'One of the great myths that the hunters peddle is that foxes are a terrible problem for sheep farmers'.
‘One of the great myths that the hunters peddle is that foxes are a terrible problem for sheep farmers. It is rubbish of course, but as ever they don’t let inconvenient facts get in the way of their supposed justification for fox persecution.
Research has conclusively shown that the fox is primarily a scrounger of carrion. Animals that have died from disease, malnutrition and hypothermia all present feeding opportunities for foxes. Sadly many sheep farmers present the average fox with plenty of “fallen stock” as a feed supply.
On hill farms, losses of new born lambs where they are born outdoors can run as high as 16%. Wet and cold weather is the biggest killer by far of new born lambs, followed by death due to malnutrition because the ewe does not have enough milk to support her young. Rather than killing the lambs, the rural fox is more often simply in the business of removing the already dead and of recycling the bodies as food.
Where a farmer claims to be suffering severe losses from fox predation it is well worthwhile examining the reality of that claim and determining where true responsibility for lamb deaths lies.
Where is the proof that the fox was the cause of the lamb’s death? What steps did the farmer take to protect vulnerable lambs from the cold and the wet? What steps did the farmer take to ensure that his ewes were in good enough condition to provide enough milk for the new born lambs? Did the farmer tend his lambing flock by night to ensure that new born lambs were accepted and fed by their dams? Ask yourself, is the fox really responsible for all that the farmer claims and remember that it is all too easy for the incompetent and or lazy shepherd to blame the fox!
Anyone who really knows about sheep will tell you that most shepherds don’t take their sheepdogs into their lambing fields, because they know that if they did, the fiercely maternal ewes would quite literally head butt the sheepdogs. Most sheep are natural and protective mothers to the newborn lambs that they have bonded with. Any fox daft enough to try it on with a maternal ewe or its lambs would get its comeuppance in exactly the same way as a sheepdog would.
The fox is a convenient target for the less than fully competent shepherd in exactly the same way as it is blamed by the person who forgets to shut the hen house door at night. Of course a fox will eye up a free range hen or an intensively reared pheasant as a quick and easy meal opportunity, why shouldn’t it? But that does not make the people responsible for looking after the hens and pheasants any less responsible for their welfare. They should be caring for their animals properly rather than taking out their frustration on the fox!
Hunting and coursing are bloodsports, not exercises in pest control. The activities are designed primarily to provide prolonged entertainment for riders and followers in the countryside. Any observer or reader of Horse & Hound will quickly see that hunting is primarily a social event and not an efficient or cost effective attempt at control of the fox, deer or hare populations.
There is something rather sad and pathetic about the way that so many hunters cling to their ancient traditions long after the vast majority of the population have decided that setting dogs onto wild animals for sport is a crime.
Hunting and coursing are present day examples of highly ritualised forms of animal abuse for sport. The people who partake in these events are – in the eyes of the majority of the population and the law – either criminal animal abusers or actively complicit with those who are. That their activities are now a crime is what the hunters and the coursers cannot cope with. They desperately want to wipe out the law that now makes their behaviour and their traditions a crime, so that they can once more be seen as being socially acceptable law abiding citizens while they hunt and course for sport.
What the hunters and the coursers fail to understand is that they cannot make their conduct socially acceptable simply by changing the law. Hunting and coursing are now seen by the vast majority as being every bit as objectionable as dog fighting, badger baiting and cock fighting, all of which still go on, but all of which are now seen even by most of the avid fox, hare and deer hunters as being beyond the pale. What was once seen as acceptable over 150 years ago but was then banned, like dog fighting, is no longer seen as being socially acceptable behaviour. That social clock cannot be turned back. Hunting and coursing are in the same place, there is no turning back of social attitudes that have gone beyond the tipping point to change for the better.
The hunters and the coursers have completely failed to understand the social forces that they are up against. Canute-like they stand on the beach at the low tide mark facing the incoming tide of social opinion and say this cannot and must not be. The tide must go back they say; the waters must part; for us it must be different. But the incoming tide, like time, waits for no man or woman; it comes in, come what may.
The hunters and the coursers could change, if only their leaders would let them. They could become enthusiastic legal drag hunters and they could course after artificial lures, but sadly six years on and still the clarion cries for the clocks to go back ring out. They are in many ways the militant Luddite tendency in the countryside. They are not a force for good or for progress; they have become the malcontents and the naysayers, with no way forward and only a desire to go backwards in time to the past.
In political terms the hunters and the coursers have become a blot on the landscape. While some politicians may court the votes of the Luddite tendency, they do so knowing that hunting and coursing as they once were are now history. There is no form of going back to live quarry hunting and coursing for sport that would be acceptable to the voting majority. That is the new political and social reality which most politicians understand.
The real question for the hunters and the coursers is how do they move forwards? Can they embrace a form of their sport that leaves the fox, the hare and the deer out of it? Can they pluck up the courage to move forwards and to accept progress by joining the Masters of Drag Hounds Association and adopting their rules? We can at least hope that sense will increasingly prevail as the Luddite tendency gradually tip toe into the history books of yester year.’
From The League Against Cruel Sports- March 2011
One of the things that really gets to me is when downright lies are presented as truths. When I see and hear people making public statements that are clearly nonsense I get really annoyed. “Love the countryside, support hunting and shooting for sport.” “Love the countryside, support the proposed badger cull and the sell off of nationally owned forest land.” “Love the countryside and support repeal of the Hunting Act.” What part of love is killing for sport?
