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.