Not quite “too busy killing foxes”

It’s a real pity that the same tired old tactics are sometimes still being used to fight a class war.

If you are inclined to accept without question the article Blue Foxes Red Green and Gold Star you would understandably have a very negative view of the Countryside Alliance and of hunting too. Look a little harder and a very different picture emerges.

The Alliance is attacked for ignoring rural communities during the devastating flooding over the Christmas period. Leaving the hunting issue to one side for the moment, anyone looking at the Countryside Alliance website would have been able to access key information on help for farmers and their livestock affected by the floods, links to Environmental Agency and an agricultural benevolent fund to help farmers in financial need. Social media covered these issue too. Not quite the “too busy killing foxes” image as the article would have you believe.

As anyone who has attended a Liberal Democrat conference will know, the Countryside Alliance organises fringe meetings on a variety of rural matters. Last year, the difficulties with internet access – a major problem in rural areas – was the main topic and attracted a large audience of Liberal Democrat members.

Now to hunting. Of course the Alliance opposes the Hunting Act, but they are not the only ones. Many people who have taken the trouble to analyse this legislation have criticised it, including the police, veterinarians, legal experts, animal welfare experts, senior civil servants and indeed the Prime Minister at the time of it becoming law, Tony Blair. The reason is because it is a rubbish law that does not improve wild animal welfare as its supporters claim. The use of hounds is selective (via their scenting ability), testing the old and weak against the strong and healthy (via the chase) and the end does not involve wounding, as the quarry animal either escapes unscathed or is killed. No other method of wildlife management can make that claim. Hunting does not employ any ‘alien’ technology against which the wild animal has no natural defence and can therefore be genuinely regarded as green.

To many people who do not have much contact with hunting, shooting and rural life and who will not pay too much attention to the detail, a hunting ban or attacking grouse moors appears to be a good thing. Yet if you talk to some of the people living in those communities, examine what has happened in the past 11 years since the Hunting Act came into effect and look at what happens when grouse moors abandon the work of gamekeepers, a very different conclusion is reached.

Far better to address the issue of cruelty to wild animals using the same principle we apply to domestic animals ie outlawing the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering. Allegations of cruelty must be based on sound evidence, not prejudice or ignorance. This is a proposal put forward by Labour Peer Lord Donoughue. It would mean that all wild mammals are protected against cruelty in all circumstances. Given that we generally accept wild animals have to be controlled and managed to curb disease, limit certain populations, safeguard vulnerable species and to protect human interests such as farming (and a new law would reflect this) there is no reason why even those who dislike hunting should not support such a measure.

Of course there will always be those who wish to exploit this situation for their own political reasons and hunting and shooting are perfect weapons in that regard. Thankfully, Tim Farron does not play this game and for a long time has supported a sensible resolution that genuinely improves animal welfare, while protecting activities that are vital to rural communities and their local economies.

* Jim Barrington is a former executive director of the League Against Cruel Sports and is now an animal welfare consultant working with countryside organisations and vets. He blogs here.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Hi Jim – it’s probably reasonable to establish whether there are conflicts of interest here. Have you ever hunted with dogs? I hope you don’t find this question impertinent.

  • @William – to be fair I think that’s the wrong question. I don’t see the need to declare that I have never hunted with dogs before stating my opposition to it.

    However, as Jim is posting in support of the Countryside Alliance, I would hope he would declare if he was a member or officer of that organisation.

  • I have never hunted and agree with the tenor of this piece.

  • @John Marriott – “When the Hunting Act was being debated, there were dire warnings that packs of hounds would have to be destroyed”.

    I always thought that was an odd argument. What do people think happens to hunting dogs that get injured or are too old to hunt? Sent to a nice retirement home in the Cotswolds maybe?

  • Peter Watson 8th Jan '16 - 2:00pm

    Nick Baird “as Jim is posting in support of the Countryside Alliance, I would hope he would declare if he was a member or officer of that organisation.”
    I think it is reasonable for Jim to have assumed that LibDemVoice would add a little biographical information as they usually do about authors.
    I believe that

    James (Jim) Barrington is a former Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports. He has been involved in various animal welfare campaigns for almost 40 years. Currently, he is a welfare consultant to the Countryside Alliance, Council of Hunting Associations and the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group.


