De­fend­ing Europe’s hunt­ing tra­di­tions

Cen­turies of skill and prac­tice are un­der threat from an­i­mal-rights ac­tivists, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, dis­ease and crowd-pleas­ing politi­cians

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY jack knott

Jack Knott out­lines the threats

The story of Euro­pean hunt­ing is a rich one. The con­ti­nent pro­vides a wealth of world-class sport­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, shaped over the years by tra­di­tional prac­tices. From the moors of Scot­land and im­pe­rial forests of cen­tral Europe to the Alpine mead­ows and plains of Hun­gary, the land­scape has been crafted by hunt­ing for hunt­ing.

Hunt­ing in its widest sense is deeply con­nected with ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Gen­er­a­tions of em­ploy­ment, re­cre­ation and skills mean tra­di­tions run thick and feel­ings are strong. How­ever, many of these tra­di­tions are in­creas­ingly un­der pres­sure as ur­ban life en­croaches on ru­ral ways, the an­i­mal­rights agenda gath­ers mo­men­tum, so­cial me­dia rules over sci­en­tific de­bate, and gov­ern­ments’ knee­jerk re­ac­tions in­form pol­icy. The fight to stop our tra­di­tions be­ing ground down has never pre­sented it­self so strongly in what has seem­ingly be­come an ever more frag­mented and frag­ile po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

One such ex­am­ple of ur­ban at­tri­tion has been wit­nessed in the state of North Rhinewest­phalia in Ger­many. The hun­ters in the re­gion live and breathe their sport, their knowl­edge of hunt­ing, ex­per­tise and com­mit­ment to con­ser­va­tion be­ing among the strong­est in Europe. It was, there­fore, a shock to see their way of life be­ing un­der­mined through leg­is­la­tion that in­cludes changes to quarry species and open sea­sons, and re­stric­tions to sport­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Such is their pas­sion, the lo­cals have been quick to point a fin­ger at those re­spon­si­ble.

At an en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mit­tee hear­ing ear­lier this year, Hans-jür­gen Thies, vice pres­i­dent of the Land es jagdver­band NRW (the state hunt­ing as­so­ci­a­tion), voiced his opin­ions strongly call­ing the new reg­u­la­tions un­con­sti­tu­tional, un­demo­cratic, re­ac­tionary and im­prac­ti­cal. Those re­spon­si­ble were outed as “the Red-green State Gov­ern­ment”, whose aims are to “ex­em­plify the eco-ro­man­tic no­tion of ur­ban mi­lieus”.

The pres­sure on their sport is so strong that there was lit­tle sur­prise when an es­ti­mated 15,000 hun­ters from the re­gion took to the streets en masse, join­ing to­gether to march against the con­tin­u­ing re­stric­tions be­ing ap­plied to their way of life. Friedrich von Mas­sow, le­gal ad­vi­sor to the Deutscher Jagdver­band (a Ger­man hun­ters’ as­so­ci­a­tion), ex­plained: “The main prob­lem is that changes in the hunt­ing laws are not based on facts but driven by feel­ings or an ur­ban ma­jor­ity which does not con­sider the con­se­quences for con­ser­va­tion or an­i­mal wel­fare.”


The Pol­ish Se­nate has taken things a step fur­ther, mak­ing whole­sale changes to hunt­ing tra­di­tions, cul­ture and meth­ods through the in­tro­duc­tion of its newly en­acted Hunt­ing Act. The Act has been rammed through par­lia­ment with no ob­vi­ous con­sid­er­a­tion of its likely con­se­quences or at­ten­tion to the up­roar gen­er­ated by hun­ters and their fam­i­lies.

Within this new Act, the largest re­stric­tion to hunt­ing is the in­crease of the par­tic­i­pa­tion age to 18. The lack of ev­i­dence pro­vided to sup­port this has given rise to the most ou­trage, leav­ing the hun­ters with no choice but to head to the streets in protest. Whilst the hunt­ing as­so­ci­a­tions pre­pare a Hu­man Rights case against the Hunt­ing Act, thou­sands joined in mu­tual anger to raise their voices out­side the Pol­ish par­lia­ment.

