Roger at the Hunting Intergroup meeting in Strasbourg on Sept 26th, with Ms. Cristina Caretta, President, Confederazione delle Assocazioni Venatorie Italiane, and Dr. Yves Lecocq, Secretary General of F.A.C.E., the European Hunting & Conservation Federation
Bambi has a lot to answer for. Our children are bombarded with cartoon images of anthropomorphic animals, who speak and empathise like people. Bears are cuddly big brothers, who live on honey and carry your books home from school — not grizzly predators who rend smaller animals limb from limb. Rats and foxes are not vermin. They are tiny human beings in furry coats who deserve our love and protection. Wolves and lions are heroic figures who eschew the taste of blood.
Hardly surprising, then, that a generation of urban children, whose idea of “play” is a computer game, and whose vision of nature is based on cartoons and BBC documentaries, are turning to vegetarianism, and are apt to see hunting as wicked. These kids don’t know that milk comes from cows, eggs from hens or bacon from pigs. Hardly surprising that they see the hunter as villain, and the fox (which in reality may just have consumed a newborn lamb, placenta and all) as hero.
These issues were aired at a meeting in Strasbourg on September 26th, organised by the European parliament’s Hunting Intergroup, with presentations from Ms. Cristina Caretta; and from Roberto Basso of Natural History Museum of Jessolo, Italy; and Ralf Pütz of the Deutscher Jagdschutz-Verband (so splendid in the original German that I won’t attempt to translate it!). They all expressed their concern that animal rights zealots, building on a general politically-correct mental outlook, were presenting a wholly false picture of rural life and country sports.
There was a consensus that the hunting world needs to argue its corner, and that we all need to do more to get a countervailing argument to young people. And there was a lively debate on the way forward. The Germans appear to have a rather comprehensive programme of teaching materials and activities for schools, and I added that I believed that our own Countryside Alliance has a similar programme. We also need to promote school visits to farms (I remember the story of an urban teacher who was reluctant to allow her charges into the milking parlour because “She didn’t want them to see the cows being killed for their milk”. Honest).
Children need to realise that hunters, far from being the villains of the story, have far more interest in conservation than urban folk who see no wild animals but scavenging foxes. The hunting fraternity plays a vital role in conserving wildlife, and protecting and improving habitats. In some European countries, hunting tourism (in the broad European sense to include shooting, stalking and fishing) also plays a key part in local economies — and provides another strong incentive to conservation.
At a deeper level, we need to recall that we are descended from ten thousand generations of hunter-gatherers; people who lived close to nature and relied on it for survival. Modern fox-hunting, stylised and choreographed as it is, may be no more than a faint reflection of our archetypal hunting ancestors. But it is a link with our evolutionary nature, however tenuous, that we abandon at our peril.