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League Against Cruel Sports targets shooters

THE LEAGUE Against Cruel Sports launched a campaign against shooting last weekend, attacking the intensive rearing of game birds and snaring which make commercial shoots possible.

In a DVD to be sent to MPs to coincide with the start of the shooting season, the League attacks what it claims is the "factory farming" of about 30 million game birds a year and the use of snares to trap foxes.

The undercover footage focuses on the use of battery cages, which the industry calls "raised laying units", in which pheasants are kept for up to three years. The main shooting organisation, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, is opposed to the practice.

John Cooper, the League chairman, who narrates the film, said the Government had shown its commitment to animal welfare by banning hunting. "Now it is time to deal with animal cruelty in the shooting industry," he said. Shooting groups regard the film as an attempt by LACS to maximise donations after the ban on hunting and to open up a new front against shooting before the Animal Welfare Bill is debated in Parliament this autumn.

The Bill will contain a "duty of care" to look after all animals. This is expected to be followed within two years by codes of practice, which will effectively have the force of law.

Some shooting bodies are concerned that the Bill and the codes could be used to tighten the law on commercial shooting to the extent that it becomes impossible, without actually banning the sport, as has happened in Holland.

The League’s campaign came as the radical Hunt Saboteurs Association said it would target more shoots over the next few years, in open defiance of the Government’s assertions that hunting and shooting would be safe.

Rural Affairs Minister Jim Knight reaffirmed the Government's manifesto promise to protect shooting and angling on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But he conceded that rules on game rearing might change.

"The last rural manifesto in the last general election said that we will work with the relevant bodies to ensure that country sports are protected while ensuring high standards of environmental protection, animal welfare and safety," he said. "I make a very clear difference in my own mind between rearing animals, birds for food and sport that is just cruel. I don't consider the sport of shooting to be cruel."

Mr Knight confirmed at the Labour Party conference last week that he was in favour of "responsible snaring".

Charles Nodder, of the National Game Farmers Association, said: "The Government has made clear that it wants to leave detail out of the Bill and if it is sabotaged by backbenchers it will be shelved."

However, Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance remained to be convinced that the sport of shooting would be safe, saying: "The League is mounting a progressive attack on all country sports."

Certainly, LACS have been quite open in their intentions to target shooting and fishing, both of which it regards as unacceptable bloodsports once hunting was banned. Whether another bodged piece of legislation will follow remains to be seen, but a new front has been opened in the war against traditional country sports.