A couple of years ago I went on a wild bushcraft weekend in some woods near the Ashdown Forest.
It was sunny and breezy, and over the course of the weekend we were shown various skills: how to build a shelter from branches and leaves, spoon carving, making string from wild plants, how to purify water using dirt and moss…
We also were taught how to skin a wild rabbit.
To be honest, I didn’t fancy the rabbit session that much. I’m a bit squeamish and although I am a meat eater I don’t eat rabbit. But in the interests of learning a survival skill and of getting closer to something I usually take for granted, I thought I’d give it a go.
It was harder than I expected, and peeling back the fur and the skin to reveal the raw sinews and muscle underneath made me feel pretty uncomfortable.
Before we started on our own rabbit, Rob the instructor demonstrated how to do it correctly, first making a show of genuine respect and gratitude to the animal.
I remember what he said: he gave thanks to the rabbit for giving its life so that we could live. Those words of gratitude made a big impression on me, and I try to remember to do the same now whenever I eat meat.
In a world where we’re removed from the messiness of food ‘production’, and buy most of it from a supermarket conveniently wrapped in plastic, the session challenged and inspired me to think differently about meat, and as much as I can, to make a connection with the animal that it came from.
Something I’d suggest that most people don’t often think about.
So this year, when I met Feathers - a big-hearted and very skilled nature-connection instructor with similar views on gratitude and respect - I asked him to run a rabbit-skinning session for us.
I knew it was a bit edgy, but we scheduled it for good reasons.
Quite a few people came up to me and said they were thinking of doing it, mainly to challenge themselves… but no one actually booked on it.
Maybe it was a bad date I thought. So a week or so ago we decided to postpone it to later in the year and give it another go. (New Date: Sunday October 29th 2017)
I forgot to delete the event on Facebook though, and out of the blue, I suddenly received a batch of emails and messages from upset people who believe that it’s gratuitous and cruel.
“It’s disgusting,” wrote one. “I strongly object,” wrote another.
“It has already upset a lot of people,” said another. “Please stop supporting animal cruelty,” said someone else… “out dated and uneccisarily harmful" (sic)
…“leave the animals alone”… “very naive”… said others.
One complained about us killing the rabbits just for the workshop - I double checked and we're definitely not.
Rabbits are killed by gamekeepers and farmers, and also by land managers who’re trying to re-balance the natural ecosystem because the predators that would keep them in check - foxes, wolves, and wild cats - have been hunted from the land. (And a female rabbit can produce over 100 babies a year.)
But their messages have given me pause for thought. Is there some kind of ethical or ecological conflict between foraging and animal welfare I wondered?
I don't think there is. And I genuinely feel that if we’re going to fix our relationship with nature, we sometimes need to experience things in a way that will have a visceral and direct impact on our minds and our behaviour.
So I decided to ask our members, customers and subscribers what they think. I asked them, should we run the session or not?
The responses have been very interesting - you can read them in Part 2!
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.