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Boxing Day hunts and shoots will highlight continuing controversy over country sports

By WMNPBowern  |  Posted: December 20, 2013



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The Western Morning News recently reported the latest efforts by the animal rights lobby to intimidate those people who hunt and shoot.

Country sports followers have pretty tough hides but Scum Watch, who have created a Facebook page that aims to “out” people who go hunting or shooting, has rattled some cages including that of Countryside Alliance chief executive, Sir Barney White-Spunner who urged his members to tighten up their own online security.

So far, so predictable. There has long been a vociferous animal rights lobby in Britain and the hunting and shooting fraternity generally give as good as they get. Scum Watch claim the pro-country sports groups have regularly drawn attention to those who campaign against such activities and this is just tit-for-tat.

But why are hunting – severely emasculated since the hunt ban of 2005 – and shooting, which is very widely practised, so strongly targeted when fishing, the third element of the country sports ‘trinity’ is barely, if ever, the subject of such attacks.

A shooting man recently asked me why local and national newspapers routinely publish pictures of fishermen holding up their magnificent catches, some dead, some still gasping and about to be returned, while a picture of a brace of freshly shot pheasants, a pile of pigeons or a stalked deer is rarely seen and – pre-ban – a hunted dead fox never pictured, outside of the specialist country sports press.

I pointed out that the Western Morning News does regularly carry pictures from local shoots, in part because the newspaper covers a largely rural area where country sports are a big part of many people’s lives and a significant contributor to the local economy. In essence, however, taking the issue as a whole, he is right.

And it is not just newspapers. Read any tourist material urging visitors to come and enjoy the delights of the countryside and you will often see mention of the opportunities for ‘fishing’. It is very unusual for local councils or tourist information organisations to make the same plea to those who want to go shooting to visit their area, even though opportunities to shoot may be just as widely available. As for hunting? Don’t even ask!

It has long been accepted that in political circles the Labour party’s attack on country sports always stopped short of criticising fishing – particularly coarse fishing – because that is the country sport of the working man. It fed the not entirely unreasonable conclusion that the hunt ban was as much about taking revenge on the “toffs” as it was about allegedly trying to reduce animal cruelty – despite the fact plenty of ordinary folk hunt and shoot as well as fish.

The answer, my shooting friend suggested, was to seek to take the heat out of the country sports argument; to in effect “normalise” the pastimes within ordinary life so that the controversy they attract would slowly diminish. That’s easy to say, harder to implement, especially when some people have a vested interest in keeping the issues a matter for debate.

There are, of course, animal rights campaigners who feel very strongly about what they see as cruelty and will always want to oppose country sports, just as there are avid vegetarians who want to fight for an end to any meat-eating. Yet the majority of the population eat meat and many have no strong feelings about shooting or hunting either way. Most are happy to enjoy the products of shooting, from venison to partridge, and to benefit from the predator control and environmental gains that those who hunt and shoot provide even if they have no desire to participate.

Yet somehow, while it is perfectly OK for peak time TV programmes to extol the virtues of farming and butchery, depicting contented grazing animals, cheerful farmers, and happy chefs and diners eyeing up dinner on the hoof, it is almost impossible for a shoot to get the same sort of coverage without the whiff of controversy and the need to present “both sides of the argument”.

As an example, on the BBC’s generally excellent Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen series our heroes reared three different breeds of pig to find out which would grow the fastest and produce the tastiest pork. Cue scenes of farmer Adam Henson and chef Nigel Slater squeezing the flanks of their porcine charges as they snuffled in the straw, while Adam and Nigel licked their lips. Quite right too – happy pigs make good pork and providing meat for us to enjoy is, after all, what pigs are for.

Look for a similar sort of prime-time show from a grouse moor or a pheasant shoot, however – where the benefits extend not just to the production of delicious and nutritious free-range ‘wild’ game meat but also give enjoyment to those doing the shooting and bring environmental gains – and you will look in vain. The animal rights lobby can pat themselves on the back that this is the case. They have successfully maintained a blood-spattered ‘cruel’ image for country sports while fishing and farming, butchery and the production of meat dishes for the table go unsullied by such unwanted and unfair attention.

Could it be that the big difference between putting farmed meat on the table and that which has been hunted is that those who shoot and hunt enjoy it while farming and slaughtering are supposed to be just jobs? Or could it be the sporting aspect? Boxing Day is approaching, a great spectacle for hunts and a big day out for the shooters. Will the media coverage report it straight or feel obliged to treat it as a controversial issue and provide the antis with their “balance?” We shall see.

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  • toffer99  |  December 25 2013, 9:28AM

    Mr Bowern you would appear to know the hunting fraternity well, so perhaps you can answer the following? Is it correct that hunts across the country are preparing to hunt Romanian and Bulgarian newcomers in the new year?

