I’ve seen that hunting remains a royal obsession, and the prince’s latest boar shoot is more than just a PR slip-up
‘Requiring little or no skill, royal pheasant shoots are a pre-planned carnage of wildlife, bred specifically for slaughter.’ Photograph: Rex Features
Do palace courtiers have a good eye for PR? This week Prince William and his brother “bagged” a few sandbags and waded the flooded upper reaches of the Thames. This tour of royal duty presumably produced the desired effect – positive media reporting – no doubt resulting in much merriment among the corridors of the royal household. On a roll, Prince William has called for all ivory artefacts to be removed from the royal palaces and destroyed. Less merriment now. Does his grandmother know about this? Surely such a statement will be anathema to the Duke of Edinburgh who will be muttering in William’s direction, and heading to the press office to remind them who’s in charge of this “bloody place”. This follows the prince’s attendance at the World Wildlife symposium in London last week. The hunting and slaughter of elephant and rhinoceros is no longer the sport of kings and the idle rich, with the exception of the Spanish royal family.
William has said that he “is even more devoted to protecting these magnificent animals for future generations”.
Yes, the shooting of elephants and rhino for personal gain is unacceptable – “a trade that fuels the greed of international criminals” as the Prince of Wales put it, and so we must applaud their royal highnesses for lending their royal weight to the cause. However, Prince William and his brother were guests of the Duke of Westminster in Spain just days before to shoot wild boar and other animals not yet on the endangered list. This led to inevitable cries of hypocrisy, forcing his image makers at Kensington Palace to release a statement underlining his passion for endangered wildlife.
The British royal family has for centuries shot game on privately owned estates throughout the land. Hunting has historically been, and remains, an obsession.
While protection officer to the late Princess of Wales, I was present at most of the annual November shooting parties, hosted by Prince Charles at Sandringham House in Norfolk. The post-breakfast gathering of guests, dressed in their hunting finery would meet front of house to witness the Prince of Wales assign the “male gun” position and partner for the day’s shooting. A fleet of Range Rovers would be summoned and the shooting party driven to their places for the first shoot of the day. At the same time, packed hampers and bottles of “royal” home made orange vodka, made from Seville oranges, courtesy of the king of Spain, would be despatched to a secluded log cabin by attentive valets and royal stewards, all sporting pristine thorn-proof apparel. Loyal gamekeepers and hired-in beaters were packed off ahead of the shooting party in open-top tractors with a cauldron of vegetable soup and cracked mugs.
Whatever the weather, the beaters would drive the bred pheasants from their woodland home to a prepared unharvested patch of kale, just short of a high wooded copse. Once the royal party was in position, the beaters would slash at the kale, and hundreds of birds would rise to scale the trees ahead, only to be blasted to the ground. The sheer number of birds would blacken the sky, as they drifted to a slow death, many injured bouncing off of the roughly ploughed furrows, only to have their escape plan wrecked by excitable black royal labradors.
The royal shooting obsession was something Princess Diana found repugnant. Requiring little or no skill, royal pheasant shoots are a pre-planned carnage of wildlife, bred specifically for slaughter.
From my experience, royal courtiers would have had prior knowledge of the Spanish visit. Failing to advise against the wild boar shoot is symptomatic of the sycophantic culture that surround the royal princes. If Prince William is to “spearhead” the global protection of wildlife, then he has to be consistent, particularly when he says: “This year I have become even more devoted to protecting the resources of the Earth for not only my son, but also other children of his generation to enjoy.” Otherwise wild boar may not exist in 20 years’ time and Prince George will be reminding us of the fate of the pheasant and his devotion to protect the resources of the earth, until there is nothing left to protect.
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Direct Action Against All Forms of bloodsports