Wildlife is suffering – from those unwilling to compromise
Asking what methods of wildlife management anti-hunting or anti-shooting groups actually support, as opposed to the activities they are keen to condemn, should always be part of any debate surrounding field sports.
The usual response is either a deafening silence or an idealistic ‘leave it all to nature’. Practical examples of how these alternative models of the countryside might look tend to be few in number, but more recently a picture has started to emerge which shows what happens when some of these idealistic theories are put into practice.
Wild Justice is a group set up to “fight for wildlife” by naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham, former RSPB Conservation Director Mark Avery and raptor specialist Ruth Tingay. One of its first actions related to the general licences issued by Natural England to farmers and landowners for control of pest bird species to protect livestock and newly sprouting crops.
The group brought a legal challenge last year on the basis that licences were too loosely worded and allowed "the casual killing of wildlife, falsely in the name of conservation”, resulting in Natural England’s decision to avoid a court case and withdraw the licences, even at a critical time of year
It appears that little thought was given by Wild Justice to what would occur in the absence of such predator control and a high degree of anger and frustration was expressed by farmers, along with some appalling scenes of dead and dying lambs filling social media.
This move by Wild Justice didn’t just affect livestock and crops. It also meant that rare species, such as yellowhammers, curlews, turtle doves and linnets, the eggs and young of which are taken by crows, jays, magpies and other predatory species, were also affected.
The consequence of the original legal threat continues, once again at a critical time, in relation to control of predators on Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation, some of which were established precisely to protect curlews. Wild Justice is also preparing legal action against Natural Resources Wales issuing general licences.
These situations could have been resolved by dialogue and a more conciliatory approach, but it would appear that Wild Justice’s determination to end shooting at all costs has created a kind of tunnel-vision version of conservation.
There is little firm scientific evidence of what effect the Hunting Act has had on the previously hunted species, but with at least one reputable report stating that the fox population has dropped by about one third and with the condition of some herds of red deer in the West Country known to be deteriorating, this law can hardly be regarded as a success. Once again, in its determination to see an end to hunting with hounds, an organisation has allowed itself to become blinded to the wider aspects of wildlife management and animal welfare.
What can’t be denied are the similarities in these sorry accounts, in which an emphasis and desire by these anti-hunting/anti-shooting groups to end a particular activity has overshadowed any thought as to what might follow.
It is a view fuelled by the belief that they are always absolutely right, that any discussion about compromise is a betrayal and that victory only comes when something is banned.