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  • simonrtucker  |  December 21 2013, 12:33PM

    Oh yes - thanks for debating and answering: it is a pleasant change

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  • simonrtucker  |  December 21 2013, 12:31PM

    I had a look at the Scum Watch site and it is despicable: degrading to all involved.

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  • harveypaulger  |  December 21 2013, 12:19PM

    Simon, I appreciate your cool headed comments on what has always been a volatile subject. If, as you say, animal welfare is the bedrock of the anti hunting position, we wouldn't need to hear words like Scum Watch, Bloodthirsty Toffs and Nazis to label hunters. No, for these people, it is a personality issue and they detest hunting and shooting people full stop. And whatever the reasons for their highly palpable 'foaming at the mouth' anger, I frankly couldn't care less, because I have no time for the rantings of bigots. Clearly, you do not belong to that category Simon, and I respect your views, although I may not agree with them.

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  • simonrtucker  |  December 21 2013, 11:22AM

    harveypaulger: admit it - there are just as many bigoted thugs amongst the hunt supporters as there are amongst the antis and you cannot bring yourself to be honest about their motives: animal welfare is always the bedrock of the anti-hunt position. Switch to drag hunting and see the opposition melt away.

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  • simonrtucker  |  December 21 2013, 10:50AM

    I am a wildlife conservationist: I am pro drag hunting and against fox, deer or otter hunting with hounds. I am in favour of deer culling as there is no chance of a reintroduction of lynx or wolf to control their numbers and they are causing considerable damage to sensitive habitats and there is a viable by-product: venison. I am against badger culling because there is no proper science behind it - just propaganda and bias from Government and NFU paid apparatchiks. I am pro shooting of pheasant and red-legged partridge and red grouse reared for the purpose but against wildfowling and the shooting of declining species like woodcock and grey partridge. I am also against the persecution of birds of prey and Corvids because they may take a few game birds as part of their diet. The problem is that for all the pros the hunting and shooting lobby only see the cons. Nobody believes that fox hunting is genuinely for pest control - they are shot if they are a real problem - although I would contend that the problem lies with the farming methods and bio-security (foxes were imported from the continent for hunting until the anti-rabies laws were enacted - hence the dilution of our indigenous sub-species with the white tipped tail), nobody in the anti-hunting lobby is against drag hunting (with muzzled hounds to prevent accidents) but the hunts cannot compromise and insist on confrontation. Gamekeepers, despite every poisoning and trapping action being illegal, cannot help persecuting birds of prey. In the south west in the last couple of years goshawks and buzzards have come in for special persecution and the tragedy of the hen harrier in England is a national disgrace. I work in Wiltshire where some of my best partners are farmers and estates who run shoots on their land. They provide game cover and supplementary feed throughout the winter which benefits many declining species like yellowhammer, linnet, corn bunting and tree sparrow. They have modified their harvesting regimes to support yellow wagtails, quail and corn buntings. I don't remember anybody arguing that these are bad farmers or that they should stop their shoots. My wildlife surveys are a delight to carry out as there is always something exciting to find. Unfortunately there is a bed-rock of confrontational, narrow-minded bigots on both sides of the argument who will accept no merit of any opposing viewpoint. I am vilified on these posts for being anti the badger cull: nobody answers the questions asked they just throw insults and mark your posts down. I am anti the cull because the science does not support it. The Krebs' trial was such a failure that Lord Krebs is against the current cull. Only the NFU, the Government and Government appointed apparatchiks are in favour. The scientists at Natural England have eventually stood up against it - and so the government has replaced the head with a Tory party donor, venture capitalist and asset stripper. We can rely on NE for unbiased opinions in the future, I don't think.

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  • harveypaulger  |  December 21 2013, 8:04AM

    A very valid piece of editorial WMN - thank you. The anti hunting and anti shooting fraternity are perfectly entitled to hold their views. That's as exactly as it should be. Hunting people have no wish or expectation to convert everyone into hunt supporters. They simply ask to be left alone, nothing more. If a newcomer shows an interest and wants to follow, they are made to feel welcome. If they decide it's not for them, then that's fine too. If farmers decide they support hunting or shooting on their land, then that is their right. If other farms do not entertain country sports, then that is also their prerogative. All fine and dandy. But it's not that simple, I'm afraid. There is a ferocious section of the anti lobby who are driven by prejudice, and in some cases downright hatred of hunting and shooting people. It is an ugly spectacle and to me, just as nasty as being racist or sexist. Animal welfare is rarely mentioned, replaced instead by a tirade of vile name calling and labelling. The latest is Sum Watch, and that's lightweight compared to some offerings. Well, I've no problem with people being anti, that's their choice. But it's not mine. And I can't abide animal cruelty, by the way.

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