Hunting: Taking on the antis

My Greyhound Brindle

On Dec 27th I attended the “Boxing Day” meet of the Fernie hunt (delayed because the 26th was a Sunday), and I wrote about it on by blog, below, partly as a celebration of a great English tradition, partly as a reminder to the Party that we are still awaiting the repeal of the hated Hunting Act.
 
I suppose I should have expected the angry emanations of the antis, and had I done so, I should not have been disappointed.  The comment section was soon piling up with assorted bleeding-hearts and bunny-huggers.  One, in particular, a Mr. Geoffrey Woollard, asked whether I also favoured the return of hare coursing.  I have the sense that he put this question expecting me to be gravely embarrassed, forced either to dissemble, or to admit to evil thoughts lurking in the Heart of Darkness.
 
But of course it caused me not a moment’s qualm.  In the good old days before the Hunting Act, I was a regular at the Waterloo Cup, the world’s greatest coursing meeting (where I frequently met my good friend Nigel Farage MEP, also an enthusiast).  I have the lapel badges to prove it, and I look forward with happy anticipation to going to Altcar again when the Act is repealed.  And I insist that repeal of the Hunting Act means repeal, not some selective reinstatement of fox-hunting alone, on some restricted and regulated basis.
 
The tragedy of the antis is that they are seeking to deny not only the fundamental nature of man, as a hunter-gatherer – a calling we pursued for perhaps a hundred times longer than we have been “civilised” agriculturalists – but also to deny the very nature of biology itself, where virtually every animal and insect is either predator or prey, and sometimes both.  Even man himself, arguably the greatest predator of all, may occasionally fall foul of crocodile or lion or shark.
 
The greyhound exists to hunt (and I own one, even if she mostly hunts old shoes and soft toys).  It is amazingly fast over short distances, and wonderfully agile, and is perhaps the most highly-evolved sight-hound, up there with the Saluki and the Borzoi, and perhaps the deerhound on a good day.  Admittedly much of its hunting skills are thanks to human breeding over thousands of years.  The earliest text on hare coursing dates from AD 180, and contains the familiar and wonderful quote: “True huntsmen do not take out their hounds to catch the creature, but for a trial of speed and a race, and they are satisfied if the hare manages to escape”.  But nonetheless the greyhound, like all hounds, descends from something very like a wolf, which has survived by hunting for millions of years.  That is the nature of dogs, and especially of hounds.
 
Agile the greyhound may be, but its agility (though not its speed) is greatly exceeded by that of the hare, which has been honed by evolution to survive predation by flight and evasion, and is remarkably good at it.  I have seen a hare, with two hounds snapping at its backside, leap vertically into the air while the hounds ran underneath it, turn around in the air and hit the ground running, and go haring off (literally) in another direction before the greyhounds had worked out what happened.
 
It is not surprising, therefore, that in 80 to 90% of (formerly legal) hare courses, the hare gets clean away, because pace Mr. Woollard, the objective of coursing in not to delight in the suffering or death of the hare, and still less to provide for the pot (there are cheaper and easier ways of taking hares for the kitchen), but as my AD 180 quote illustrates, to test two greyhounds in competition with each other.  And just as real foxhunting requires a live quarry, because no drag trail can substitute for the cunning and skill and unpredictability of a real fox, so no substitute for hare coursing can test the hounds as a real live hare can.
 
I suspect that a similarly high proportion of hares escape from pursuit by foxes.  Because the fox is only running for his supper, but the hare is running for his life.
 
If greyhounds are evolved and bred to hunt, so the hare is evolved for flight.  The hedgehog has one simple but effective anti-predation strategy: it rolls up into a spiny ball.  So also the hare has one simple but effective strategy: it flees, relying on speed, agility and (usually) an intimate knowledge of its terrain.
 
I sometimes wonder what sort of world the antis want.  Do they simply want to deny country people the right to follow an age-old tradition?  Do they believe that this would improve us morally?  Or do they believe that banning coursing will significantly improve the lot of the hare?  (In reality, of course, it is likely to hasten the extinction of hares, since landowners would no longer have an incentive to protect them).  If the latter, has it not occurred to the antis that foxes and other predators will continue to take hares?  Or do they dream of a world with no predation at all, where the lion and the lamb lie down together, and the fox and the hare share a bowl of muesli for breakfast?
 
Imagine this strange world with no predation.  You need to bear in mind that expensive evolutionary adaptations like flight (whether the flight of the hare from predators, or the flight of birds) impose a huge opportunity cost on a creature.  If the hare did not develop such speed and massive hind leg muscles, it would have more resource for (for example) raising leverets.  But these expensive adaptations require strong adaptive pressure not only to evolve in the first place, but also to maintain them.  The obvious illustration is the widespread occurrence of flightless birds, clearly descended from flying ancestors, in island locations where there are no major predators.  In the absence of adaptive pressure, you get regressive evolution and the loss of highly-evolved features.
 
