As with most laws the majority of people that once something is made illegal then that’s it, it’s done with. Unfortunately with laws like the Hunting Act that’s far from the case and also explains why so many hunts are continuing to circumnavigate the law by cynically using the loopholes which are written into the legislation in its current form. What I’ll try to do here is outline the main points so its possible to get a better understanding of how things stand. In this part I’ll highlight what I feel are the most relevant points of the act and this will follow in part 2 with the problems in enforcing it and the requirements needed to gain a conviction.

The full act can be found here.

1

The main statement of the act reads as follows

A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt”.

The important part here is the mention of exempt hunting. This is covered by Schedule 1 of the act. The act then covers various situations where the hunting will be considered exempt however the most important part here is that all of these exemptions are covered by Part 5.

“The third condition is that the stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of more than two dogs”.

This was the part which was supposed to put an end to the hunting of foxes, hares and stags (amongst other species) with full packs of hounds. However when the act came into force the CA and hunts got together and invented “trail hunting”. I think most people are now fully aware that trail hunting is nothing more than a cover for real hunting, that is, hunting live quarry, however as the law stands there is no written part of the legislation banning this.

The next import point to note is Part 6 – “Use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting” – This is commonly known as the “Gamekeepers Exemption”. This is covered further in Section 2

This part of the act is to enable gamekeepers to be able to kill foxes and protect their precious game birds. They can put a terrier down a hole where foxes thought to be present with the purpose of flushing them so they can be shot by a competent person. Only one dog can be used and these are supposed to be “soft” terriers, that is a terrier which will not engage with the fox and fight it underground. This has to comply with a code of practice but as well all know this is often roundly ignored with both terriers and foxes suffering injuries consistent with fighting underground.

OHTM

The person conducting this operation must have written permission from the land owner if not the owner themselves and this must be made available to any constable who requests it. It has to be proven that the activity is for the protection of livestock, most notably bird which are being raised to be shot (Game birds).

Falconry

This is where the act has an inconsistency. There is no limit on the number of hounds which can be used to flush the mammal for the bird of prey to then hunt. The same restrictions apply with regards to permissions however as you well know this particular exemption has been used by several hunts in order for them to continue hunting as normal. However the recent conviction of the now retired Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams (see full story here) has put the use of this exemption by the hunts seriously into question.

Exempt Species

Not all mammals are covered by the act. Those species which are considered vermin have no protection under the act and this include both rats and rabbits. Provided once again that all permissions are satisfied these species can hunted regardless of the number of hounds or the methods used.

There are some quite bizarre exemptions which include Recapture of a Wild Mammal, Rescue of a Wild Mammal and Retrieval of Hares (which have been shot) but these, by and large have no real bearing with regards to the hunting we see in our countryside through the hunting season.

Research  and Observation

This is another odd one as I’m not sure what there is to learn about a mammal from a scientific point of view by hunting them. I’m told the stag hound hunts in the west country use this exemption although it clearly states in the act that the number of hounds is limited to 2.

Section 4 Hunting Assistance

Quite an interesting one this and something, as far as I’m aware that has yet to be enforced. “A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under section 1″.

This would appear to be a little like vicarious liability. It is possible for the land owner to be prosecuted if they were knowingly allowing an illegal activity to take place on their land. When out in the fields we’ll often be approached by angry people claiming to be land owners and telling us to leave. When you quote them chapter and verse of this part of the act its amazing how quickly they will shut up and make themselves scarce. We’ll always ask for their names and proof of ownership if they continue to press the point. It is without doubt that a large number of land owners who permit their land to be used by hunts know exactly what’s going on and are probably fairly active themselves in the hunting community however it would seem that proving this is nigh on impossible as the police and CPS never seem to go after these people. Perhaps if a successful prosecution could be gained more land owners would have second thought about allowing the criminal hunters to use their land.

coursing-cambridgeshire-771194

Section 5 – Hare Coursing

We will often hear of how rural police officers spend a lot of their time tackling hare coursing (and rightly so), particularly in the east of the country (the last stronghold of the Brown Hare) and the public will often ask the question why these forces don’t put the same resources into tackling organised hunting with hounds. The hunting act has a section all of its own for hare coursing and this of course makes it a lot easier for the police and CPS to gain successful prosecutions. The people that undertake coursing are often trespassing and damaging property so this is another justification for a more robust police response which will also include seizure of vehicles and dogs.

So these are what I believe to be the most important points to note. Obviously there is a level of interpretation however from personal experience I don’t believe I’m far off the mark. In the next blog I’ll look at the reality of the act in the fields and what is required to to bring these criminals to justice.

Comments
  1. Yvonne Day says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this guide and for all you do. Much appreciated.

  2. Simon Watson says:

    Excellent article. It could be argued that the Hunting Act is good enough (I don’t think it is) and the real issue is enforcement. If the latter focussed on trail laying, demanding to see licences for the import of fox urine / scent that rarely (if ever exist) the hunts would be shut down very rapidly. Everything a fox hunt does is based on the existance of the genuine trail laying.

  3. It is not, as you state, necessary for a terrierman, or the landowner who has given permission to him, to prove that there is a problem with foxes predating game or wild birds on the land. The clause has been written so that a simple assertion that this is so suffices. This stands in contrast with exemptions in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 where the person claiming the exemption must be able to demonstrate justification.
    In POWA’s suggestions for amendments to the Hunting Act we state regarding Schedule 1.2 that we would prefer the ‘Gamekeepers’ Exemption’ to be deleted entirely, but recognise that this might not prove politically possible. So, as fall-back, we suggest than the words ‘can be shown to be necessary’ replace the word ‘undertaken’ in the clause.
    I’m sure you are aware that there are many more serious problems with the Hunting Act than you have detailed above. POWA has been campaigning for and thinking about needed amendments to the Act since before the ink was dry on it. You might like to read the upshot of that lengthy consideration at http://www.powa.org.uk/id88.htm
    I always distribute your blogs to the rest of POWA where they are well received.

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