Animal Harm and Traditional Fieldsports

Chapter 5
Animal Harm and Traditional Fieldsports

This chapter discusses animal harm in relation to traditional ‘fieldsports’ as a distinct type of wildlife crime falling within the remit of animal harm. It distinguishes between the traditional fieldsports of hunting, shooting and fishing as one class or activity, and the more commercial sport and trophy hunting activities which are the subject of Chapter 7. Kean (1998) suggests that ongoing opposition to traditional fieldsports represents a shift in the historical focus of animal welfare concerns from the towns to the countryside. Thus, contemporary species justice and animal rights concerns highlight a difference between the views of rural and countryside dwellers who have historically engaged in traditional forms of sport or recreation where killing of animals is acceptable and specific ‘rural’ notions of crime may exist (Meagher 1985, Marshall and Johnson 2005), and the environmental radicalism of town-dwellers that increasingly engages with the countryside yet finds many of its practices problematic. These concerns differ from concerns about sport and trophy hunting which are primarily based around concerns over the exploitation of and threats to extinction of the more endangered or exotic species that tend to be involved in sport and trophy hunting. Whereas in the case of traditional fieldsports, the concerns of animal activists are primarily based around the perceived cruelty inherent in sporting practices which revolve around the pursuit of animals, and the perceived excessively violent nature of traditional hunting which uses trapping and killing methods considered to be inherently cruel and indiscriminate.

Traditional fieldsports are primarily focused on native wildlife where the original hunting activity was for subsistence needs but which has now been appropriated for a social (sporting) countryside purpose whether lawfully or unlawfully. The animal harm involved is frequently either some form of animal cruelty in the handling or despatch of animals, or harm caused through failure to comply with regulations and industry practices that results in a failure to prevent animal harm.

Traditional fieldsports (hunting, shooting, and fishing) are predominantly lawful although over the years a number of activities, such as hunting with dogs or animal baiting, have been criminalized yet continue as underground ‘sports’ despite the illegality of doing so. In addition, some traditional hunting activity exists in areas where hunting and its associated activities are carried out for subsistence purposes. In some cases such activities also have a traditional social meaning where groups of rural dwellers participate in the activity as a social gathering. Where this is done unlawfully (i.e. in contravention of regulations) it amounts to poaching, the illegal taking of wildlife or game animals for food, and this is covered by this chapter. However the legality of some fieldsports-related activity does not negate the illegality inherent in or associated with some activities which this chapter discusses.

A significant cause of animal harm in fieldsports is masculinities (Groombridge 1996, Nurse 2011), allied to the development of a fieldsports subculture where issues of power, dominance and control predominate and drive much animal harm. This chapter also discusses the extent to which illegal fieldsports (e.g. dog-fighting and cock-fighting) are also dominated by gambling and distinctly masculine subcultures through which a hierarchy of offending is established and developed. This includes discussion of dog-fighting ‘dogmen’ and the cultural imperative of animal harm. The chapter also considers traditional countryside activities such as hunting with dogs in the UK and explains the cultural relevance of fox-hunting, mink-hunting, cub-hunting and stag-hunting and how illegal activity related to these activities is frequently an assertion of a particular form of social identity. As a result, despite legislation to control fieldsports in different parts of the world there remains resistance to law enforcement efforts which are rooted in cultural and traditional explanations for these activities that attempt to retain such activities in the face of perceived outsider threats. Sometimes this is presented as the ‘town versus country’ and attempts to negate the legitimacy of any legal interference, or is exhibited in arguments about the thrill of the chase and the concept of a ‘fair chase’ which is enjoyed by hunter and hunted alike. But it also reveals a ‘gang’ culture and group mentality which the chapter explores by comparing illegal fieldsports (i.e. those bloodsports that rely on animal harm) to inner-city gang culture with its initiation rites, denial of authority and challenges to law enforcement. Cohn and Linzey define hunting as ‘socially condoned cruelty’, arguing that the classification of some species as game is ‘arbitrary and thus morally arbitrary’ (2009: 317). While the focus of their analysis is official classifications of game, the unofficial classification adopted by those involved in illegal activity also requires consideration. Fieldsports adherents distinguish between the suffering of animals for no purpose and the bravery and combative nature of a sport that has value to all participants (Hawley 1982, Matz 1984, Huggs 1993). Cohn and Linzey suggest that the official classification of species as game refers to ‘specific species that somehow are incapable of suffering’ or that any suffering involved was ‘necessary’ (2009: 317–18). But in the illegal fieldsports world it is precisely the ability of certain animals to withstand suffering and continue fighting (e.g. fighting cocks or dogs and badgers) that identifies them as game or worthy participants in the sport. Thus the notion that legal animal rights would make any difference (except perhaps for providing additional enforcement options) is partially flawed as a policy perspective, although it is of course entirely appropriate to consider providing legal animal rights as an additional legislative measure to address or attempt to address such harm or to provide a wider range of enforcement options. However before discussing such aspects a definition of fieldsports is necessary.

