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Goodwill hunting

Given the inclement weather at this time of year, would it be too much to ask bloodsport enthusiasts to call off their recreational killing and terrorising of wildlife for a few weeks?

Far from scaling down their activities, fox hunts escalate their attacks from mid-December on the much-maligned creatures that provide them with "sport", climaxing on St Stephen's Day.

Coursing clubs step up their assaults on hares during the festive season. Last year, in the midst of some of the worst weather conditions seen for decades, coursing events went ahead on frozen, water-logged or slush-drenched fields, the organisers seemingly heedless of the additional suffering caused.

It wasn't enough to force them to run for their lives from pairs of hyped-up dogs, to be forcibly struck, mauled, or tossed about like playthings; they had to perform for the human spectators (who were well insulated against the chill) in sub-zero temperatures.

Both so-called sports bring man's inhumanity to a fine art, transforming a winter wonderland into a cruel amphitheatre.

The birds could do with a respite also, and yet they face even more human foes at Christmas. Ducks are shot in rivers and lakes even as they forage frantically to feed themselves. The pheasant, with its eye-catching multi-coloured crest, rises into a winter sky only to be blasted and turned into a blood-soaked carcass.

Some shooters add song birds to their killing lists, blowing away blackbirds, song thrushes, wrens, chaffinches and, yes, the very symbol of Christmas itself, the robin redbreast.

The excuse offered is that these birds make smaller and therefore more challenging targets, the shallowest of motives.

Shooting "for the pot" is one thing, with the acquisition of food as the stated aim, but how can one justify killing the singers?

Leaving aside the ethical objection to targeting birds and animals for sport, I suggest that those involved in all these activities put away their firearms or call off the dogs for at least seven days before and after Christmas

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This is reasonable: a two-week ceasefire to give our hard-pressed wildlife a break during the season of peace and goodwill.

John Fitzgerald
Campaign for the Abolition
Of Cruel Sports

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