‘The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable’ – Oscar Wilde

After a merry chase through English parliamentary procedure, hunting with dogs was finally banned by Act of Parliament on 18 November. Prime Minister Blair tried a final decoy to delay the ban until after the general election (he will need their votes), but with no luck. The horn has been sounded Tally-ho! The hunters are pledged to disrupt the nation, the general election and all things foreign (ie urban) until they get their way and are able to pursue small animals across the countryside and tear them to pieces for pleasure once more (more endearing are their badges enscribed ‘Bollocks to Blair’).

But contrary to Countryside Alliance and pro-hunting claims, according to a Mori Poll published in The Guardian on 18 December 2001, 83% of people in the UK think hunting is cruel, unnecessary or unacceptable. In a Gallup poll for the Daily Telegraph in 1997, 77% of rural dwellers disapproved of fox hunting.

The Act will outlaw the cruel and barbaric killing of animals for pleasure. Other blood ‘sports’ which involve cruelty to animals, such as hare coursing, badger baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting, were outlawed long ago. The pro-hunters claim that their pastime is not cruel and helps to rid the countryside of predatory pests which kill farm animals like lambs and chickens. In fact foxes feed mainly on rabbits and rats – a benefit to farmers. There are estimated to be 250,000 adult foxes in the UK, producing about 400,000 cubs a year, most of which will die in their first year of life. Humans kill about 400,000 foxes a year so a ban on fox hunting, which kills about 20,000 a year at most, will have little impact on the numbers.

Far worse than their disgusting pleasures, however, are the claims of the pro-hunting, landed elite that they are the guardians and custodians of the English landscape, who know best how to protect English heritage. The landowners have successfully harnessed a general feeling of grievance in rural areas as a result of a crisis in farming in order to defend their wealth, power and privilege. They shamelessly portray themselves as defenders of working people’s jobs, homes and futures.

The United Kingdom consists of 60 million acres. 41 million of these are designated ‘agricultural land’. 15 million acres are considered ‘waste’ and consist of forests, rivers, mountains and are predominantly owned by the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Defence. That leaves four million acres for ‘urban plot’. Of this total 60 million acres, 69% is owned by 0.6% of the population. That means that 158,000 families own 41 million acres and 24 million families live on four million acres. According to current figures, land is more fairly distributed in Brazil than in the Britain.

English landowners have consistently damaged the English countryside in favour of profits and subsidies. They have persistently destroyed wildlife habitats like woodland and hedgerows. Their gamekeepers trap and poison birds of prey to protect their pheasants (for profitable shoots), and their sheep are dipped in noxious chemicals which poison farmworkers, rivers and fish. Conservators and guardians they are not!

Estimates vary as to the number of people who are employed directly in hunting. The Campaign for Rural Rights, launched by the Countryside Alliance in 1997, claims that 160,000 full and part-time jobs will be lost as a result of the ban. Research by the Produce Studies Group showed that the ban would threaten at least 16,000 jobs in hunting and associated trades and activities – 70% of them in rural areas. Independent research by Dr Neil Ward of the University of Newcastle found that fewer than 1,000 full-time jobs are directly linked to hunting.

If the hunting lobby were seriously concerned about the future of workers in the countryside (and they never have been before), then there are many other possible leisure activities which would involve many more people in work and participation than the rather select band who go hunting. And therein lies the rub! They don’t actually want to attract hoi polloi, the ordinary people, in any numbers to enjoy rural pursuits. They expect our sympathy for their civil liberty to chase freely over the countryside in pursuit of foxes, but don’t any of us dare to go for a walk across their land!

Barnaby Mitchell

FRFI 182 December 2004 / January 2005


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