I have always struggled with the practice of fox hunting; as a vegetarian I respect all animals, but as a historian I value the survival of country traditions, and as a realist I respect the need for farmers to protect their animals from predators. That said, it is odd that fox hunting is only in England, and I read that it was invented to integrate new estate owners into the community in the 18th century, so is an important source of social cohesion. Some claim that the hunts are not held where there are the most problems with foxes, so the situation is far from simple, and varies between different regions and over time. There is also a political level to this: Labour tends to be urban, so do not understand country issues, which are generally supported by the Tory party who have a lot of country landowners supporting them.
The battle to stop fox hunting pitted animal rights activists against people who claimed they had the interest of animals and the countryside at heart. This is from the i paper of 7 June of how an opponent of the so-called sport changed sides.
Miles Cooper spent 6 seasons on the front lie of the hunt saboteur movement. However, his doubts about the effectiveness of direct action began to grow. In 1993, 15 yer old Tom worry was crushed under the wheels of a hound van while “sabbing” in Cambridgeshire. It was a tragedy which saw increased militancy on both sides. But in Cooper, who was one of those in charge that day, it had the opposite effect.
“Tom did nothing wrong. He would have been the same as me on my first day out sobbing; clueless as to what it was all about and completely unaware of the potential dangers. He was so young, he had his whole life ahead of him and he died for what?… A terrible tragedy and waste of a young life for no good end whatsoever. After that I knew I couldn’t carry on, although hit took me a long time too work through my own prejudices and speak up”.
Leaving the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Cooper joined the League Against Cruel Sports where he monitors and filmed hunts and contributed to some of the organisation’s undercover work. The aim was to expose illegal activity among Britain’s hunts, but as his research deepened, all he says that he succeeded in exposing were flaws, misconceptions and discrepancies in the anti-hunting argument.
“I new we had hit rock bottom the the plan to go through the rubbish of prominent pro-hunt figures, to see whether any juicy ‘evidence’ of wrongdoing could be found, was being discussed and some people actually thought it was a good idea. Bonkers!
“I can’t recall how many hours I spent watching and waiting for someone belonging to a hunt o do something against the rules of hunting. We had hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of people trotting along quite happily behind hounds, but not much of any great importance. I spoke to sheep farmers who explained that hunts were a viable way of managing the fox population, that they were more humane than snaring and shooting. These weren’t people trying to twist my mind. They were people who had the countryside and its best interests in their blood.”
By the time a hunting ban became a serious prospect, Cooper had decided that it wasn’t something he could support. In April 2002, 18 years after his first protest he came out publicly as pro-hunting.
“Of course, I had reservations and what I had to say went down like a lead balloon with former colleges, but I’ve never had any regrets about doing it.”
What he does have regrets about is the 2004 Hunting Act, which he believes was a done deal before the then-Labour government’s consultation process was begun in 2002. “The ban was hatched by a lot of the old Labour stewards and the anti-hunt organisations. Countless individuals and organisations submitted detailed evidence, but were just ignored.
“Repealing the Hunting Act and relaxing it with legislation which protects all wild mammals from acts of cruelty and recognises the comparative strengths and limits of each management or culling method remain the best chance we have of an equitable outcome.
“Sadly what we are left with is a law which was made by people who didn’t understand how the different parts of the countryside jigsaw fitted together. It’s riddled with inconsistencies and it has done nothing for animal welfare.”
Over the intervening years Cooper’s pro-hunting stance strengthened. So much so, he learned to ride and went out on his first hunt with the Warwickshire Hunt. He also breeds and works ferrets, shoots and hunts with his local pack of beagles.
“I felt a little surreal to begin with, but for me it was a natural next step.” Everything I have seen being part of the hunting world has only confirmed that the government got it wrong and he current legislation isn’t fit for propose. Take hares for instance:the law says it’s wrong to hunt a healthy hare but Ok to hunt one which has been wounded first. It’s ridiculous, a nonsense.”
Cooper admits that when he sees pictures of himself hunting he occasionally has to do a double take, but he says he hopes his experience might help dent the long-lived stereotypes.
“Hunting isn’t a sport just for toffs. We are not a bunch of lords. Most people join hunt because they love riding.”