So what would happen to the hare, over many generations, if we could stop predation entirely?  It would cease to be a hare.  It would evolve into something like a large gerbil.  That would be a worthy achievement for the likes of Mr. Woollard.  If he succeeded in stopping the predation of hares, he would sound the death-knell for the hare as we know it.  Well done, Sir!

Note:- For more information on hare coursing, and an excellent rebuttal of many of Mr. Woollard’s misconceptions, visit www.nationalcoursingclub.org

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22 Responses to Hunting: Taking on the antis

  1. “The earliest text on hare coursing dates from AD 180 …”

    Your arguments are almost antediluvian, Mr Helmer, and I suppose that the above proves the point to some extent.

    I challenge you to express your views on hare coursing to the wider world, not just on these blogs of yours. My guess is that your electors would be dismayed to discover who they were paying to be in Europe on their behalf.

    I’ll tell you one thing, though. I give you full marks for permitting such as I to comment on your blogs.

    BTW, I think that you ought to be in Mr Farridge’s party: you’ll embarrass Cameron very soon, if you haven’t already.

    • “Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them”. I am interested by your view that an awareness of history is irrelevant, but I do not share it. As for the wider world, if you can persuade the local press to run a story on the subject, I’ll be grateful to you. But you can hardly find a wider world than the internet.

  2. P.S. And of course I Tweeted the link.

  3. “Roger Helmer is a Conservative Member of the European Parliament. He was first elected to the European parliament in 1999, and has been kept very busy ever since representing the interests of his 4.1 million constituents from in the East Midlands.”

    And now it seems that he spends much of his time promoting cruel so-called ‘sports’ and writing at length in opposition to those who oppose his out-dated opinions. What about those ‘4.1 million constituents,’ Mr Helmer? I reckon you’ve pulled a fast one on them.

    • Absurd, Geoffrey. I doubt if I’ve spent a tenth of one percent of my time on the issue (and I’m rather ashamed it’s so little). But hunting is one of the cultural and historic gems of Leicesteshire and the East Midlands, and is a significant industry in the region, so on those grounds, and on libertarian grounds, I am happy to be a member of the Countryside Alliance (and of the Union of Country Sports Workers), and to add my voice to the widespread calls for repeal of the Hunting Act.

  4. Richard de Gerber says:

    Another excellent article Roger, one has to think you are not gaining your full potential and should be PM not just an MEP! I remember seeing you in 1999 before the election, nice to see someone didn’t go native! Keep up the good and interesting work, all the best for 2011

  5. mhayworth says:

    I’m used to seeing terms such as ” bleeding-hearts and bunny-huggers” and of course the classic “muesli”. The only thing missing was the reference to left wing politics.

    I suppose it makes it easier to justify cruelty if you assume its opponents are all irrational and overly emotional people. The facts are quite different though. I’m a member of UKIP who campaigns regularly for a reinstatement of our liberties. I deplore the nanny state, including the coalition’s role in upholding so much of the damage caused by Labour. Where I draw the line on liberty is where an activity concerns unnecessary cruelty to any living being, prolonged for the pleasure of its participants. To justify it in some sort of Neanderthal terms, as though humans hadn’t evolved into more intelligent and empathetic beings over time, seems to deny the concept of progress itself. I’m quite sure dog fighting was described by its supporters in exactly the same way but I somehow doubt you would be a proponent.

    Since you mentioned Nigel Farage, I think it is also worth noting that there are many UKIP members who do not support his views on hunting with hounds and on hare-coursing in particular. To look at this activity purely in terms of the skills of the dogs and not in the obvious pain and fear of the hare that is being pulled between the teeth of those dogs, is beyond me – but it does go some way in explaining why our society has become so tolerant of feral youth and gang behaviour in general.

    • You simply refuse (deliberately, I assume) to understand hunting. I say again: it is the most humane method of culling foxes. I say again: no one who hunts takes pleasure in the suffering of any animal.

  6. Janice Kendall says:

    Surely in this day and age it should be possible to test the skills of the dogs in some other way, not invoving the persecution of another species. All types of blood sports belong in the dark ages. Civilisation has moved on and in doing so has left behind the concept that animals are put on this earth for the amusement of bloodthirsty humans.

  7. mhayworth says:

    I know far too many ex-hunters and ex-groundsmen to believe that Roger. They too convinced themselves of your arguments until they could no longer justify it. They know how the hunts breed and maintain the fox population. If you look back at the Hansard debates online during the run up to the hunting act, you’ll see them admitting this openly – again and again.

