In modern Britain, the quickest way to prove that you’re a good person is to show that you love animals. People share cat videos and pose with dogs in pictures for dating websites. Anyone who is seen to hurt animals — like the Danish zoo that culled a giraffe or the lawyer who clubbed a fox — is sent to a special circle of social media hell.
Those who participate in field sports reside in this inferno: the men and women who shoot, stalk or hunt. They are killers in a society that doesn’t like to see death. When polled, around 85 per cent of the British public are in favour of keeping New Labour’s hunting ban, and a majority want to extend the ban to shooting and stalking.
I consider myself an animal lover. I am vegan because I find modern farming cruel and inefficient. But I can’t join in the activists’ all-out war on field sports. I oppose hunting — in the proper English definition of hounds chasing a live quarry, usually a fox — but I support shooting and stalking under certain circumstances. Put bluntly, it’s less cruel to kill a free-living deer than a confined pig; it may even be necessary.
What matters is how animals live, and if they have space to do so. I am more affronted by chickens and cows being industrially reared, kept indoors and then slaughtered than I am by deer living wild before being killed instantly. (Good stalkers shoot only when confident of a clean kill.) Modern livestock farming takes up a third of the world’s habitable land. In contrast, field sports can protect the natural world.
Animal rights activists don’t like to hear it, but stalking can play an important role in population management.