HUNTING ACT - REFORM NOT REPEAL - Page One
1. Conservative leader, Prime Minister and fox hunter David Cameron has intimated that the ban on hunting wild animals with dogs is being so widely flouted by hunters that the Hunting Act 2004, brought in by the Labour government, should be repealed. What’s more, he has promised to facilitate such repeal by arranging for Parliament to debate the issue all over again - despite his Party’s previous outrage at ‘700 hours of Parliamentary time wasted’ on Labour’s manifesto commitment to ‘deal with the hunting issue’.
2. In fact, during the period of those debates, a reported 60,000 hunt members and supporters publicly signed a ‘Declaration’ threatening civil disobedience if the hunting of wild animals was outlawed. Therefore the widespread flouting of the ban on hunting is not surprising. More surprising is the fact that the Prime Minister has pledged to reward the law-breakers by repealing the Act!
3. In truth, the Hunting Act is indeed flawed. In an attempt to specifically target the ‘mischief’, ie the use of dogs to chase and kill wild animals for entertainment or ‘sport’, still regarded by the majority of the public as ‘cruelty’, Parliament provided ‘exemptions’ in the Act to ensure that people using dogs in other countryside activities, such as genuine pest control, shooting, falconry or the study and rescue of wild animals, need not fear the anti-hunt legislation. The undisputed targets of the legislation were ‘sports’ in which wild animals suffered the terror and exhaustion of a lengthy chase by dogs, or were savaged to death by dogs when they could run no further.
4. Thus, under a lengthy list of provisions and safeguards, certain forms of ‘hunting’ were declared ‘exempt’, such as using no more than two dogs to flush out a wild mammal into the open so that it could be immediately shot or using dogs to flush out wild mammals from cover for the ‘sport’ of falconry. Similarly, using dogs to hunt rabbits and rats was declared ‘exempt hunting’ because a chase of such species is short and any kill virtually instantaneous.
5. Once the Hunting Act became the law of the land, the hunting lobby did not offer themselves up for martyrdom by openly disobeying the law but declared that they would now ‘test’ it by using the ‘exemptions’ provided for other non-target dog users.
6. Stag hunters, for instance, would use pairs of hounds in ‘relays’, by flushing a deer out of cover, but not quite managing to shoot it before the deer ran into more cover, when two more hounds could be used to get it on the run again, not quite managing to shoot it, and so on and so on until the deer was hounded to exhaustion and then shot at point blank range with a sawn-off shot gun - the very practice which Parliament voted to outlaw.
a. A Court determined, a few years ago, that the use of the 'flushing' exemption [Schedule 1.1] to do this, by the Quantock Stag Hounds, was unlawful, because it was clear that the primary purpose was 'sport' and not 'pest control'. In response, deer hunts simply switched to using the less restrictive 'Research and Observation' exemption [Schedule 1.9] instead. Their use of this exemption has not since been challenged in court, although hunters have openly written of hunts lasting 2 hours.
b. Hare hunters could exploit the ‘exemption’ in the Act that permits dogs to be used to retrieve a shot hare by reportedly using packs of hounds to hunt and kill hares, and in the unlikely event of being challenged, simply claim that they are on a ‘mercy-killing’ expedition to ‘save’ a hare suffering from wounds caused by shooting. Or they simply pretend that they are not hunting hares but rabbits [exempt under the Act]. Despite the absurdity of this proposition - rabbits would instantaneously disappear underground - unless absolute evidence can be obtained, such as film of them actually setting hounds on a hare, they can get away with this pretence.
9. Mink hunters saw that their summer ‘sport’ of hounding mink to death on rivers, could be preserved by claiming that their pack of hounds was hunting rats – a completely ridiculous concept, but not easy to disprove.
10. Fox hunters exploit the ‘falconry’ exemption, by taking out a captive bird of prey with their pack of hounds. True, falconers sometimes use a dog, possibly two, for flushing out rabbits or other small mammals to a trained bird of prey. No falconer would ever use a pack of hounds, and no bird of prey would fly at a mammal in the presence of baying and boisterous dogs. The birds of prey taken out by the hunters are usually Eagle Owls or Harris Hawks, neither of which would be likely to hunt foxes. Indeed, they would be unlikely to be willing to even tackle a fox, let alone readily dispatch one. Severe injury and suffering to both would probably result from any combat between the species. At present, the birds of prey are usually carried around by hunt terriermen on quad bikes, squashed into small containers, bumped around for much of the day and never actually used.
11. The official falconry bodies have openly derided and condemned fox hunters for bringing falconry into disrepute, as well as putting the birds at risk from being killed by the hounds. But if challenged, the fox hunters can merely produce the miserable bird and defy anyone to prove they were not using the pack of hounds to flush out a fox for the bird to hunt.
12. The great bulk of fox hunts, however, are using an exemption that is not even mentioned in the Hunting Act – so-called ‘Trail Hunting’. They claim that their hounds are hunting a ‘trail’ laid across the countryside. It could be argued that this is merely ‘drag hunting’ - a harmless hound sport that has existed in Britain for as long as fox hunting - but drag hunting is a long way removed from ‘trail hunting’.
13. Packs of hounds registered with the Masters of Drag & Bloodhounds Association follow an artificial scent trail deliberately laid across open country to avoid places where their hounds would be likely to come across wild animals. POWA is not aware of any reports of wild animals ever being 'accidentally' chased, let alone killed, by genuine drag hunts.
14. ‘Trail hunting’ on the other hand is defined as ‘simulated fox hunting’ and the hounds are taken through fox coverts, copses, crops and hedgerows in exactly the same manner as they previously hunted foxes. For this purpose - and when they bother to lay any trails at all - the hunters use not artificial, but fox-based scents. They thus ensure that their hounds remain 'hard' to foxes - and that, if/when hounds come across a real, fresh fox scent they are likely to start following that rather then the 'trail'.
a. Perhaps the single most depraved aspect of fox hunting occurs, largely in secret, with trusted hunt members only invited. It happens in the early mornings of late summer and early autumn. This is the cub hunting season. Though now euphemistically called 'Autumn Hunting', it is still widely practised. It is extraordinarily hard to monitor at all, let alone successfully.
b. Foxhounds always have to be trained to hunt foxes, just as do drag hounds to follow artificial scent trails. Young foxhounds are introduced into the pack to learn from the older, experienced hounds what to chase and how to kill. This is the purpose of cub hunting – the tradition of sending the young ‘entry’ of hounds into copses with the experienced old hounds to find fox cubs, ensuring they do not escape from the covert, and to chase them around until they catch them and tear them to pieces - to learn, in the words of the 8th Duke of Beaufort, 'to be savage with their fox'.
17. Without young hounds being encouraged and trained to hunt and kill foxes, fox hunters would either have to form genuine ‘drag hunts’ or risk regular prosecutions. At present, whether it is by genuine ‘accident’ or, more typically, ‘cynical subterfuge’, hounds are still chasing and killing young foxes in the cub hunting season because they are still being encouraged and trained to do so. Hunters are currently almost always able to avoid prosecution for cub hunting either by taking some miserable captive bird of prey out with them when they send their full pack of young and old hounds into cover, or by simply claiming that they were 'trail hunting', or even just 'exercising hounds', and claiming that any observed chase or kill of a fox was an 'accident'.