I was pleased to be able to call yesterday for tighter rules in the debate on trophy hunting imports. I was particularly keen to make the point that, whilst a tightening of the rules on imports would be an excellent step, we must also consider the export of hunting ‘trophies’ from the UK, as we were reminded by that case on Islay last year.
You can view the debate here.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) on securing this important debate.
Trophy hunting is a particularly emotive topic but, as usual with such an issue, the situation is not entirely clear-cut. While most of us are instinctively opposed to such a practice, as I certainly am, we must surely endeavour to set that emotion aside, albeit briefly, if we are to properly consider how best to respond. While a number of animal welfare and environmental groups are firmly opposed to the practice, other institutions, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the European Parliament and the convention on international trade in endangered species maintain that trophy hunting has beneficial side-effects. Those include generating revenue for landowners to conserve or restore wildlife on their land and for wildlife management, including anti-poaching activities.
However, we must ask ourselves whether there is a better means to support those ends than revenue raised from hunting and associated tourist activities. What, after all, is the value of an anti-poaching effort for an endangered species if it is funded by the hunting of other species under the guise of big game hunting, often carried out in a merciless way, simply to secure a trophy or a photograph?
The natural assumption in this debate is that we are considering those who travel abroad from the UK for a trophy hunt, but of course the problem is broader than that. This is not just about British nationals bringing trophies back from other continents; the practice also operates the other way. Many hon. Members will recall the furore caused this time last year by an American television presenter, Miss Larysa Switlyk. She came to the beautiful island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland—I know it well—to shoot wild goats, which she then, in my opinion, glorified on social media. Those animals have no natural predator, and are classed as an invasive non-native species in the United Kingdom. They have been the subject of several official culls over the years, and they are thought to have roamed parts of Scotland and the north of England for 5,000 years. Although hunting them on private land is not illegal, we as a society were appalled at the sight of Miss Switlyk posing with one of her kills. Perhaps it was the glorification of the process and the trophy hunting element that most offended sensitivities throughout the United Kingdom.
Given our increasing concern as a nation for animal welfare, I was surprised to note that, between 2013 and 2017, trophy imports rose by 23%—a rise of almost a quarter over such a short period. That must surely be of concern worldwide, and is perhaps an indication that current regulation is ineffective. Additional red tape is seldom the solution to any problem, but do the Government—with their recent announcement of a call for evidence, they appear to be moving towards improving regulations—feel the time is now right for action? I know they have been keeping the situation under review, and although I cannot predict the outcome of that review, I hope it will be acted on and not simply placed on a shelf.
I understand the basic human need to hunt an animal to feed a family, and we must all consider rural life, in whatever country, and accept that it is perhaps unfair to apply urban values to an already fragile rural economy. Thankfully, however, hunting for food is hardly commonplace in the UK these days, and to kill purely for the purposes of hanging a memento on the wall seems, in this day and age, rather barbaric and unnecessary. Surely the days of such trophy hunting should now be behind us.
Let me close with a verse from Robert Burns, which was penned as far back as 1789. He was a farmer, and he saw the fate of a hare that was shot and not killed, but simply wounded. Strangely enough, the title of the poem is “On Seeing a Wounded Hare”. I will read the first verse:
“Inhuman man! curse on thy barb’rous art,
And blasted be thy murder-aiming eye;
May never pity soothe thee with a sigh,
Nor ever pleasure glad thy cruel heart!”
“And curse the ruffian’s aim, and mourn thy hapless fate.”