Countrymans Weekly

The Ravens Of Carn Fadryn

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The opportunity to spend a few days in North Wales was too much to resist, even for this hermit. We booked a cracking cottage (Ty Bwclyn) near Dinas on the Llyn Peninsula, set below a 370m hill called Carn Fadryn. Compared to nearby Snowdonia, the granite-tipped crag was insignificant yet was set to capture my interest far more than the highest mountain in Wales (which we conquered later in the week). Rising from a sea of lush, rolling sheep pasture Carn Fadryn looms like a vast green and grey pyramid. Half of the base is draped in a skirt of conifers, the rest is pink heather, bracken and granite. On the opposite side to my view were the remnants of an Iron-Age fort. From the first evening, sitting in the warm autumn garden watching the carn, I was intrigued at the hierarchy of avian activity from base to summit. There was a granite scar at the bottom of the carn, a few hundred yards from the cottage garden, which was home to a raucous colony of jackdaws and a pair of kestrels. Watching the antics of the jakes and the hunting ‘windhovers’ was entertainment enough on the first evening but then at about seven o’clock I kept hearing strange sounds above the cottage and watched a procession of large crows beating their way towards Carn Fadryn’s summit. Ravens … an alien species to this Norfolk dweller. The percussive sound of pinion feathers powerfully sweeping the air reminded me of the mute swans passing overhead on the Norfolk Broads. The triple ‘cronk’ confirming the identity.

I don’t see ravens in Norfolk, so know little of their habits. Though I have seen and photographed them in Cumbria, The Pennines and Coastal Cornwall, I had always regarded them as relatively anti-social birds like carrion crows. Perhaps just pairing for the breeding season? What I saw up on top of Carn Fadryn over last week completely altered that misconception. Every evening, the ravens soared in from all points of the compass to congregate around the summit. Through my binoculars I watched not just a gathering roost but a celebration of acrobatics. Wheeling and diving, chasing in pairs, soaring on the thermals. All the while, at the base of the mount, the jackdaws hassled and harried … often taking off from the scar like a flock of noisy racing pigeons to wheel and soar before returning to the sharp, narrow ledges. From time to time, a pair of buzzards would leave the pine forest to ride the hill’s thermal helter-skelter only to be challenged from above by the ravens and from below by the jackdaws. A skirmish the raptors were destined to lose every time I watched it. Thus was the hierarchy. The jackdaws held the sheep meadows and the scar. The kestrels held the wires and the sedges from whence they drew their voles. The buzzards held the conifer wood and the ravens defended the high peak as they probably had in Vortigen and King Arthurs day.

Snowdon? What a miserable affair that was. Glorious weather (18oC) and views until half way up then the clouds swept in. My stumpy Norfolk legs were ill-prepared for the ascent and hugging the trig point at the top in pouring rain, a 30mph wind and a temperature of 5oC was more in relief than celebration. Like all high hills it was devoid of wildlife above 600m in such conditions, so (for me) just a boring lump of rock. But, hey … I did it. For me, probably my last ‘mountain’. I prefer the lower hills and rolling coastal footpaths, which offer both scenery and wildlife.

My biggest disappointment with Llyn was a failure to see either peregrine falcons or red kites on the coastal cliffs. I saw choughs, though from too far to photograph. The kites have probably drawn away to some commercial feeding centre where carrion is thrown to them so that tourists can watch them, robbing the raptors of their natural hunter / scavenger skills. A ridiculously cruel ‘un-wilding’.

This was my first trip to North Wales and I loved it. Betys-y-Coed, Beddgelert, Porthmadog, Abersoch, Porthor and Aberdaron are all recommended. As is the Ffestiniog Steam Railway.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2015.

The Cruel Truth

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Three for the pot

As a hunter, writer and blogger, I frequently hear the word cruelty … usually in a critical sense and aimed at me. I use the word myself (often) but I actually understand its context. Many of my critics don’t. Cruelty is an important and very emotive word when used in both shooting and anti-shooting circles. The Collins English Dictionary definition of cruelty is deliberate infliction of pain or suffering”. I, certainly, never point a rifle at any quarry with the intention of anything other than instant dispatch. I’m broad shouldered enough to  deflect such accusations and I can’t help smiling inwardly at the behaviour of many people who call my activities ‘cruel’. The old adage “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind. Facebook is littered with argument and counter-argument regarding who are the cruel and who are the kind. I saw an interesting double-photo tonight pressing the point. It showed an overcrowded battery farm stuffed with chickens and a single buck standing in a woody glade. It asked the question “What type of life did your meat have?” A superb way to make a point but probably completely lost on the ‘misinformed’.

