Ryan Hollingsworth is a British hunter, known as the “Ethical Carnivore” (click here to view his Instagram), who only consumes meat that he hunts himself. Within the conversation of sustainability, such a phrase could be interpreted as an oxymoron. Across the world, the meat industry is far from ethical. Meat and dairy farming contributes as much anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions than even the transportation industry, in addition to being one of the leading causes of deforestation. As well as using cruel practices such as factory farming, battery farming, overuse of antibiotics, overcrowding, anesthetic-less physical alterations. To only name a few. By no means does this apply to all meat and dairy farmers, however, many of us are consuming meat that we have no idea of its origins. We have little knowledge about the true sources of our food, although we are all aware of the dark side of the meat industry. Despite this, the majority of us do little to bridge this disconnect within our diets.
Many of us are hypocrites in this regard, labelling hunters as barbaric, whilst we continue to purchase factory farmed meat from supermarkets. Ironically, hunting is arguably the most overlooked sustainable source of meat.
“People always talk about organic and free range - hunted meat is always that! In comparison to farmed meat, it’s more ethical and typically healthier.”
Several years ago, Ryan became a vegetarian. Initially, he gave up meat for lent, and then became a full vegetarian. After he got two Springer Spaniels, Ryan began to do agility training, in order to give the dogs exercise and promote their natural abilities. Soon after, Ryan asked to join a group of hunters from his Clay Pigeon Shooting club, thinking his dogs would benefit from the experience, as it promotes their natural instincts of bird hunting. At this point, Ryan did not intend to participate in the hunting process himself. Before the event, Ryan, at the time a vegetarian, thought:
“How am I gonna cope? I’d never seen anything die - only on TV.”
Ryan and the hunters went to a farmer’s field that they had gotten permission to do crop protection for. Through this process, the hunters protect the crops, whilst sustainably gaining the meat that they hunt. This field produced rape seed, used to make vegetable oil: a crop used in vegan food.
This links to the common misconception that going vegan means your diet won’t contribute to the death of any animals. Obviously, going plant-based significantly reduces the animals killed as a result of the food you eat. However, due to unavoidable events such as habitat removal and crop protection, it is impossible not to have any animals die. But, it is not impossible to have these deaths be mitigated sustainably. This is where hunters come into play. The undermined conservationist. At first glance, this connection between hunting and conservation may seem like a stretch. Conservation is defined as the act of preserving, guarding and protecting. When referring to the specific animal being hunted, hunting obviously doesn’t fit the definition. It’s only in a broader sense - where conservation refers to protecting and preserving biodiversity, the environment and natural resources - hunting may become an act of conservation.
“We can’t take ourselves out of the equation”
Sustainable hunting allows meat that would otherwise go to waste, to be killed more ethically and be further utilized. Whilst it is easy to look down on hunters for their killing of the animals, there is a lot more to the story than meets the eye.
“In the UK, we are only allowed to shoot pigeons if non lethal methods have not been successful.”
The hunting laws range from country to country, but the majority of the hunting community is about sustainably and ethically sourcing meat. Contrary to popular belief, many hunters don’t hunt because they love killing animals. In fact, it is the opposite.
“I don’t know any hunter who gets pleasure from seeing animals hurt or injured. You will struggle to find a hunter who finds the experience of killing the animal enjoyable. Nobody likes killing the animals they hunt. They like reconnaissance, learning about the environment, being outside, and sourcing their own food.”
The stigma around hunting has condemned these conservationists to the title of “murderers”. Not only is this not the case, but in order to sustainably produce crops, hunters are required. Without these hunters, many farmers struggle financially due to the crop damage, and the unwanted animals have to be dealt with in less ethical ways - such as harmful chemicals or painful traps.
“Nobody is just hunting for pigeons when there is one or two of them. We’re talking about hundreds of pigeons flooding a field. The first farmer I hunted for, had lost around £20,000 [$25,825] worth of crops to pigeons alone the previous year.”
When pigeons eat, they store food in a body part called a “crop” which can hold several hundreds of grains of wheat at once - and they feed twice a day. This amounts to a huge quantity of lost wheat: from only a single pigeon. Now imagine, hundreds of them. Not only is this an impossible financial burden on the hunters, but increases the price of food for consumers. Without the hunters, these pigeons are attempted to be managed in other ways; methods that can often be cruel and damage the environment. Although we may not want to come to terms with this harsh reality, it's the truth. Sustainably maintaining this balance is the key to long term success for both humans and local biodiversity.
“I started to really think about it, thinking actually, these birds are gonna be shot anyway. Whether I'm vegetarian, vegan, etc. No matter what diet I pick, these animals will need to be controlled. Because we can’t have farmers losing £20,000 a year, if we do nothing, just because it makes us feel better that we are not harming birds.”
