I am a 53 year old zoologist originally from Catalonia but I have been living in the UK for over 25 years. I have worked in animal protection in a variety of roles for decades both freelance and employed by several animal protection organisations in different countries.
I have been an ethical vegan for over 17 years. I have been an anti-hunting campaigner for most of my adult life, having exposed the deception of “trail hunting” when working for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and having developed several successful prosecutions against hunts, including the first successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 when I was working as the hunting campaigner of the League Against Cruel Sports. I am also known by my anti-bullfighting work as I was involved in the banning of bullfighting in Catalonia, and for my investigations and research on captive wild animals in zoos and public aquaria.
The Hunting Act 2004: a human and animal welfare improvement to build on.
“It should also be remembered that the Act remains very popular with voters. Polling from Ipsos MORI, conducted for the League Against Cruel Sports, shows that 8 out of 10 people think fox hunting should remain illegal, with similar numbers agreeing that deer and hare hunting should remain illegal too. More than 80 percent surveyed (in both urban and rural areas) believe hunting with dogs should remain against the law. Public opinion seems settled on this matter, and to my mind it’s the responsibility of Parliament to reflect this. The Hunting Act has survived ten testing years. It has proven to be successful and popular, and the focus should be not on repeal but rather how we can make an already good law even better, so that more animals are spared from a horrific fate in the name of an inhumane & archaic sport.”
Caroline Dinenage, Conservative member for Gosport, The Hunting Act has been successful and popular. It should now be made even better. The Spectator. 18th November 2014.
The recent guest blog posted here, “The Hunting Act by Tim Bidie”, was an entertaining read which can almost be debunked sentence by sentence, so I thought I would give it a go trying to use the same format, as it illustrates the hopeless incompetence and absurdity of the Hunting Act “repealers” (those who want hunting to be legalised again in the UK).
They complain that it is illegal to push deer munching your azaleas off your premises using pugs or dachshunds to scare the animal off, and demand that when doing so wearing a red coat and using a hound instead, you should be praised and allowed to do it in your neighbours’ gardens too, not only your own. That is wrong. Nobody should be allowed to scare wild animals off from what essentially is their own natural territory, let alone to “protect” the toxic alien plants you have planted to mess with the natural ecosystem just for your own leisure. Any law that would make this more difficult should be welcomed.
But the claim made by the article, that the law had been brought into disrepute by the Hunting Act 2004, was a serious one, and incorrect. Those who decided to defy the law and those who decided not to enforce it properly did, not the Act itself. English hunting law is held in contempt by some people on all sides, but the worst conceivable outcome would have been no law without which we could not build on progress by amending it and improving it.
Only after the Act was passed and time was given to see how the hunts and the authorities would react to it that a proper assessment could be made in order to improve it, and now we know all this. Now we know the hunts have abused several exemptions of the Act so these need to be modified or removed; now we know that the hunts have invented the false alibi of “trail hunting” to continue hunting wild animals but avoid prosecution, so now we should amend the Act to prevent this to happen and make “reckless” hunting illegal too; now we know that a fine is not sufficient deterrent so we need to amend the Act to include custodial sentences; now we know that the police and CPS claim that enforcing this Act is too difficult, so we can amend it to make it easier. Now that we tested a real law in the field for over a decade we can build from it a real ban.
This barbaric and incompetent attitude of the hunting and shooting fraternities is responsible for the hideous lingering death of thousands of foxes every year. They are chased for a long time and then ripped apart by a pack of dogs, or shot and wounded by incompetent shooters.
The article goes on quoting peer reviewed research showing how bad is shooting foxes for their wellbeing, and I agree. Foxes should not be hunted with dogs or shot as both methods cause them unnecessary suffering. They should not be snared, poisoned or gassed either because of the same reason. In fact, in most cases foxes should not be killed as they are one of the few natural predator mammals left in the UK, and as such are a very important part of our ecosystems. I would go even further. I think foxes should be protected at least as badgers are.
