The ban on hunting was supposed to make life better for the fox and other quarry species. But has it? If the 2004 Hunting Act, which banned the hunting of wild mammals in England and Wales, and the 2002 Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, which did the same north of the border, had made a significant improvement to their welfare, we should have heard about it by now. Those opposed to hunting would have made sure of that. However, anecdotal evidence suggestions that the opposite has happened and that attitudes towards the previously hunted species have now changed.
Setting up scientific trials to assess the impact of different activities – such as hunting, shooting and snaring – is time-consuming and expensive. This may explain why there have been no peer-reviewed experiments to look at the impact of the hunting ban. However, sufficient time has now passed to allow us to make a reasonable judgement about the efficacy of the ban in terms of its impact on the populations of the quarry species and wild animal welfare.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some areas far greater numbers of foxes are being shot or snared than was the case in the past. This could imply that hunting, in its traditional form, acted as a constraint on killing. As for red deer, the ban has transformed a community-based management activity in the West County into a pest control exercise or one for commercial gain, and there is evidence to suggest that the health of the herd is suffering as a result. Poor or reckless shooting can lead to wounding and an agonising death. With hunting with dogs, in contrast, the animal is either killed or it escapes.
The SNP and the Greens in Scotland, and the Labour Party in England and Wales, have made it clear that they would like to reduce the exemptions in the hunting legislation and introduce the concepts of recklessness and vicarious liability, making landowners liable for prosecution. Such changes could threaten the future of trail hunting, as well as the existing forms of hunting that remain legal, for example the use of two dogs as a form of pest control. Either the current legislation will be amended in such a way as to be a death-knell for all forms of hunting – that is what the animal rights lobby wants – or it will be repealed and replaced with something which works better. If that’s to happen, then the case needs to be made now, before it is too late. That is the purpose of Rural Wrongs.
Between 1997 and 2004, the UK Parliament spent 700 hours debating and taking evidence on whether or not hunting with dogs should be banned. It eventually became clear that science – and often junk science – was simply used as a Trojan horse to bolster decisions which were based on sentimentality and prejudice. We can see the same happening again with the current government’s recent pledge to ban the import of hunting trophies from Africa. Many conservation scientists have pointed out that trophy hunting, when practised well, brings great benefits both for wildlife and local communities. The government has chosen to listen, instead, to a cohort of ill-informed celebrities who know little or nothing about the subject.
By exposing how animal rights groups and the pro-banners use social media and naïve journalists to further their aims, Rural Wrongs will inject a new sense of realism into future debates on these contentious issues. This is no minor parochial matter: hunting may be in the last chance saloon in this country, but other field sports are under threat too.
We have begun interviewing a wide range of individuals and organisations, including scientists, conservationists, animal welfare experts, field sports organisations, land managers, and gamekeepers. This will not be a work of propaganda where the science is cherry-picked to provide “proof” of a certain predetermined point of view; we leave that to the animal rights groups. Rather, it will make a real attempt to gather evidence which will help to shape future debate and inform decision makers.
This is a multimedia project. We will be using social media and a dedicated website, and a report will be published both electronically and in hardcopy format. The project will also reach a wider audience through film and podcast.
Charlie Pye-Smith and Jim Barrington, who launched Rural Wrongs in summer 2021, have already collaborated on several projects which have focused on field sports and wildlife management. The Rural Wrongs project can be seen as a sequel to Rural Rites: Hunting and the Politics of Prejudice, published by the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group in 2006, and The Facts of Rural Life: Why We Need Better Wildlife Management, published by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management in 2015.
If you have any information which could help to establish what has happened to the fox, the deer or the hare in your part of the country, and you would like to share it with Jim or Charlie, or if you would like to support the project, please get in touch with them via: firstname.lastname@example.org