The Hunting Act 2004 was passed to outlaw hunting with dogs in England and Wales (the ban came into effect two years earlier in Scotland and hunting remains legal in Northern Ireland). While it particularly applies to fox hunting, the hunting of mink, deer and hares is also covered by the bill.
And yet, on Boxing Day this year, I sat upon my horse in the village square of Market Bosworth among 80 other riders for the traditional festive meet. Hunts up and down the country still continue today (within the law), making the most of the loopholes in the bill:
“The act makes it an offence to hunt a mouse with a dog but not a rat, you can legally hunt a rabbit but not a hare. You can flush a fox to guns with two dogs legally but if you use three it’s an offence. You can flush a fox to a bird of prey with as many dogs as you like.”
– The Countryside Alliance
It’s all very well discussing the pros and cons of fox hunting from the outside, but how many “antis” or even hunt supporters have actually sat on a horse and been part of the chase?
On my very first hunt, I was 13, and terrified. It is traditional to smear the fox’s blood on the face of any newcomers if one is caught on their first hunt. However, I soon realised that there was nothing to worry about – seven hunting seasons later, I still haven’t seen so much as the tail of a fox.
There’s truth behind the term “sly fox”. They are very intelligent animals and keep themselves well concealed from the hounds and huntsmen. I’m not saying that the hunt NEVER catches a fox, but when they do it’s usually already maimed or diseased, in which case it’s beneficial to the wild fox population to be rid of it.
A fine balance needs to be struck between the need to hunt foxes (with dogs or using other methods, such as lamping), humane killing, and the welfare of those that remain alive.
So where does the veterinary profession stand on the opinion of fox hunting?
Some say that we should be thoroughly anti-hunting due to the welfare of the foxes. Some say we should be thoroughly supportive due to the welfare of the farm animals being predated by said foxes. But it’s not as black-and-white as that.
Regardless of your opinion, hunting with dogs is banned in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) and, regardless of the ban, it still continues.