A British MP weighs in on the issue of fox hunting.
Dear Lord Burns
I refer to my e-mail to you in February. I have delayed writing to you, firstly in order to obtain a copy of my constituent, Richard Matson’s paper described as The hypothetical consequences of closing down a large pack of foxhounds and secondly, because I wished to see the arguments emerging from those who wish to abolish hunting.
I have always lived in the country and have hunted since I was young. I now represent North Shropshire, which is a rural seat with several flourishing packs of hounds: Sir Watkin William Wynn’s , North Shropshire, the Cheshire and the North Staffordshire foxhounds, the Royal Rock beagles and the Border Counties minkhounds. You have received many submissions, including that from the Countryside Alliance, which I support. I will therefore make my comments general and brief.
I own a wood of approximately 20 acres. It contains three large earths. Because I hunt, shooting of foxes is forbidden and there is a flourishing and healthy fox population. They are protected for 360 days per years. On two days in the autumn and three days in the winter, they are at risk when the Wynnstay hounds visit. Only the old, sick and weak are generally caught. Hunting is strictly seasonal, so vixens can bring up their cubs in total safety in the spring. In contrast, opponents of hunting propose shooting 365 days a year. The IFAW submission to you, p10, para.2., states night shooting is becoming ever more popular with gamekeepers and is humane. In fact it is indiscriminate; healthy adult foxes and nursing vixens will be just as likely to be shot as older foxes. In all my years of hunting, I have seen numerous foxes which have been wounded by inaccurate shooting. Most farmers own guns; they are not expert shots and shot is not powerful enough to kill a fox. The abolition of hunting would leave many foxes to die long, lingering deaths and I have no doubt that this is significantly more cruel than death by hunting. Farmers in my constituency are adamant that if hunting were stopped, they would eliminate foxes by shooting or snareing.
Animal welfare groups talk about marksmen; however, given the current law and order debate, it is highly unlikely that any Government would wish to see a proliferation of rifles in the countryside. Although I have lived in the country all my life, I have never met a “marksman” and I fear such a proliferation, because most farmers are not highly skilled rifle shots.
If hunting is banned, foxes will have to be culled and every alternative is significantly crueller. The tragedy is that it would lead to the disappearance of the fox in many parts of the country.
Bordering my constituency are several foot packs, some of which kill as many as 250 foxes in a season. The only way to flush out foxes from a large block of forestry on a steep Welsh hillside is to send in a pack of hounds. If large numbers of foxes are allowed to breed unhindered, sheep farmers who come to Oswestry market would see their industry devastated. The IFAW states that hunting is very unpopular with many farmers. A few farmers do ban hounds from their land, but the vast majority welcome them because fox numbers are controlled and will even call on the hunt to deal with particularly troublesome foxes; surely it should be for the individual farmer to decide, not for national politicians.
Another hugely important function of the hunt is the disposal of fallen stock; I have read that 400,000-600,000 animals are taken in by hunt kennels. In the past year, the Wynnstay kennels has disposed of 2,400 calves and the North Shropshire kennels nearly 2,000 calves. The hunts provide a free and humane service and if they did not exist, an enormous state infrastructure would have to be established very rapidly to cope with a problem which could become an environmental and animal welfare disaster, if farmers have to kill and bury stock on their own land.
The IFAW submission states that very few horses are used solely for hunting. This is incorrect. I own horses which are too slow, too old and too inagile for other activities, such as cross country, showjumping or dressage. In order to get them fit for hunting, recreational riding is undertaken, but their prime purpose is for hunting. They are all by-products of the racing, point to point, cross country and showjumping industries, all having been bred originally for these purposes. It is vital to understand how hunting underpins the market for specialist horses. A good hunter costs £4000-5000; its value in the Belgian meat market would be about £300.
Draghunting would not be an alternative use for such horses as it requires particularly bold, fast jumpers and is not an activity for more elderly people or children. My farming constituents with land suitable for draghunting would not tolerate a large increase of draghunting and the majority of land in my constituency is not suitable for draghunting at all.
The local saddler has told me he would close, with the loss of seven jobs. Local vets, blacksmiths, feed merchants and transport suppliers have all told me that they would significantly reduce their workforces.
The hunts around here ensure that coverts are well maintained with a mix of undergrowth and mature timber and that not only are hedges maintained, but new ones are laid.
Hunts play a significant part keeping open bridleways and ensuring bridges over brooks are maintained. It would be tragic if this good work were lost.
In thinly populated rural areas such as mine, the hunts provide a unique organisation, binding lonely country people together, Throughout the year, there are fundraising events, which re-inforce the community in the best sense of the word. People of every age and an extraordinary diversity of background are brought together by hunting. One of my sons is taken hunting on a quad bike and meets stockbrokers, mechanics, forklift drivers, vets, apprentices and farmers’ sons on level terms. The social dimension of hunting is hugely misunderstood, partly because of the uniform of those who ride horses. The only man I know who wears a top hat to hunt is a window cleaner. Large numbers of people go hunting on foot or bicycle; many of those who do so on a horse can only do so by making great financial sacrifices. These are some of my hardest working constituents and they see no good reason why their pleasure should be taken from them by those who are prejudiced against hunting without understanding it.
I acknowledge that a majority of those polled in the country have stated that they are opposed to hunting. I also acknowledge that a majority supports the return of capital punishment, which I oppose. I do not understand how a pluralist democracy can function effectively if substantial minority groups have their traditional rights and freedoms taken from them. I suspect that the polls would be different if they asked such questions as would you like your law-abiding neighbour, who drives forklift trucks to be sent to jail and would you like to pay a significant increase in tax to bear the cost of law enforcement of a ban?
The recent debate on policing rural areas has shown that it is inadequate. North Shropshire currently has the lowest ratio of police to population in Western Europe. I am convinced that the police simply do not have the resources to enforce a ban on hunting. In Welsh border areas, where feelings run extremely high, I have been told many times that people will resort to civil disobedience. I believe that a ban would be unenforceable.
No one needs to hunt, but nor does anyone need to eat meat. Protein is available without putting a beast through the trauma of an abattoir. Neither activity does any human being any harm at all. I believe that it is a fundamental freedom to pursue activities, so long as no harm comes through them to other human beings. Hunting is one of those rights.
Owen Paterson MP
Source: Damian Carrington.