Animal rights activitists blast Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace over ‘inhumane’ bearskin hats

A rather unflattering depiction of Wyre and Preston North MP Ben Wallace has been plastered on billboards along a Lancashire motorway by animal rights activists fighting for a ban on the bearskin hats traditionally used by the Queen’s Guard.

Two giant billboards containing the words ‘BEAR FACED LIES’, along with a picture of Mr Wallace with a large Pinocchio nose, have been put up on the Preston Bypass, west of the city centre, by campaigners from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

A mobile billboard was driven through his constituency yesterday telling people: “Don’t be duped. Viable faux bear fur exists. Tell the (Ministry of Defence) to use it.”

The provocative move comes as part of the group’s campaign to have the bearskin caps used by the Queen’s Guard replaced with aesthetically identical fake fur.

One of the billboards put up by PETA accusing the MP of 'bear faced lies'

“A humane replacement for the bear fur used for the Queen’s Guard’s caps now exists, but Ben Wallace and the MoD are stonewalling it,” said Kate Werner, PETA senior campaigns manager.

“The world’s most celebrated and accomplished designers have all ditched real fur, and if they can do it, so can the MoD for its ceremonial headgear.”

Political debate about the use of bearskin began in 2006, when Sunderland South MP Chris Mullin motioned for an end to the ‘unnecessary cruelty’. At the time, Mr Wallace put forward an amendment calling for the continued use of real fur, which he called a ‘glorious military tradition’.

He said: “Bearskin pelts used for them are sourced from a necessary cull of Canadian bears carried out by the indigenous Inuit people every year… previous trials of artificial fur have failed to find an appropriate replacement and many bearskins last for many decades, especially after the grooming that guardsmen are required to administer to them.”

The mobile billboard driven by PETA

He added: “Any attempt to remove the bearskin from the Footguards would mean a loss of one of the British Army's trademark images that identifies them across the world.”

But PETA argues there is ‘no evidence that any culls of this sort exist’.

The Canadian government does, however, give licences to hunters allowing them to kill an approved number of bears each year.

In 2021, a Freedom of Information request revealed that ‘the MoD receives the final product from contracted suppliers and is not involved with the licensed cull sanctioned by the Canadian government’.

PETA said: “The MoD is claiming the deaths are a result of a ‘cull’ to sugarcoat the fact that the UK’s demand for bearskins is fuelling bear slaughter.

"PETA believes the MoD is using the term disingenuously as a euphemism for the annual quota of hunting tags issued by the Canadian government to licensed hunting enthusiasts who enjoy killing bears for sport.

“Many bears are shot several times, and some escape and die slowly from blood loss, gangrene, starvation, or dehydration. Some provinces allow mother bears to be killed, meaning their cubs are left to starve or are killed by predators.

“Hunters are permitted to sell their ‘trophies’, which often means that the pelts are sold to fur auction houses for financial gain.

“It is undeniable that money from buyers of bear pelts is making the baiting and killing of bears a profitable pursuit for hunters.”

A petition calling on the government to replace the real bearskins used for the Queen’s Guard’s caps with faux fur has been signed more than 60,000 times.

An army spokesman said: “Bears are never hunted to order for use by the MoD.

“Bear pelts that are used by the MoD are by-products of licensed culls by the Canadian authorities to manage the wild bear population. Therefore, any reduction in the number of bearskins procured by the MoD would not equate to a reduction in the numbers of bears being killed.

“Our Guardsmen take immense pride in wearing the bearskin cap which is an iconic image of Britain.

“Ensuring the Guards caps remain both practical and smart is vital and currently there are currently no artificial alternatives available that meet the essential requirements for these ceremonial caps.”

“Where man-made alternatives to replace natural fur items provide a suitable, affordable and sustainable alternative to animal products, the MoD will use them. For example, faux fur is now used for the smaller busby hats worn by soldiers of the King's Troop.”