  • Phil Aisthorpe 8th Jan '16 - 4:58pm

    Nice try Jim, but it just won’t wash and to begin with let’s get this old chestnut out of the way.

    “It’s a real pity that the same tired old tactics are sometimes still being used to fight a class war.”

    There is no class war. As Dennis Healey declared in his final interview before his death last year, he wanted to change the world, but would probably not do so anymore “because the class war is over”. And just to underline that fact, look at Blue Fox. You cannot seriously claim that fox hunting is a class issue when over 50 Conservative MPs oppose the repeal of the Hunting Act, can you?

    “The Alliance is attacked for ignoring rural communities during the devastating flooding over the Christmas period.”

    Read it again Jim. What I actually referred to was Twitter activity on one specific day – Boxing Day, probably the biggest date in the hunting calendar. On Boxing Day the Alliance put out a constant stream of over 100 pro-hunting tweets most carrying festive photos, and only about 10 flooding-related tweets most of them weather updates and none of them referring to specific rural community flooding incidents. The charge I was making here is that this is evidence that the Alliance is concerned primarily with promoting hunting and shooting interests packaged like a Trojan horse within a general interest in rural affairs.

    “Now to hunting.” No, that’s the end of hunting. You talk about it if you want, but personally I am not that interested in the subject. Hunting with dogs is illegal and given the political opposition, the Hunting Act it is likely to remain a non-issue for the rest of the current parliament.

    The remainder of my article, the important part, and the part you don’t comment on is concerned with how the Liberal Democrats should deal with these populist grassroots green issues which are attracting the attention of other political parties. My own view is that such issues should not be ignored in favour of more strategic environmental issues as they offer a means of engaging with people at a grassroots level thereby providing an opportunity to build the Green Lib Dem brand.

  • A Social Liberal 8th Jan '16 - 5:35pm

    When a young man I was influenced by the likes of ‘Out of Town’ and other countryside programmes and thought that hunting with dogs was a necessary part of pest control. Later in life I realised that it was a poor excuse for people to carry out acts that were anything but humane.

    Deer and foxes have to be controlled, but to set a pack of dogs onto them is cruel and desperately unnecessary. Bear and bull baiting were outlawed in the 19th century, otter hunting in the 1970s – what is so different about setting dogs onto foxes and deer?

  • Deer and foxes have to be controlled, but to set a pack of dogs onto them is cruel and desperately unnecessary.

    Personally, I’m sympathetic to the aims of Rewilding Britain, and their proposal to reintroduce several species including some major preditors…

  • I’ve generally found in life that any activity that involves killing, where the instigators of the act follow a rigorous dress code for reasons primarily of fashion is inevitably morally repulsive. The excuse for the act is not the point; the behaviour of the participants makes all the statement one needs.

  • “It’s a real pity that the same tired old tactics are sometimes still being used to fight a class war.”

    If you’re trying to persuade people, you shouldn’t open with the weakest non-argument imaginable.

    I don’t think class has anything to do with this, beyond the likelihood that if fox hunting were traditionally a working class pursuit rather than an upper class one, you can bet your life it would have been banned in the 19th century along with cock fighting, instead of persisting shamefully in to the 21st.

    I’ll never forget the time Spike Milligan appeared on Room 101. Paul Merton asked him what it was he disliked about hunting. Spike looked at Merton as if it was the most stupid question anybody had ever asked, and answered simply: “the cruelty”. I’ve never met anybody who loathed hunting for any other reason. Yet still, some people don’t get it.

  • A Social Liberal 10th Jan '16 - 1:21am

    JIm Barrington

    I have only witnessed hunting with dogs through the eye of a camera lens and do not wish to see any more than I have done, nor do I wish to see it take place either in my presence or away from it.

