by Jim Barrington

The first in a new series of opinion pieces from Jim Barrington. Jim, formerly a director of the League Against Cruel Sports, is the Alliance's Animal Welfare Consultant. 

It may be a familiar question within hunting circles yet nevertheless one worth repeating: why are those opposed to hunting and other field sports consistently allowed to dodge awkward interrogations about their alternative vision for wildlife?

It’s really a question for the mainstream media and, on the rare occasion it is asked, no answer given, so how can any sensible debate take place? Imagine a political party that simply attacks the sitting government, yet never reveals its own policies; the media normally wouldn’t let them get away with that.

It’s also a question that can so easily turn the table on the antis and put them on the back foot. I can recall a radio debate with a League Against Cruel Sports representative who, when asked six times for the methods of wildlife control his group advocates, refused to give an answer. He responded by saying that foxes do not need to be controlled. That places the LACS in direct opposition to conservation organisations like the RSPB, which kills hundreds of foxes, deer and other animals every year to protect the birds it seeks to protect. Other organisations, such as the Wildlife Trusts, all accept the principle of wildlife management.

The trouble with blinkered groups like the LACS pumping out this false propaganda is that its supporters, including journalists, start to believe it, which of course is the whole point. It avoids accepting the uncomfortable fact that alternative methods of control will be employed and says hunting can be prohibited without any thought to the outcome because the only consequences are good - a ban prevents animal suffering and saves lives.

When the recent Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act was passed last month, comments appeared on social media declaring, “Fantastic news! Long live the fox.” Pointing out to such na├»ve people that the fox will now have anything but a long life in this brave new world is like talking to a brick wall. The animal will be facing a much more stringent level of persecution as its status has been reduced to that of a pest, with many more being shot and therefore wounded. Informing such people that now healthy foxes will be killed just as likely as sick, diseased or injured ones and that genuine conservation will suffer as a result of this perverse law, is met with derision by these blinkered followers who discount anything that shakes them out of their comfort zone.

One might have expected a little more thought about the consequences from the RSPCA with regard to this new Scottish law, which also bans trail hunting. In a short exchange with David Bowles, the society’s Head of Campaigns, he states that hounds “will get trained to follow non animal scent and so prevent “accidental” hunting of foxes.”  My reply asked if he had read this law, “It bans artificial scents that mimic animal scent. What are hounds supposed to learn to follow – Chanel No.5?”

The climate being created by anti-fieldsports groups who argue there is no need for any form of interference with wildlife and that activities like hunting can simply be stopped without any negative outcomes, is both dangerous and unrealistic. It would be interesting to know how such people expect crops and livestock to be protected, diseases curbed and vulnerable species saved.

Equally interesting is how a supposedly impartial ITN reporter can quote the arrest of a protester who spat in the face a hunt supporter and yet use it to attack hunting under the heading, “Yet more crime in the fox hunting world.” The Countryside Alliance described this as, “Blatant bias, activism disguised as journalism or just rubbish reporting?”

Perhaps a bit of both, but it’s also an indication that while swallowing the anti-hunting argument without question can make you forget the consequences, it can also make you forget that, as a journalist, you’re supposed to be unbiased.

This article first appeared in The Countryman's Weekly 

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