There’s a new group to help hunting. HuntingKind.com is lobbying the UK parliaments in Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont to help stop bans on hunting with hounds.
It is run by security consultant and former soldier Ed Swales, who has looked carefully at the hunting debates that rage in government and in the media, and believes he and his lobbying group can make a positive difference.
Hunting is an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ – here’s why that’s important
The main thrust of Ed’s work is to enshrine hunting sports as intangible cultural heritage – as important, he says, as the Pyramids in Egypt.
In the USA, the 2002 Hunting Heritage Protection Act requires that Federal public lands be open to access and use for recreational hunting.
“I think the French and the New Zealanders have done it very successfully,” says Ed. “They’ve had these protections of what they consider the core beings of their communities and their identity recognised in primary law.”
How shooting organisations are getting it right
Ed watched what the shooting and wildlife organisations have done to create a single umbrella group, Aim to Sustain, and wants to do the same for hunting with hounds.
Aim to Sustain works to promote and protect game shooting and associated wildlife habitats in the UK. It supports sustainable and responsible shooting, environmental balance, animal welfare, local communities and the rural way of life. It is an umbrella group for nine organisations including BASC, the GWCT, the CLA and the Countryside Alliance.
Ed says: “They’ve got together, they’ve got some very good PR, they’re very well supported, they appeal across a broad base of Britain, of people who shoot of all disciplines, and I think they’ve done a great job of their promotion.”
Beware the ‘salami-slicing’ of fieldsports by governments backed by antis
Ed was impressed when he visited the One With Nature World of Hunting and Nature Exhibition in Hungary in 2021. It attracted 2.5 million visitors. He learned there about the antis’ tactics in Europe – to implement a series of small bans until there is nothing left of hunting sports. He says they call it ‘salami-slicing’.
It was an event where policy makers could meet hunters. Organisers say that Hungary not only commemorated the heritage of the 1971 World Exhibition but also opened a new chapter within the fields of sustainability and nature conservation thanks to the forward-looking lectures of the World Conservation Forum.
“The loss of your rights and your civil liberties in a rural environment are taken away in a thin salami-slicing process,” he says.
Facebook hates us
Much of the debate is centred on social media. Ed reckons that’s where politicians go to take the temperature on issues. He says we have an instant disadvantage on social media, because he believes that intolerant, liberal staff at companies such as Facebook and YouTube dislike hunting sports.
Ed’s view is reflected by the advertising polices of Google and YouTube, inherited when Google bought the online advertising company Doubleclick in 2007. Editorially, however, both the Facebook and YouTube platforms allow hunting content, which means hunters can reach billions of future hunting enthusiasts.
Even though Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is a keen shooter – what Americans call hunters – and has said that the only meat he eats is what he hunts, Ed does not believe that that extends to the rest of his media empire. “We came to the conclusion that Facebook doesn’t like this content,” says Ed.
Here’s why we need to be on social media such as Facebook
Ed says we have no choice but to engage with the public on social media. He says that’s where modern culture wars are fought and won.
A report by the Policy Institute at King’s College London shows, there has been an exponential rise in the past couple of years of news stories that use the term ‘culture wars’. A report in the Guardian newspaper observed that symbolic issues and questions of identity occupy a larger and more antagonistic position in the general culture than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
Ed was appalled when he discovered that some pro-hunting organisations refuse to engage with social media. “That’s like rolling out a World War One tank into Ukraine today and saying, ‘Those are the rules we are going to play by’,” he says.
Why antis have an easy ride in the media
Social media is not easy. Ed points to the problem that hunting sports enthusiasts explaining the complexity of their sport. The antis have it easy, simply trotting out the same words such as ‘cruel’ and ‘barbaric’ again and again.
Having made their one-word point and gained attention, animal rights extremists who ae well-versed in use of the media can offer a solution, such as ‘ban hunting’. Ed fears that the difficulty the pro-hunting side has in gaining attention makes it commensurately difficult to offer our solution, such as, ‘You want wildlife? Keep hunting’.
“It’s very difficult to get a soundbite, of however many seconds, to explain the complexities of hunting,” he says.
What Ed would like to do to Chris Packham
Ed admits that the fieldsports community is up against some of the brightest operators in the media, many of whom have the backing of media organisations such as the BBC.
As well as campaigning against hunting and shooting sports via organisations he has adopted such as the RSPB, and organisations he has founded such as Wild Justice and Revive, Chris Packham is a presenter of BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch series. He presents notable natural history series such as Nature’s Weirdest Events, World’s Weirdest Events, World’s Sneakiest Animals, Cats v Dogs, The Burrowers, Inside the Animal Mind, Operation Iceberg and Secrets of our Living Planet.
“The worst thing about anyone paying a licence fee to the BBC is that the BBC are very happy to sponsor that point of view and there is absolutely no counter,” says Ed.
Lord Botham has long been a critic of the RSPB, founding a website critical of its work called YouForgotTheBirds.com.
Jeremy Clarkson took farming media to a new level with his 2019 series Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime Video, challenging the BBC’s view that its flagship Countryfile programme was good-quality representation of farming.
How Ian Botham and Jeremy Clarkson have got it right
There are bright points in our attack on animal rights. Ed points to the work of Lord Botham in the area of shooting sports and Jeremy Clarkson in farming.
Lord Botham founded th YouForgotTheBirds.com websitem, which is critical of the RSPB’s work, and later went on to back Aim to Sustain.
Jeremy Clarkson’s 2019 show Clarkson’s Farm found a new audience for British farming on Amazon Prime Video, and challenged the BBC’s assertion that its flagship Countryfile show was top-quality programming about farming.
“We’re playing a set of rules by a very old, traditional, established mantra of being terribly correct and don’t start getting down and dirty, and don’t go and tackle people head one because it might cause future harm,” says Ed. “I look at that as a completely flawed strategy.”
How is hunting down the antis’ arguments like hunting foxes?
Ed says some of the skills he has learned in the hunting field are useful when it comes to planning a campaign against antis.
“Taking part in hunting requires a thorough understanding of the environment you are hunting in,” says Ed.
Should there be unity between hunters, shooters and anglers?
Ed says there doesn’t need to be, except on certain immutable points, such as the importance of hunting sports to community, nature, the rural economy and as heritage.