    How would I prefer to see foxes culled? Through the humane cage traps which hold the fox in situ without pain until the farmer/gamekeeper turns up and dispatches the animal. Of course there are caviats to this, the cages must be checked on a daily basis and the rifle round must be heavy enough to kill immediately. There are downsides to these cages, they are expensive and it is time consuming to go round the traps daily, but they are above all humane

  • Jim’
    I think you’ll find that control of major predators, I know it sound silly in terms of foxes et but they are in context of England, is pretty much self regulatory. The thing about hunts is they are not actually that popular even in the countryside. I grew up in Leicestershire and went to school near the Quorn hunt and there just a bunch of people who like charging over fields on horses of a Sunday morning. By all means defend it on the grounds that it is a minority hobby and we shouldn’t simply ban things we don’t like, but don’t expect much popular support. As for the Class war Stuff the Alliance regularly characterises everyone against their hobby as Townies. Lefties, militants, trouble makers and no doubt crusty jugglers etc. so they can hardly be surprised if in return they are described in clichéd or sometimes bigoted way.

  • If hunting is necessary why do hunts bread and keep foxes so they have something to hunt and do you think it’s ok for an animal to be ripped to bits by a pack of dogs also hunt cannot control the packs as other animals such as dear rabbits and people’s pets are Chased by the packs and do you think that the hunts have the right to attack the so called hunt sabs as have happened and so of the hunt people have been prosecuted

  • Dorset Liberal 10th Jan '16 - 12:36pm

    A lot of what Jim Barrington says is reasonable and I would welcome a law that would protect wild animals from unnecessary suffering however there are a number of problems. Firstly the term “reasonable” is subjective…is chasing a deer for three hours until it’s too exhausted to move, causing that animal unnecessary suffering? – probably, but how would you ever prove that in court.? Secondly and more fundamental is how could the evidence ever be obtained? Hunts are secretive organisations, very few openly advertise their meets and their activities take place far from inquisitive eyes. Attend any hunt now with a camera and you would very rapidly be asked to refrain…the prospect of being allowed to attend a dig out of a hunted fox by men with terriers is unimaginable. It’s an unworkable suggestion…and that is why the Countryside Alliance support it.
    The problem that the Alliance is that they defend hunting with hounds as the “best” means of control, as Jim says of hunting with hounds “the end does not involve wounding” but, of course the alternatives such as shooting and snaring that do often inflict a lingering death are activities that the Countryside Alliance defends just as staunchly.
    The current law is failing for one simple reason…it is not being enforced and it doesn’t go far enough.

  • A Social Liberal 10th Jan '16 - 9:18pm

    Dorset Liberal

    The alternative does not have to entail shooting or snaring. As I have already pointed out using fox cages which entrap foxes without any pain or suffering is the way forward.

  • Very late comment on an ancient thread I stumbled upon.
    Just to say that anyone that requires ‘scientific evidence’ to show that chasing a solitary animal across the countryside with a pack of dogs and horse riders, until it’s exhausted, then to be killed by the ravaging dogs is cruel…. must surely be… I am lacking in polite adjectives for that kind of person I am afraid.

  • Peter Watson 17th Oct '22 - 1:20pm

    @Nigel “Very late comment on an ancient thread I stumbled upon … chasing a solitary animal across the countryside with a pack of dogs and horse riders, until it’s exhausted, then to be killed by the ravaging dogs is cruel”
    Better late than never!
    I completely agree, and it was sad that the strange bedfellows thrown together in the 2019 General Election meant that my Lib Dem candidate (Antoinette Sandbach in Eddisbury) was previously my Tory MP and supported hunting.
    Also, although I’m comfortable with banning these cruel activities, I do wonder if I can justify that on “liberal” grounds, or, more importantly, if Lib Dems can justify it, since I’m happy to be illiberal on this!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • David Allen
    Calling for a bilateral ceasefire amounts to granting Netanyahu permission to carry on bombing. Demanding that Hamas should somehow prove in advance that they ...
  • Martin Bennett
    David: Thanks for that, actually I got most of it (though you add detail), but if Labour allowed a free vote, many would abstain, some would vote for, but possi...
  • Katharine Pindar
    Thanks for the favourable comments, chaps! But I do hope other party members will take up Callum's offer and write here. In this Election Year. everything the F...
  • David
    Martin, the short version is Labour couldn't vote for the SNP motion because it was a trap. The SNP motion talked about "collective punishment", effectively ...
  • Leekliberal
    Well said Nigel! If our leaders could only say bold Liberal innovative things like this, to include a Palestinian State, instead of our being the reactive 'us t...