    Here is a comment (sad but at least honest) from a Tory a few days ago on Conservative Home:

    “I can understand why people get squeamish about hunting, and logically, there are aspects of hunting that do not sit right.

    But I first hunted, in trepidation, in 1995, and found it the most exhilarating and thrilling experience manageable. Catching the beast and proving that you have power over its life as you slay it generates rush every time – it is not easy to describe in print and that is why I would urge others to try it.

    If you STILL feel there’s something wrong with hunting after it then fair enough, but I can assure you, you will not. It teaches you a lot about life, death and power, and above all it is incredibly enjoyable.”

    The response from an ex-Tory was:

    “I was almost physically sick when I read this! I have absolutely nothing in common with you Tristan and am glad that we longer belong in the same political party. Thank God most Tories I have met are not such as this! “

  8. Clearly, Some of Roger’s critics are simply using the hunting issue as an excuse to attack him for other reasons. Whilst, I loathe the sport (as mentioned elsewhere on this excellent blog) – I strongly recommend that these vocal critics take a longer and closer look at the bigger issues in which Roger Helmer is involved. Indeed, taxpayer money wasted on so-called “climate science” and billions of pounds paid to the EU – are an ongoing concern for all of us. In comparison, the hunting issue is just a distraction.

  9. Veronica says:

    Roger, people may find these ‘sports’ more agreeable if the purpose was to provide food rather than just killing for the sake of killing.
    My personal view is that nothing can justify killing an animal for sport. Your view is quite different and though I find it disagreeable I do respect it and have some sympathy with your annoyance of Mr Paice’s failure to repeal the hunting bill. Mainly because he happens to represent the area where I live and has done for many years. While he seems a nice enough person as an MP he is quite useless and broken promises from him are nothing new.
    Anyway Roger in spite of our differing views here I did find your article quite interesting in a way but it has not changed my own views on the subject.

  10. mhayworth says:

    What a strange comment Julian. Roger belongs to a political party that is pouring billions of our tax money into further EU integration and AGW projects. A party that uses their Eurosceptics as window dressing to keep the anti-EU voters on side while they destroy what little sovereignty we have left. Hardly something to be proud of in my view – but that has nothing to do with the hunting issue or why people feel the need to protect our wildlife from those who equate liberalism with inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering.

  11. Gail Wharmby says:

    It is not so very long ago that slaves who escaped from their masters where hunted by dogs. Dog fighting, cock fighting and badger baiting have all been made illegal. Why should fox hunting or hare coursing be any different? One thing that no one seems to remember is Mother Nature. She has a wonderful way of balancing things out. There is a difference between hunting for food and hunting for “sport”. Teke heed of your own quote “Those who forget the lessons of history are condemed to repeat them”. You accuse the anti’s of being emotional, I accuse you of being passionate for blood.

    • If you trouble to read my blog and my previous responses, you will find that I have answered all your points. You need to understand, Gail, that a debate involves responding to the substantive arguments put up by the other side — not merely reiterating your familiar and cliché’d prejudices.

  12. mhayworth says:

    ‘cliche’d prejudices’?

    Sadly, that fits in perfectly with the victim mentality that has been sweeping this country for the past 15 years.

    Any group that carries out activities that are abhorent to the rest of society are now merely victims of prejudice. It makes sense now that the Countryside Alliance went running to the European Court of Human Rights. Straight out of the Harriett Harmen school of logic!

  13. Pingback: Best of the other blogs 06/01/2011 « High Tory

  14. Ha bl**dy ha.

    If it’s all about the greyhounds, why use a real hare?

  15. Killing wild animals for ‘Sport ‘……. Since barbarism has its pleasures it must always have its apologists.

  16. Anna Matthews says:

    Ah Sir, I applaud your blood lust and the stalwart way in which you defend such..bravo Sir – no doubt you are saddened and somewhat glum that we cannot implement the great hunt for chavs, benefit claimants and those pesky immigrants also. I am impressed with your collection of lapel badges signifying all of the animal slaughter events you have been to, and no doubt this contributes immensely to your testosterone levels, as it should. I agree that hunting removes our intrinsic right as a hunter gatherer, and in fact would beseech you to provide me with some recipes for fox related dishes I can serve to my children, whist protecting my fundamental nature of a hunter / gatherer. I too have been considering acquiring a greyhound in order to provide meat for my table ( I live over 2 miles away from the nearest supermarket so feel the necessity of owning a good hunting beast ). I applaud you Sir in your fanatical determination to rid this world of the hare, why, only last week, one broke into my house, abducted my children, stole my purse and ate a particularly ripe Brie I had earmarked for supper. I dread to imagine a world with no predation, indeed that strikes terror into my heart….I would far sooner have a world where the odds are greatly stacked against the prey, to kill for sport…ah what glory, and to never ever eat the fruits of my labours. Such vision you have, such g

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