Bear, rabbit and fox fur hats cost UK military £910,000
Published 13/01/2016 | 18:01
Fur hats made from bears, rabbits and foxes have cost the UK military more than £910,000, official figures show.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said 925 bearskin ceremonial caps, made famous by the Royal Guard, have been purchased since 2008.
Spending on the caps sourced from Canada increased in 2015 to £149,379 from £136,671 in 2014 and £65,108 in 2013 - with the total since 2008 amounting to £880,163.
The MoD has not carried out any trials since 2007 to find a synthetic alternative to bear skin, according to Defence Minister Philip Dunne.
Records also show a further 55 hats made from rabbit fur have been bought for £25,299 between 2005/06 and 2015/16 and seven hats made from fox fur costing £5,499 during the same period.
The MoD has previously indicated it has been open to alternatives to the traditional bearskin hat while animal rights campaigners have called for fake fur to be used instead.
Conservative minister Mr Dunne, in response to a written parliamentary question, said: " The Ministry of Defence does not buy bear pelts; it buys ceremonial caps direct from suppliers who source pelts from animals culled as part of a programme to manage the wild population licensed by the Canadian government.
"Animal welfare standards relating to the bear cull are a matter for the Canadian government.
"The MoD also purchases coney skin (rabbit fur) for the Royal Engineers' and Royal Signals' busby and fox fur for the Royal Horse Artillery, Kings Troop Officers' busby.
"The current contract requires a commitment to sustainable procurement.
"Depending on usage and maintenance, bearskin busbys can last for up to 50 years. The coney skin and fox fur busbys have indefinite lifespans if properly maintained."
There were 122 bearskin hats purchased in 2015, 127 in 2014 and 63 in 2013 - with 2009's 195 the highest in the figures released to MPs.
For hats made from rabbit fur, 22 were bought in 2008/09 and 20 in 2014/15 - with none bought in six of the 11 years outlined in the data.
Mr Dunne added: " Historically the MoD has undertaken a number of trials on synthetic alternatives to bearskin but none of these matched the properties of the natural material.
"No trialling has taken place since 2007.
"Information about costs of these trials is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
"In 2012, the Ministry of Defence loaned a sample bearskin to the animal rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to aid its research and development programme on a synthetic alternative.
"There has been no research and development carried out to find a synthetic alternative to coney skin or fox fur."
Mr Dunne was replying to questions from shadow environment minister Alex Cunningham.
Mr Cunningham called for the Government to think again about its use of real fur, noting British fashion industry leaders want to develop alternatives.
He told the Press Association: "The British public will be horrified that Canadian black bears are being slaughtered, often indiscriminately, to provide fur headgear for British soldiers.
"The Government have admitted spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on fur headgear over the last few years but despite escalating costs, and evident animal welfare issues, have no plans to research alternatives.
"With leaders in the British fashion industry prepared to develop alternatives, it's time to think again."
An MoD spokesman said: "There are no plans to change the ceremonial uniform or the bearskin cap which has been associated with the Guards Division since the 18th century.
"We have examined various alternative materials in the past, but none has come remotely close to matching the natural properties of bear fur in terms of shape, weight and its ability to repel moisture in wet conditions.
"The black bear is culled in large numbers each year by the Canadian authorities because the population is dangerously high. We only take 100 pelts a year and that is a fraction of the number culled."