01/11/2011 07:31 GMT | Updated 31/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Protecting Wild Mammals From Cruelty

I did not realise that my measured article about my use of dogs to manage the wild deer on my farm would coincide with that of Joe Duckworth, the Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). However I do think the two blogs side by side on this website created a somewhat comic effect.

Mr Duckworth is attempting to portray the Hunting Act as a well drafted piece of legislation which he will not flinch from using at every opportunity to fight a violent sinister evil criminal conspiracy that holds rural communities in a grip of terror. However, just down the road from his flagship deer sanctuary and under the noses of his team of monitors I've continued to set my dogs after wild deer in flagrant breach of the law.

When I talk privately to even the most earnest anti-hunt activist they acknowledge that the law is far from perfect however they say it is all we have got and LACS are merely trying to make the best of a bad job.

One of the many reasons that the Hunting Act is a bad law is that it does not distinguish between actions that are cruel and those that are not cruel. This can easily be seen from my case where to flush and chase a wild deer with dogs to disperse it is a criminal offense but to do the same thing and then gun it down is not. A recent news story about a young stag shot near to me by poachers brings this home. The stag was shot twice in the back and once in the stomach and ended up dieing in the woodland where it fled to undoubtedly in extreme agony.

Both LACS and the pro hunt Countryside Alliance have expressed outrage at this and rightly so. However if I had been obeying the law as Mr Duckworth claims to think people should then I could well have had this animal shot and the same fate might have befallen it.

The failure of the Hunting Act begs the question what legal protection should we give to wild mammals. To answer this we need to ask what we want to protect them from. I believe there is a simple answer to this.

We want to protect them from cruelty.

So what is the best way to protect wild mammals from cruelty? Well let's have a look at other successful laws. We protect people against rape by making it illegal to rape someone. The law against theft makes it illegal to steal things. The murder act - makes, yes you've guessed it murder illegal. Is anyone seeing the pattern?

So why can't we ban cruelty to wild mammals? Why can we not have a law which makes all cruelty to them illegal. It is accepted that not all hunting with dogs is cruel and that is why the law has exemptions making some forms legal. However, no one seriously believes these make much sense. Nor would anyone argue that hunting with dogs is the only way in which one can cause cruelty to wild mammals. Why not ban all cruelty howsoever it is caused?

There has long been a proposal to do just that. It defines cruelty as causing unnecessary suffering to wildlife - a definition LACS accept and it revises existing law which makes only certain means of being cruel to a wild mammal illegal to making all such cruelty illegal.

Any willful action which caused unnecessary suffering to any wild mammal would become a criminal offense.

Possibly the most fervent opponent of making it illegal to be cruel to a wild mammal in any way are the League Against Cruel Sports. This is because their main aim is not combating cruelty but people. Their previous Chief Executive let the cat out of the bag when discussing the idea of banning cruelty:

"The problem with that suggestion is that someone would actually have to be cruel to the animal before they could be charged with any offense."

What is important to him is not whether someone is being cruel but getting people they don't like prosecuted.

What the LACS also don't care about is cases where cruelty can be demonstrated but is not illegal. One example of this is their treatment of wild deer on their own sanctuaries which as been the subject of much criticism. Ten years ago it was reported that over a hundred of these animals died in agony. If that had happened on a farm with domesticated animals there would have been serious criminal charges. However even if it was a consequence of LACS deliberate actions and however much cruelty was caused the law does not currently create any offence.

We need a fair, liberal law against all cruelty to wild mammals not one which is based on ignorance and spite and used by a prejudiced and extreme group against a minority.