Also in­cluded in the Pol­ish Hunt­ing Act is a mea­sure that al­lows the Pol­ish Min­is­ter of the En­vi­ron­ment to ap­point the pres­i­dent of the Hunt­ing As­so­ci­a­tion – a par­tic­u­larly sin­is­ter de­vel­op­ment at a time when the po­lit­i­cal na­ture of Europe is in­creas­ingly frag­ile. These are not mi­nor vari­a­tions to prac­tices but who­lescale changes to the very prin­ci­ple of hunt­ing in Poland.

These ex­am­ples are a timely re­minder of the po­ten­tial threat to field­sports in the UK if we are faced with a gov­ern­ment that is dis­in­ter­ested in or ac­tively op­posed to them. We have been forced to march be­fore when faced with a gov­ern­ment de­ter­mined to re­strict our tra­di­tions so we should be un­der no il­lu­sion that this may be re­peated. Re­stric­tions are not al­ways po­lit­i­cally

mo­ti­vated. Some­times a knee­jerk re­ac­tion threat­ens our sport. In this fast-paced world of so­cial me­dia, dra­matic change can take place with fright­en­ing speed. Just a few weeks af­ter the hor­rific ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris in Novem­ber 2015, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion re­leased a set of pro­pos­als to re­strict the ac­qui­si­tion and trade of firearms. Its aim: to close le­gal loop­holes that had the po­ten­tial to al­low the ac­ti­va­tion of de-ac­ti­vated firearms. It was, of course, wel­comed. How­ever, in the Com­mis­sion’s rush it man­aged to push through leg­is­la­tion that af­fected nearly two mil­lion le­gal gunown­ers. The Direc­tive may have been passed but a num­ber of coun­tries con­tinue to fight it, in­clud­ing the Czech Repub­lic, which has filed a law­suit with the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice against the Direc­tive.

At the time, the then min­is­ter of the in­te­rior, Mi­lan Cho­vanec, said “such a mas­sive pun­ish­ment of de­cent arms hold­ers is un­ac­cept­able be­cause ban­ning legally held weapons has no con­nec­tion with the fight against ter­ror­ism”. Rightly or wrongly, the Euro­pean Firearms Direc­tive was an­other re­stric­tion to our way of life, which has amounted to lit­tle more than “slip­page” on the hunter’s abil­ity to use and pos­sess cer­tain firearms.

The UK has some of the strictest reg­u­la­tions when it comes to firearms con­trol yet this does not ab­solve us from spon­ta­neous re­ac­tions. This is cur­rently be­ing wit­nessed in the form of the Of­fen­sive Weapons Bill. Aris­ing off the back of last year’s shock­ing shoot­ing at a mu­sic fes­ti­val in Las Ve­gas, the Bill seeks to re­strict the use of large-cal­i­bre weapons, amongst other things. Again, this fast-paced, re­sult-driven Bill cur­rently has the po­ten­tial to ban large-cal­i­bre ri­fles used for tar­get shoot­ing and big-game hunt­ing for no rea­son other than their po­ten­tial dan­ger to pub­lic safety. This raises the ques­tion: what will be re­stricted next?

