A conflict of interest?
The Wildlife Trust's do great work across the UK, but Tom Fitton has deep concerns about a man with a history of hunting and shooting chairing the Kent Wildlife Trust
Across the UK, the various wildlife trusts do great work looking after Britain’s countryside, but for a number of years myself, and the 200,000 who signed my petition, have felt there is a great conflict of interest between that great organisation, and the history of the man who occupies the position of chair of trustees.
Michael Bax has a lifelong association with bloodsports. Between 1971 and 1991, he served as Huntsman of the Hare-hunting group, the Blean Beagles and between 1991 and 2016, as Joint Master of the same group. One of his colleagues at BTF Partnership, Stuart Sillars, continues to be connected with the group. Sillars served from 1996 as Joint Master, Huntsman and Hare Conservationist for the group, before entering semi-retirement in 2018.
The Brown Hare is listed as a 'priority species' on both Kent's and the UK's 'Biodiversity Action Plan', due to a 'dramatic decline in numbers', caused by agricultural practices and hunting. According to the 'Hare Preservation Trust', the UK's Brown Hare population has declined by 80% since 1880; and numbers are low in Kent. How can an organisation who are supposed to protect hares have a man in charge who has a long history of killing them?
One signatory to my petition, which calls on Mike Bax to be removed from his position at KWT, commented: “During the 40 odd years I have been a member [of Kent Wildlife Trust] I have observed the decline of the Brown Hare from almost common to rare”. The most recent polling confirms that 90% of the UK’s population oppose the hunting of hares with hounds (League Against Cruel Sports, 2017).
Bax also allows driven-pheasant shooting to take place on his land (Young, 2017). Aside from the barbarity of profiting from the unnecessary slaughter of birds, the shooting industry persecuting native wildlife, ranging from foxes and badgers, to birds of prey and hares are persecuted in order to maintain the highest amount of pheasants available for driven shoots. How does this fit into KWT’s remit to protect wildlife?
In 2014, whilst serving as Chairman of Kent Wildlife Trust, Bax personally donated a ‘tide flight’ to auction, that would take place on Greenborough Marshes in Kent (BTF Partnership, 2014). Greenborough Marshes is an environmentally-sensitive area of land, which is home to several red- and amber-listed bird species. A tide flight is the shooting of wading birds and ducks at the changing of the tide, when birds are at their most active. Disturbance to this area has been well documented by both Medway Council (Medway Council, 2005) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC, 2001). Ornithologist, Tony Prater, also notes his concerns, during the ‘Birds of Estuaries Enquiry’, sponsored by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wildfowl Trust. ‘Shooting [is] excessive in some areas…of the Medway…Greenborough Marshes [is] continually under threats of reclamation’ (Prater, 2010).
Kent Wildlife Trust have received thousands of complaints with regards to Michael Bax, whether that be via email, social media, or telephone and that is not including the signatories to my petition.
It is becoming more and more apparent, that if nature and our ecosystems are to recover, persecution of our wildlife needs to stop. Allowing lifelong bloodsport enthusiasts to gain influential positions of policy within conservation organisations, limits the effectiveness of these organisations and endorses the outdated and archaic gamekeeper’s view of conservation, that still plagues our society.
- Hare Preservation Trust ‘Brown Hare History & Status’ [Online]. Available here: http://hare-preservation-trust.com/species-status/brown-hare-history-status/
- League Against Cruel Sports ‘Opposition to fox hunting remains at an all-time high’ [Online]. Available here: https://www.league.org.uk/news/opposition-to-fox-hunting-remains-at-an-all-time-high
- Young, M. (2017) ‘Thousands call for wildlife chief to be sacked for letting bird killers shoot on his land for 10 years’, Daily Mirror, 2 Jun [Online]. Available here.
- Medway Council (2015) ‘Bird Disturbance in North Kent’ [Online]. Available here.
- Joint Nature Conservation Committee (2001), Medway Estuary and Marshes [Online]. Available here.
- Prater, T. (2010) ‘Eastern England’, in Prater, T. (eds) ‘Estuary birds of Britain and Ireland’, London, Bloomsbury, p.160.
- (2017), ‘Attitudes to Hunting 2017’, IPSOS MORI, 25 Dec [Online]. Available here: https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/attitudes-hunting-2017