Blue foxes, red greens and a gold star

Boxing Day saw the Countryside Alliance wrong footed. The Countryside Alliance for those not in the know is an organisation that masquerades as the champion of rural life but is in fact merely the mouthpiece for blood sports such as fox hunting and grouse shooting. It is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing and on Boxing Day like many others it was caught out by the weather.

Boxing Day is fox hunting’s showpiece day and the Countryside Alliance went wild on Twitter to proclaim that a quarter of a million fox hunters and their supporters had taken to town squares and village greens across the land to celebrate what they see as the impending and inevitable demise of the Hunting Act. With Christmas card scenes of scarlet clad gents and gentesses on horseback trotting ceremoniously in a sea of hounds and polished hunting horns heralding a return to Merry England we were treated to an endless stream of romantic snaps.

Meanwhile, in different towns and villages somewhere up north Tim Farron shone like a lone gold star over the washed out homes and businesses of communities ruined once again in the annual rite of winter, the Christmas flood. Tim rightly castigated the government for its failure to prevent the preventable. And from the Countryside Alliance, on the subject of the devastated rural communities that they profess to support? Not a tweet – too busy killing foxes.

As the rain fell and the floods surged down from Walshaw Moor into Hebden Bridge, the eco-campaigners of the left, George Monbiot and Dr Mark Avery joined the dots. The floods had been foretold. The mismanagement of Britain’s uplands by grouse moor owners has accelerated the run-off into the valleys below. The game shooters are charged with having ruined Christmas and for good measure with poisoning the land with their lead ammunition. Labour MPs led by Alex Cunningham agree with this analysis and are saying so publicly.
With Tory MPs backing hunting and shooting interests and Labour MPs opposing, it looks at first sight like a traditional right v left scrap, until a most unlikely environmental animal is seen entering the field – a blue fox. Blue Fox for those not in the know is a group of over 50 Conservative MPs led by Sports minister Tracey Crouch who oppose fox hunting and other forms of animal persecution. The Conservative party it seems has grown a radical green wing that should block any further attempt to repeal of the Hunting Act in this parliament.

So where does all this Boxing Day environmental mayhem leave the Liberal Democrats? Once again looking strong and capable in terms of party leadership, but looking decidedly absent in terms of the tactical green issues mentioned here – fox hunting, driven grouse shooting and lead ammunition. We seem to have a lot to say on the big ticket, long-term environmental issues like climate change and fracking, but I see little support for the small but important things. In my imaginary poll we are trailing badly, so if I had a new year’s message to deliver it would be this: green policy can often look doom-laden and intractable, so in order to engage with voters we also need tactical positive green policies that promise achievable results.

* Phil Aisthorpe has been a Lib Dem member since September 2015 having previously been a life-long Labour supporter. In a previous life, Phil worked as an IT planning manager and business strategy manager with a leading UK financial services organisation.

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  • @ Phil Aisthorpe “So where does all this Boxing Day environmental mayhem leave the Liberal Democrats? Once again looking strong and capable in terms of party leadership, but looking decidedly absent in terms of the tactical green issues mentioned here – fox hunting, driven grouse shooting and lead ammunition”.

    Good question. The honest answer is it’s a mixed message.

    In March 2014, The Independent reported that Liberal Democrats blocked a move for a free Commons vote on whether to retain the hunting ban, which was in the Coalition Agreement in 2010. “Conservative sources admit that pro-hunting MPs are not pressing for a vote because they fear calls for a relaxation would be defeated”

    The former M.P. for Taunton, Jackie Ballard, probably lost her seat over the issue. She was a vocal campaigner against blood sports, in particular fox and stag hunting. She came under considerable pressure due to her stance, once having to receive police protection during a constituency surgery which was lobbied by hunt supporters. She later became CEO of the RSPCA.

    However a number of former M.P.’s were very ambivalent about fox hunting and stag hunting particularly in the West Country and in Scotland….

