Opinion by Charlie Jacoby
Anti-hunting civil servants are clever. Like spetznaz sleepers, they look like normal people and do their jobs to the best of their ability. Give them an opportunity to stick the knife into Britain’s rural community without getting caught and they do it. Then they turn to their colleagues and smile as if nothing had happened.
So it is with the Scottish Government’s survey on hunting with hounds (click here), in advance of its almost inevitable further restrictions. It asks 17 questions. It closes on 13 May 2022, so be quick. They are clever questions and, in answering them, you should be aware of how the Scottish Government can use your answers against you.
- ‘Will the bill make the law easier to understand and enforce the offence to hunt a wild mammal using a dog in Scotland?’ Straightforward. No it won’t.
- ‘Section 3 would allow hunting with dogs to manage wild mammals above ground for the purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock, woodland or crops, preventing the spread of disease and protecting human health. Do you agree with section 3?’ Your multiple choice answers are yes, no, neutral and don’t know. The obvious answer is yes. But the question is, in civil service speak, a ‘minestrone’. Answer yes and you may be expressing your support for hunting. But answer yes and you are also expressing support for the bill. The antis are likely to answer yes as well, if they want this bill to go through. Perhaps you should answer no. But then you are saying no to hunting with dogs. The only option is yes.
- ‘Do you agree with the limit on two dogs to manage wild mammals above ground?’ That should be easy. No. Tony Blair introduced the two dog rule with his 2004 hunting ban in England and Wales. In the West Country, where I live, the staghounds can only use two hounds to hunt deer, which prolongs the chase before they can bring the animal to bay and shoot it. Apparently, that’s what Tony Blair wants. The problem with this question is the word ‘limit’. By saying no, are you disapproving of the limit or the hunting? On balance, no is still the best answer.
- ‘Section 4 would allow people to apply for a licence to use more than two dogs to manage wild mammals above ground. Do you agree with section 4?’ You probably don’t agree with applying for a licence at all. You may be tempted to answer no. But that’s what the antis will be answering. The Tory government in 1991 introduced the general licences in order to meet its obligations to the European Union. The UK had good-quality common-law wildlife protections going back to the early 19th century. It allowed us to manage our wildlife and provided a list of protected species. The ‘general licences’ is the Roman law version. Under the general licences, all bird management is banned, with a list of some bird management allowed. Since 1991, successive governments have trimmed the bird list and added pages of extra rules to it. Scotland became the first administration to add mammals to the list, when it made the stoat an honorary bird. Now it plans to double-down on that and add all mammals. In 2020, a year after Natural England plunged rural England into chaos over its mismanagement of the general licences, it followed suit and added stoats to the general licences in England. Civil servants at Natural England did that, turned and smiled.
- ‘Section 5 would allow hunting with dogs to manage foxes or mink below ground for the purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock, woodland or crops, preventing the spread of disease and protecting human health or for ending the suffering of an injured or dependent fox or mink. Do you agree with section 5?’ You probably don’t agree with it, because it seems so pointlessly restrictive. You probably want to be told when you can’t manage foxes or mink below ground, not when you can. But the antis want you to answer no, so you are forced to answer yes.
- ‘Do you agree with the limit on one dog being allowed to flush a fox from cover to one below ground?’ Of course not. And neither will the antis, though for the opposite reasons. The Scottish government is looking for 100% consensus on this one.
- ‘Section 6 would allow hunting with dogs to search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal with the intention of providing quarry for falconry, game shooting or deer stalking. Do you agree with section 6?’ We have made films with Roy Lupton hunting mountain hares with golden eagles. You won’t see that again. The Scottish Government has now banned all hare hunting, because it sticks in civil service throats to admit that the only successful populations of mountain hares in Scotland are on managed grouse moors, and because the Scottish Government’s partners from the conservation industry have so far been almost solely responsible for the extinction of mountain hares across the (happily few) uplands they manage. Golden eagles hunt and eat mountain hares. Even the Scottish Government can’t ban that. Falconry is enshrined as a ‘living human heritage’. In 2021, the United Nations put falconry on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The antis at the UN were asleep at their desks that day. So, asking the rural community if it agrees with section 6 is like asking prisoners if they agree with planning permission for a new cellblock. Given that they can’t get out of the prison, the answer has to be yes.
- ‘Do you agree with the limit on two dogs to search for, stalk or flush from cover a wild mammal with the intention of providing quarry for falconry, game shooting or deer stalking?’ Of course not, but you have to.
- ‘Section 7 would allow hunting with dogs for environmental benefit for the purpose of preserving, protecting or restoring a particular species, the diversity of animal or plant life, or eradicating an invasive non-native species. Do you agree with section 7?’ Here’s a fun thing for a Scottish civil servant to do. Take all the responses to this question from RSPB email addresses and see how they vote. Right now, the RSPB is tearing itself apart about predator control. Its anti foxshooting dogma, based on a more or less fluffy notion of rewilding and what constitutes ‘natural’ nature (as opposed to all other kinds of nature) has brought about the extinction of the curlew on the reserves it manages in Wales, the predicted extinction of the capercaillie on reserves it manages in the Cairngorms, an almost laughable situation outlined in Ian Coghill’s excellent book Moorland Matters where the RSPB provides rare sand martin nests at its Minsmere sanctuary as a kind of local predator snackbar, and of course its failure to cause the extinction of stoats on Orkney or rats on Rathlin, a basic gamekeeping job for which it has received around £10 million so far. Progressives at the RSPB will answer yes to question 9, RSPB wonks may answer yes or no, die hards will answer no. We should answer yes.
