It was the red trousers that gave it away. Sitting in the snug downstairs bar at The Holt – Honiton’s brilliant High Street pub and restaurant – you are slightly below pavement level.
Those red strides, literally striding by the window, alerted me to the fact that one of the biggest personalities in the Westcountry legal world and the scourge of the bunny-hugging, anti-hunting classes, was on his way to meet me for lunch.
Jamie Foster has built a reputation through defending high profile cases of alleged illegal hunting, almost invariably successfully. And he has built a larger-than-life personality through social media – most notably via Twitter (80,600 tweets and counting). It’s a persona, created 140 characters at a time, that matches his choice of trousers and the loud tweed checks he often favours.
But scratch beneath the digital banter and the sometimes extreme and provocation positions he is known by his 7,500 followers to adopt and you find an intelligent, thoughtful and highly principled individual.
Pints of the finest beers Otter Brewery can provide in hand we repaired to the upstairs restaurant of The Holt, to consider the menu. Jamie had something to celebrate.
He recently topped the voting to be elected as a director to the board of the Countryside Alliance, the pro-hunting, shooting and fishing organisation with more than 100,000 members that fights on behalf of rural communities across the country. “A lot of people will say of the Alliance ‘oh, it’s only about hunting.’ It is not only about hunting, it is about rural affairs as a whole but hunting is a filter or a prism through which rural affairs can be viewed,” he said.
“The hunting world has always been about community and the hunt ban was never about animal welfare.
“The Hunting Act is an assault on that community, but the European Court of Justice won’t have it that the hunting community and its way of life should be protected. The Countryside Alliance is the one organisation that stands up for that community and for the rural community as a whole.”
Some people believe the threat to the rural way of life, from shooting to livestock farming, horse racing to fishing has gone away. Even hunting is thriving under the ban as almost never before. But as we tuck into the first courses – a rather fancy smoked duck croquette for Jamie and pork and rabbit terrine for me – Jamie disagrees that there is little to worry about.
He sees the recent appointment as shadow environment secretary of Kerry McCarthy, patron of the Vegan Society and a vice president of the League Against Cruel Sports, as an example of the threats rural England is facing.
“Vegans and vegetarians have inculcated themselves into mainstream life and into the upper echelons of the Labour Party,” he said.
And while Jamie has no problem at all with vegans or vegetarians choosing not to eat meat, drink milk or wear leather he does object when they try to foist their beliefs onto the rest of us. Ms McCarthy’s aim in life, after all, is to see an end to all livestock farming and stop all shooting sports involving live quarry.
That would make the steak Jamie was in the process of ordering for his main course very much off the menu. At The Holt, however, meat – locally sourced and beautifully cooked – is very much on the menu. “I’ll have the rib-eye and I’ll have it as blue as the chef can make it,” he told our waitress. “Just walk it past a heater!” As a major advocate and legal adviser to the meat trade he is a diner who knows his steak.
But he warned that militant vegetarians were stepping up efforts to destroy the meat production business, breaking into abattoirs and placing hidden cameras in an attempt to capture examples of alleged cruelty in order to take slaughtermen and abattoir owners to court.
He bemoaned the British legal system that permit evidence gathered in such a way to be used in court.
“In America they don’t put up with it,” he said. “They prosecute the people who have placed the camera for breaking the law to put it there.” But in the UK the pressures on livestock farming and dairy farming, partly as a result of the efforts of well financed and celebrity endorsed animal rights activists will, Jamie fears, drive much of British food production abroad.
“That will push up prices and eventually leave the nation unable to feed itself and beholden to others in an increasingly hostile world,” he warned.
It’s a gloomy prospect. But over coffee he conceded that with fine pubs, great beer and excellent food as well as excellent farmers and some of the best country sport in the world, we had much to be thankful for in the West-country – and long may that continue.
[Article by Phillip Bowern, first published in Western Morning News]