“Baker and Harris (1997) assessed the different known causes of mortality of British foxes, such as road deaths, shooting, terriers, snares, lurchers and hounds. They concluded that 80,000 foxes were shot and retrieved each year and that a theoretical further 115,000 fox deaths remained unaccounted for. Some of these may be foxes that have been shot and died later without being retrieved”.
Wounding rates in shooting foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Animal Welfare 2005, 14: 93-102.
As you probably noticed, this quote mentioned in the article was from a 1997 paper, before the Hunting Act 2004 was even conceived, showing that the practice of shooting foxes has nothing to do with the hunting ban. This shooting continued after the hunting ban, as the Act did not ban it (and it should probably have), but at least now there a fewer foxes deaths to add to this to because although the hunters have mostly disobeyed the ban (I have estimated that there have been at least 200,000 illegal hunting events perpetrated by members of registered hunts since the Act was enacted), the time they spent building false alibies to avoid prosecution is time that some foxes may use to get away now.
In fact, my own research produced in 2016 and 2017 using hunting publications, more than 4,000 hunt monitor reports, scientific research, analysis of maps of hunting meets, and the Burns Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs, allowed me to estimate that the Hunting Act so far had helped over 100,000 animals, but if it had been properly enforced it would have helped up to 2.8 million animals. I estimated that preventing the repeal or weakening of the Hunting Act would help around 10,000 animals per year, but strengthening it until it is properly enforced would help up to 230,000 animals per year.
This positive effect of the Hunting Act (despite widespread defiance and poor enforcement) was detected because the reduction of number of hunting meets, the reduction of areas hunted, the time hunters waste trying to cover their tracks or avoiding witnesses, etc. Some of these animals may still have died from horrible deaths another day, for instance if caught by snares normally placed in shooting estates (which should be banned in the UK too, as in most EU countries), or shot by lampers, or killed by dogs on another day. Unfortunately the Hunting Act only covers hunting with dogs, but all laws are limited in their scope.
The claim that the legislation gives rogue foxes licence to kill the livestock on which aged upland smallholders depend for their livelihood is absurd; it may well be that the loss of three lambs is equivalent to the loss of the entire winter fuel allowance of some farmers, but peer reviewed research has already shown how little foxes contribute to lamb predation. It is likely that when a shepherd finds evidence of a fox eating a lamb this may be because the lamb died from other causes and the fox is just being a scavenger. The Burns Report on hunting makes it clear in its Paragraph 5.14 that less than 2% of otherwise viable lambs were killed by foxes in England and Wales, and the Government does not consider foxes to be a significant factor in lamb national mortality (paragraph 5.12).
When looking at other agricultural losses claimed by farmers, Moberly et al. (2002, 2004) found that free-range chicken and turkey producers generally reported low losses to foxes (average losses of 0% and 0.04% of flocks respectively). On average, 0.3% of piglets born outdoors were reported killed by foxes.
But even if it is true that “problem” foxes kill many farmed animals every year, this may well be because they are hunted and shot by people. If you remove a fox another will replace it very soon, and the new one is most likely to be more problematic as it is likely to be more inexperienced and know the area less. When hunting with dogs stopped during the foot-and-mouth crisis, research from Bristol University (Harris, 2002) showed that the fox population did not increase. On the other side, if you try to kill many foxes in an area using all possible means, Baker & Harris’ research in 2006 showed that the likely effect is an increase in fox numbers.
And if the fox that is killed is not really a “problem” fox, then killing it can actually be bad for the farmers’ profits. Macdonald et al (2003) calculated that during its lifetime each fox was worth £156 to £886 to a farmer through reduced losses due to rabbit grazing, as they predate on rabbits.