These hunters are so stigmatized in the media, yet play a vital role in our food production. In fact, the diets of hunters like Ryan are likely more ethical and sustainable than your diet - even if you are vegan or vegetarian. Unfortunately, there is a horrific portrayal of many hunters in the media, most of which is based on misconceptions. Not only is this false, but it is extremely unhelpful; creating unnecessary barriers for these undervalued conservationists.
“I didn’t find these evil people that you see in the media. They [hunters] are actually quite similar to hippies.
When I first came into it, I thought I would be this ethical vegetarian and help them change. I was expecting to find all these cruel and evil people within this world.
But it's not. Everyone is just so switched on and so knowledgeable. I’ve learnt so much from these people [hunters]. All they want is to be able to source their own food and enjoy their time outdoors and see the benefit of what they do.”
In comparison to much of the meat industry, hunting is very humane. When done properly, the animal isn’t even aware it's been shot. Up until that point, the animal was in its natural environment. Many anti-hunting organisations “expose” hunters through videos of animals moving and twitching after they have been shot - but this is often due to natural, painless processes, such as remaining nerves and muscles spasms.
“Hunters spend a lot of time and money to get the most accurate equipment we can get. We want to recover everything and it be as instantaneous as possible.
It’s not a sterile enclosed environment - sometimes things go wrong. We do all in our power to reduce and prevent that.”
In many circumstances of hunting for crop protection, population control, conservation exeterra, the animals would in fact be hunted anyway. Not only would the animal still be hunted, but oftentimes, the resulting meat would’ve been wasted. Furthermore, this hunting can often be funded by governments and your tax dollars. Therefore, not only are these hunters sustainably sourcing meat that would otherwise be wasted, they could in fact be saving you money. For example, in New Zealand, there is an invasive species called a Tahr (a large even-toed ungulate / mountain goat). The Tahr are an invasive species that is destroying the unique New Zealand biodiversity in the Southern Alps - a stunning part of New Zealand that New Zealanders want to protect. The New Zealand government, specifically the New Zealand Department of Conversation, is working with Ngāi Tahu and the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group, to over time reduce the size of the Tahr population back within the limits of the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993. For more information on the DOC’s plan to control the Tahr population, click here. Local New Zealand hunters are contributing to the conservation of the wildlife, as well as saving government and taxpayer money. Both hunters and governments carefully monitor the locations and populations of local species. This is a crucial factor in maintaining a culture of sustainable hunting, as it is vital in ensuring populations are correctly controlled and not over hunted.
Another great example of the monitoring of species is for bird hunting in Iceland. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History (IINH) has the role of monitoring the game and wildlife populations. Since 1952 the IINH has counted birds in the winter and spring; first, in 11 areas, but during the last years the number of areas has increased, and in 2009, 44 areas were monitored. The objective of monitoring is to provide reliable consultancy on population status and provide an assessment of how the number of each species can be hunting in the coming season. It is efforts like this that make sustainable hunting possible. For many, hunting is scientifically approached, where species are analyzed and assessed to ensure that the populations will remain at a level that benefits local biodiversity.
However, as with any practice, not every hunter has others' best interests at heart. Whilst the majority of hunters have sustainable, ethical intentions, it would be ignorant to say this applies to them all. Oftentimes, we lack the knowledge to differentiate between these two, and we reject all types of hunters. It is important to acknowledge what constitutes an unsustainable hunter, in order to distinguish them from the true “conservationists”.
“An unsustainable hunter is someone who is:
not thinking about the environment, only thinking about themselves, and is just killing as many animals as they can to achieve that thrill and / or monetary incentive.”
A poacher is a prime example of an unsustainable hunter, as they hunt completely for monetary gain, whilst disregarding their impact on the animal and local environment. They’re selfish hunters, who aim to profit off of the suffering of animals - not benefitting anyone other than themselves. These hunters cannot be compared to hunters like Ryan who carefully consider both the short and long-term impacts on the animal and environment. We must not allow these cruel forms of unsustainable hunting, but remain conscious that this does not reflect the majority of hunters.
Additionally, a sustainable hunter must carefully consider their surroundings and how they are impacting the local wildlife. Sustainability means the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance, therefore hunters must hunt in a manner which preserves the biodiversity and ecological balance of the local area.
“Is there enough animals around to justify me taking some out of the environment? If the answer is no - it's not sustainable, and you shouldn’t be doing it. Unless the decrease in animals is justified by investments in conservation.”
As discussed before, this is done through careful monitoring of local wildlife and species, ensuring that the hunters are positively impacting the environmental.
So, after reading this article, do you believe that one can be an Ethical Carnivore? We mustn’t demonize these hunters as they are not only sustainably sourcing their own meat, they are likely helping you, as well as benefiting local wildlife. Conservation comes in many forms. We must be open to face the facts and to face the truth, in order to truly create a sustainable future.