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The lessons to be learned from the trophy hunting bill debacle

On Friday, a proposed Bill to ban trophy hunting imports cleared the Commons. The Bill will now progress to the Lords and, if it passes the next stage, it will then become illegal to import game souvenirs such as heads and pelts to the UK.

The Private Members Bill was introduced by Henry Smith, the Conservation MP for Crawley, and it received high-profile backing from a wide range of celebrities and famous faces, from Judi Dench, Joanna Lumley and Liam Gallagher to the more likely names of Gary Lineker and, of course, Chris Packham.

While the debate was an emotional one (Environment Minister Trudy Harrison appeared close to tears as she said that “Cecil the lion has not died in vain. It is an emotional day for all of us for very many reasons”, the entire problem with this bill is that it revolved almost entirely around emotions, rather than science or facts.

Indeed Amy Dickman, a conservation biologist and senior research fellow in Wild Cat Conservation at the University of Oxford, argued that “this focus on trophy hunting is unbalanced and potentially counterproductive”.

Counterintuitive as it might seem, blanket trophy hunting bans (including import bans) are likely to undermine vital conservation work, including the protection of iconic species”, she wrote in the Daily Mail. “MPs who vote for the Bill this Friday will no doubt feel virtuous. But they will have failed to recognise that, carried out properly, wild trophy hunting can provide vital revenue for conserving biodiverse habitats and many thousands of species.”

Adam Hart, an ecologist, conservation scientist and entomologist who regular broadcasts on the BBC, also argued along similar lines, writing that “well managed, as it is in many places, trophy hunting can secure habitat and safeguard wildlife populations. Such successes are seen in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and other nations where hunting forms part of the conservation toolkit.”

Many people argued that the bringing forward of this Bill was a modern form of colonialism. Why are British politicians sticking their noses into the workings of successful conservation projects in Africa? 109 representatives of community-run conservation areas in Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia wrote to the British Minister for Africa and Development, Andrew Mitchell, stating that without the income from carefully managed trophy hunting – which funds costly conservation efforts– poaching and unemployment will increase.

Referring to the intervention of British politicians in African conservation efforts they wrote: “it is sad to mention that we feel this is another way of recolonising Africa, with all the consequences that had befallen our forefathers.”

The whole trophy hunting discussion really highlights the importance of listening to local communities in issues and topics that affect them. Sir Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire, complained that the voices of celebrities who supported the new law were heard more loudly than those of experts and community leaders who opposed it. Maxi Pia Louis, from Namibia, said: “We are immensely disappointed Africa’s voice has not been heard.”

Closer to home, while we do not have the exact same circumstances as trophy hunting, there are certainly lessons that can be learnt from the whole trophy hunting debacle. Surely the most important thing here is ensuring that communities and people who work in specific industries or areas have a say in rules and laws that affect them.

In the same way that Henry Smith of Crawley should not have the power to introduce Bills that will ravage conservation efforts in Africa, surely other Westminster MPs with no experience of, say moorland management should not have undue influence on the law around muirburn, or deer control, for example. The people who should be asked – and whose views should be listened to – are those who for generations have looked after the land around them. Nurtured it, and its flora and fauna, and made it into the biodiverse environment we see today. Surely their voices should be heard more loudly than those of actresses or footballers?


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