While the an­i­mal-rights move­ment has been sim­mer­ing un­der the sur­face for a num­ber of years, the rise of so­cial me­dia, click-bait sto­ries and fake news has aided the move­ment’s rise to the fore. Whilst the front line in the UK has for many years been firmly fixed on fox hunt­ing and the badger cull, across Europe and the rest of the world the wars be­ing waged are mul­ti­fac­eted.

con­ser­va­tion v farm­ing

The bat­tle across north­ern Europe comes in the form of large car­ni­vores and the con­flict that en­sues be­tween con­ser­va­tion and farm­ing. In the south­ern reaches of Europe, in par­tic­u­larly the Mediter­ranean coun­tries, the fight is more fo­cused on spring hunt­ing. These are the pinch points, where the con­ser­va­tion char­i­ties see po­ten­tial weak­nesses in our ev­i­dence and meth­ods; in­stant if only tem­po­rary pub­lic in­ter­est; and, most im­por­tantly, fundrais­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. The shock and awe tac­tic of dra­matic pic­tures be­ing shared on so­cial me­dia and sent to politi­cians has been shown to be far more ef­fec­tive than pro­vid­ing sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and lob­by­ing in the tra­di­tional form.

There is lit­tle bet­ter ex­am­ple than that of Ce­cil the Lion, the killing of which, ac­cord­ing to the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of As­so­ci­a­tions for Hunt­ing and Con­ser­va­tion (FACE), Lud­wig Will­neg­ger, “proved to be a turn­ing point in the dis­cus­sion on tro­phy hunt­ing”. Although proven in court that the hunt was le­gal, “the sto­ries and im­ages shared by anti-hunt­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia. The con­se­quences were grave, re­sult­ing in some coun­tries ban­ning the im­port of cer­tain hunt­ing tro­phies into, for ex­am­ple, France and the Nether­lands.” The cam­paign­ers’ claimed vic­tory be­fore mov­ing onto the next top­i­cal is­sue. Never has one hunt done so much po­lit­i­cal and press dam­age.

For those politi­cians deal­ing with these mat­ters it is tak­ing up an in­creas­ing amount of time. The pe­ti­tion to bring about jus­tice for Ce­cil was signed by more than 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple. It is easy to see why politi­cians find it eas­ier and less time con­sum­ing to agree with the ban­ning ar­gu­ment rather than fight­ing for hunt­ing’s con­tin­u­a­tion. The mass bom­bard­ment with emails, let­ters, in­clud­ing plenty of rhetoric and shock pic­tures, and pe­ti­tions is not easy to take, even for the more

hard­ened par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. “The ar­gu­ments needed to de­fend what we do are of­ten more com­plex than the emo­tional cam­paigns used by the an­tis. It is also dif­fi­cult to com­pete with the five big­gest an­i­mal-rights or­gan­i­sa­tions, which have al­most ¤50 mil­lion at their dis­posal,” says Will­neg­ger.

Along­side the an­i­mal-rights move­ment is the green lobby, which in Europe is far more or­gan­ised and sup­ported than our Green Party. Through the green plat­form we are see­ing a slow and cal­cu­lated at­tack on the edges of our val­ues, a creep tac­tic that aims to re­strict our prac­tices. This can be seen with the use of glyphosate and neon­i­coti­noids in farm­ing, and lead am­mu­ni­tion and trap­ping stan­dards, amongst oth­ers, in hunt­ing.

bans and fads

There has cer­tainly been an in­crease in the use of the word “ban” in the past 10 years, and to­gether with the new fad, “rewil­d­ing” (which was only coined in the 1990s), the move­ment has its agenda set for the com­ing gen­er­a­tions.

These or­gan­i­sa­tions, which are grow­ing in sup­port an­nu­ally, are ef­fi­cient at telling the politi­cians, press and their mem­bers what they do not like and what they would like to see banned, but never what man­age­ment they would like to see in­stead. They wish to see lead am­mu­ni­tion banned but have lit­tle care for the ef­fi­ciency or suit­abil­ity of the al­ter­na­tives. It is the job of our shoot­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions to get these facts over – to fight each fight with the back­ing of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and rea­son. For once you dig down to the bones it is ob­vi­ous that these eco-war­riors have lit­tle care for an­i­mals; around Europe and the world they are slowly and metic­u­lously in­flu­enc­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and par­lia­ments to spread their class be­liefs, be­fore turn­ing their at­ten­tion and re­sources to the next is­sue. Never has it been more vi­tal to put across the sci­ence be­hind and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of our prac­tices.

