Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech included the line “Legislation will also be brought forward to ensure the United Kingdom has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare.” Behind that statement resides a suite of proposals in Defra’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare published today.
In this blog, we explore some of these proposals and we will provide further updates as more detail emerges.
The government wants to recognise animals as sentient beings in law so that government ministers are held accountable to Parliament for the way they take animal welfare into account when making policy decisions.
Our position is that the welfare needs of animals are already covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and inter-related advice, guidance and codes of practice.
We will be scrutinising the legislation to ensure that it does not pave the way for damaging measures to be taken against sustainable shooting and conservation.
The government is considering a close season for brown hares and there are a number of reasons why we are opposed to this.
There is no evidence that shooting has caused a decline in the English population of brown hares. The main cause of decline is habitat loss and the lack of predator control.
Local populations can vary hugely and they are scarce is some areas of England whilst over-abundant in others.
Land managers need flexibility of approach in controlling local populations and a close season would be a barrier to this.
The key animal welfare issue for hares is tackling illegal hare coursing that is rife in the countryside and linked to gangs involved in other criminal activities. It is good to see a commitment in the action plan to crack down on this.
BASC lobbied hard against last year’s proposal to ban all hunting trophies entering or leaving the UK.
The good news is that a ban on the export of hunting trophies is off the agenda. Such a ban would have had a detrimental impact on the management of large mammals in the UK, including deer.
The proposals in the action plan are “to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals abroad” and the meaning of ‘endangered’ has yet to be defined.
BASC supports the sustainable harvest of wildlife in the UK and overseas and the import and export of trophies arising from such harvesting where they are clearly proven to be from a sustainable source; noting that well-regulated trophy hunting programmes play an important role in delivering benefits for both nature and people.
A ‘call for evidence’ will be launched on the use of snares.
Snares are a humane and necessary countryside management tool used by gamekeepers and others in accordance with the Fox snaring and control in England Code of Practice.
However, antis have exploited the mis-use of snares by some to attack the practice as a whole.
BASC remains committed to defending snares as a legitimate management tool.
The action plan proposes to “ban remote controlled electronic training collars”.
BASC’s view is that the use of such collars by experienced trainers can save the lives of animals who do not respond to rewards-based training.
People with an interest in sustainable shooting and conservation are closely tuned into nature and we care deeply for the welfare of all animals.
Improving standards of animal welfare in the UK is a positive move but it is worrying that the government is conflating animal rights with wildlife management and conservation in its action plan.
It is also a concern that the government’s proposals around animal sentience could open up a pandora’s box of unintended consequences for society. For whilst we may well be a nation of animal lovers we are also a nation of animal eaters.
Proposals aimed at appeasing animal rights activists who operate on the fringe of society will merely encourage even more extreme policy initiatives and that is already evident from the Act Now For Animals wish list recently published by the League Against Cruel Sports on behalf of a coalition of 50 charities.
Whilst an animal rights agenda may resonate in some Whitehall circles and on social media rural MPs could soon find themselves defending policies that are out of touch with their constituents.
As things stand nothing will change overnight. Many of the proposals that could impact shooting are years in the making and we will come back to each of these topics in more detail in due course.
Meanwhile BASC’s political and policy teams will be working hard to ensure that MPs and civil servants make informed decisions at every step of the policy ladder and we will use our legal fighting fund to take action where we see process failures that disproportionately impact on sustainable shooting and conservation.