Not in a literal sense of course (although home security is an important issue) but in regards to the law and the legislation in place that took decades of hard work from animal welfare groups like the League Against Cruel Sports to make a reality. I’m of course referring the Hunting with Dogs Act 2004. I’ll readily admit it’s not the best piece of legislation ever written and it’s certainly open to interpretation and somewhat difficult (it would seem) to prosecute under largely due, I’d suggest, to the disinterest or just downright incompetence of the Police and Crown Prosecution Service. However it is in place, it works and with prosecutions running at roughly 1 a week under its provisions with a 66% success rate it’s clearly a necessity in the fight against cruelty to animals. As I write this I note that two Joint Masters of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds have been charged following an alleged incident at a hunt meet at Warren’s Farm, Simonsbath, on September 14 2013 . (More on that here).

The Tories have always traditionally been on the side of hunting and made noises prior to the last election about repealing the Hunting Act should they come into power. Of course this was largely to gain the votes from those who like to indulge is this cruel and criminal behaviour, most notably the Countryside Alliance and some elements of the farming community, however with such a huge percentage of the population (80%) against such a repeal they knew these were empty promises and something they would never get through a house of commons vote regardless of the pressure applied by the lobby groups. We should expect that to be the end of the story but it seems now a group called the Federation of Welsh Farmers are calling for a modification of the act to allow more than 2 dogs to flush a fox to a gun claiming lamb losses to foxes since the hunting ban have become excessive and more dogs are needed to be successful in flushing a fox.

Let’s take a look at what that would mean.

Firstly, the limitation in the number of dogs allowed to be used to flush a fox is the most important aspect of the act. By removing this limitation it would enable hunts to hunt foxes unmolested in the traditional (and disgusting) manner provided they had someone in the vicinity with a gun. Of course they’re currently doing that right now however the law is not on their side. By having someone with a firearms license and a suitable gun for purpose attached to the hunt they can claim to be abiding by the law. There is currently a similar loop hole and that involves flushing to a large bird of prey, usually an Eagle or Eagle Owl however it’s largely an unrealistic option as I’d imagine many falconers who care for the welfare of their birds wouldn’t want to associate themselves with fox hunting or indeed have ownership of a capable enough species of raptor.

Demonized and persecuted for no reason.

Demonized and persecuted for no reason.

So who are the Federation of Welsh Farmers?

A little digging will show their true colours. They have their own pack of hounds and are clearly another organisation with deep rooted links to the Countryside Alliance. They clearly have a vested interest so any data they claim to have for their justification has to be taken with a pinch of salt. They go to great lengths to produce a report with lots of lovely tables and graphs which are largely meaningless without any independent peer review process. Any old fool with a computer and Microsoft Office can bung a report together and make it look vaguely professional but labelling it as “The Facts” is clearly to be viewed with deep suspicion.

The claim: “The Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs has undertaken research which justifies its original concerns that the Hunting Act currently makes it extremely difficult to effectively manage the fox population. In most practical circumstances and especially in the uplands due to terrain restrictions, dogs are heavily relied upon to manage the fox population rather than alternative methods such as snares, traps and rifles which are not as effective”.

Also from secretary David Thomas: ““Since the Hunting Act came in, we’ve had an ever-increasing number of lambs lost to fox predation. The whole object of our form of pest control/hunting was to have the least number of foxes in the countryside at lambing time.” 

Firstly why do you need to manage a fox population?

Defras own findings show that predation by foxes on lambs to be negligible at best. The most common form of lamb mortality is disease, malnutrition and exposure. Current data (The Burns Report) derived over a four year trial period for two hill farms in Scotland shows the average loss due to predation by foxes to be just 1.8% of the total of lambs lost to all causes. Hardly a massive impact and simple changes in animal husbandry could reduce that to practically zero. Also the gathering of data connected to fox predation is largely anecdotal. A large majority of the mortalities linked to foxes are quite likely to be scavenged carcases of lambs which succumbed to other causes. The general prejudice of livestock farmers makes it’s very easy for them to blame a fox in killing lambs when the actual causes are unclear. There is no evidence at all that reducing fox populations leads to reductions in lamb predation. Of course the upside of having foxes is the reduction in prey species such as rabbits. It is estimated that the reduction in arable crop losses and competition for grazing could amount to £100m. So we can clearly see the justifications so far are nothing more than totally spurious data and deep rooted prejudice against a single species.

Is hunting with hounds an effective form of population control?

Simple to answer this one – No. It never was, and never will be. Once again the Burns Report, after exhaustive study, found that foxhunting “Seriously compromises the welfare of the fox” and “Foxhunting with dogs had little impact on the fox population but for individual foxes caught up in the game caused immense suffering”. Indeed many hunts encouraged foxes by feeding them and building homes, (artificial earths), for foxes to breed in. This clearly undermines their vocal justification for pest control, even though we’ve already shown that controlling foxes is unnecessary.

So far from modifying the current law as it stands we need to strengthen it. Take out the loopholes and get it policed vigorously. Make prosecution easier and the police themselves truly impartial as they should be instead of the pro-hunt organisation they consistently display themselves as being. This back door approach by the hunting lobby is nothing more than an underhand and devious tactic to justify a return to bad old days when they could satisfy their gratuitous bloodlust without fear of incrimination.

Let make sure that doesn’t happen.

  1. Sue Abbiss Stubbs says:

    well said

  2. Leigh Arthur says:

    Well written, and well argued.

  3. Alison Cowie says:

    Would also be good to get rid of the gamekeeper terrier exemption, this is the cruellest of all and the most abused part of the hunting act.

    • Absolutely – The gamekeeper exemption doesn’t apply to fox hunts however much they try and apply it. Terrier work is also illegal. This is it in a nutchell:

      Using more than one ‘soft terrier’ (those that habitually stand off and bark at the wild mammal) to bolt a fox is illegal. Terriers that are ‘hard’ (those that habitually fight) must not be used.

      Using a terrier other than to bolt a fox for the purpose of reducing damage to game birds being kept for shooting, is now illegal. Fox example, you could not do it on a farm that just had sheep.

      Written permission must be kept by the terrierman showing he has the permission of the landowner.
      The aim must be to bolt a fox. Entering a terrier into a hole with its exit blocked is illegal, as is digging down and shooting the fox. Indeed anything that will prevent the fox bolting is illegal.

  4. becky hill says:

    Superb article… Fab read.

  5. Julia Jackson says:

    Have you seen this Accidental Activist ?

    It is worth adding that the so-called ‘secretary’ of this ‘Federation of Welsh Farmers’ Packs’, David Thomas, is a hunt fanatic and at a pro-hunt rally in 2002 ranted, “There will be rivers of blood in the countryside because I want to get on a horse and hunt……” Vested interest ?

  6. Jenna says:

    Well said. The more people that get involved, the more who object they can’t keep ignoring us. I am disgusted by anyone who would kill a fox. There is no justified reason to do so and the ban must stay in place forever. Anyway I can help I will.

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