fox_hunters“Leading animal rights activist defects to Countryside Alliance – and now says hunting with dogs is ‘beneficial.’” That headline, from the February 18 edition of the UK’s Daily Mail, came on the four-year anniversary of Britain’s Hunting Act. The story has animal activists wondering what’s going on. Reporter Vanessa Allen explains that James Barrington, a former director of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), is heading the efforts of a pro-hunting group called Countryside Alliance to overturn the ban on hunting. The ban outlaws hunting with dogs, particularly fox hunting, in England and Wales. Such hunts have long been part of British culture, and enforcing the ban has been difficult at best. Recent videos, for example, show hunters harassing and assaulting anti-hunt observers.


Allen writes that Barrington’s goal is still animal welfare: “[Barrington] said foxes suffered more through snaring, poisoning and shooting than through hunting with hounds, which was banned in the controversial Hunting Act introduced by the Blair government in 2005.”


I asked Douglas Batchelor, LACS’s chief executive, for his take on the matter. “James Barrington left the League Against Cruel Sports well before I joined over 10 years ago,” he said. “He has since leaving been closely associated with the pro-hunting movement. He set up a new organization which in turn was involved with setting up a Parliamentary group called the Middle Way group. That group proposed a licensing of hunting instead of a ban, and it later emerged that the group had been in part at least indirectly funded by the Countryside Alliance, the main pro-hunting group.”


According to Douglas, Barrington’s pro-hunting work is becoming news because of recent efforts to better identify the work of lobbyists in the UK Parliament. “It comes as no surprise to us that James Barrington has been identified now by the Countryside Alliance as being a consultant to the Countryside Alliance and the Middle Way Group. As far as we have been concerned, that has to all intents and purposes been the case for years as far as his public pronouncements are concerned.”


When asked if he considered James Barrington to be a “defector,” Douglas told me: “I don’t use that sort of language. As far as I am concerned, he left a long time ago, and now works for someone else. We have an expression here that says, ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune.’ That is how I see the role of James Barrington.”


The Daily Mail story concludes by noting that 75 percent of the country is in favor of the hunting ban. Rachel Jay, a spokesperson for LACS, adds: “On its fourth anniversary the Hunting Act continues to work well with 68 prosecutions so far and at least 50 more pending.”