Snake oil, or forked tongues? Falsehoods fail to silence hunting critics

“Carpet baggers and snake oil salesmen” is how pro-hunt website ‘The Aldenham’ described the highly knowledgeable, and in some cases, eminent speakers, who will present at our hunting symposium at the University of Winchester, on 28th November. The symposium will scrutinise the effectiveness of the Hunting Act 2004, which famously banned hunting with dog packs, infuriating red-coated hunters across the English and Welsh country sides. Despite its overwhelming popular support, the Conservative government is committed to repealing or weakening this Act. Even their humiliating U-turn when they recently attempted to do so in the House of Commons appears not to have weakened their resolve.

Accordingly, the Winchester symposium will include a detailed analysis of the Hunting Act’s effectiveness by animal law barrister Noel Sweeney, along with a fascinating range of presentations from a diversity of other experts. World leading primatologist Dr Jane Goodall is engaged in charitable work abroad, but has prepared a special presentation about the impacts of hunting on chimpanzees, which she will deliver by video. Is hunting a noble tradition, freeing the landscape from dangerous predators which are given quick, clean deaths? Or is it indeed an outdated blood sport, with no legitimate place in civilised society? This symposium will provide some of the answers.

As members of the academic community, we at the University of Winchester are committed to providing every possible opportunity to ensure a diverse and balanced range of viewpoints can be heard at all of our symposia. Accordingly, given our range of anti-hunting speakers, we’ve also made every effort to locate speakers willing to provide arguments in support of hunting. In any of its diverse forms. We have scoured the academic literature to search for authors who might have published even the most tenuous defences of hunting. We have invited every pro-hunting organisation we have heard of or been informed about. We have contacted contacts of contacts of contacts who might possibly know of anyone willing to defend hunting. Anyone at all. And yet, we have only been able to find two such speakers.

Still, two is better than none. Or so we thought – until now. Despite being extended multiple invitations to speak, and indeed, every courtesy, leading pro-hunting organisation the Countryside Alliance has declined to speak, and instead has published a
scathing attack on our speakers and symposium. Following which, our two pro-hunting speakers – one of whom is a paid consultant for the Countryside Alliance – have withdrawn.

This follows a similar range of disturbing tactics, by other pro-hunting speakers and their organisations. One refused to speak unless provided double the time allotted to everyone else. Another made allegations about the criminal behaviour of another speaker, and tried to get him banned. We took this most seriously, of course. But on investigating in some depth, we found those allegations to be grossly overstated. Disturbingly, that hunt supporter is a serving Conservative politician. And now, ‘The Aldenham’ has published the bold headline “Hunting Symposium cancelled,” presumably in the hope that our audience will not turn up. This is, of course, blatantly false.

Clearly, some leading sectors of the hunting community are extremely concerned about our symposium, and are trying very hard to ensure their critics are silenced. And yet, the more they try to prevent those critics from being heard, the more interested I think we should all be in hearing exactly what it is that they are trying to say.

If they do actually have any plausible arguments in favour of hunting, hunting advocates should have the courage to present them within an academic forum, and to attempt to defend them. If not, they should have the decency to admit as much, and stop trying to prevent their opponents from being heard.

NB: These are my personal views, and do not necessarily represent those of the University.

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Prof. Andrew Knight is Director of Winchester's Centre for Animal Welfare