The Ecologist

Coarse fishing on Filby Broad, Norfolk, UK. Photo: Colin via Flickr.
Coarse fishing on Filby Broad, Norfolk, UK. Photo: Colin via Flickr.
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In defence of 'In Defence of Life'

Lesley Docksey

21st September 2014

Can you be a committed nature and animal lover, and enjoy shooting and angling? Only after extraordinary mental contortions, writes Lesley Docksey - who is only mildly surprised to find out that a Facebook critic is a PR man for 'country sports and associated technologies'.

The RSPCA believes that 'sport' does not justify the causing of suffering to birds and other animals, and therefore the RSPCA is opposed to shooting for sport.

I had some incredible feedback from readers about my article 'In Defence of Life'.

What I wrote really hit the spot. Almost all are feeling what I had put into words.

But it didn't please one reader who posted an extended critique on The Ecologist's Facebook page: "Lesley Docksey's simplistic attack on shooting and angling does both pastimes and The Ecologist a great disservice."

For the sake of brevity the article had to be "simplistic", but the cases highlighted were from a long list of news items in the national and local media collected over months. Targeting of wildlife by culling is an ongoing nationwide activity. But calling the shooting of birds and animals a 'pastime' makes it clear that this is done for enjoyment, not necessity.

I have no problem with hunting for food - humans are omnivores. I personally eat little meat, and for preference that is locally-sourced and organic. I have no problem with shooting an animal that is terminally ill or too injured to save.

I also have no problem with occasional and necessary culling. For instance, rabbits pose a real problem for some farmers, and in many places there are no natural predators to exercise control over rabbit populations - mostly, one has to add, because the gamekeepers have killed the foxes, buzzards, stoats ...

Shooting and fishing

" ... the fact that there are rich and stupid people who take the law into their own hands, and governments which would rather appease the rich than follow the science, does not excuse Lesley for maligning everyone else who shoots and fishes. I shoot and fish, as do many of my friends. Some of us belong to the RSPB and RSPCA ... "

Here is the RSPCA policy on shooting:

"The RSPCA believes that 'sport' does not justify the causing of suffering to birds and other animals, and therefore the RSPCA is opposed to shooting for sport."

My critic continued:

"Nor are any of my friends rich. Many are estate workers on minimum wage whose £50 shotgun licence buys them a crop of rabbits for the pot or some fun at a clay pigeon club, and who have a £150 shotgun and cannot afford the £60,000 guns Lesley describes nor the £196 licence fee she proposes."

Rural wages being what they are, estate workers also turn out as beaters for pheasant shoots, to help boost their income. And shooting clay pigeons may be fun, but not for those who have to listen to the incessant bang-bang-bang.

Nor did I suggest that such people could afford top-of-the-range shotguns, or 'propose' a £196 licence fee. Had my critic taken more care when reading the article, he might have taken on board that £196 is what it now costs the police, and therefore the taxpayer, to issue each gun licence.

Why should the general public subsidise the pastime of shooting?

'Anglers need beavers like we need a hole in the head'

"How can she say 'Anglers like killing too' and then imply all anglers want to shoot otters? I don't, and nor do most anglers I know; there are a few fishery owners who want to protect their livelihood, which includes protecting big carp, as Lesley says. But there are many, many more who accept that otters are a natural part of the river ecology and fish alongside them."

But when the discovery of wild-living beavers on Devon's River Otter hit the media, it was followed with a knee-jerk and, dare I say it, simplistic reaction by the Anglers Trust. "Anglers need beavers like we need a hole in the head", it stated, presumably speaking on behalf of its members.

A bit more digging reveals that in March 2012 the Angling Trust wrote to Fisheries and Natural Environment Minister Richard Benyon "urging him to authorise the trapping and lethal control of beavers to halt their spread into England from Scotland."

But surely the natural ecology of a river surely should not include lead weights, lures, hooks, nylon fishing lines and other detritus left behind by anglers that can so damage wildlife? [Editor's note: only lead weights lighter than .06 grams or heavier than 28.35 grams are now permitted in the UK.]

I have never understood the sport of fishing, where an angler catches a fish by hooking it in the mouth, and following a fight with the fish, lands it, pulls the hook out of the fish (with what regard for the wound it has made?), then blithely tosses it back into the water to be caught again another day.

That is cruelty. And it's not just me that thinks so. Here is what the RSPCA has to say about angling:

"The RSPCA believes that current practices in angling involve the infliction of pain and suffering on fish. The Medway Report has proved to the satisfaction of the RSPCA that fish are capable of experiencing pain and suffering."

My critic should study it. The damage done to fish by the 'sport' of angling as detailed by the report in my opinion makes angling a blood sport.

How do you put a spin on this?

"Human beings are NOT easily divisible, as Lesley says, into those who see wildlife as 'something to be controlled or something to be killed for sport' and those who see wildlife as 'something to be protected and left alone.' This may come as a surprise to Lesley, but it is possible to be both ... "

I don't see how it is possible to be both. It certainly isn't possible to shoot and fish as a pastime while claiming to be members of the RSPCA, at least not without indulging in a great deal of self-deception.

Unless, of course, you're a PR man whose company specialises in "the transport and tourism industries, country sports and associated technologies".

I do not know if my critic's Facebook comments were made in a private or professional capacity, or in some blurry in-between zone. But a PR man is what he turned out to be.

Editor's note: We are assured that the comments were made in a purely private capacity and that the critic does not currently represent any clients in the country sports sector.



Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist on the badger cull and other environmental subjects.

See her other articles for The Ecologist.



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