- ‘Do you agree with the limit on two dogs for the purpose of preserving, protecting or restoring a particular species, the diversity of animal or plant life, or eradicating an invasive non-native species?’ or how about ‘Do you agree with only local anaesthetic for major operations? – just put up with the screaming’. Again, we will probably answer no, the antis among the respondents to this survey will answer no because they want a lower limit of no dogs at all, and the Scottish government will get consensus.
- ‘Section 8 would allow people to apply for a licence to use more than two dogs to manage wild mammals for environmental benefit. Do you agree with section 8?’ This is the ‘licensed hunting’ provision that antis in the Scottish civil service long for. Of course, you have to answer yes. But it will lead to the Scottish government taking over the management of hunting from the Masters of Foxhounds Association, who may be mad as rats, but be careful what you wish for.
- ‘Do you agree with the section 11 proposed ban on trail hunting?’. Easy one that one. No. I can’t believe the Scottish civil service would be so lazy as to ask a simple yes/no question with no ambiguity. When they come to look at the numbers of respondents, it is likely that the split on this question will be similar to the split on the same question when the National Trust asked it. The National Trust board – sometimes referred to as the ‘Blair government in exile’ – became convinced that it was the leading animal rights charity in the country. It asked its members whether they backed trailhunting on its land. The answer was always a variation on 1% vote firmly no, 1% vote firmly yes and 98% don’t care. As soon as the ban vote exceeded the no-ban vote, the board pushed through the ban it wanted. The Scottish government will do the same, and with the same level of public support.
- ‘Section 12 would allow trail hunting for the purpose of training a dog to follow an animal-based scent. Do you agree with section 12?’ This is a more sophisticated version of question 12. It’s likely to go through. The civil service wants to be able to brief politicians that XX% (a large percentage) of those who were against the whole bill (see question 17) also support the licensing of training dogs to go trail hunting. You’re stuffed if you say yes and you’re stuffed if you say no.
- ‘Do you agree with the definition of ‘wild mammal’ in section 1(3) of the bill?’ For the record, the Scottish government’s definition of a wild mammal is ‘any mammal (other than a human)’ which is ‘living in a wild state’ or ‘is of a species recognised as living in a wild state in the British Islands’ or ‘has been deliberately released from temporary or permanent human control’ and is not a rat, a mouse or livestock (‘living under temporary or permanent human control’). One reading of the words ‘deliberately released’ is that the bill endorses the hunting of carted stags. On Exmoor, when the deer population hit a low in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a local family called Luttrell kept a stag for the local hunt. They would box it up, take it to the meet, give it ten minutes lore, chase it all day and, at the end of the day, it would trot back into the box and return to its paddock. If this question leads to law, it starts Scotland down a road to confronting one of the most ludicrous pronouncements of a Scottish government minister since devolution. There are feral goats in the Scottish countryside. Generations ago, they were accidentally or deliberately released. When he was environment minister, Michael Russell MSP ordered their destruction. Shortly afterwards, an American hunter, Larysa Switlyk, posted a photograph of herself with a goat she had shot. Russell condemned her for it, even though he ordered it. American media reported his words, leading her to look at extraditing Russell to the USA to face libel charges.
- ‘Do you agree that rats and mice should be included in the definition of a wild animal?’ That’s up there with the Catholic Church classifying hippos and beavers as fish so you can eat them during Lent. If, however, you classify them as a wild animal (sic – the civil service should probably have made that ‘wild mammal’) then you put terriers in trouble. Well I think that’s a good thing. If this bill were really about ‘cruelty’ (which it isn’t) then it should ban all kinds of wild mammal destruction, including car ownership and housebuilding. The more people restricted by the bill, the less likely it is to become law. Answer: yes.
- ‘Do you agree that the court may disqualify a person from owning, keeping, or managing a dog for a given length of time, or deprive them of the dog or horse used in the offence, if convicted of an offence under this Bill?’. The antis are going to love this one. They are after the de-countrification of the countryside. Slaughtering hunters’ horses and dogs is revenge. Anti-hunting civil servants are looking for a ringing endorsement of this question, so make sure you answer no.
- ‘Do you support the Bill?’ What do you think?
To take this survey is to take part in a rearguard action. We have to take part. We currently have only one thing on our side: the failure of the civil service to understand the countryside and therefore its broad failure to make laws that can govern it. Happily, the strong social cohesion you find in rural communities compared to urban communities mean the UK countryside is largely self-governing.In years of dealing with governments in Cardiff, Westminster, Edinburgh and Stormont, I have found the one thing the civil service hates is being made to look like idiots. I recall talking to a civil servant who was trying to find a way of enacting the latest EU lunacy about the consumption of gamebirds. He had come up with the plan of only allowing us to eat pheasant if it had been shot in our own or an adjacent local authority area. As I tried, kindly, to point out the errors within this, he said plaintively, “Please don’t make me look like an ass.”
When it comes to dealing with government, the hope that we hunters have is that, however hard they try to find alternatives, the staff from the League Against Cruel Sports who draft the UK’s anti-hunting laws always end up making ‘intention’ to hunt with dogs the illegal act. And that means putting the dogs not the hut staff into the dock. As yet, no lawyer has successfully cross-examined a dog.
What we have to do is get another thing on our side. Over the next few years, we must change the social licence for hunting. We have to change the mindset away from hunting being negative, a ‘demerit’ activity. People should start thinking of hunting and shooting for what they are: the guardians of the UK’s wildlife. We need to be proud of what we have achieved for wildlife in the face of a general collapse in biodiversity thanks to development and agriculture. There’s only one way we can do that and it’s through the media.
The media is capable of performing two positive jobs for society. It can lose people their jobs who deserve to lose their jobs and it can change the social licence for an activity (it can also lose people their jobs who don’t deserve to lose them, and it can monster activities that don’t deserve to be monstered). Join the Fieldsports Nation and we can start to move this tanker around. Visit Fcha.nl/membership