Whilst there is no doubt that it needs work and improvements, the hunting act has been successful in saving over 100,000 animals from hunting since it came into force in 2005, in addition to 430 successful persecutions. All too often, we only associate the hunting act with the protection of foxes – but there are other animals that are saved by the act.
With the upcoming election, and the parties stance on a return to hunting clear, find out more on the other animals that are protected by the hunting act.
What Is The Hunting Act?
The hunting act in a nutshell, is a law that came into force in 2005 that prohibits the use of dogs for the hunting of wild mammals, in addition to a ban on hare coursing. There are a number of ‘loopholes’ in the current law which allow hunts to continue hunting including:
- The Gamekeepers Exemption – Allows terriermen to use dogs below ground to dig out a mammal so long as they are doing so to protect shooting or wild birds.
- Flushing To Protect Property – Allows hunts to flush mammals out of cover to be shot in order to prevent damage to property, food crops, timber, fisheries or biological diversity.
- Research & Observation – Allowing deer hunts to kill so long as they are doing so for observation and research purposes.
- Trail Hunting – Hunts often claim they were following a trail until the hounds caught a scent.
- Flushing To A Bird Of Prey – Allowing hunts to flush mammals so long as there intention is to flush the animal to a bird of prey.
The law is currently only active in England and Wales, the Scottish law on hunting known as the protection of wild mammals act 2002 – is slightly weaker, and Northern Ireland currently have no ban on hunting with dogs.
Deer / Stag Hunting
There are just 3 registered stag packs in England – the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds, the Quantock Stag Hounds and the Tiverton Stag Hounds. In these hunts, red deer are hunted with hounds until the point of exhaustion, when they are shot. The League Against Cruel Sports cites that hunts can last around 3 hours and cover a distance of 18km.
Deer hunts are extremely cruel, Professor Patrick Bateson cited that:
“Red deer are not equipped with sweat glands in their bodies. They overheat when chased and their muscle fibre type is not adapted for endurance running. However, even these initial conclusions scarcely prepared me for the astonishing changes in the physiology of the hunted deer.”
“In short, many of the physiological changes are seriously maladaptive and would not be expected to occur normally. The pattern of the data suggests that the hunted animals are extremely frightened as they try to escape.”
The most common abuse of the hunting act when it comes to stag hunts is the ‘Observation and Research’ exemption, which is an abuse of the act that allows stag hunts to avoid prosecution.
Whilst an end to illegal Deer and Stag hunting isn’t campaigned for as heavily due to the small amount of registered hunts, the public is actually more against a return to this than fox hunting – with 88% believing it should remain illegal.
There are 17 registered mink hunts in England and 20 unregistered packs – they keep around 12 – 16 hounds each and use otterhounds to hunt with. Mink hunts originally hunted otters until 1978 when their numbers depleted so far that it was made illegal to hunt them.
Mink hunts consist of hunters and dogs surrounding an area of water where the mink has its den and following it up and down the river bank until the point of exhaustion – minks have small territories of usually less than a mile of river bank so they do not venture far when being hunted.
Like a fox hunt, mink hunts will bring along terriermen who will then dig up and bolt or kill the mink should it go to ground.
Hare Coursing / Hunting
The Hare Preservation Trust, has reported an 80% decline in the number of brown hares in the UK in the past 100 years. Whilst the majority of this is down to modern farming practises and shooting – illegal hunting contributes as well. Some 91% of the public are against a return to hair hunting and coursing.
Hares are hunted in two different ways:
Hare Hunting: Currently there are 62 packs of Beagles and 22 packs of Harriers registered with the Association Of Master Of Harriers and Beagles in the UK (AMHB). Unlike fox, stag and mink hunts, hare hunters will use smaller dogs such as beagles or basset hounds to pursue hares.
Unlike foxes and mink, hares will not ‘go to ground’ and will rely on their speed to escape before the dogs superior stamina leaves them at the point of exhaustion to be caught.
Hare Coursing: Hare coursing involves two sight hounds (such as lurchers or greyhounds) racing against each other to catch a hare – with the winning dog getting the kill. This was commonly practised as a spectator sport and involved several near misses where the hare would barely escape the jaws of the dogs. The chases can last up to 90 minutes and can end in both hounds having a ‘tug of war’ with the hare once caught.
The burns inquiry concluded that as well as the stress caused to the animal, there were several strong cases of hare courses being violent towards landowners, causing them to ‘shoot out’ any hares on their property to deter poachers and coursers coming back.
Help Strengthen The Hunting Act
There is no doubt that the hunting act needs a rework – it may have saved thousands of animals already, but it could have been hundreds of thousands. Despite Theresa May’s commitment to a free vote on a repeal, we need to keep the pressure up on strengthening the hunting act.
We urge you to contact your MP to commit to pushing a strengthening of the hunting act including:
- Prohibit the use of dogs to hunt once the mammal has gone to ground
- Increased sentencing for those found in breach of the hunting act
- Close the ‘research and observation’ loophole
- Close the ‘flushing to a bird of prey’ loophole
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