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Fox hunting: Holding on to hope

In the four years that I’ve been keeping this blog, I haven’t once written about fox hunting. Not once.

Which is particularly surprising when I consider that the first ever piece of ‘conservation-themed’ writing I ever did was a persuasive letter to the then Prime Minister, John Major, asking him to put an end to the cruel practice. Circa 1996.

IMG_7926The main aim of my keeping a blog is merely an extension of that persuasive writing exercise. To encourage compassion and persuade others that things don’t have to stay the same. That they can be made better. That they should be made better.

IMG_7932Perhaps that’s why I’ve avoided writing about matters related to fox hunting: shrouded in class-based politics, it’s minefield of negativity. I want to inspire hope and positivity on this blog: positive action and progressive thinking.

IMG_7956I joined the #Keeptheban protests near Parliament Square yesterday, and outside Downing Street today; standing alongside the likes of Born Free Patron Dr Brian May, Badger Trust CEO and Born Free Foundation’s Policy Advisor, Dominic Dyer, and my good friend and fellow blogger Anneka Svenska, against a relaxing of the long and hard fought fox hunting ban.

IMG_7931The ban is not an all-encompassing, total solution, but it’s better that it’s in place, than not.

The outcome of the last two days was not the one that conservationists were hoping for, but it wasn’t an absolute disaster, either. The SNP pledged their allegiance with those wanting to keep the ban. David Cameron postponed today’s vote; a delay tactic that has many implications, but the ban is in place — for now.

IMG_7927As I say though, my aim is to inspire hope, not promote hopelessness.

The last time I met Dr Brian May, it was at a Votes for Animals protest, ahead of the General Election, and he was promoting his campaign; Common Decency. Common Decency was about voting for MPs ‘colourblind’; paying attention to their policies and not their party.

IMG_7930Shortly after meeting him this time, I received the following response from my St Albans MP, Conservative party’s Anne Main, in response to my lobbying email:

Dear Miss Snowdon,
Thank you for your email regarding the Hunting Act. I apologise for the standard nature of this email – as I am sure you understand, I have received a very large volume of emails in a short space of time from constituents asking me for my views on this important issue and I was keen to ensure that you received a full and informative response. I would like to thank those who included a personal message in your email; I did read all of the emails which were sent to me and I was grateful to hear all of your views.
It is now my understanding that the vote which was due on 15th July has been postponed and will not take place tomorrow. This was a Statutory Instrument to make amendments to the exempt provisions included in the Hunting Act 2004, as opposed to a vote on repealing the Act itself. Prior to the withdrawal I was going to vote against the Statutory Instrument as I feel it would weaken the ban.
Currently, as part of the Hunting Act pest control exemptions, farmers and gamekeepers can use up to two dogs to flush foxes from cover to be shot. I understand that upland farmers have argued that the two-dog limit can be impractical on their terrain, which can be vast, difficult and covered by woodland. The new Statutory Instrument intended to give land owners in England and Wales the opportunity to use more than two dogs to flush out foxes. However, I believe that the changes proposed would make prosecution of those who participate in illegal hunting more difficult which is why I would have voted against this measure.
Many of the constituents who contacted me have asked for my views on the Hunting Act more generally, following the commitment in the Conservative Manifesto that MPs would have the opportunity to repeal the Act on a free vote. I would not like to see the Hunting Act repealed and I would not wish to see hunting returned as a sport.
I hope that I have been able to reassure you of my commitment to ensuring animal welfare. Animal welfare is an issue that I have been raising in Parliament for some time. I am the leading Conservative campaigner against the badger cull, and I have done significant work in opposing the culls. I have also campaigned to the Government against the use of pinch collars on dogs with the help of the Dogs Trust, and have supported a variety of animal rights campaigns including those relating to wild animals in circuses, backstreet breeding and strengthening protection for racing greyhounds. I have worked with a number of animal welfare charities and I am determined to continue the fight against animal cruelty.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
With best wishes,
Mrs Anne Main

A damn sight better than the lack of response that 6-year-old me got from John Major!

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‘Wild Neighbours’ with Sir David Attenborough and Gordon Buchanan

In hushed awe, the crowd at the Rose Theatre in Kingston listened attentively as Sir David Attenborough, legendary TV naturalist, led the way at the Environment Trust for Richmond’s annual lecture.

Titled ‘Wild Neighbours’, the event examined what happens when animals living wild in the UK collide head first with busy, urban environments. IMG_8398Sir David examined the issue of non-native species being introduced… and flourishing… on our shores (such as the now firmly established Canadian goose, the green parakeet and grey squirrel) and how they can impact the native species that claimed the land first. IMG_8401I was surprised to learn the long-accepted wives’ tale that red squirrels and grey squirrels are competing for food, is in fact incorrect. Instead, the red squirrel actually faces bigger threat from the pine martin (incidentally a nemesis of its grey counterpart, too) than the grey squirrel.

Often what happens when a non-native species is introduced to Britain (nearly always by the deliberate decision of humans) is that when its numbers climb too high, we take it upon ourselves to ‘control population’… through culling.

This is a fate that the afore mentioned green parakeet has faced on more than one occasion. When pressed, Attenborough conceded that he actually welcomes the parakeet to the UK.

Next to take the stand was renowned wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan.

Through real life anecdotes and humorous videos, Gordon relayed the plight of the urban fox. IMG_8409 As well as talking the audience through the life cycle of a fox (born in March; first emerges from the den in April; weaned in May; leaves den in June; before being kicked out of the family unit in November), Buchanan spoke of why they find themselves living amongst our cities and towns: we ate into their habitat after WWII.

The two admissions that intrigued me most from Gordon, however, were slight tangents from his talk about foxes; his opinions on reintroduction and intervention. IMG_8412 These two concepts seem to leave the nature world divided as to just how much we should ‘interfere’.

Given that people pay no mind to introducing non-native species to the UK, such as the parakeet (and then culling them for crisis control purposes), or taking away habitats, such as that of the fox; it intrigues me that whether or not we should reintroduce lynx and wolves to Scotland sparks such discussion (though for the record, it didn’t spark to much discussion at all from Gordon himself, who quickly declared himself as believing it will ‘pay off economically’).

The area that Buchanan did seem to struggle with having a definitive opinion on, however, was whether or not a wildlife filmmaker should ‘just let nature take its course’.

I’m sure we’ve all seen those heart-wrenching moments on BBC wildlife series’ where an animal becomes separated from its family unit and is left stranded/lost/alone with no food and no hope for survival – and have shouted at the screen: “help him! Why can’t you help him?!”

But when should a filmmaker intervene?

“I used to think; never” Gordon admits, ‘but over time my view has changed and softened a bit.”

“Now I think it sometimes can be ok. If you’re looking at something that is a direct results of humans (such as the clip he shows up of a fox cub with its head stuck in a Pringles can), I think it’s fine. I just wouldn’t go as far as stroking a wild animal, or treating it like a pet.”

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