But to be honest, why do so many people assume that a farmer’s profit has priority over wildlife welfare? When will the farmers who choose rearing animals, rather than to cultivate sustainable cruelty-free food for everyone, be made accountable of the harm they inflict to animals and the environment? Would not be best for them to convert to cruelty-free climate-friendly farming, than to stick to this vicious circle of suffering, destruction and death? Yes, of course, I am vegan and I would say that…but I wasn’t born vegan, you know? Most of us weren’t and at one point in our life realised we were doing something wrong for the animals, our health and the environment, so we changed for everyone’s benefit.
But let’s go back to the article as I don’t want to leave any statement unturned. The article asks “why was this low priority, hopelessly ill-drafted, time consuming, expensive and utterly impractical act ever passed?” The answer is because British society in the 21st century had new values and really wanted to get rid of outdated cruel sports, plain and simple. So, in fact, it was considered high priority by most people and this is why it was debated so many times and for so long in Parliament. It could have been drafted better but not even a perfect law would have been able to operate normally when faced with such widespread criminal conspiracy and such poor enforcement, as the authorities seemed reluctant to charge criminals who are considered “important” people.
The claim that the two dog limit (which only applies to some exempt hunting, by the way) is responsible for the biggest wild animal welfare disaster in living memory is ridiculous beyond belief. Most hunts don’t respect that limit and they go out with the full pack under the disguise of the false alibi of “trail hunting” (not to be confused with “drag hunting” as no hunt that was hunting foxes, hares, mink or deer before the ban converted to drag hunting, despite the fact many people still believe they did). Just try to find any modern footage of any registered MFHA hunt using the “flushing to guns” exemption of the Hunting Act with only two dogs. You will not find many, if any at all.
But if many hunts had used this exemption, it is quite possible that fewer foxes would have been found and more foxes would have escaped, which obviously would be a good thing and certainly not “the biggest wild animal welfare disaster in living memory”. Let’s put some perspective here. Just think of the scale of the animal welfare disaster of animal agriculture: around 1,000 million land farm animals kept captive and killed for food in the UK every year (over 70% of them kept in factory farms). This includes over 10 million pigs, over 15 million sheep, 16 million turkeys, 14 million ducks and geese, 975 million broiler chickens, 40 million so-called ‘spent’ hens and over 2.6 million cattle. Add to that 4.5 billion fish and 2.6 billion shellfish you have a total of over 8 billion animals killed in the UK each year. Can it be a biggest animal welfare disaster in living memory?
And the claim that the hunting law in Scotland, the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, is great because it does not limit the number of dogs for flushing to guns can only come from hunters who know that such law, in its current form, does not effectively prevent any hunting of a wild mammal there as it has been completely abused by the Scottish hunts. So much so that an official enquiry took place that concluded that the law needs improving, and even the police have publicly stated that the current law is “unworkable”.
The Hunting Act could have been much better but it faced a strong opposition in the Commons and especially in the Lords which effectively made it much weaker that it should have been.
Why did the proponents of this milestone piece of legislation talk out of time in Parliament amendments that would made it even weaker? Because the majority of MPs wanted a ban on hunting as this is what the public wanted, not a “regulation” that would allow hunting to continue.
Why was the idea of a “wild mammals protection bill”, theoretically calling for the general protection of all wild mammals from undue suffering, also talked out of the Commons? Because most MPs knew that this was just a deception to allow hunting to continue with a “disguised” law that was intended to guarantee that hunters would be the only ones allowed to kill wildlife (Jim Barrington’s “middle way” is in fact the “hunters’ way”).
Why did the Hunting Act have to be forced through parliament by the use of the Parliament Act? Because the influence of the hunting and shooting fraternities was stronger on the unelected peers than on the elected MPs, and in a democracy you need to have mechanisms that give priority to politicians elected democratically.
I cannot deny that at some extent the hunting debate has to do with partisan political agendas entirely unconcerned with animal or human welfare, and this is why it is quite laughable when the hunting fraternity uses “animal welfare” as an excuse to justify hunting. However, hunters often say that the hunting debate is part of a class war, when in fact it could be said that it is somehow partially a war against “classism”. A war against those who think “class” is an important part of society, and different rules must apply to different classes. A war against those who think we are not all “equal”.