There is a well known practice in spin and PR called ‘crafty conflation’. First you take a statement that many people will agree with, like ‘love the countryside’, and then you conflate and add a second statement, like ‘…therefore you should support the sell off of large chunks of the national forest to private ownership’. The agreeable first statement is supposed to help gain your support for the second statement in the absence of other coherent argument.
I think it is well worth examining some of the recent proposals from those who claim to love the countryside, having stripped away some of the crafty conflation in which they are far too often wrapped up.
This week the Welsh Assembly Government announced that they propose to license specialist contractors to kill badgers in large areas of south-west Wales where there have been problems of tuberculosis in cattle. In the complete absence of any plan to ring vaccinate the badgers in areas surrounding the cull and to give them time to develop what is called group immunity, licensed culling seems destined to be started once the orders come into effect and well before necessary precautions can be taken. This could be as soon as next month.
The available scientific evidence suggests that the result will be an increase in badger movement on the boundaries of the culling areas, both into and out of the culling areas and that as a result any movements by infected badgers could spread the disease to new areas and new herds of cattle and at the same time perfectly healthy badgers moving into vacant territories in the culling areas will be needlessly killed.
The result will be a widespread badger slaughter, and in all probability on the scientific evidence, an increase at least in the short term of the incidence of bovine TB (bTB) in the culling and surrounding areas due to the perturbation movement of badgers. The cost in distress, slaughter and compensation will be considerable, and will fall in part on taxpayers, who for the most part do not support these policies.
The end result will be a badger free countryside in large areas of Wales, a continuing bTB problem in Welsh cattle and an increasingly hacked off general public who will recognise that management by paying for the killing of wildlife was not the right answer to the bTB problem. The question in a very real sense is how many dead badgers will it take for the farming community and the politicians who support their badger killing plans to come to their senses? At what point will the general public make it clear that they do not support the needless slaughter of wildlife when there are alternative policies which could be pursued at less cost and risk to the public purse?
As it is, thanks to a grim determination to blame the wildlife for what is a farm animal problem, wild animals will be trapped and killed, whether they are infected with bTB or not. Pasteurisation of milk destroys bTB, and so one must ask why the farming industry is so determined to kill badgers? In truth the planned cull doesn’t make sense, and it will alienate the general public.
Can you see any Welsh farmer putting a sign on his gate saying milk and meat from badger free farms? The cull is not the right answer and it will actually become the problem! Anyone buying from a Welsh farm shop or farmers market could demand an assurance that the farmer does not support and will not facilitate the cull in any way before buying their produce. That might make Welsh farmers think a bit more before they support the planned cull. A badger free Welsh countryside isn’t much of a tourism draw either! Hopefully that message will also get through from anyone staying in a Welsh farm B&B. No badgers on your farm? No business for you, then!
Then there was the pitiful attempt by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust to distance their President form the ‘sporting’ slaughter of hares on his land. First he allegedly didn’t know, then he was allegedly shocked and then he apparently claimed that it was an unfortunate necessity, that the burgeoning hare population (a biodiversity action plan species no less) be controlled by culling because of the damage they were doing to his crops. So we were supposed to accept that it was all the hares fault and he was a nice guy really who hadn’t known for what he was giving permission. Oh really; believe all that spin and you will believe anything!
Were the general public really supposed to believe that there had been no hare shoot on this estate before? Were they supposed to believe that such an event would have been allowed without either the express or at least the tacit or customary approval of the landowner? Were they supposed to believe that those giving permission didn’t know how the event would be run and what would happen? Oh come on!
And then when all else fails, let’s blame the poor bloody hare because it was supposedly causing serious damage to crops! Anyone who really knows about cereal crops also knows that it used to be good agricultural practice to graze sheep on cereal crops to encourage tillering and to firm up and naturally fertilise the seed bed. The chances are that far from damaging the crops the hares were actually increasing the crop yield for the next harvest by doing what the grazing sheep used to do. So please in future don’t try and pass off a bloodsport as being a necessary part of countryside management, especially if you speak on behalf of a Wildlife Trust whose spokesperson should have known better about the working benefits of biodiversity in action in the countryside.
So when I build up a head of steam, what do I think about people who claim to love the countryside, but who want to kill hares and badgers, who give guns to children and who use live animals as targets and objects for sport? Whatever they may claim, such killing for sport isn’t love, it has more to do with hate and a desire to kill.
I find it quite chilling that even now at a time of national economic hardship, the hunters and the shooters are trying to persuade politicians that killing for sport isn’t a crime and that even where the law already makes it a crime, that it isn’t a serious crime and that the police should not be asked to enforce the law.
There is something deeply disturbing about the latest wheeze from the Countryside Alliance of offering a discounted membership to the members of the armed forces. Is this an open invitation to the armed services to use British wildlife for target practice? Did we the public agree to that; do we want that? Do we really want our armed services signing up to membership of an organisation campaigning against the law of the land?
I think that as with the police, members of armed services should not at the time of serving be members of organisations whose declared purpose is to change the very laws that they may be asked to enforce. That must be a potential conflict of interest and should not be allowed.