This is another episode of the podcast where I talk with the representative of a political party. The goal is, as always, to dig a little deeper into some of the issues affecting the outdoors lifestyle. This time our guest is Pippa Hackett who is a Green Party Councillor and a spokesperson on Agriculture, Food, Forestry, Heritage & Animal Welfare.
Once again I want to include the disclaimer that it is not my intention to promote any political party. Instead, I want outdoors enthusiasts to be aware of how their support for a particular option might impact the activities they love.
Hen harriers are ground-nesting birds of prey whose UK population is in critical condition. Unfortunately, time after time we hear that a hen harrier has been killed illegally on grouse moors, a heavily-managed grouse habitat used for driven grouse shooting. In this episode, I discuss this hot issue with a field sports journalist Matt Cross.
You have probably heard a dozen times that I am a semi-retired, obsessive, shark angler. So, ever since I started the podcast I wanted, one day, to have an episode with someone from the Shark Trust. Well, that day is today. Our guest is Ali Hood the Director of Conservation in Shark Trust and we spent over an hour talking sharks!
It was especially important for me to talk with Ali about the role of anglers in shark conservation. We also discussed three species of sharks that I am particularly interested in from an angling perspective: porbeagle shark, sixgill shark and mako shark. But we discussed much more than that and all of it very interesting.
So if you want to learn about sharks and shark conservation, crack open a can of your favourite beverage, sit back and listen up.
This episode of the podcast is going to take you back in time to the Pleistocene epoch of the Quaternary period, an epoch often referred to as the Ice Age. Our guest is Richard Doran Sherlock who has a particular interest in Quaternary science and megafaunal collapse. Over the years Richard has worked in many capacities including research for rewilding projects and not-for-profit groups.
Since I also have a keen interest in natural history I was really glad when Richard accepted my invitation to the podcast. So, it is my pleasure to present to you an episode where we talk about Pleistocene megafauna and have a healthy discussion about what might have caused its extinction. We also touch briefly on rewilding, a topic to which we may devote an episode of its own.
I want to add a few comments to a recently published blog post about fox hunting with hounds. The issue has to do with opposition to fox hunting. I hit on this briefly in that previous post because there is no way to talk about fox hunting without mentioning its opponents. I have had a few interactions online with folks who are wholeheartedly opposed to fox hunting and I have come to an interesting conclusion about their motivations.
I started it all by wondering aloud about how many opponents of fox hunting with hounds are also advocates for the re-introduction of wolves into the landscape. I was thinking that wolves inevitably kill foxes in the same way as hounds do. It is called intra-guild predation, or IGP. It is the killing of potential competitors within an ecosystem. IGP is a combination of competition and predation, i.e., both species rely on the same prey resources and one benefits from preying on the other. For example, the reintroduction of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the United States caused a significant drop in the coyote population through intra-guild predation.
Since foxes and coyotes are different I wanted to find out what the interaction between wolves and foxes really looks like. So, I spent several hours trying to find relevant articles and papers. Unfortunately, most of the materials I was able to find were related to ecosystems in the United States. There the IGP looked like this. The greater number of wolves drove down the population of coyotes, which released the pressure on foxes, whose population then went up . Obviously, I am grossly oversimplifying. But, this seemed to challenge my original theory that the reintroduction of wolves into an ecosystem would drive down the fox population.
Then I found a paper in Nature magazine that described the European ecosystem. In Scandinavia, the lynx occupies the place between wolves and foxes. The dynamics between species were fairly similar with the exception that in places with no lynx, indeed, the presence of wolves caused a permanent decrease in the fox population . So this article supported my initial thoughts.
I thought that people who oppose hunting with hounds have foxes’ welfare first and foremost on their minds. To my surprise, it turned out they are completely okay with a fox being killed by a lynx or a pack of wolves. They claim that this is natural, contrary to the “unnatural” killing by humans hunting with dogs. In my opinion, this reasoning is flawed in a couple of ways.
Firstly, a natural killing by wolves isn’t any less painful than an “unnatural” killing by dogs. A fox, which is just about to be torn apart alive, is not any more at peace with its fate because it’s a pack of wolves, rather than hounds, that does the killing.