Some animals are capable of extreme cruelty, yet escape the attention or wrath of those opposed to hunting or shooting. Watch a domestic cat toy with a field mouse, encouraging it to squeal and squeak, torturing it before killing it. Yes, that’s your dear little moggy you’re watching … but he’s only playing, isn’t he? Check out the aftermath of the vixens visit to a hen-house and imagine how she terrorised the birds, herding them into corners before seizing them and tearing off their heads with no intention of eating them all. Deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. The mink (that tyro released into the British countryside by idiots who thought that fur production was ‘cruel’) does the same in the duck pond. Even that iconic riverside mammal, the otter (seen all too infrequently) is capable of wanton and needless slaughter.

If you want to call the three-second twitch of a shot rabbit as its senses shut down ‘cruel’ then that’s fine by me. I will overlook your ignorance but I would like to invite you to watch the slaughter of a beast under religious direction, with no regard to the animals welfare or natural rights.

Please, don’t ever call me or my hunting brothers and sisters ‘cruel’ while you tolerate this inhumane treatment of animals for fear of being politically incorrect. Go take your protests to the really ‘cruel’ in this (or any other) country. And that includes the animal charities who purport to rescue but actually end up culling thousands of animals every year. Good intentions but poor management.

Funny word, ‘cruel’, isn’t it?

©Wildscribbler, August 2015

Tradition and Trolls

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I’ve never had the privilege of sitting in a grouse butt on the Glorious 12th and (as a shooter who prefers the silent stealth of the air-gun over the blast of the shotgun) I probably never will. Yet I watched with interest the political parrying in the lead up to this traditional, annual event. The RSPB and that pompous hypocrite Mark Avery once again exposed their tendency to try to manipulate the media by (on the eve of the 12th) spinning out a four month old tale of a dead hen-harrier allegedly shot by a grouse moor manager or keeper? Absolutely no proof, of course, but a story hidden for 16 weeks  and only released to try to undermine a long-standing British tradition. I have been attacked myself recently (on this blog) by people who say that my insistence that rural traditions such as fox-hunting need to be protected is indefensible because society has ‘moved on’ and mankind no longer needs to go out and hunt. One imbecile even went as far as to say that we don’t need to hunt now and kill for the table, we can get in a car and go to the supermarket. Does he think the bullock that provided the beef in his quarter-pounder committed suicide?

Many of us still hunt or fish for the pot. Rabbit, deer, pigeon, wildfowl, squirrel, coarse or sea fish. Free, unprocessed and untainted food won through fair and legal means. The fact that anti-hunting types think that their supermarket meat or fish arrives on the plate through some process that avoids ‘killing’ highly amuses me. We hunters and anglers, of course, know how to process our meat or fish, select the healthy cuts and ensure we only put the best on our menu. We will have selected the right beast for the cull with a view to this, whether mammal, bird or fish. My home-made rabbit burger won’t have horse meat in it. The venison sausages passed to me by the stalker came from the same pure Norfolk acreage where I shot the rabbits. Air-mile free, unlike the venison haunch in the supermarket bearing a ‘New Zealand’ label.

Perhaps though, the resentment shown by ‘antis’ to those of us who hunt and fish is more deep-rooted? Based on incapacity? To go out into the countryside to gather your own harvest means you have to get off the sofa, turn off the TV, and shut down the PC or iPad. You need to pull on a pair of boots, buy a gun (and have the legal credibility to do that), train a dog … even own a car? All of a sudden it’s a challenge, isn’t it? Who’s going to look after the cat (who killed fifty songbirds already this year). Who’s going to cash the benefit cheque tomorrow? And most ‘anti’s’ don’t do challenge unless a cosmetic company funds a ‘whip round’ for a mini bus, some crow bars and a set of balaclavas. The higher level ‘anti’s’ … and by that I mean the celebrity wildlife quasi-ecologists who will tell the public that foxes and badgers are just “doing what they do”, rarely visit the real countryside. They visit sanitised, clinically managed reserves. People like Avery, Packham, Oddie, May and that foul-mouthed cretin, Gervais (who has probably never got further than Hampstead Heath?)

If homo sapiens had never learnt to hunt, we wouldn’t be here now. We would have been superceded by a species that had the capacity to wipe us out. Probably, the wolf. Isn’t it ironic that it is the relationship with the wolf, which fuelled it’s domestication, that turned us into the most efficient hunting combination on the planet. Man and dog. Yet a political manifesto, in the UK, has successfully constrained that relationship. For now. But just look at the history books. Those who challenge injustice generally win. We just have to be persistent. Hunting has been part of mankind’s psyche since our primeval ancestors stood on two legs. We mastered it and became Earth’s dominant species. We should bear no shame for that achievement. We are, though, the only species on the planet that encourage the weak to survive. The only species to invent concepts like ‘cruel’ or ‘brutal’ and to understand (or misunderstand) the meanings.

