Animal rights lobby group Peta has threatened the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with legal action in a row over replacing the King’s Guards’ bearskin caps with a faux fur alternative.
It claims the MoD has failed to properly consider a synthetic replacement it developed with the faux furrier Ecopel, warning it could pursue a judicial review on the grounds of unlawful conduct in a bid to make it do so.
Peta has campaigned for the caps’ fur to be replaced with a synthetic substitute since 2002, condemning the MoD’s alleged “support for the slaughter of Canadian black bears”.
The MoD says the furs are not “hunted for order” and come from legal, licenced hunts and has previously claimed that cutting its orders would not reduce the numbers being hunted.
In February it stated, “currently we have no plans to end the use of bearskins”, saying “Guardsmen take great pride” in wearing the current cap which is an “iconic image of Britain”.
They are worn by foot soldiers in the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards.
The MoD set five tests any artificial fur must meet to be considered as a replacement, relating to water absorption, penetration, appearance, drying rate and compression.
A synthetic alternative would also “have to meet with user approval for shape and comfort for a parade length of duty”, it said.
In February, the Government said its analysis of tests on the ECOPEL material showed it only met one of the five requirements, adding that none of the four artificial furs tested since 2015 met the necessary standard.
Peta now says tests by a fabric technologist show its “100% waterproof” material meets and, in some cases, exceeds these requirements, saying the MoD was sent a summary of the results in May but allegedly refused to evaluate them.
In a legal letter, it now calls on the MoD to fully evaluate the report and to consider and test the faux bear fur against all the relevant criteria.
Its senior campaigns manager Kate Werner said: “Peta has devoted many years and thousands of pounds to developing and testing this state-of-the-art faux bear fur, yet the MoD refuses to honour the deal it made.
“The Ecopel faux fur not only meets the MoD’s requirements but outperforms bearskin in some areas, so the ministry has no excuse not to adopt Peta’s vegan upgrade as promised.”
Lorna Hackett, Peta’s legal counsel from Hackett & Dabbs LLP added: “The MoD has repeatedly stated that it will test any faux fur Peta presents to it, most recently in a July 2022 parliamentary debate where the former procurement minister said that it is not wedded to bearskin and again reiterated the principled acceptance that if shown to be an appropriate replacement, faux fur would be adopted.”
Peta says Ecopel has offered an unlimited amount of the faux fur free of charge until 2030.
A Peta Freedom of Information Request revealed 110 ceremonial bearskin caps were purchased by the MoD in 2020 at a cost of £145,000.
An MoD spokesperson said it is reviewing Peta’s letter “carefully and will respond in due course”, adding: “Bears are not hunted to order for the Ministry of Defence and bear pelts used are a product of legal and licensed hunts, authorised by Canadian provincial and territorial governments for the management of wildlife populations.
“Bear pelts are sourced exclusively from the regulated Canadian market, in line with the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora.
“Reductions in the number of bearskins procured by the MoD would not reduce the numbers of bears being hunted.”