information about how hunting days are organised and whether there have been changes to ways of working over the last 10 years. Immediately, it was clear to me on reading the letter that firstly, IFAW did not have the faintest clue about ‘draghunting’ and ‘hunting the clean boot with bloodhounds’ but secondly that the letter was nothing more than an attempt to drive a wedge between the MDBA packs and colleagues in the MFHA. It was also an attempt to gather information which could be used to amend the Hunting Act and do away with trail hunting. We have seen what a mess the antis make of legislation. We know that their longer term aims are hostile to sports which use horses and hounds for sporting or recreational pleasure. It is reasonable to surmise therefore that this move by the antis represents a real and substantial threat to the draghound and bloodhound packs in the UK. There is historical precedent for this skull-duggery. As far back as 1996 the LACS produced a document which claimed to be “evidence” that draghunting was a replacement for foxhunting. The then Chairman of the Masters of Draghounds Association, Brian Stern, was clear in a letter to the LACS at the time that this claim was motivated only by their desire to attack foxhunting and was definitely not representative of the sports of draghunting or riding to bloodhounds. Nothing has changed in twenty years.

Legal experts and senior police officers are on record as saying that the Hunting Act as it stands is a very difficult piece of legislation to interpret and apply. Extending it to a ban on trail hunting inevitably involves drag hunts and potentially even bloodhound packs. It raises the spectre of the law of unintended consequences and would pile misery and further confusion upon an already unmitigated disaster. Who is to interpret the difference in the field? It’s very easy to imagine a situation whereby saboteurs or monitors witness a pack of draghounds or even some of the Bloodhound / Old English Foxhound crosses. Most will not able to tell the difference in the field between hounds hunting a drag or a human scent and hounds belonging to one of the foxhunts.

Is the law really going to dictate what types of chemicals, substances or smells can and cannot be used to train hounds? If the law finds it difficult to adequately distinguish now between lawful and unlawful hunting, how will an amended Hunting Act which bans trail hunting satisfactorily distinguish between trail hunting and drag hunting and be able to distinguish adequately between hound types? The fact is it won’t and it won’t be workable in the field either simply because you cannot lay a trail, or set a route for human quarry to run, in the countryside where there are no wild mammals! If this ridiculous proposal ever came to be, I guarantee it would be a complete disaster all over again for the police, CPS and in the courtrooms. It’s time to call an end to this nonsense called the Hunting Act once and for all, before the lunatics completely take over the asylum.

As a current Master of Bloodhounds, my response to LACS’ and IFAW’s connivance is clear and I am very happy for it to be repeated publicly as often as is necessary: “Draghunting and hunting the clean boot with bloodhounds are distinct sports in their own rights; they are not alternatives or replacements for foxhunting in much the same way that football is not a replacement for rugby. Yes, there are similarities between the two but they are very different. Please stop using the sport I love as a means by which to attack another country sport which I support. You don’t have my pack’s interests or my sport’s interests at heart. Furthermore, you do not represent us. In fact you deliberately misrepresent our sport for your own political ends, so please stop misleading the public and politicians into believing that you have any legitimacy to speak on our behalf.”