So, coming back to the opening point … tradition?  If we follow the argument that society has ‘outgrown’ old traditions then surely we would finish the monarchy? So, with no Royalty, there can be no Royal Society for the Protection of Birds? There can be no Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I’m sure none of us want that?

Just saying !

Copyright, Ian Barnett, WildScribbler, August 2015

The Misinformed (Part Two)

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A piece I put up on here earlier this week seemed to have provoked much interest and emotion (The Misinformed). Many people took it to be a defence of foxhunting (a passionate and divisive subject) and so launched into the usual diatribes about hounds ripping animals apart and a perceived hunting elite charging about in red coats? That was not the purpose of my post at all. If you read through liberal eyes and not an anti-hunting (the term hunting covers a plethora of activities) red mist then you will realise I was questioning how the future of our species will cope if ‘progress’ smothers the bushcraft and fieldcraft skills that we have developed across several millennia. Skills that dragged us from crawling on all fours to the highly developed species we are today. I must admit to being amazed at the few critics of my piece who said that now, in the 21st century, we have evolved beyond the need for hunting? And again I am taking that as a broad-brush statement meaning that these folk think that we have evolved beyond killing an animal for the table, to protect a crop or to protect a herd. For the benefit of the misinformed (I won’t apologise for the use of that term again) that is what ‘hunting’ is. One creature killing another for food, to feeds its dependents or to protect its territory. Unless I missed out on a biology lesson or two, homo sapiens are animals too

Forgive me for analysing this a bit further and attempting to follow their reasoning? If mankind can’t have a mandate to hunt, then it is denied the right to an alpha species status. So, logically, we shouldn’t farm either. If we can’t hunt then we shouldn’t round up and selectively breed animals for food or fibre. It took a hell of a long time to evolve from hunter to herder and for both to compliment each other. Thousands of years. So I will happily ignore claims that a hundred years of urbanisation have negated the need for the hunter / gatherer / farmer to exist.

One constant companion of the hunter has been the dog. It has been genetically proven that every dog species today has a common genetic link to the wolf. A relationship with the wolf and its subsequent hybrids developed over those millennia which added an advantage to our pursuit of meat for the table. A relationship which benefited both species (incidentally, the fox has a genetic missing link to wolf and dog). The hybrids, the first hounds, added speed, scent awareness and hearing advantage to the hunters toolbox. If that relationship hadn’t been forged, none of you would have a pet dog today. Fido would be extinct. The wolf or wolf/dog would have been simply another food source. We, mankind, developed an ability to synchronise with another species and develop that relationship into a beneficial, symbiotic partnership. Dogs were evolved to hunt for food and to protect crops (ironically usually from their genetic predecessor, the wolf).

Every day millions of folk turn on their TV sets to watch the wonders of the wild in their living room and exalt the magnificence of the prowling lion or sprinting cheetah pulling down a wildebeest or impala. Full-on hunting action complete with blood and guts, in glorious HD format, brought into the home via superb technology and filming while the viewer is stuffing their sanitised cardboard beef burger down their throat. Everyone says ‘Wow!’ TV awards are dished out for the superb, raw educational content of the documentary series. And I applaud that too. But hey? Chasing down a rabbit or hare for the table? Where’s the difference? That’s where greyhound racing was founded. Oh, I remember. It’s because, according to my recent ‘protagonists’ the reason we don’t need to hunt is because meat is readily available in the supermarket. Because we have ‘evolved’ and it’s the ‘21st century’. Really? So how did the meat get there? That’s where you ‘hunting critics’ really need to focus your attention. Wild meat like venison, gamebird and rabbit … meat drawn from the field using gun, trap, net (or bow in the USA) … is pure, untainted and hard won.

Culling vermin to protect crops and herds is legitimate. It helps spring lambs and poultry to live a free-range life with reduced threat of predation. The most vulnerable time for crops is while breaking ground as shoots. Depending on the crop itself, vermin control will save valuable acreage. Of course, these are arable crops … so how can a vegetarian contest this? A woodpigeon can devour up to 150 peas in one sitting, storing them in their crop. I could put up a photo to prove this but I don’t need to and you really wouldn’t want to see it. Just pull a pack of Bird’s Eyes peas out of the freezer and count them. Divide the contents of the bag by 150. Work out the cost of the cost of the bag per 150 peas. Multiply that by the estimated two million woodies in the UK right now. Then realise that I’ve just talked about one feeding session. Don’t ever try to tell me that hunting, crop control and vermin control is non-essential in the 21st century. There is almost a case for a national industry in woodpigeon control alone.

