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Country Comes to Town by Harry Mather, Vegan Views 79 (Spring 98)

On the first of March (1998), well organised country-folk travelled to London to march through the town claiming they were a persecuted minority who were misunderstood by the townies. They were asking to be left alone to pursue their normal traditional ways and said they felt threatened by government directives proposed by the town-dwelling majority. The demo was well organised and well publicised. Free coaches or subsidised rail tickets were arranged. It is not surprising that large numbers took the advantage of a cheap trip up to town.

The day was timed just in advance of the Parliamentary vote on the 'anti-hunting' Bill yet the demo was supported by many who had no interest in the hunting question but had other grievances. Some felt that banning hunting with dogs would lead to the banning of shooting and angling. Beef farmers were up in arms about the fall of their sales and the low prices for their products, aggravated by seeing low priced imports coming in from Ireland and the Continent. They had held violent demonstrations at ports where Irish beef was imported and clashed with the police. To add to their woes, the Ministry of Agriculture had recently banned the sale of beef on the bone.

This resulted from a scientific study that showed that bones could be infected with BSE (mad cow disease), fearing that consumers may possibly suck the bones. There was also dismay that supermarkets were buying imported beef and did not support the British farmers.

Agricultural workers joined the march out of dissatisfaction at their low wages and lack of employment in the countryside, but presumably the blame for this lies mainly with the landowners who organised the march.

The march was also sending a signal to those seeking a 'right to roam' in the countryside that they were viewed as undesired and unwelcome. Townies are just nuisances to be confined to theme parks that can bring a profit. The encroaching of new housing on the 'green belt' was a further grievance justifiably so as there are still empty sites in the towns.

In short, they are telling us that the land belongs to them and other citizens should not interfere. The gun lobby was also there in force, protesting that their 'sport' was quite innocent and should not be interfered with. This well organised demo certainly achieved its aim of getting media attention and putting influence on the establishment. Although some reporting gave a few comments from those opposing the marchers, most reporters were overawed by the size of the demo and the arguments made by the marchers were not really refuted. So here are some of the fox hunting claims reviewed:

It is claimed that hunting controls the number of foxes. In fact hunting accounts for only a small proportion of the foxes killed. More foxes are killed on the roads. Foxes breed according to the availability of food and space. To kill one fox makes room for another one to survive. They claim that shooting foxes would leave some merely injured and subjected to a lingering death. But if they feel that birds or rabbits are too numerous, they at once get out their guns and shoot them. They don't bring out the horses and hounds to round them up. They claim that foxes are pests to farmers. But the majority of farmers do not support this. On the other hand, foxes are a nuisance to landowners who breed pheasants for shooting, which is a profitable business when they invite their townie friends to pay for a day's shooting. Local people know where the foxes are and could easily dispose of them if they were a real threat.

Foxes are accused of killing new born lambs, but research has shown that they mostly take the stillborn and the weaklings who would probably not survive. If foxes kill hens this must be due to the incompetence of those who do not make the cages secure and no foxes enter the sheds of battery hens where most hens are kept.

Country dwellers pride themselves as being the Preservers of the Countryside and that townsfolk are most likely to spoil it. How right are they? Are they keen birdwatchers, securing their habitat? Bird habitats are massively destroyed (especially hedges and woodland) and they are killed by the pesticides and herbicides extensively used in modern agriculture. Some species are nearly extinct and have to be preserved by prohibitions on shooting them.

Do they preserve the wild animals? Wild animals are also threatened by the reduction of their habitat, especially the increasing area coming under cultivation, despite regular surplus production induced by the subsidies given to agriculture. These countryside lovers had to be given subsidies to stop them tilling land that would produce surpluses.

Badgers are under threat from illegal poachers and also from legal shooting because they are suspected of spreading TB to cattle, a debated question.

Do they love the traditional landscape? Then why have they destroyed thousands of miles of hedgerows and cut down acres of mature woodland, turning many areas into alien prairie landscapes. Why do they replace the beautiful old barns with steel and concrete sheds? More could be said but the space is limited.

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Cross-reference: Hunting and Shooting