Defining Fieldsports

Chapter 7 discusses sport and trophy hunting as a separate subject primarily motivated by dominion over rare species and also linked to the illegal trade in animal derivatives such as ivory. Fieldsports as defined by this chapter includes ‘traditional’ hunting, shooting and fishing practices carried out by countryside or rural community dwellers rather than the subsistence hunting of indigenous peoples carried out specifically as an integral part of their cultural identity (Preece 1999) which is discussed in more detail in Chapter 6. However, in addition to the (mainly British) definition of fieldsports as being country sports or blood sports, this definition also includes traditional hunting carried out by rural communities and which has a social connotation. Thus the definition of traditional fieldsports in this chapter includes game shooting in rural areas of the UK, the United States and across Europe and both commercial and traditional (rather than recreational) fishing. Eliason (2003) defined hunting as performing a traditional role, where the game taken is used and wastage is ‘negatively sanctioned’ (2003: 4). This definition identifies a fieldsport as being primarily based around the ‘pursuit’ of live quarry and representing a way of life where individuals kill animals primarily for the purpose of using them for food or fur (Brymer 1991). Thus hunters trap and kill animals in order to harvest their meat as food, or to use their fur for clothing and shelter, anglers catch fish primarily for food, and farmers and others (including animal breeders) may kill animals in order to protect livestock.

However the traditional individualistic fieldsports pursuit has developed in the United States, UK and several other countries into a fieldsports industry where significant sums of money are paid to engage in traditional fieldsports. Shooting has thus become a commercialized activity with considerable economic benefits to rural economies which are otherwise in decline due to overall losses in agricultural employment and the resultant decline in the number and size of rural settlements (McManus et al. 2012). As a result, the income derived from fieldsports, despite declines in public acceptance of shooting live quarry as a recreational activity in western countries, can be significant to rural economies. Consultants PACEC, for example, concluded in 2006 that sport shooting contributed fewer than 70,000 full-time equivalent jobs and an estimated £1.6 billion (gross added value) to the UK economy. In the developing world, hunting can be a vital source of revenue for village communities who own hunting rights and are able to either exploit these rights or their own hunting expertise in order to raise much-needed income where other forms of employment are not available.

Within fieldsports a range of activities are incorporated into the broad headings of hunting, shooting and fishing. In the United Kingdom, United States and other western countries, for example, shooting can include:

• coastal wildfowling – which involves the shooting of ducks, geese and waders on coastal land;

• deer stalking – the shooting of deer for game management purposes (i.e. to keep numbers manageable) or for crop protection;

• driven game – where lowland gamebirds are flushed over the standing guns;

• walked up game: where a shooter flushes lowland game as he/she walks over the shooting ground;

• grouse shooting – (both walked up and driven);

• inland wildfowling – shooting ducks, geese and waders on inland sites;

• pest control: shooting of legitimate ‘pest species’ (usually specified in legislation) as part of sporting shooting activities. Typical pests are those species recognized as doing damage to crops including pigeons, rabbits, crows (and other corvidae);

• released birds (game birds) – shooting of birds specially bred for shooting or brought in from a game farm and released into the wild for shooting; and

• reared birds – game birds bred by the shoot provider specifically for sporting shooting and released into the wild.

(PACEC 2006: 6–29)

In African countries these definitions can also be extended to include other small to medium sized game before such shooting becomes big game hunting, as a wider range of wildlife classed as legitimate game (subject to local shooting policies and regulations) is available, and the controls on hunting as a recreational or subsistence necessity may be lower.

