On Monday we were able to confirm that shooting and trail hunting, activities which contribute so much to the social and economic wellbeing of the countryside, will be able to continue this autumn. New restrictions on social gatherings in England mean no more than six people can gather for a social event, but a range of sports and activities are exempted from the ‘rule of six’ on the basis that they posed no significant risk of adding to the spread of the Covid virus. Shooting and trail hunting can also continue in Wales and Scotland under separate regulations.
The Alliance argued that as outdoor activities which naturally involve social distancing, and which have already embraced strict Covid protocols to minimise the risk of disease transmission, shooting and hunting should be allowed to continue along with other outdoor activities.
As ever with these issues the discussions were not as straightforward as they should have been, but they were eventually successful and the Alliance is very pleased to have contributed with colleagues from a number of other organisations towards ensuring that shoots with birds in the woods, and hunts that have not been able to hold events for much of the year, will be able to go ahead with their seasons.
I know that will be a great relief to many of you who rely on shooting and hunting for your livelihoods, and for whom they are an important part of your lives. When we are out in the field, however, we must remember that the virus has not gone away and stick firmly to the published Covid protocols.
This is particularly important because the perfectly logical decision to exempt shooting, in particular, from the regulations has been used as a political football by the Labour Party. Sadly, just a couple of weeks after we published a report on ‘Labour’s rural problem’, which detailed the damage the party’s obsession with animal rights issues had done to its standing in the countryside, Labour chose once again to attack rural activities. It singled out grouse shooting, presumably because its image fits with the sort of identity politics some in Labour still favour.
I have written to the shadow Secretary of State, Luke Pollard, to ask him whether Labour’s opposition to shooting being exempted from the regulations is based on evidence that game shoots spread the virus, or whether Labour is now opposed in principle to shooting. I await his reply and hope that some in Labour understand that this is just bad politics. There are just 29 constituencies in England with grouse moors in them, and Labour managed to lose seven of them at the last election. Attacking an activity which brings investment, employment and social cohesion to those constituencies is unlikely to help win them back.
It seems some in the party are determined that nobody in Labour can hunt or shoot, and that nobody who hunts or shoots can vote Labour. This attitude is unlikely to resolve Labour’s rural problem.