Debate shows what's wrong with RSPCA
Along with over 150,000 other people, I attended the CLA Game Fair. I attend as a lawyer who specialises in country pursuits and who spends a lot of my working life representing clients sent to me by the Countryside Alliance. I can therefore persuade my partners that this is an event that should be considered to be work.
If they ever see through this ruse I will take the Friday off as holiday and go to the game fair anyway. It is a fantastic event that everyone who attends looks forward to throughout the year. It brings people from all over the country together in a celebration of rural pursuits, which is why it received wall-to-wall coverage on the BBC, just like Glastonbury.
Actually that's not completely true. The BBC did not report from Ragley Hall. Countryfile didn't even mention that it had happened because, for some reason, the BBC does not feel it is necessary to report what really happens in the countryside. Maybe the upcoming review of rural programming will make a difference. They really missed a trick though. The Country Life Debate alone would have been worth sending a camera crew for. Gavin Grant, the chief executive of the RSPCA, was the guest of honour. It really was a case of Daniel entering the lion's den. Despite the sweltering heat the tent was packed with people determined to hear what Gavin had to say.
We listened politely to Barney White-Spunner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, and Ian Coghill, chairman of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. But we were all waiting to find out how Gavin would react. He could have been funny and charming and self-deprecating. He could have tried to win the assembled throng over and give an insight into an alternative point of view. Gavin did not choose to do this. He began speaking as a man possessed, seemingly determined to let the audience know he despised those who had attended the debate. "If humanity makes war on nature there is only one possible outcome; humanity will be destroyed," he said, appearing to revel in the prospect.
I asked him why, given that the RSPCA deals with a population problem caused by stray and unwanted animals by culling thousands every year, he feels that he should tell other people dealing with population problems that culling is unacceptable. He ranted for a while about the nature of the question, until the audience suggested to him that he answer it. He then ranted for a while about not being shown enough respect. He then said that the RSPCA only euthanises a couple of hundred dogs every year. Other reports suggest the numbers have been in the thousands annually for many years.
My favourite moment, however, came when Gavin said that he didn't mind people killing animals to eat. "After all," he said, "coarse fishermen eat everything they catch." The tent fell about and Ian Coghill tried to gently let him know he was mistaken, at which point he shouted at the chairman of the debate: "Control your panel". It was truly hilarious and I am still enjoying the recipes for fried tench that people have been sending me.
One interesting suggestion that Gavin made was that there should be a group of hunt monitors set up who didn't have criminal convictions or a political axe to grind. I am not sure if he realised the devastating effect that this might have on anti-hunt organisations.
Barney White-Spunner quite properly told him that the hunting community would not engage with the RSPCA and their ideas on hunting until the society cleaned up its act and stopped promoting the animal rights agenda that it was embracing.
Over all it showed very clearly what is wrong with the RSPCA today. It is headed up by a man who, in my view and the view of many others, embraces the animal rights agenda over animal welfare concerns and who clearly thinks part of loving animals is to hate humans. It is a very sad direction to go in for an organisation with such a distinguished history. It showed very clearly that the people who are really concerned with ensuring that wildlife in the countryside is protected, the farmers and gamekeepers who manage the environments that wildlife thrive in, continue to do that job and enjoy the game fair. Long may it continue.
Jamie Foster is a rural law specialist with Clarke Willmott