The hunting fraternity is still one of the few British collectives with an inbuilt class system with masters and servants (the others being, of course, the Monarchy and the Aristocracy). So hunting is as much a “higher” than a “lower” class activity. It just happens to be an activity where their participants are happy to be treated under the “rules” and labels of their self-defined “class”, whatever that will be (high as in the Masters of the hunt or low as in “terrier men”). And they expect that rules and laws apply to them differently. This also applies to the shooting industry, by the way, as commercial shooting remains an “elite” activity, in particular grouse shooting).
Let’s look at all this from some perspective. Let’s look at the “anthropological” reality behind the hunting and shooting debate: People in power in Britain have traditionally liked killing animals for fun, possibly because this reassured their perceived dominion over others. People who would like to be in power like to kill animals for fun too. And those who like to serve those in power feel closer to their “masters” (and their power) by killing animals for fun too.
It is not really about “pest” control (“wildlife management” as they euphemistically call it these days). It is not really about feeding themselves or others (in this country there is no longer need for this in modern society, especially with the growing acceptance of fully plant-based diets). It’s about showing power and status, and trying to keep it. The power of the Royals, the power of the aristocrats, the power of the magnates, the power of the army officers, the power of the rich, the power of the major landowners, and finally, the power of those who think the countryside belongs to them.
So, those in power are always reluctant to listen to those “below them” and they launch a tantrum if others do listen to them. “The people”, and those who represent them, made their voice heard in the early 2000s, so an Act had to be passed despite the constant obstacles those in power threw at it in order to derail it.
But the tantrum continues so “the people” need to be listened again. The people are calling now for a better ban, a ban that neutralises the activities created by the hunters to circumvent the law; a ban with a real deterrent effect; a ban much easier to enforce; and a ban that covers as many wild mammals as possible, in as much of the UK land as possible.
This can be achieved by amending the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 to significantly strengthen them; by creating a new Act in Norther Ireland that bans hunting; by banning “trail hunting” and “exempt hunting” in National Trust, Forestry Commission and MoD land; and by stopping any attempt to repeal any of the current acts or to weaken them with “middle way” versions designed to legalise hunting under the disguise of wild mammals protection (which these days seems to be the current preferred route of the Countryside Alliance, as politicians gradually adapting to this century’s values has made the prospect of an outright repeal vanish).
As far as the article’s criticism of the opinion polls is concerned, well, just another tantrum, is it not? Yes, perhaps slightly different wording in some polls would have reduced the results of the number of people wanting to keep the hunting bans from 85% to, let’s say, 80% (or in fact increased them, who knows?). But really, does anyone in the hunting fraternity really believe that any official poll would show a majority of UK citizens in favour of hunting? Denial and tantrums, this is what this is.
The Hunting Act is a human and animal welfare achievement, praised by many, criticised by those who expected more, and condemned by those who like to kill for sport. It should not be repealed but it should be strengthened forthwith; but never replaced by a new Wild Mammals Protection Act to that will decriminalise hunting and deceivingly persuade “on the fence” politicians that the way out of this never ending debate is a “middle way” (which effectively would give those “in power” the license to kill wildlife in any way they see fit).
The passing of the Hunting Act 2004 was an important citizens’ achievement and an improvement on animal welfare from which we must build on and keep progressing. And yes, snaring should be next, and then grouse shooting, and then pheasant and partridge shooting, and then waterfowling, and then fishing, and so on.
There is no hidden agenda here. It’s all in the open. It’s not the end of the debate of wildlife protection. It’s just the beginning, because let’s face it, we are at the beginning of the 21st century, and real animal protection values are here to stay and become mainstream. This social and moral progress cannot be stopped and should not be delayed, for everyone’s benefit. Even those who genuinely think killing animals is their only way of living.