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#PuffinGate: Our Mission to Challenge False Journalism

Puffins in Mykines by Countryside Alliance

I am sure that like me you have never given much thought to puffin hunting. In fact apart from the odd story about Icelanders harvesting a few puffins as a slightly dubious snack I was not aware that it  happened at all. I was somewhat surprised therefore to read a prominent article in the Sunday Telegraph claiming that hoards of British ‘hunters’ were heading to Iceland to shoot big bags of puffin and apparently import them back to the UK as ‘trophies’. This was, to say the least, a little bit odd.  I have seen a number of questionable decorating schemes, but not once have I been to a house that had stuffed puffins mounted to the walls. Nor, in all my time talking with people from every corner of the British shooting world have I ever heard anyone extolling the virtues of their Icelandic puffin hunt or adding it to their bucket list.

The whole story seemed almost too absurd to warrant a response, but for all the farcical content it was sadly resonant. Devoid of facts, breathless in anger and sensationalist to the core, it was the exact mould we see so often from those with an anti-shooting agenda. Puffins may be outside the Countryside Alliance’s normal remit, but challenging false journalism that brings the whole shooting community into disrepute is certainly not.  

The article was accompanied by images showing hunters with a bag of puffins by their side clearly suggesting these were British ‘hunters’.  However, we were soon able to confirm that none of those pictured were from the UK, but were Maltese and American.

Iceland also has a strict system of issuing hunting licences. They know exactly who is hunting and what their intended quarry is. Had the Sunday Telegraph done even minimal research they would have known this.  A quick email exchange with Aki Armann Jonsson, director of the Icelandic hunting organisation, revealed some telling truths. Aki confirmed that at least since 2017 not a single licence for puffin shooting has been granted to a British national. Aki was previously a director at the Icelandic Wildlife Management Institute, the government department responsible for issuing hunting permits. In his 15 years there he could not recall ever issuing a puffin licence to Britains.

It quickly became clear that the attempt to link puffin hunting with British hunters was utter fabrication by an animal rights group and the Telegraph did not seem to have done a jot of research for their story.  When we complained they even asked us for the contact details of the Icelandic hunting organisation, which is a strange way to go about journalism

An article about puffin hunting may seem like a distraction, but this seemingly irrelevant story was quickly picked up by The Mirror, The Independent, The Metro and a myriad of online news outlets.  It rapidly spread across the Twitter-sphere, with the likes of Chris Packham helping it on its way to even wider audiences. Our response has at least seen nearly all the stories successfully removed or amended to remove any claims that puffins were being shot and imported by UK hunters. Bizarrely the Sunday Telegraph is the only outlet continuing to make these discredited claims, but we will continue to pursue that complaint.

This might seem a lot of effort to tackle a story about a fictional activity, but it actually goes to the heart of why the Alliance exists. If we do not challenge the fiction of the animal rights movement then even respectable media outlets will continue to publish lies and false news.

Tim Bonner – Countryside Alliance

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