Hunting activities such as fox-, stag- and mink-hunting (which were all until recently lawful in the UK) have also developed from their perceived ‘pest’ control origins into leisure pursuits, as much about the sporting connotations of chasing live quarry with hounds as they are about population control of perceived pests. It is undoubtedly true that commercial fishing and game shooting industries are also allied to food consumption, and may make claims to providing healthy and nutritious alternatives to factory farmed and processed foods (British Association for Shooting and Conservation 2011). However sporting elements are also a significant factor in non-commercial hunting and fishing activities where the challenge of pitting an individual’s skills against those of live quarry which can escape are considered to be significant attractions of the sport as they are with trophy hunting (Lindsey et al. 2012).

Separate from these traditional (and legal) activities, a set of combative fieldsports have also emerged where the emphasis is less on fieldsports as a pathway to food consumption, and more on the use of animals for sport. In particular, animal-baiting activities such as badger-digging and badger-baiting are prevalent in the UK. Common factors in such activities are the pursuit of live quarry and the exploitation of animals by pitting one species against another as the following case study illustrates.

Case Study One: Badger Persecution in the UK

This case study highlights the difficulties of enforcing an area of animal harm where the nature of the offending behaviour is likely to be unaffected by a more punitive regime or the introduction of legal animal rights or legal personhood. It involves deliberate acts already prohibited by UK law.

Badger Persecution

Although badgers have been protected by a variety of different pieces of legislation some going back as far as 1835, persecution of badgers is still known to be widespread in the UK. In its 2005 fact sheet Badgers and the Law, the National Federation of Badger Groups (now called the Badger Trust) comments that ‘it is a sad fact that many thousands of badgers are still killed each year, and the incidents appear to be increasing. Also due to the nature of the crimes, there are relatively few successful prosecutions’ (2005). While exact figures are difficult to produce, estimates of 9,000–10,000 badgers killed annually are regularly produced by UK NGOs involved in badger protection.

The badger persecution problem

Evidence from investigations suggests that badger-baiting takes place throughout the UK, wherever badgers are present. Although the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 offers protection for the badger, persecution of badgers through digging and baiting is widespread. Badger-digging and badger-baiting often result in the death of badgers. Indeed, arguably this is the intent of the ‘sports’. Badger-baiting often follows on from badger-digging and the nature of these forms of persecution is that badger setts are first located and then badgers are removed from their setts and ultimately killed.

By their very nature, badger-baiting and badger-digging are offences that take place in remote areas and are difficult to detect and prosecute. Naturewatch explains that the detection and investigation of badger persecution:

is a notoriously difficult and very time-consuming operation, often without success for numerous reasons. Equally difficult is achieving a successful prosecution. Police presence is needed to make an arrest, so good-co-ordination is vital. Badger diggers are professional and in contrast the Badger Groups have an inherent weakness; they are unable to follow the case right through without the close co-operation of the police and RSPCA. Unfortunately many police forces do not view badger cruelty as important which means a lack of co-operation exists in many areas. (Naturewatch 2007)

Naturewatch highlights the fact that badger-baiters and badger-diggers are highly organized, professional and often work in groups or organized gangs. Badger-digging and badger-baiting are seen as ‘sports’ which are pursued enthusiastically by their followers. The unlawful nature of the activity means that precautions are taken against detection and while badger groups monitor badger activity at badger setts, it still remains the case that many incidents will go undetected.

The law

The main legislation protecting badgers in England and Wales is the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. This Act consolidates all previous legislation including the Badgers Act 1973 (as amended) and the Badgers (Further Protection) Act 1991. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 protects badgers in the wild and makes it an offence to wilfully kill, injure, take or attempt to kill, injure or take a badger, possess a dead badger or any part of a badger or cruelly ill-treat a badger. The Act also contains prohibited methods of taking a badger and makes it an offence to use badger tongs in the course of killing, taking or attempting to kill a badger or to dig for a badger. It is also an offence to sell or offer for sale or control any live badger; mark, tag or ring a badger; or interfere with a badger sett by damaging a sett, destroying a sett, obstructing access to a sett, causing a dog to enter a sett or disturb a badger while occupying a sett.