Secondly, hunting by humans is as natural as hunting by wolves. We are a part of nature. Unless, of course, someone thinks that we were dropped here by aliens. Mainstream science tells us that first stone tools and butchering marks on animal bones were found as early as 2 million years ago . Roughly the same time as the dating of the first fossil specimen of a modern fox, that was discovered in Hungary . So, human hunters have been here as long as these other species!
In the end, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that wildlife welfare does not matter to some who oppose fox hunting. They are just interested in imposing their own moral and ethical choices on others. “I don’t give a damn about the foxes, I just don’t want those blokes to go hunting”. This attitude is not productive. If we want to implement effective policies to protect wildlife and its habitat, we need to throw away emotional arguments and personal dislikes. The only way to get positive results is by looking at the scientific data and working with all stakeholders like sportsmen, ecologists and farmers.
It all started on Twitter. Shaun contacted me and casually suggested that I record an episode of the podcast from South Africa. We exchanged a few messages and Shaun sent me a few photos. It quickly became obvious that he can talk for hours about riding a mountain bike in the stunning landscapes of South African game reserves. In the episode Shaun describes not only the South African mountain biking scene but we also talk about encounters with African wildlife. Yes, it’s pretty scary at times! This episode undoubtedly can give you an idea for a bucket list mountain biking trip.
Recently I have read a lot of articles, blogs and press releases about fox hunting with hounds. The vast majority was negative. They were pointing out the cruelty of the endeavour and the callousness of participants. There were even reports about protesters clashing with hunt supporters. Also in my own circle, fox hunting with hounds is often criticized by people who otherwise don’t have an issue with hunting in general. In fact, this type of hunting has its opponents in other parts of the world too. For example, American outdoorsman Steven Rinella in his book Meateater, which I reviewed in episode 2, tells his own story about hunting with hounds. He describes how his initial negative childhood experience was turned around in his thirties when he hunted with a professional houndsman.
The best way to form an opinion is to have a first-hand experience. Early this year, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend with a fellow outdoorsman, and our guest on episode 33, Aaron Turner. After finishing breakfast in his farmhouse, we headed for the hills where a few houndsmen and their dogs were in the middle of a hunt. We quickly took an elevated position on one of the fields and began glassing to locate the hunting pack. Initially, we spotted only two leading hounds, but after a short while the main pack of about 16 dogs emerged from the nearby forestry. Soon we could hear the dogs baying.
Baying is a loud sound made by a hound when it picks up a scent trail. It resembles something between barking and howling. It is meant to let other hounds in the pack know that a new trail has been picked up. I must admit that it was truly remarkable to observe those dogs hunting. They ran the surrounding hills like it was nothing! We could see them crossing the field a few meters away in one direction, and just a few minutes later we could see the entire pack again on the skyline on the hills a few miles away in the opposite direction. It was also amazing to see the phenomenal level of control a houndsman has over the pack. Once he started calling his dogs, they quickly dropped the trail, aborted the hunt, and began running towards him. My friend observed that often people who criticize hunting with hounds are unable to call their toy dog back from the park.
The hunt itself is quite random in nature. Hounds pick and lose scent trails many times during each hunt. Some dogs in the pack lose the trail and others pick it up. There is no guarantee however that they will pick up the same trail that the previous dogs lost. In addition, dogs can’t tell from the scent which way the animal went. As a result, they might hunt in the opposite direction and eventually lose the trail again. That is not a problem however, as catching or killing an animal is not really the purpose of the hunt. In reality, dogs are often fed before the hunt which makes them slower and consequently less likely to catch fast-moving critters like hares. What counts is the time spent outdoors with the dogs.
It is hard to avoid the impression that most of the critics of hunting with hounds either live in urban areas or just moved to the countryside from a city. This usually means that they are missing the connection with the land and the wildlife. They only kind of understand the circle of life. They do not farm and are oblivious to issues like the necessity of predator control. The sight of a dead aminal is alien to them as they were comfortably isolated from such things while going about their city lives. However, if a fox snatched their cat or small dog they’d be up in arms that someone should do something about it! Then, I suspect, they would be much more tolerant of lethal fox population control.