Rest of the World
The term ‘hunter-conservationist’ is a true paradigm. However, we can all agree that the fundamental concept of conservation is a good thing. Our wildlife is a truly special resource; as a result, its protection is of paramount importance. At the same time, the majority of people are omnivores and by definition eat meat. Whilst some people have become disconnected from the origins of the food they eat, the fact remains that meat comes from animals. Logically therefore, all people who consume meat and who support, and occasionally partake in, conservation activities are linked to the ‘hunter-conservationist’ paradigm. I believe it would be fair to say that a hunter is actually more likely to be committed to conservation than someone who simply eats meat. The reason for this is that hunters have to become far more closely integrated with nature and the animals they hunt than most other people to be successful.
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is closely tied to hunting and fishing. Furthermore, North America polices its wildlife with a dedicated Fish and Wildlife Service which is an armed federal agency with significant powers. It truly is a great example of a country fully accepting, and committing to its responsibilities. What’s also good to see is that one of its seven key features is that it uses science as the tool for the discharge of the wildlife policy. It may surprise some readers that the forefather of this conservation model was President Theodore Roosevelt who was himself an active big game hunter throughout his life.
Roosevelt understood the only way to protect the future of hunting was to protect wildlife. Some may say that it was for selfish reasons therefore that he implemented the creation of the national parks and laws to control hunting and fishing. Maybe that’s true, as his efforts certainly delivered sustainable and bio-diverse wildlife populations for Americans to hunt and fish. It could be argued that the end does not justify the means but it’s hard to see how that’s the case when wildlife has been able to flourish as a result. No one would agree that killing an animal is conserving that animal’s life but what science proves is that regulated hunting and fishing does promote wildlife species and population conservation. Sadly, some people find this hard to accept.
The UK hunting, shooting and fishing communities are, in general, committed to conservation for many of the same reasons identified above. However, the UK also has a unique history of land development through the evolution, over hundreds of years, of hunting and fishing activities. Gamekeepers, their staff and volunteers have to therefore manage both in their efforts to promote the conservation of wildlife and the wider environment. It’s sad to see these same people being blamed by the uninformed (or simply the unread) as being the enemy of wildlife and the environment. At the end of the day it’s the gamekeepers and their staff who live and work incredibly hard in these environments and with wildlife all day every day. Arguably, it is they who know the difficulties facing the environment and the wildlife living there, how to manage those issues, and the benefits for our wild places and the flora and fauna that live there of doing so better than anyone.
Conservation is very expensive and unfortunately, it’s not an area high on politicians list of things to allocate funds to as its competing against the NHS, education, policing and national security to name just a few. The long-term benefits of a healthy and diverse environment aren’t likely to be measurable in the term of a government or Prime Minister. We all know it’s votes that count and people vote for what they see benefits their lives now and not so much in the longer-term future. Such is the pity, as I would argue that people’s health and well-being would be far better if they lived in a country with a very healthy wildlife environment and one from which they were benefiting through eating some of the sustainable, ethically sourced, high protein, low fat and chemical free food it can provide.
The way in which conservation is conducted can be controversial as is seen in the almost daily tabloid attacks using factually incorrect stories, promulgated by anti-hunting organisations, as is evident today with a flurry of fake news surrounding driven shoots on grouse moors. If science were used as the tool to analyse the true situation the stories told by the press may well be very different, but unlikely to garner much interest from the reader. It is important that the truth comes out however. Not to support the shooting industry that relies on successful management of uplands for deer, woodlands and moors for shooting, river management for salmon and trout but to protect the wildlife that flourishes as a result. If game management ceases it is impossible to see the government stepping in and allocating funds, currently provided by commercial driven shooting, to continue that management. One only needs to look at the wildlife diversity state of non-managed moors to see that many species of animal and plant will be consigned to the history books as unmanaged moorland tends to disappear and be replaced by grazing land for cattle or woodland.
Conservation then, is a complex area. It’s difficult to understand how the two main contributors, hunters and animal protection agencies, to proactive conservation are at such odds in delivering it. Sadly, this isn’t often, if ever, down to scientific analysis, or even scientific interpretation, of the results. It all too often appears to be driven by the perceived controversial acts of hunting, shooting and fishing due to the killing of the prey that the protagonist intends to eat. Perception however is only ever a personal interpretation. Surely it is time then for a mature debate about hunting and shooting and the true benefits for a sustainable environment and economically viable communities when after all, the majority of us choose to eat meat.