Lord Botham has accused “self-righteous” hunt saboteurs of disrupting legal countryside pursuits and failing to understand conservation after an hour-long stand-off with protesters.
The peer and former cricketer was part of a grouse shooting party forced to abandon its shoot last week on Snailsden Moor in the Peak District after hunt saboteurs arrived.
Protesters sat down in front of Lord Botham’s 4×4 as part of a series of actions to disrupt the start of the grouse shooting season.
The hunting party called police to the incident, which took place last Tuesday morning.
Writing for The Telegraph, Lord Botham said protesters “lack the intellectual and social skills needed to persuade”.
He added: “What makes them all the more tragic is that they are so high on their self-righteousness that they cannot see that real animal welfare is about complex choices.
“The fox they save today may decapitate a dozen chickens tonight – and eat none of them. Equally, the gamekeepers are all that stands in the way of predators devastating rare birdlife.
“The moors I walk across are abundant with curlews, merlins, short eared owls and golden plover because their predators are controlled.”
‘Heading home with an empty bag’
The incident was one of three shoots disrupted by the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), which has its roots in protesting against fox hunting.
On its website the HSA said Lord Botham was “among many grouse shooters heading home with an empty bag,” adding: “Today’s action follows the complete shut down of a huge driven shoot in the Yorkshire Dales on the so-called Glorious Twelfth itself, and another victory yesterday where sabs prevented shooting near Ladybower Reservoir in the Peak District.”
The HSA has a tactical guide for supporters on disrupting grouse shoots, which it says is an area of growing interest.
Chris Packham, a BBC presenter who in 2019 launched a petition to ban driven grouse shooting, tweeted in support of the saboteurs, calling the action “top work”.
The two men have had a long-running feud over shooting and conservation.
Moorlands are controversial for environmentalists and groups including Mr Packham, who object to the management techniques used to keep them suitable for shooting, including heather burning.
The practice was partially banned last year. The Government said it was “damaging to peatland formation and habitat conditions”.
Countryside groups argue that the moors are a haven for wildlife including ground-nesting birds.
A spokesman for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said: “The start of the grouse season has become a target for demonstrators as an opportunity to grab headlines.
“Grouse shooting is high-profile and is a means of these groups obtaining column inches.
“The shooting organisations are working directly with the police over incidents of shoot disruption, as aggravated trespass is being committed when demonstrators step onto a grouse moor with the intention of halting a legal activity.
“The irony is that the loss of the thing that the demonstrators are protesting against – moors managed for grouse shooting – also risks the loss of a raft of benefits for the environment, biodiversity and the conservation of protected species.
“That is a high price to pay for political gain.”
‘Grouse shooting is completely immoral’
Lee Moon, a spokesman for the HSA, said: “It’s always something we’ve been interested in but the tide of public opinion has been turning against grouse shooting, particularly the environmental impact of it.
“It is something we are increasingly focusing on and will continue to focus on.”
He added: “Grouse shooting is still legal but completely immoral.
“Hunt saboteurs use non–violent direct action and are quite happy to explain to shooters why we believe their actions are wrong.”
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “Officers were called shortly before 9.30am on Tuesday, August 16 to reports of a protest near Winscar Reservoir in Barnsley.
“Vehicles were stopped from leaving the location for a period of time. The protest group later dispersed.
“A man in his fifties was arrested for possession of a bladed article. He remains under investigation.”
The arrest is understood to have taken place a mile away from the protest site.