Covid-19 Inquiry: Government put more thought into hunting and shooting than supporting women

This week’s Covid Inquiry has highlighted the Tory government’s incompetence during the Covid pandemic. Former deputy cabinet secretary Helena MacNamara gave a witness statement arguing that Johnson and his “macho” and “toxic” team gave more thought to hunting and shooting interests than they did women’s issues.

MacNamara’s 97-page statement, criticising the governing of the pandemic, focused on how women and children were disproportionately affected in 2020. She argued:

In terms of policy response the exclusion of a female perspective led to significant negative consequences.

She went on to talk about the lack of thinking about vulnerable people, about victims of domestic abuse, about carers and single parents. There was, however, much thought on how men could continue their bloodlust. She stated:

There was a disproportionate amount of attention given to more male pursuits in terms of the impact of restrictions and then the lessening of the same (football, hunting, shooting and fishing).”

In 2020, MacNamara highlighted to colleagues that women were dying as a result of government policies. The Inquiry was shown WhatsApp messages from Dominic Cummings  – who was then the Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser – to Boris Johnson, calling MacNamara a “c*nt”.


Mounted field riders with the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt gather in a town centre.
Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt in Castle Cary on Boxing Day 2021, via AAF.

Hunting throughout lockdown

Hunts got away with breaking lockdown rules during the height of the pandemic. During lockdown, they decided that they were immune from the law, and continued their obsession with killing, disregarding the nation’s collective effort to curb the virus.

One example of a hunt that assumed it was above the law was the Quorn Hunt. Two staff were eventually suspended after they breached lockdown regulations. The hunt had travelled to a completely different county to terrorise foxes as a birthday celebration for its hunt master.

Back in September 2020, the government introduced its ‘rule of six‘. This meant that social gatherings of more than six people were prohibited. But grouse shooting and other bloodsports of hunting with guns were exempt from the rules. Farmers Weekly wrote:

The move follows significant pressure on the government from countryside bodies, shooting groups and pro-hunting MPs.

Among those who lobbied the government was the Countryside Alliance, which aims to overturn the Hunting Act.

At the time, it was unclear whether trail hunting (where hunts alleagedly follow an artificially laid trail) was exempt too. Trail hunting is, of course, a smokescreen used by fox hunting packs to go out and murder live foxes.

Protect the Wild (which was called Keep The Ban back then) launched a petition, sending a message to the government that:

Nobody is above the law and we ask that the Government release a statement confirming that hunting is not exempt from the new guidelines before more lives are lost.

And Labour MP Luke Pollard (who was Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2020 to 2021) said:

Across the country, people are struggling to get Covid-19 tests anywhere near their homes. But the Conservatives are distracted with trying to exempt the blood-sport passions of their big donors from coronavirus regulations. It shows where this government’s priorities really lie.”

Hunts assumed that they wouldn’t be prosecuted for disregarding social distancing rules, and they were right. The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale (BSV) was just one hunt which continued to terrorise foxes throughout the pandemic with untouchable audacity. At the time, Somerset Wildlife Crime said of one BSV cubbing meet:

Dorset police attended and stated social distancing was NOT enforceable, and that they were exempt from [the] rule of 6 AND there was no limit to how many could attend. This was a day that saw 6,042 new Covid cases.


Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunts foxes during Covid pandemic
Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunts foxes during Covid pandemic. Photo via Somerset Wildlife Crime

Covid grants

As if all this wasn’t enough, hunts across the country actually benefited from government money during the pandemic. Of those receiving grants was the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, which chases and murders stags in the southwest of England. The pack received a £10,000 grant from the council, as well as a £50,000 loan from the government’s ‘Bounce Back Loan’ scheme. The reason: to help survive the pandemic. At the time, The Independent reported:

The hunt, which already had £40,000 in bank accounts, does not have to repay the grant.”

Shooting through lockdown

Of course, the pro-shooting Tory government also allowed gun-wielding enthusiasts to do what the hell they wanted, too. Back in November 2021, bird watchers faced lockdown fines for twitching, while shooters could legally blast birds from the sky. At the time, Protect the Wild’s Charlie Moores wrote on his previous website War on Wildlife:

this isn’t just about a handful of birders behaving irresponsibly. The larger and more pertinent question is surely this: why is there a seeming disparity between the way birders and shooters are treated generally? How do shooters (and fox hunters before them – they managed to circumvent the ‘Rule of Six’ back in the autumn remember) seem to usually get what they want (which with the best will in the world is simply to be allowed to kill even more wild animals)?

Feel free as always to disagree but two prime possibilities come to mind: our current crop of legislators (i.e. parliamentarians) inherently support shooting and hunting, and ‘their’ lobbyists are more vociferous than ‘ours’.


We need to get rid of the Tory government

Moores went on to ask:

“Why might the current government favour shooters?”

He then answered:

Simply because many of them come from a background steeped in entertainment-based shooting and hunting. In 2019 a report (which focused on the opportunities for social mobility) found that as many as two-thirds of Boris Johnson’s cabinet went to private schools. The House of Lords is also packed with wealthy landowners and pro-shoot members (Ian Botham being one of the more recent appointments). Being wealthy, privately-educated and owning vast acreages of farmland or moorland doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d tend towards shooting of course, but it’s just common sense that it’s more likely than if you come from a deprived urban background and don’t have access to ‘sporting rights’ or the society that does.

As we’ve seen from MacNamara’s statement, the Tory government wouldn’t let a life-threatening virus get in the way of its shooting and hunting friends’ interests. The Conservative Party is archaic and completely out of touch with younger generations.

  • Protect the Wild says that too many of the UK’s politicians are more intent on protecting gruesome ‘traditions’ than protecting the vulnerable or conserving the country’s precious wildlife. Our economy is in freefall, biodiversity is collapsing, a warming planet will destabilise ecosystems everywhere, and we all know now that animals are sentient beings. Mammals, birds and people need the urgent protection this government has repeatedly failed to give them: it has to be replaced with one that cares about ALL living beings – not just its friends.