Our latest blog is by a guest writer involved in commercial farming. December 18th 2011.
‘I was lucky enough to be born into a family which viewed all animal life as important – not just human life. That didn’t make us vegetarian, but it did mean that we liked animals to be treated properly and with respect. And in a family of animal lovers, I was always considered the ultra – walking out of restaurants where live lobsters were kept trussed up, banning foie gras from the family table, insisting on free-range produce and while at school, joining the campaign to ban the export of live calves.
We were also involved in farming and I saw from an early age the yobbish way the hunt people behaved. When I was elected MP for a coal mining seat in 1983, hunting wasn’t a big issue. But during my time in the Commons, its importance grew until, by 1997, it was almost as divisive as Europe for the Tories, with the small minority of anti-hunt MPs being hounded by the well-organised and funded pro-hunt MPs.
“You’re going to lose your f***** seat at the election,” a pro-hunt MP told me early in 1997, “and we’re going to make f**** sure you don’t get another!”
Foxes are vicious killers, we are told. Well, so are humans. At least foxes don’t have an ethical sense of right and wrong – they kill by instinct and for survival.
Foxes kill lambs and chickens, the hunt defenders go on. I’ve farmed most of my life and it’s rare for a fox to take a healthy lamb. They do take chickens, but properly managed free-range flocks have refuges – and I always find apparent concern for chickens strange from people who merrily eat battery eggs.
Anyway, we’ve driven wild animals to the margins and taken most of the land for our own use. Can we blame them for trying to survive by occasionally nabbing some of the animals we over-feed ourselves with?
Perhaps the least convincing of the hunt lobby’s poses is that of friends of the environment and representatives of country folk. My local hunt is 80% wealthy city people. Very few of the local farmers join in and a good proportion of people where I farm dislike the hunt – just as many Conservatives do.
Pro-hunt lobbyists often argue that foxes damage other country “sports” by taking pheasants. Anyone who has witnessed modern driven shoots, with black clouds of fattened birds lumbering into the air for range-rovered bankers to blast out of the sky will know how little these “country sports” have to do with the environment – or sport for that matter. I always thought that sport was a matter of well-matched opponents meeting with the same equipment and rules. On that basis, perhaps we should arm the pheasants and the foxes.
But I digress. I have seen hunt and hounds and their followers rampage all over the land, through nature reserves, scattering flocks of sheep, terrifying pets and children, holding up traffic on major roads as their packs howl out of control – even crossing high speed rail lines. They have little regard for private property – in recent years I have had to take my local hunt to court for riding across growing crops when I had expressly asked them not to come onto my land.
Earlier this year, their pack charged, out of control, through a breeding flock on my land, breaking down fences, while their followers trespassed on foot and on quad bikes. Eventually I managed to get compensation from them. Friends of the countryside? I don’t think so. Less well-connected yobs end up with asbos or tags.
Once upon a time, bear baiting and cock fighting was considered a traditional British pastime and defended as such. So, come to think of it, was slavery. I look forward to the day when people look back on fox hunting with the same disgust as they now look back on those pursuits, once so-cherished by the type of people who remain unspeakable.’