It has been an interesting week in a media sense. Trophy hunting and the commercial exploitation of wildlife have been recurring themes. Tigers under threat of extinction from both trophy hunters and people who sell body parts for use in so called medicines. Meanwhile in the UK the trophy hunting debate rolled on with an excellent piece on BBC Countryfile. Then this week the Huntsman of the Quantock Staghounds was convicted under the Hunting Act for the second time.
The interesting part of the huntsman’s defence, which the judge made clear he did not find convincing, was that the hunt was in pursuit of what they believed to be an injured deer; in essence, a mercy killing by experts. The fact that the people involved decided that it was merciful to pursue the deer with dogs for an estimated three kilometres was not explained. Nor was it explained why hunt supporters appeared to be shouting at the deer in an attempt to ensure that it did not escape on to land owned by the League. The fact that the hunt had not requested permission from the National Trust to enter their land in pursuit of an injured animal was again not explained.
The blindingly obvious question that the hunt have failed to answer is why was it using a pack of dogs to pursue a deer which it believed to have been injured and was suffering? Surely the compassionate way of resolving the issue would have been to have stalked the deer and then shot it before it even knew it was being pursued. That arguably would have been humane and would not have been a crime.
When you watch the film of the deer that tried so hard to escape, you could reasonably conclude that while the hunt might have believed that it was injured before they found it, it would be difficult for them to reasonably maintain that belief in the face of the evidence of its ability to run kilometres across country. The fact that the hunt followers were clearly trying to steer the deer away from League land also suggests at the least a lack of compassion for its supposedly injured state.
The most blindingly obvious thing about this supposedly injured stag requiring mercy killing was that it had a good set of antlers. To the outsider, this stag looks suspiciously like a trophy that hunters wanted to take. Given that the stag hunters were also on record as lamenting the low number of stags now to be seen on the Quantocks, this supposedly necessary and compassionate mercy killing was not a convincing enough tale for the Judge.
The result was a guilty verdict for Richard Down, his second under the Hunting Act. The short answer to all this is that if the hunting activity looks like a hunt, acts like a hunt, kills like a hunt and does not comply with the rules of exempt hunting, it is an illegal hunt - all of which goes to show that the Hunting Act does work and can be enforced.
Next into the media dock came the northern region director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), talking about the ‘Game to Eat’ campaign, which seeks to promote pheasant, partridge and grouse to shoppers.
The BASC director introduced his promotion by saying that gamebird meat was excellent and better even than free range and organically produced poultry. Talk about a whopper. He conveniently ignored the pheasant and partridge battery egg production, the incubators, the mass rearing sheds, the rearing pens, and suddenly towards the end of their lives, hey presto, on release into the woods, the birds were now free range and organic.
Needles to say I pointed out that the BASC claims were preposterous, and that game bird rearing was intensive production on an industrial scale. The BASC man would have none of it, and accused me of misleading people. If you’re quick you can listen again (before Monday) and see what you make of his expostulations.
I think because the BASC man kept interrupting, the host must have muted his microphone, because he really lost it. There is a convention about radio and television debate and it is that you let people say their piece. The BASC man seemed more focused on shooting the messenger that on dealing with the argument.
Then there was the listener who send a text to the radio show to say that unless red grouse were shot they would take over the world. The grouse were a pest that had to be managed by the shooting industry. You wouldn’t even invent some of this in your wildest dreams, would you?
All this brings me back to my key point, namely that it is high time the nation’s wildlife had some real legal protection from the bloodsports enthusiasts. For far too long people have been able to chase, shoot and kill wildlife simply because they enjoy doing it. Let them take cameras into the countryside by all means, but not traps, snares, hounds, and guns.
The ‘Game to Eat’ campaign is supposed to tempt the public to eat more pheasant and partridge. It is also aimed at producing an income stream for the hunters and shooters who sell the game meat. Don’t buy the stuff and subsidise their cruel sport, let it rot in the supermarket cabinet or on the butcher’s slab. If people don’t buy it, and object to the shops selling it, the shooters will sell less of it and fewer birds and animals will suffer from the cruelty of their bloodsports.
Finally it is worthwhile noting the hunters’ latest tactic, which is taking journalists out to see what good fun a day’s legal hunting is. Well good on them I say, because if it is all legal, why do they want the Act to be repealed? Journalists are not dim and many will ask the blindingly obvious question, namely why do you want the Act to be repealed.
The simple questions good journalists will ask are the ones that the hunters can’t cope with. Are these hounds trained to follow an artificial scent? What happens at the end of the trail, do they get rewarded with dog biscuits? How often do you have an accident when you go out? How can you control the hounds when you let them get so far ahead of you? Why is that man telling you the fox went that way if you are not fox hunting?
Truth will out in court as many hunters are finding to their cost. More hunters will soon have their days in court. The Hunting Act works and we will work to keep it!