The potential maximum fine for each badger offence is £5,000 per offence (i.e. the amount of the fine may be multiplied by the number of badgers) and/or six months’ imprisonment. Under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 the courts may also order forfeiture of any badger or skin relating to the offence or of any weapon or article used; order destruction or disposal of dogs; or disqualify an offender from having custody of a dog.

Badgers are also protected in Scotland by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 as amended by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also specifically prohibits specified methods of taking or killing wild animals and applies to badgers, meaning that the use of illuminating devices and some snares to take or attempt to take a badger would itself be an offence. Some animal welfare legislative provisions also apply to badgers making it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering, abandon an animal in circumstances likely to result in unnecessary suffering, or carry out fighting or baiting involving badgers which would result in unnecessary suffering.

The effect of the various pieces of legislation is to give protection to badgers and their setts in the wild and make it an offence to kill or interfere with wild badgers or their setts. Where badgers are reduced into a captive state they are also protected from cruelty by animal welfare legislation.

Badger Persecution Offences

Despite this legal protection, badgers continue to suffer from illegal persecution. Although badger-baiting and badger-digging are often talked of together they are two distinctly different offences. Badger-digging is the process of digging a badger out of its sett. Naturewatch provides the following description:

Small terriers are sent down into a badger sett to locate a badger and hold it at bay. The men then dig their way down to their quarry and drag the badger out of the sett. Many diggers attach a radio transmitter to the dog’s collar before sending it below ground so that they can use a radio receiver/locater to determine the exact location of the dog.

If it’s lucky the badger will be shot but usually the men will set their terriers on the badger and watch it suffer a long and agonising death, stabbing it with shovels for good measure. At times, the dogs and the badgers may die when the sett collapses and suffocates them. (Naturewatch 2007)

Badger-baiting is a separate activity; the process of digging a badger out of its sett and then later setting dogs on it in a barn, shed or cellar where the sport can take place undetected. The practice was, in fact, a form of public entertainment in the early nineteenth century but dates back to medieval times. Naturewatch explains that the badger is:

placed into a makeshift arena, a ring or pit from which it cannot escape. Dogs are then set upon it. The badger is often ‘nobbled’ by having its jaw broken, back legs tied together or even broken to allow the dog a better chance of survival. (Naturewatch 2007)

Even if the badger is lucky enough to get the better of one dog, the owner may hit or otherwise injure the badger in order to ‘protect his pet’. The reality of badger-baiting is that the outcome for the badger is never in doubt and, ultimately, no matter how well it tries to defend itself, the badger, through injury and exhaustion, will reach a state when it will not be able to fight any longer. The baiters will then kill the badger, usually by clubbing or shooting it. NGOs and the police are in agreement that money regularly changes hands in badger-baiting incidents, often in large sums. The Metropolitan Police explain that badger-baiting ‘has become more common in the last 20 years’ and that ‘large sums of money are often involved and it is usually the case that those involved in badger crime are also involved in other series crime’ (Metropolitan Police Website 2012). Baiting is a highly organized contest, usually held away from the sett, and at baiting events spectators bet on the performance of the dogs against the badger and similar to the money and association with dogs in dog-fighting, masculinities and identification with the more powerful dogs are significant factors.

Enforcement activity

In relation to badger-digging and badger-baiting, enforcement activity is carried out in two ways; prevention and detection of problems at setts by volunteer badger group members1 and apprehension of offenders and prosecution by the statutory agencies. While the focus of UK wildlife law enforcement is mainly the detection and apprehension of offenders rather than the prevention of wildlife crime, badger-baiting is one area where some dedicated crime prevention takes place, although this is carried out by NGOs. Volunteers from badger groups carry out monitoring activity on badger setts and this volunteer activity can reveal criminal activity. Badger groups actively report incidents to the police for investigation but there is no co-ordinated police action aimed at detecting and preventing badger crime.

