This week's note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.
I suppose pre-season pheasant theft is bound to happen, but I couldn’t help a wry smile about the story regarding the hundreds of stolen pheasant poults, when the aggrieved party was reported as being a Mr Partridge.
As far as the majority of poor partridges are concerned their shooting season starts next Wednesday, 1St September. Millions of the poor birds will have been bred, reared and released into the wild to be live targets for sport. Unlike the bull that apparently decided it was safer to be a member of the audience than it was to be in the bull ring, the partridges don’t have any realistic option to being shot at for sport.
The whole shooting bloodsport would be very different if the pheasants and partridges could shoot back. Imagine how the shooters would feel about their bloodsport if they were likely to be shot at by their quarry. Would they accept the risk, would they accept the wounding rate, would they accept having their necks wrung if they were wounded but not killed? I think not!
The arguments that the shooters use to justify their sport are worth looking at, if only to see how appallingly weak their arguments really are.
The shooters’ primary argument is that they enjoy what they do, and feel that they should be free to do as they wish with animals for sport. As they would see it, if they bred the bird in the first place and then fed it, why shouldn’t they kill it as well? After all, they argue, that is what farmers do with chickens, so what is the difference?
The answer of course is that farmers don’t release their reared chickens into the countryside for use as live targets in a bloodsport. Farmers are required to kill humanely when they do kill and they certainly don’t roam their fields with shotguns taking potshots at their chickens. If they did they would almost certainly be prosecuted under the terms of the Animal Welfare Act for cruelty to their birds.
Then there is the argument that shooting for sport is a big industry that brings lots of money into the countryside. An estimated £1.6bn per annum is apparently spent on sport shooting and related matters. The main trouble with that argument is that for the £1.6bn that goes in at one end, less than £100m of food comes out at the other end, and that includes the cat food and pie fillers. For a huge investment, the output in food terms of the shooting industry is truly pathetic.
Then there is the argument that the bloodsport is a reward for hard working conservation workers and managers who put their all and their money into looking after the countryside for public benefit. In making such claims they conveniently ignore the predators poisoned and shot, the foxes, badgers and other animals snared and the restrictions shooting places on safe public access to the countryside. The public are not signed up to the bloodsports lobby and their killing agenda!
Then there is the argument about the money that the shooters bring with them and allegedly pour into the local economy. The reality is very different. Hotels and up market catering don’t for the most expensive parts of what they offer source their produce locally. While the staffing may be local, low-cost and seasonal and some produce bought locally, the big ticket items are imported. The fine wines, the cigars and the spirits consumed are not local products, nor is the caviar or the foie gras.
Then there is the argument that the high profile shoots are not typical and that the vast majority of shoots are made up of local people walking up wild game on their own and their friends land. In purely numerical terms of the number of shoots that may be true, but the bigger truth is that over 80% of the birds will be killed by less than 20% of the shoots.
Then there is the argument that shooting brings employment to the countryside. Well yes of course it does, but that is wholly the wrong measure to use. Shooting actually displaces other more intensive uses of land and better employment opportunities. A typical gamekeeper will cover about 3,000 acres of grazing land, whilst a shepherd would be fully employed on 1,000 acres of sheep production. Or to put it another way three shepherds could have been employed for each gamekeeper employed. If the 3,000 acres of land were given over to forestry planted in 100 acre blocks, around thirty jobs could be created in the local economy.
While bloodsports do create some jobs they displace others. It is complete economic nonsense to imply that the few jobs created justify the bloodsport on economic grounds: they do not. It is much the same sort of economic nonsense when the claim is made by the bloodsports lobby about what the shooters spend on guns, ammunition, food, accommodation and all the rest of it, and what that brings to the economy. These same people would spend similarly on other things if they could not spend their money on shooting. Their spending is not necessarily lost to the economy just because they do not spend it on shooting at live targets for sport.
The shooters may argue in response that if they could not spend their money on bloodsports here in the UK they would go abroad to spend it, in much the same way as they argued that they would go off to France to hunt when the Hunting Act was passed into law. Some did just that but most didn’t, and I suspect that most of us would cheer them on their way as they left, if they left. We don’t want them and their bloodsports here and we hope that they will soon find that the other countries to which they might go, don’t want them killing their wildlife either.
So when it comes to the shooters’ claims that the countryside needs them, the answer is; no it doesn’t. As far as League supporters are concerned, the shooters are a threat to wildlife welfare, a blot on our landscape and good riddance to them all.
Finally just to add insult to injury to our wildlife, the cub hunters are out there again, menacing the next generation of foxes while they train their young hounds to follow live animal scents. The deer hunters are also on the go, up to all the old tricks of claiming to be disturbing the deer to disperse them and or hunting them with dogs for the purpose of research and observation. We will be doing our best to keep an eye on them and to bring them to court if the evidence justifies that.
If you get a meet card or know what they are up to and where, please don’t hesitate to let us know on our Hunt Crime Watch line on 01483 524 250.