  • I’d love a free vote in the Commons on this. Firstly because there are enough Tory MPs against it to be sure any move to relax the laws would be defeated.

    But also because in my constituency of Cheltenham, our LibDem MP was defeated by a Tory who accepted considerable campaign support from a pro-hunting organisation, while claiming that he “hadn’t made his mind up” on the issue……

    A free vote would force him to either vote in favour of a relaxation, and put him on the wrong side of public opinion. Or vote against, and upset his pro-hunting supporters. Or be a coward and abstain.

    Win-win either way for us…..

  • A Social Liberal 6th Jan '16 - 1:04pm

    Mismanagement of the grouse moors? Really, in what way? And how did this supposed mismanagement cause the floods?

    I grew up next to the River Wharfe in the lower dales of Yorkshire, and for over forty years I have been messing about the moors all over those dales. I have seen NO DIFFERENCE in the management of the moorland over that time. Over those forty years I have seen the Wharfe in and around the village I grew up in flood on numerous occasions. Indeed, my father was several times given the job of replacing the stepping stones across the river which were washed away by the floods. Might I suggest that you visit Wharfedale, Airedale or any other of the lower Yorkshire Dales and note that the farms and villages (which have been there for hundreds of years) are built not in the bottom of those dales with rivers but on the hillsides.

    Given my experiences I would suggest you are HUGELY mistaken in your assertion that recent moor mismanagement is the reason for the decades floods. Excessive rainfall is the reason, nature intended flood plains to flood. The way to stop these floods is to initiate flood defence schemes

  • Paul Holmes 6th Jan '16 - 1:47pm

    Not sure what your point about the ‘mixed message’ is David?

    All the Parties have people on both sides of this argument. Andrew George and myself spent many many hours on the Hunting Bill arguing the (successful) case for the abolition of hunting animals with packs of hounds whilst our Party colleague Lembit Opik (unsuccessfully) argued the opposite. The Conservatives and Labour also had vocal people on both sides of the argument and the Conservative Party opponents of hunting with hounds are much stronger in Parliament now than they were then.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 6th Jan '16 - 2:24pm

    To ‘A Social Liberal’, I don’t think anyone is saying that grouse moor management caused the floods though there are many residents in Hebdon Bridge who believe that it has contributed to the problem. And there is plenty of evidence to support the view that burning heather and draining blanket bogs degrades the carbon storage and water storage benefits of moorland. Have you read the book Inglorious by Mark Avery which sets out the case for supporting a ban on driven grouse shooting?

  • @ Paul Holmes “Not sure what your point about the ‘mixed message’ is David?”

    I applaud your own efforts, Paul……..but the content of your post confirms my point about the stance of the party.

    @: Social Liberal “Mismanagement of the grouse moors? Really, in what way? And how did this supposed mismanagement cause the floods?”

    Like you, I had a West Yorkshire childhood – in the Calder Valley to your Wharfedale.

    I think the answer to your question is in this recent article by George Monbiot :

    This flood was not only foretold – it was publicly subsidised … › Opinion › Flooding
    29 Dec 2015 – George Monbiot … ‘Eighteen months ago I visited Hebden Bridge, where activists told me that, …. Hebden Bridge clean-up, 28 December.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 6th Jan '16 - 3:37pm

    I can’t see any chance of the government dumping the Hunting Act in this parliament given the opposition of the SNP and the rise of Blue Fox. There is also the small matter of over 80% public support for keeping the Act.

    What I am arguing for here is support for grassroots green issues many of which live on social media. I see this as ‘localism’ in the online community. Among the Twitterati we see worthy causes with petitions running on such as:

    Don’t kill our bees! Immediately halt the use of Neonicotinoids on crops – 93,114 signatures
    Ban driven grouse shooting – 27,535 signatures
    Make planting trees a priority to reduce flooding by improving soil and drainage – 23,908 signatures
    Ban lead ammunition – 8,947 signatures

    There are political risks associated with public support for online petitions, but there is also an opportunity for positive brand building in the online constituency.

