BY STEVE GRANT
Much has already been said and written about the Conservative Party’s new found love for animal welfare and, more worryingly for supporters of countrysports, animal rights. These worries deepened following the publication of Defra’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare.
This spelled out the Government’s plans to formally recognise animals as sentient beings in UK law for the first time – a clear victory for animal rights campaigners. It set out a suite of animal welfare measures including halting most live animal exports and banning the import of hunting trophies. There was also an unwarranted pledge to ban remote controlled electronic training collars, and an announcement that the Government was also considering unnecessary legislation to introduce a close season for brown hares.
What’s worrying is how closely it mirrored No Animal Left Behind – proposals for an Animal Welfare strategy, which was released by a coalition of 50 animal welfare and animal rights organisations. Do I need to tell you the introduction was by BBC TV presenter Chris Packham?
Nearly half of the report’s 40 recommendations were contained in the Defra document. Yes, there were plenty of respectable charities involved in the report but it still seemed swamped by the more extremist views of Animal aid, the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, PETA, IFAW, the League Against Cruel Sports, OneKind and Humane Society International (HSI). What input the Christian Vegetarian Association had, I can only wonder.
Members of this coalition, including the League has been lobbying the Conservative Government since early 2019 about the Hunting Act and other animal rights ‘must haves’, such as ending the badger cull. In March of this year, the League Against Cruel Sports, RSPCA, Born Free, HSI, IFAW and the Badger Trust met with Defra Secretary George Eustice to discuss the Act and to call for a suspension of trail hunt licences on Defra and Ministry of Defence-owned land and for an urgent review of the need to tighten the Hunting Act. It was the first-ever meeting held with a Conservative Defra Secretary on the Hunting Act since the legislation was enacted in 2004.
Though George Eustice made no commitments during the meeting to suspend trail hunt licences on publicly owned land, or to move beyond the Government’s commitment to retain the Act, Eustice – who has reportedly earned the ire of the Prime Minister’s new wife due to a perceived lack of action on animal rights – kept the door open for a further meeting with the coalition, and to considering a briefing paper from the League Against Cruel Sports setting out the case for the strengthening of the Hunting Act in the future.
Let’s not forget that Zac Goldsmith and his environmentalist brother Ben are still deeply entrenched in the Defra set-up. Zac – now Lord – Goldsmith is also a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (another contributor to No Animal Left Behind) alongside the PM’s wife Carrie Johnson, and his father Stanley Johnson.
When Boris Johnson called a snap election in December 2019 for the first time it was decided that the Tory Party manifesto would have an animal welfare section. As the manifesto was being finalised, animal rights campaigner Dominic Dyer – another acquaintance of Carrie’s – received a call from Zac Goldsmith (as he still was then) asking him how far he thought the Tory Party should go in relation to commitments on the Hunting Act. Working with the League Against Cruel Sports, Dyer put forward several recommendations for tightening the Act, including the removal of exemptions allowing trail hunting and stag hunting and tighter restrictions on the activities of terriermen.
Naturally, the coalition behind No Animal left Behind believe the Government’s plans do not go far enough. And we can be equally certain that they will use their supporters in the Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties to advance their demands as legislation passes through Parliament.
If, as a countrysports supporter, you think it doesn’t matter to you, think again. Here are just some of the demands which we could see being resurrected by those who oppose hunting, shooting and game management:
The coalition is calling for the certification or licensing of any person who possesses an air weapon, and a ban on the sale and use of snares. It also wants the Government to overhaul all legislation regarding the trapping of wild animals so that it is ‘mandatory for traps used to be rigorously tested for humaneness and operators of such traps mandated to demonstrate competence’.
It says the Government ‘must’ ban the ‘intensive’ breeding and release of gamebirds and prohibit trail hunting on Government-owned land and strengthen the Hunting Act by introducing an offence of recklessly hunting a wild mammal, removing exemptions, introducing custodial sentences and introducing a vicarious liability provision to cover employers and landowners.
The coalition also wants the Government to add hares to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act or introduce (which does seem likely) a closed season to the current Game Acts with greater penalties for the illegal taking of brown hares.
And don’t think angling gets away with it. Because the coalition see fish as ‘sentient’ it wants the Government to invest funds in fish welfare research.
Obviously the report produces no evidence or science to back up its demands but, with the ears of so many in Defra apparently listening, we should all be aware and worried for the future.
Republished by kind permission of The Countryman’s Weekly