Game bird welfare

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.

Governments move in mysterious ways sometimes. This week it was the result of the game bird welfare consultation. The Government decided, a decision that we agree with, that the conditions under which game birds were being bred and reared led to poor bird welfare.

DEFRA acting on behalf of the Government took a similar approach to that taken with battery bred poultry. Rather than ban the use of cages all together it simply decided to radically increase the amount of space per bird. The shooters were somewhat predictably up in arms about the changes which come in on 1 October because they will make this 2010 to 2011 season the last in which such intensive rearing methods can be used in England and Wales.

The Countryside Alliance fulminated about the changes and even suggested that no change would be necessary if bits were used to prevent the birds kept in intensive conditions from seeing one and other. Seemingly they were as blind to the welfare and normal behaviour needs of the birds, as the birds which they would prefer were restricted in vision in their intensive rearing conditions.

The shooters claim to be concerned about the loss of trade to France where such restrictions on cage size do not currently apply. Their problem is that because they market game meat as the next best thing to organic free range poultry production they can hardly compete with imports by using a slogan like, intensively reared in France but killed for sport in England. Not a good seller!

There has been some shocking news coverage of late about the working conditions in abattoirs and meat plants. None of the coverage that I saw picked up on what I would have thought was the most obvious point of all. Namely that if people are called on to work with animal carcasses day after day, some so freshly killed that they are still warm and the carcasses can still twitch spasmodically, the only way that they can cope is to shut down normal human sensitivity. As a result behavioural norms are also shut down and abuse and cruelty can become common place.

Traditional hunting with its chase and kill by dogs is no less of a slaughter process than an abattoir or a meat plant, but because it has been ritualised and turned into a blood sport, people often fail to recognise the bloody business that it really is. In both cases an animal is entered into the system at one end and a disembodied carcass emerges at the other end. Daily exposure to such suffering and killing surely must coarsen and desensitise the hunters to the suffering of the hunted.

What distinguishes an abattoir from a traditional hunt is that there are inspections and licensing regimes; that procedures are put in place to minimise animal suffering and that if there is gratuitous cruelty, or the licensing conditions are not adhered to, people are sacked and plants are closed down. Yet what all the recent coverage has told us is that regulations are flouted, cruelty and suffering is rife and the people in the plants are exhibiting abnormal and unacceptable behaviour patterns, perhaps as a result.

In hunts where no such regulations apply to the hunters’ treatment of wild mammals for sport, cruelty abounds. Animals are deliberately chased with packs of dogs to provide a spectacle and sport for a paying crowd of followers.

Hunting for sport is nothing less than the commercialisation of animal suffering. It is no wonder that some of those closely involved in the ritualised and serial abuse of animals with dogs for sport, lose the plot and themselves become violent and abusive, to both people and animals.

There has been a steady procession of thugs associated with hunts to court and a stream of convictions for violence, abuse, harassment, dangerous driving and a host of other crimes. It is no secret that some of our best tip offs about illegal hunt activity come from the people who live with or near to these damaged animal abusers, but who are too scared of them and or of what they might do to them and their families, to take them on themselves. There is a deep ugliness about the tendency to violence that goes with animal abuse for sport. If causing such suffering is supposedly acceptable as entertainment, what sort of violence and abuse is actually off limits?

The live quarry hunters and shooters like to see themselves as reasonable people called upon to deal with problem animals in a way that it just so happens gives them pleasure. The truth is that the rest of society sees them as ritual and serial animal abusers and experiences them as all too often being violent and abusive to members of the public.

If a vigilante gang in any town decided to hunt in the parks with packs of attack dogs and kill all the pet dogs not on leads, because un-scooped poop was perceived to be a problem, and the gang enjoyed their pet dog control work, there would be complete uproar. Yet in the countryside we are supposed to allow gangs of wildlife vigilantes with attack dogs to roam far and free persecuting the nation’s wildlife for their own sport and recreation.

I have no doubt that the urban gang leader with a dog pack would soon be called the master and the man in charge of the pack would be called the huntsman. It would fast become a sport for so called bloods. No doubt others with whips and horns would don the appropriate jackets and trainers for the gang, expensive off road bikes would be bought and there would soon be a strict code of behaviour. Each gang would have its own hunting turf and woe betide anyone who sought to hunt there without their permission. Anyone seeking to monitor the activities of such a hunt would themselves become a target and violence would ensue.

The Hunting Act isn’t about toffs on horseback, it is all about gangs of thugs with attack dogs. Be they packs of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers or of supposedly well bred hounds, Greyhounds or even Jack Russell terriers, taught to fight foxes and badgers. The hunters and coursers who turn their dogs onto animals for their own sport are no different to the urban gangs described above. Cruelty is cruelty whether you drive a 4×4 to the meet or ride a BMX. Setting a dog or worse still a pack of dogs onto another animal for sport is cruel, whether it takes place in a public park in town or on a private estate in the countryside.

Allowing a repeal of the Hunting Act would open the door to thugs with packs of dogs, be they in the town or the countryside. Please do all that you can to help us Keep Cruelty History.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    gilesbradshaw said,

    I am not a gang of people and my dogs are not ‘attack dogs’ I am using there natural instinct to hunt, flush and disperse red deer as an alternative to killing them or costly and ineffective fencing.

    What I am doing is sensible proportionate effective non lethal wildlife management.

    The Hunting ACT AS IT APPLIES TO ME IS QUITE CLEARLY ABSURD.

    • 2

      davegb2 said,

      Dogs are dangerous animals. Calling them ‘attack’ or ‘weapon’ dogs is not inaccurate. The trouble with dog owners is that they are often deluded. They think their dog is a child with child like desires. A dog will naturally attack and kill if it can.

      It is wrong to allow your dog to do something just because it’s ‘natural’. Would you allow it to kill a human baby just because it’s natural?

      And I think I read elsewhere that your motive for releasing deer was so they could then be hunted for sport instead.


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