It would be a little unfair to cast Ian Botham as a kind of pro-hunting Marie Antoinette figure, perusing the nation’s poor, declaring: “Let them eat pheasant.”
Or, more precisely, pheasant casseroles and partridge curries made from 10,000 birds shot on Botham’s estate, some of which would be donated to the poor.
This was the plan, as outlined by Botham, to presenters Rachel Burden and Nicky Campbell on the BBC’s Radio 5 Live. However, during the interview, Burden asked what would otherwise have happened to these birds, as well as, along with Campbell, posing ethical concerns about hunting generally. Botham now claims that he was ambushed by an “anti-shooting agenda”, adding that he would be boycotting the BBC unless his complaint was taken seriously.
Botham is to be commended for addressing the national issue of poverty and hunger… but with pheasants and partridges? Isn’t it precisely because British people have limited appetite for game meat that many such birds (shot for sport) end up being transported overseas?
That is, apart from the ones that animal rights groups claim to have filmed being dumped on various shooting estates (not Botham’s). While the Countryside Alliance says that birds are only discarded if they’re unfit for human consumption, a suspicious mind might wonder whether, just sometimes, the sole purpose is to blast living creatures out the sky for blood-sport jollies.
During the interview, Botham commendably denounced the big-game hunting industry, as recently popularised by Donald Trump’s sons, Don Jnr and Eric, who have posed with such manly, virile, doubtless huge-penis-ed charisma, next to various trophy kills. Perhaps the mini Trumps didn’t realise, as Botham pointed out, that many such animals come from captivity and are drugged prior to hunts. One presumes that this is so that city slickers such as the Trumps can’t miss shooting them with their bang-bangs, thereby risking going home to tell daddy that they’re not such big brave boys after all.
Bravo to Botham for highlighting that, though, arguably, any pursuits involving guns (horses, hounds, spears, baying crowds, whatever) are stacked ludicrously in favour of the human aggressors and against the terrified quarry. Similarly, regarding Botham’s interview counterpoint about the terrible plight of battery chickens, it isn’t a zero sum – the horrors of industrial farming don’t cancel out concerns about blood sports.
Throughout the interview, there was Botham’s almost palpable resentment that in doing something for charity he should be addressed in anything but an obsequious fashion. In fairness to the cricketing legend, a surprising number of celebrities seem to think that the media primarily exist to regurgitate press releases, a little like, if I may continue the nature theme, fawning owls obediently regurgitating “informational” pellets.
More pressingly, Botham, like many hunters, seemed oblivious to the fact that he and his ilk are genuinely in a small albeit highly vocal minority. They are unwilling to accept that it’s not just trendy, London-centric media bias to object; rather, it’s the national norm, a norm that extends to the countryside (where I originally come from), where, contrary to popular belief, the majority of people have naff all to do with hunting and many actively object to it.
Evidence of British distaste for any kind of blood sports could be seen only last week, when, after an outcry, Arsenal Football Club owner, Stan Kroenke, was forced to dispense with big-game hunting elements of his new MyOutdoorTV streaming service.
Then there’s the continuing public opposition to foxhunting (polling at a record high of 84% at the end of last year). The majority of Britons have never bought into the idea of hunting for sport, probably never will and, charity or not, are always going to want journalists to represent their interests with searching questions. Perhaps it’s time for people such as Botham, in the hunting minority, to accept that.
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
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Direct Action Against All Forms of bloodsports