The one thing I abhor above all things is hypocrisy. If you eat meat, it came from a dead animal, which didn’t commit suicide. If you are vegetarian, your food was protected from predation and contamination, the latter probably by chemical intervention. The former by pest control by people like me. Get used to it. Accept it.

I could get into a serious rant here about the ‘The Misinformed’ but I’ll cut it short with a few simple questions. Where does your dog and cat food come from? How many creatures does your cat kill when let out? Is TB in cattle acceptable? How many of you have had your hen house trashed by a fox? Does a beef ‘finisher’ herd die of old age? What bird lays sausages? Did you have turkey for Xmas? How many trees were cut down to print Fifty Shades Of Grey? How would you deal with hitting a deer on a country lane and it didn’t die but lay there kicking?

One of my critics this week called me ‘condescending’. You’d better bloody believe it. Because I live in the real world. Not a pampered, Disneyfied, shallow landscape where wildlife and conservation are comfortably squeezed between Eastenders and the News At Ten and distorted for political agendas.

Before you brand me as ‘angry’. I’m not really. I love the countryside, what I see in it and what I achieve in it. But I actually spend a lot of time there. Hunters do. If you are anti hunting, can you say that of yourselves?

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015

The Misinformed.

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Fox watching from behind tree

Across the decades there has always been a difference in views, yet fairly conservative opposition to hunting and farming. The Industrial Revolution and consequent urbanisation of Britain has left a legacy of a few generations of citizen who are totally detached from the traditions of rural life, farming and hunting. Miseducated now by the sanitised portrayal of wildlife, they are beyond hope. Due to the mind-bending of animal and bird charities (helped by a willing media), we have stumbled beyond ‘Disneyfication’ and plunged over the same precipice as Bambi’s father. Those who have never felt hunger will never appreciate where food comes from. Those who have never had to catch, harvest and prepare their own meal will never understand the concept of hunter / gatherer. Those who have never had to protect a herd or crop will never sympathise with the need to cull nuisance or predatory species.

The opposition to perfectly legal and necessary rural activities has gained a new breed of supporter. The Misinformed. Organisations like LACS, PETA, the RSPB or RSPCA have easy prey now (forgive the pun) because they are not targeting an educated audience with their distorted and hateful propaganda. They are recruiting a generation of humans who have little concept of natural history, rural tradition or purpose. This is the microwave, smartphone, hypermarket generation. This morning on a local radio quiz I heard an intelligent 30 year old asked “What animal lives in a drey!” His answer? “A beaver”! A news story told how Norfolk County Council are running cookery courses for young parents to show them how to use an oven and cook fresh vegetables. They have people coming to them, parents of young children, who have never peeled a potato, fried an egg or prepared fresh green vegetables. I was saddened by both incidents but it made me realise how dependent the world has become on consumer fodder rather that fresh produce. There was a story on social media recently about a mother whose young son refused some steak because he had seen it raw and was told it came from an animal. Refusing to eat it, his mother asked what he would like instead. His answer was “chicken nuggets”!

I wonder where this modern tribe of animal rights activists and hunt sabateurs go for dinner? Surely they can’t all afford Cafe Nero? When they gang up and get on the mini-bus what do they pack in the rucksack besides crowbars and pepper spray? Cucumber sandwiches? I doubt it and I feel that a huge aura of hypocrisy surrounds these so-called animal champions. Of course, there is an older (which should mean wiser, but sadly doesn’t) breed of activist. A species who attack the traditional rural way of life from the comparative luxury of celebrity status. Interestingly, all of them aspire to recognition as wildlife ‘experts’ which makes their pathetic whining all the more annoying. Of course, each one of them will get more ‘hits’ on a salacious social media blog than your average country-sports magazine will sell copies in a year. Thus the logarithms of propaganda will continue unabated. The Misinformed will multiply and more warped individuals who think meat arrives in the supermarket by magic, beavers live in dreys and squirrels hibernate will join the ranks. Of course, these balaclaved’ champions of the oppressed (their perception, not mine) wouldn’t dare turn up at a Halal abbatoir for fear of meeting their match.

Take away the fast-food pampering of the urban communities, hold back the milk and butter, ransom the potatoes so that the frozen chips dry up. Sell the chickens, sheep and cattle in the market place again. Make people grind the grain, make their own flour and bake their own bread again. Then watch how society wakes up to the importance of rural tradition … and perhaps then the urban will stop interfering with the rural. Rock stars will stick to making music. Comedians will continue trying to be funny. Charities will re-visit their contributors mandate and we will all learn to live in harmony again.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015