  • Paul Holmes 6th Jan '16 - 7:27pm

    Hi David. Still not sure what your argument is. Are you saying that on a Free Vote in Parliament the Liberal Democrats (of all Parties) should impose a 3 Line Whip?

    Or that before joining a potential member must swear to support, 100%, every Party Policy? The latter would certainly have ruled me out.

  • A Social Liberal 6th Jan '16 - 9:47pm


    First Mark Avery. Haven’t read the book but call me cynical, I don’t trust anyone who is campaigning for an end to something as their viewpoint tends to be coloured.

    Second. Simon – have you ever been up on the moors. Farmers don’t zoom around on quad bikes, it’s hard enough walking through the heather which can be over a foot high. As for your links, the first says very little but let’s take the second which quotes extensively Monbiot. One of the things he speaks on is the planting of trees on the moors. Well blow me down, I have seen this happen all up the Wharfedale uplands and they have done for decades. Indeed, as a child I often went with my father to pick up the offcuts of felled trees. Has this tree planting ever prevented the Wharfe flooding – not in my experience. The Environment Agency also poo-poohed Monbiots declaration on trees. Monbiot is also an environmental activist and so has to be

    This second article did talk about draining peat bogs. Now, I was walking the Three Peaks (Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Great Whernside) recently and noticed that the bogs along the route were still there. Having done a little searching online I found an article by Rob Stoneman, chief executive of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust which laid much of the blame for losing peat bogs on the afforestation (note, not deforestation) of moorland and (in the southern pennines) air pollution from the industrial towns as well as farming (note, farming) draining. Nowhere does he mention grouse shooting, walk up or driven. The killer point though is that a quarter of Yorkshires peat bogs have been replaced – and yet the floods continue.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is much wrong with the gamebird shooting industry but to lay blame of flooding at their door is just idiotic

  • Matthew Waddington 7th Jan '16 - 5:23pm

    The freedom of one section of society to live their lives without undue interference from another should be a central tenet of any political party that wants to call itself liberal. For advocates of a liberal party to promote their own prejudices on a blog such as this is shameful.

    As for what the Countryside Alliance have done regarding the flooding, they’ve pushed Forage Aid. Perhaps you’ve heard of them (although until the Countryside Alliance advertised them I hadn’t). Even if they’ve not done enough about the flooding (and I do sympathise with that view), the level of competence in one specific area shown by one specific pro-hunting organisation should not determine whether and in what capacity hunting should be legal.

    I’m not a member of the LibDems or any other political party. I’m a permanently floating voter, albeit one whose views align rather well with what the Lib Dems stand (stood?) for and one that was broadly supportive of their role in coalition. I look with interest at the route the party is taking post-coalition. This article does not fill me with confidence and if it’s representative of the party as a whole then I’m afraid I’ll find it very difficult to vote for you.

  • A Social Liberal 7th Jan '16 - 7:55pm

    James Stewart

    By all means show me unpartisan scientific evidence that driven grouse shooting has influenced flooding and I will concede the point. But, just as I distrust the dog hunting lobby when they tried to claim that riding to hounds is the best way of controlling foxes so I distrust those who would ban game shoots when they make such outlandish claims. Any stick to beat the huntsmen with comes to mind, and so far a stick which doesn’t bear up to scrutiny.

  • @David Raw – This flood was not only foretold – it was publicly subsidised …

    Don’t understand why you are repeatedly having problems copying weblinks; the URL for the article you refer to is:

    Whilst George Monbiot makes interesting reading, you do need to take care! For example the third sentence of the above article: On 9 December one of my readers told me this. “I live in the middle of Foss drainage board land above York, where flooding would not harm a single property but water is sent down as fast as possible to York.”, whilst this point is useful information and relevant to the point about upland drainage/run-off, it should be remembered that the Foss didn’t flood York, something a lay reader could easily infer, it was the river Ouse flooding through the Foss barrier in York.

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