There’s an­other el­e­ment that could lead to re­stric­tions: an­i­mal dis­ease. The main threats, for the time be­ing, are avian in­fluenza and African swine fever. Both dis­eases ap­pear to be spread­ing in both fe­roc­ity and range, and have the ca­pa­bil­ity to change our prac­tices rapidly. The an­nual in­flux of avian in­fluenza, brought to our shores by over­win­ter­ing wild­fowl, ap­pears to be lin­ger­ing ever longer into the warmer months. If the dis­ease hangs on un­til au­tumn, the re­lease of game­birds could be re­stricted through preven­tion zones. Mean­while, lethal African swine fever is spread­ing through Euro­pean wild boar pop­u­la­tions; from Rus­sia to Ger­many the dis­ease is hav­ing an im­pact.

Fol­low­ing on from these dis­eases, and the largest threat of the lot, is Trans­mis­si­ble Spongi­form En­cephalopa­thy (TSE), or Chronic Wast­ing Dis­ease (CWD). Fa­tal for any deer that con­tracts it, its spread is dreaded by ev­ery stalker in the world. It has al­ready had ir­repara­ble con­se­quences in North­ern Amer­ica, caus­ing a loss of mil­lions to the ru­ral econ­omy, and in March 2016 the first case of CWD was re­ported in rein­deer in Europe, with a case in Nor­way. The coun­try is now on height­ened alert – as should the rest of Europe be. If CWD were to breach our shores the dam­age it could do to our deer pop­u­la­tion, both wild and farmed, is un­told.

While the spread of these dis­eases is mostly out of our con­trol, if any were to take hold, our hunt­ing prac­tices, tra­di­tions and ru­ral econ­omy could be al­tered sig­nif­i­cantly.

The threats are out there and made even more real by the fact that the UK has de­volved many of the afore­men­tioned pow­ers away from a cen­tral gov­ern­ment. If, for ex­am­ple, the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment was to tighten the screws, West­min­ster, the Sennedd and/or Stor­mont could fol­low suit. The pres­sure is not just on keep­ing a grip on one rul­ing po­lit­i­cal party but four. Scot­land in­tro­duced vi­car­i­ous li­a­bil­ity around four years ago; calls for its in­tro­duc­tion in Eng­land have been grow­ing ever since.

This is not to say that are world is col­laps­ing in around us – there have been vic­to­ries and strength­en­ing of our prac­tices in re­cent years. The ap­point­ment of fal­conry as a UN­ESCO cul­tural tan­gi­ble her­itage is one. Fin­land’s rein­tro­duc­tion of bow hunt­ing and a closely fought vic­tory, through a coun­try­wide ref­er­en­dum, to con­tinue spring hunt­ing in Malta are just a few other ex­am­ples. Even in the UK the num­bers of firearms cer­tifi­cates and there­fore par­tic­i­pants are at their high­est lev­els since the 1980s. Yet we have to ac­knowl­edge the at­tacks will not stop, the threat to the UK is not make be­lieve. Tra­di­tions vary greatly be­tween coun­tries in Europe, but as the UK makes its slow tran­si­tion away from the EU, it would be wise to keep our links and lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open, not least to dis­cover what prac­tices might be un­der threat next.

Avian in­fluenza is brought to our shores by over­win­ter­ing wild­fowl

Sound­ing the hunt­ing horn (left) and sit­ting in a high seat (above) while boar hunt­ing in Ger­many

Hunt­ing grouse on the tun­dra in Nor­way; the coun­try has been the first in Europe to have a con­firmed case of Chronic Wast­ing Dis­ease (CWD) in deer

Red deer in Scot­land; if CWD were to breach our shores, it could do un­told dam­age to the deer pop­u­la­tion, both farmed and wild

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