Fox hunting has been illegal in the UK for seven years, but many claim the ban is poorly enforced. This week, two writers debate: should it have been banned at all?
A humane approach to a very real problem by Thomas Curran
The ban on hunting with hounds has proven to be one of the most controversial pieces of legislation of recent years and continues to be, with David Cameron’s promise of a free vote in the House of Commons over repeal.
Whilst both pro- and anti-hunt campaigners claim the welfare of the fox to be the point driving their stance, very different conclusions are put forward.
The reasons for such a dichotomy of thought sheds light upon this emotive debate.
Reasons to support hunting with hounds becomes apparent when examining the facts of fox management in the countryside. The UK fox population is estimated to be some 240,000 (pre-breeding); 425,000 cubs are born each year and unless the population is to increase, a similar number of foxes must die each year.
This represents 68% of the post breeding population. In order that the population is maintained, according to a body of 400 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons “there is an accepted need to control the rural fox population, which will involve culling.”
Control must be exercised unless biological factors, namely starvation and disease through overpopulation, are to become the limiting factors. The responsibility must then be to control the population in the most humane manner possible.
Hunting traditionally contributed to this control in the most natural manner as old, injured and diseased foxes were most likely to be killed during a fox hunt. The common alternatives of shooting and snaring provide a far less discriminate alternative with healthy foxes as likely to be caught or shot.
It is important to note that whilst hunting has clearly defined seasons, no such equivalent exists in other methods of control meaning adults with dependant young can be targeted. A shift to these methods has inevitably taken place with the ban on hunting, compromising the welfare of the concerned foxes.
It is estimated up to 40% of the 135,000 foxes shot in the UK annually are wounded (Burns inquiry, June 2000).
Whether such figures are accurate or not, the possibility of wounding foxes when shooting is a real one. Such risk does not exist with hunting, with death occurring ‘almost instantaneously’ as concluded by the Royal College of Veterinary surgeons.
A fox is simply not able to escape wounded when hunted, as such that hunting by hounds is the natural and most humane way of controlling the population.
An often ignored element of hunting is the respect it affords the fox in rural areas. Considered as a pest to agriculture due to the distress caused to sheep with lambs and such, hunting provided the fox with a niche of acceptance where it would otherwise be culled at every opportunity.
The hunting of foxes meant they were tolerated in areas in which they no longer are. Without hunting a fox becomes valueless at best, at worst a threat to the business of farmers to be culled at every opportunity.
Phillip Mason, Ex hunts-master of the Hursley-Hambledon hunt, commented “hunting provided a ‘golden thread’ to fox management in the countryside, with landowners, farmers and huntsmen all working towards the same goal, promoting respect for the fox within the balance of nature. This has inevitably been lost with the ban as the fox is not tolerated as it was before.”
The debate over the hunting ban should remain focused upon the welfare of the hunted animal in order to promote the most humane methods of control. However, both the pro- and anti-hunt lobby have deviated from this goal to a degree.
The League Against Cruel Sports’ use of images of already dead animals being “ripped to pieces” (from the LACS website) by hounds does nothing to promote real welfare, instead aimed at stirring public opinion along emotive and ill informed lines.
The attempts of the Countryside Alliance to highlight the failure of the ban due to the difficulty to enforce it similarly approach the issue from the wrong angle, as do cries for rural autonomy for rural issues.
The role of lobby groups should be to promote public understanding for the necessity of humane control as opposed to point scoring off one another in an attempt to further ideological views diametrically opposed to one another.
The argument for repeal is strongest when approached from the animals’ perspective alone, and from there it can be seen that hunting provides a humane, workable method by which to control the fox population that most closely mirrors natural selection.
A bloodthirsty, cruel and unnecesary ‘sport’ – by Charlie Small
Fox hunting is the controversial ‘sport’ involving chasing and killing foxes on horseback before the distressed creature is ripped apart by trained hounds, under the guise of ‘pest control’, but in reality just for a few very rich toffs’ entertainment.
About 12,000 foxes are killed each season, and despite being banned in February 2005, the sport is still prevalent.
Not only should fox hunting continue to be banned, the ban should be heavily enforced, until the sport no longer exists. The practice is cruel and pointless.
The fox is often chased for long distances, maybe for ten or more miles, by hunters; this causes the fox to undergo high levels of mental and physical suffering, which doesn’t stop even when the hounds catch up with it.
Contrary to popular belief and claims from hunt supporters, the fox is not instantly killed, but torn apart by the dogs.
It’s not just the foxes that are subjected to cruelties, horses and dogs are also victims of hunting. They are viewed as disposable ‘sporting accessories’.
The dogs have short and brutal lives – many sustain fatal injuries during the chase, such as through road accidents, or on barbed wire fences, after being pushed to their limits and punished for disobedience.
Even if they survive the season, every year about one fifth of the hound pack is killed as they reach the age of 5, when they are considered too old, usually by being shot.
An estimated 10,000 dogs are disposed of each year in this fashion. These are dogs already bred purely just for hunting.
Fox hunting can be very disruptive to the countryside and other animals. People’s domestic pets have been victim to the hunts – hounds have been known to chase any animal that they may encounter.
Hunts have been documented going through residents’ gardens, tearing through fences, blocking roads and scaring farmers’ animals.
These disrespectful rich individuals try and justify their actions through claiming that fox hunting is pest control.
This portrayal of foxes as menaces to rural society is completely inaccurate and serves only to allow the hunters to be able present their actions as necessary, deflecting attention from the cruel and barbaric aspects of hunting.
The MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food) regard the threat from a fox as ‘negligible’ and hunts tend to kill 2.5% of the local fox population a year.
Plainly, hunts do not control foxes, even if there was the necessity, which there isn’t. This is evident in the form of so-called ‘pest control’ – pest control wouldn’t involve long arduous chases around the countryside in a very inefficient manner.
As the pest control argument is clearly illogical, it seems like the only purpose of fox hunting is for pleasure – derived through torture of sentient animals.
It’s a ‘sport’ for a rich minority, which simply satisfies the blood-lust of a few arrogant people who think they can flout the law.
As for the idea of anti-hunting groups trying to infringe on the rights of countryside people – this is also flawed – we don’t, and shouldn’t, have the right to take the lives of other humans, and most rational people don’t think we have, or others should have, the freedom to mutilate and abuse their pet dogs.
Similarly, why should we allow the foxes, dogs and horses involved in hunting to suffer?
A counter argument to the ban on fox hunting is that fox hunting is a countryside tradition. Whilst hunting may have been around since the 18th century, this doesn’t make it any more right.
Wars have been taking place for long enough – would the hunters say that wars are good things to have once in a while?
The use of tradition is an argument taken up by the rich gentry who have always taken it to be their right to waste wildlife without question. These attitudes need challenging; there are plenty of other countryside activities that don’t involve pointless death.
However, the current ban isn’t as effective as it could be, the cruel and barbaric practice of fox hunting continues, and the ban hasn’t done much to deter hunt groups across the country – who think they are above the law because they are powerful and wealthy.
The ban should be properly enforced, by the police, and by people taking a stronger stance against hunting.
Hunting is an unnecessary cruel practice which involves much suffering for all the animals involved, for no real point – this sport shouldn’t be allowed to continue any longer.