Is The Hunt Gone for Good?
A report on the effectiveness and implementation of the Fox Hunting Ban in Britain, presenting arguments for and against the prohibition of fox hunting.
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It’s November, and once upon a time, that would have meant hunting season in rural areas like Dorset. In Febuary 2005 however, the Hunting Ban was brought in after fifteen years of campaigning. But with the Conservatives gathering at the gallows and hoping for a win next election, is fox hunting gone for good?
Critics of the Hunting Act argue that the legislation is not working; that it cannot work. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) deny that the Act itself is flawed, and have accused organisations such as the Countryside Alliance – who enigmatically told me that ‘it had failed; hunting has survived,” – of trying ‘to muddy the waters’.
They argue that successful prosecutions demonstrate that the ban is enforceable. The law is, however, being broken, as ‘some hunters have replaced the thrill of the chase with the thrill of trying to get round the law.’ The fact that the Countryside Alliance views it as ‘temporary legislation’ and consider those prosecuted to be ‘victims of a bad law, and supported them all’ no doubt adds to the problem.
In response to claims that the Hunting Act had a negative impact on the rural economy, the UK government formed a Committee of Inquiry into hunting with dogs, concluding:
“The effects would be offset as resources were diverted to new activities…[and the hunt is] almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole.”
Even if this were not the case, the IFAW refutes any argument that fox populations require control. I spoke to the IFAW’s Rosa Argent, who stated: “We have always maintained that, if an individual fox is causing problems, the most humane way to deal with it is shooting by a skilled marksman.”
The ban outlaws hunting wild mammals with dogs, and allowing your land to be used for this purpose. ‘Drag hunting’ – which dates back to the 19thC – and trail hunting are the chosen substitutes. Both involve riders and dogs following a trail, (the former being an artificial scent, the latter fox-based.) Though this is legal, the IFAW argues that trail hunting is more likely to increase the risk of ‘accidental kills’ when dogs have been known to attack live quarry, even attacking pets and livestock.
It would seem these alternatives ought to keep hunters happy with a cruelty-free sport. For the majority of those who support the ban, the issue is just that: one of cruelty. While many hunters argue fox populations need control (despite the fact that the impact on population is relatively small and damage to agriculture caused by rabbits, the fox’s major prey, is £100m a year, almost ten times higher than that caused by fox predation, which also causes less than 1% of lamb losses,) it is the method which many of us find hard to swallow.
I spoke to Tim Bonner at the Countryside Alliance, and asked why drag/trail hunting were not acceptable substitutes:
“[The ban] is an illiberal, pointless and cruel piece of legislation based on the prejudice of Labour MPs. Hunting an artificial scent is a different activity to proper hunting. Just as football is a different activity to rugby but it doesn’t mean that it is justifiable to ban rugby…Hunting causes no harm.”
No doubt the fox, who has no natural predator, will disagree. The animal is chased to exhaustion, and then, if not shot immediately, may be torn limb from limb and disembowelled alive by dogs. This is a far cry from the humane ‘quick nip to the neck’ suggested by hunters.
I asked one hunter if quick death could be guaranteed: “Not always, I mean we do our best, obviously we have no reason to want to prolong the process, but foxes are pests.”
Since the ban came into effect, the IFAW have been working with the police to enforce it. Hunt monitors often follow hunts using public footpaths, and document hunters’ activities. Unfortunately, in some cases monitors have received verbal abuse, damage to vehicles and even assault. IFAW monitor Kevin Hill required hospitalisation and hunt supporter Christopher Miles was found guilty of assault.
Rosa Argent explained that such harassment as gone up dramatically since hunters have been successfully prosecuted for breaking the ban.
“We are very concerned for their safety and are calling for increased police presence at hunts,” she said. “We also question why hunts object so strongly to their presence – if they are obeying the law, surely they shouldn’t object to observation.”
Arguably, however, the IFAW monitors are violating these individuals’ right to privacy. One might as well say ‘political activists should have no problem being followed with cameras, if they’re not terrorists’. It seems that the IFAW have overstepped the mark in assuming a role intended for the police.
Fox hunting has been a part of rural British culture for hundreds of years. Some have also argued that fox hunting provides a sponsor for horse-related industries, and dispersing geographical concentrations of foxes, which lead to disease such as mange, and greater fox predation.
Speaking on TalkSport last spring, David Cameron admitted to enjoying fox hunting ‘in the past’. When asked if he saw no cruelty in the sport, he responded:
“No, I don’t see anything wrong with it at all…I still have a bit of time obviously for the odd pigeon.”
And are people breaking the law? Cameron seems to think so and commented quite articulately that it was a ‘farce’ that ‘made the law look stupid’.
I spoke to one Dorset resident, whose family have been hunting for generations. I asked him why he enjoyed the sport.
“It’s not about enjoying the kill,” he insisted. “I love riding, and being with the dogs. It’s a very pleasant day in the countryside, and it brings friend together.”
Once the Hunting Act came into force however, such arguments by no means became irrelevant, and resentment has not died down, despite the ban enjoying a majority of support – not just within the Labour Party.
Though the Countryside Alliance disputes the neutrality of the survey, according to recent polls by Ipsos Mori, ‘the majority of Conservative Party supporters back the ban on fox hunting.’ The poll, released on September 28th, reveal that only 30% oppose the ban, while 75% of the general public are in favour. David Cameron, however, has promised MPs a vote to have the act repealed.
Should the Conservatives find themselves in power however, even a vote among MPs will be unlikely to resurrect the hunt smoothly. Public opinion must not be ignored, and the British public have already made their message clear: the entire concept of ‘killing for sport’ seems a barbaric and medieval one, which they refuse to tolerate.
“There is no human right to be cruel, and traditions change as society evolves,” says Rosa. “7/10 people still support the ban, and police should do more to make sure the law of the land is upheld. It’s time for the hunting community to move on.”