The Law

hunting foxes with dogs on horseback at dusk

Hunting mammals with dogs was banned in 2004/5 but is still practised illegally to this day. With hunts exploiting loopholes & disregarding the ban.

The laws below apply only to England and Wales as legislation is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland – click on the flags below to find out the laws in other parts of the UK:

hunting laws in Ireland
Northern Irish Laws
Scottish hunting laws
Scottish Laws

What Is The Current Hunting Act Legislation In England And Wales?

Fox hunting in its traditional form with dogs was banned in Scotland in 2002, and England and Wales in 2003/4 – but wasn’t officially enforced until early 2005. Traditional fox hunting with dogs still remains completely legal in Northern Ireland. There have been over 430 successful prosecutions since the Hunting Act came into force in 2004.

The current hunting act legislation at a glance, bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs but doesn’t cover artificial scent hunting or the shooting of wild mammals, it also allows the use of up to 2 dogs for ‘flushing’ a fox out of cover to be shot to prevent damage to property, food crops, timber, fisheries or biological diversity.

The original legislation before the hunting act was the ‘Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996’, but this had specific exemptions for animals killed whilst hunting.

Can You Go To Jail For Fox Hunting?

No, under the legislation you cannot be sentenced to serve time in jail. The maximum fine for being found guilty of illegal hunting of mammals with dogs is £5,000. However, in all previous cases, the figure charged has been nowhere near this amount and usually sits between £200 and £500 per guilty person.

Loopholes and Exemptions 

Unfortunately, hunts still get away with killing foxes, they do this by exploiting the many loopholes in the so called ‘unenforceable’ ban. The ban forces hunts to follow artificially laid trails as opposed to an actual animal, this is called ‘drag hunting’.

But, often when a fox ends up being killed, the hunt are not in breach of the law as they can simply claim they were following the artificially laid trail, then the hounds caught scent of a fox and they could not control them – it’s really hard for police forces to prove hunts guilty without solid evidence.

Flushing A Fox To A Bird Of Prey 

In addition to this, there are other loopholes including ‘flushing a fox to a bird of prey’ allowing hunts to bring a bird of prey with them and flush foxes out with as many dogs as they want so long as the intention is “for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt the wild mammal.”. Commonly hunts will use an eagle owl or golden eagle for this purpose.

This essentially means that hunts can hunt as they usually would have before the ban with a full pack of hounds so long as they bring a bird of prey with them.

“We didn’t draft this flawed bill. Our lawyers are clear this is an exemption. It enables hunts to use full packs of hounds.” – Director of the Master of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA)

Many experts say the hunt are acting irresponsibly by taking advantage of this loophole, such as the Hawk Board who have speculated that not only could a bird of prey not reasonably be used effectively to kill a fox being chased by a pack of hounds; but it could also injure the hounds and riders in the process, as well as prolonging the foxes death.

fox hunting with an eagle owl
Eagle Owl

The Gamekeepers Exemption 

This is another loophole in the hunting act that hunts have been accused of taking advantage of – under the exemption, terriermen who accompany the hunt are able to ‘dig out’ a fox from below ground with 1 terrier, so long as they own the land / have the land owners written permission and are doing so in order to protect game or wild birds that are being kept for shooting.

In these cases, foxes that are dug out must be done so to guns (to be shot) by a competent person as soon as safely possible. This exemption bring up controversy as hunts can simply dig the fox out and resume hunting, and say they lost control of the hounds if challenged.

Attempts To Repeal The Hunting Act 

In July 2015, the government included a manifesto committed to holding a free vote in parliament on a repeal of the hunting act. This never happened due to a mixture of circumstances including the SNP pledging to vote against a repeal, a lack of public and parliamentary support and David Cameron’s early resignation.

However, the current PM Theresa May has committed to holding a free vote should the Conservatives win the next election.

Andrea Leadsom, who was the Secretary Of State For Environment Food and Rural Affairs also shows support for hunting groups, stating:

“I would absolutely commit to holding a vote to repeal the hunting ban. It has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare whatsoever,”

“I do believe we need a proper licensed regime which works much better and is more focused on animal welfare.”

Not only is a free vote to repeal fox hunting likely to be unpopular with the public, but also almost certainly blocked by the so called ‘Blue Foxes’ – a group of Conservative MP’s committed to ending blood sports.

More recently, the new PM Theresa May has shown her support for fox hunting and included a free vote on a repeal in the Conservative manifesto  – this has been met with widespread criticism from the public and other MPs.

How Can I Help Prevent Illegal Hunting?

The public currently sits in complete favour of the hunting act, however, it is one of those issues that can be forgotten about if not met with resistance.

There are plenty of pages on social media you can get involved with to report illegal hunting and show your support for the hunting ban. Writing to your local MP is also a sensible thing to do if you do feel illegal hunting is taking place in your area, or you want to find out their views on the matter.

Alternatively, joining your local hunt saboteurs group is a great way to become a part of something preventing illegal activities in your local area and getting involved in animal welfare. A person found guilty of an offence under the hunting act can face fines of up to £5,000.