Practical enforcement problems

By its very nature, much badger persecution takes place in remote areas where it would not be encountered either by police officers involved in their normal duties or by members of the public. Badgers are mainly nocturnal animals with a widespread distribution in the UK and so the likelihood of members of the public viewing persecution incidents taking place is slight. NGO Scottish Badgers explain that:

Contraventions of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, like so many other wildlife offences, are difficult to prosecute. The very nature of the locus, often in remote areas, means that there are rarely any witnesses. Often the crime is not noticed until some time after it is committed by which time any evidence left at the scene by the perpetrator has been destroyed by the elements. It is an onerous task for the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer to investigate an offence and to gather sufficient evidence for a prosecution to proceed. It is the duty of the police and not private individuals or badger groups to investigate offences. (Hutchison 2000: 1)

It remains the case, however, that the detection of badger persecution relies heavily on the work of volunteer monitors (the badger groups) to identify offences. Badger-diggers and badger-baiters operate in gangs and while the RSPCA has had some success in undercover operations aimed at gaining intelligence on these gangs or on infiltrating gangs (see Saunders 2001) the part-time nature of much wildlife policing and the lack of resources to investigate badger crime in any co-ordinated way means that many cases are not being proceeded with and are not being taken. Where cases are being taken they are relatively few in number and mainly rely on the work of the RSPCA in England and Wales.

One case highlights the difficulties involved in bringing cases to court. In February 2002, six men were acquitted of charges relating to digging for badgers and causing cruelty to a dog at Dolgellau Magistrates Court, North Wales.

The six defendants, four from Wales and two from Lancashire, were charged with interfering with a badger sett by causing a dog to enter a sett, damaging a part of a badger sett and disturbing a badger while occupying a sett. The events took place at a badger sett in Llanfrothen, Gwynedd, North Wales on 22 July 2001. One defendant was additionally charged with causing unnecessary suffering to an animal by allowing a dog to go to ground and receive injuries. The men were found allegedly digging a badgers’ sett in a wood near Llanfrothen, they were accompanied by a dozen dogs and the court heard that two dogs were seen trying to get into a tunnel at the bottom of the hole and a squealing noise could be heard. When one of the dogs, a terrier called Wilf, was pulled out of the tunnel it was heavily bloodstained and had badger hairs in its mouth. The activities of the men were typical of badger-digging yet the men told police that they were digging for a fox which had gone to ground, a lawful activity at the time of the offences.

All six men told the court that they were hunting for foxes and denied that they had visited the site to dig for badgers. The prosecution argued that this was not the case, that there was evidence of badger-digging and that the men would have been aware that the site was a badger sett. The prosecution also alleged that the injuries to the dog were consistent with badger-digging activities. However, a witness for the defence, veterinary surgeon Madalene Forsyth of Helmsley, York, disagreed and said that Wilf’s injuries were ‘absolutely typical’ of a fox bite (Liverpool Daily Post, 27 February 2002).

The six men were acquitted after deliberations by magistrates. The Chairman of the Bench said that the prosecution had failed to prove that the site was an active badger sett and magistrates agreed that the defendants were fox-hunting on the day. The lack of resources to clearly establish the presence of badgers hampered the prosecution’s attempt to establish the exact nature of the alleged offenders’ activities and to prove that a badger crime was being attempted.

Such case studies illustrate the persistent, deliberate nature of certain aspects of animal harm and the criminality involved. This criminality is frequently linked to notions of tradition and an allegiance to a higher power (Sykes and Matza 1957) such that offenders committed to their chosen form of animal harm find themselves both unwilling and unable to depart from their offences.

Fieldsports and Tradition

Moral culpability policies are employed by NGOs according to the social legal perspective on animal harm where NGOs consider that an activity is morally wrong and should not be allowed to continue. There is some overlap here with green criminology’s and utilitarianism’s animal rights perspective in which the issue of human action in relation to other sentient beings is questioned. In particular, there are questions concerning whether it is morally right for humans to inflict pain and suffering on animals or to kill or take them for the purpose of sport. For example, LACS’s long-running campaign to ban hunting with dogs in the UK (which ran for almost 80 years) was primarily based on discussions concerning whether it was right to chase and terrify animals if the intention of activities such as fox-hunting was predator control. LACS argued that the purpose of such activities was primarily sport and thus this represented a form of animal harm that should be prohibited by legislation. Hunt supporters argued both that hunting with hounds was, in the case of foxes at least, not only a form of predator control but also a traditional countryside recreational activity enjoyed by a range of individuals.