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The Daily Telegraph (Robin Page, Country Diary) - Thursday July 22nd 1999.


 Country people feel bitter and betrayed

The phone hasn't stopped ringing: Mr Blair really has offended a lot of people with: his statement of intent to ban hunting. I know what he said has pleased some people too, but the words I'm hearing are 'betrayal", 'discrimination" "victimisation" and "hypocrite". I'm particularly surprised by how many of these callers are new to me and claim not to hunt. The driving force behind the outrage is that Mr Blair has chosen to put the boot in when the countryside is in crisis People are furious that a law abiding rural minority to being used to criminalise an activity enjoys the law. But the most amazing thing about all this is that in; the long term a ban on hunting with hounds will only harm wildlife, and red deer, fox, hare and mink in particular the very creatures that anti-hunt campaigners say they want to help.

In fact, very few individuals feel passionately against hunting anyway. The vast majority is quite uninterested. Yes, if a microphone or survey pad is placed under their noses, they will claim to be anti hunting, because they don't like blood. In reality most people have hardly seen a hunt and they certainly do not know what happens beyond the distorted propaganda.

Few people know that each week, antis follow a considerable number of hunts with video cameras. Towards the end of last season a mini army of camcorder carriers followed the Devon and Somerset staghounds. But they got little scandal: two people galloped through a churchyard some hounds ran over a railway line, and a deer ran through a school playground. Yet the animal rights riddled BBC gave prime time coverage to each one. Had they put slaughterhouses under the same scrutiny it would have been a different story.

 It is the closure of slaughterhouses by government decree and the considerable distance that farm livestock now has to travel to be killed that is the real animal welfare scandal in Britain today. If foxhunting stops, there will be fewer foxes not more, as a greater area of land will be devoted to pheasant shooting; so more foxes will be trapped, snared and shot. Such deaths will be far worse than that of the fox who is chased intermittently for a few minutes (the average time for a fox hunt is 17 minutes) and then it is killed or gets away.Similarly, the red deer on Exmoor, munching their way through improved pasture for cattle and sheep, will not be so readily tolerated after a ban. A hunted deer is either shot at close quarters while standing at bay or it gets away. A stalked deer is either shot and killed, or wounded with sometimes horrific consequences.

The Red Deer herd on Exmoor is one of the best managed in Europe. If a third world country had such a successful policy for managing its wildlife, scientists would describe it as "the utilisation of a renewable resource in a sustainable way".

But this is Britain, where men in suits, with no roots, no culture and deer, tell men with no suits but with culture and deer how to manage their wildlife. We have seem to have the odd knack of showing more concern for rural creatures overseas than we do for our own.

In 1997 Professor Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University wrote a report on the management of the Exmoor deer. In the third sentence he wrote, "If you wept as a child at the death of Bambi's mother, you know what it is like to be hunted." It is a strange beginning for a serious scientific report, particularly as Bambi's mother was not hunted at all she was shot.

Perhaps Professor Bateson should take a closer look at home. Like most Cambridge colleges, King's College (Provost: Prof. P Bateson) has large chunks of land. The intensively farmed blocks that I have seen do not seem to be bursting with wildlife - what does the good professor intend to do about that, I wonder?

I fear for the farmers of Exmoor. As their incomes plummet, their communities die, and their sport is taken away - what have they got left?

While on a recent visit to the moor, researching for a book, I stayed with a farmer who had just discovered that he was to be paid 2p each for SO Jacob fleeces - to be paid in two instalments. On returning home I stopped off at Stow-on-the-Wold, where, I discovered, that I could have bought a woollen jumper for a modest £187. No wonder the farming people of Exmoor feel bitter and betrayed.

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