Is the ban working?
"The assault was the worst that I've suffered during my 20 years of monitoring, but it did not deter me from doing my job. I hope that that verdict and sentence will send a message to hunt supporters that acts of intimidation and violence will not be tolerated. Hunts claim to be obeying the Hunting Act - if this is true then their supporters should have no objection to their activities being observed by hunt monitors."
- Kevin Hill, IFAW Wildlife Crime Investigator
The Hunting Act 2004 has a serious enforcement problem, and this is why IFAW tried to help from the very beginning.
IFAW's Wildlife Crime Investigators observe hunts sometimes close by while other times at great distances, always using public land, roads, footpaths, bridleways or private land they have permission to use. They peacefully observe and document their activities, working without any form of intervention. Unfortunately they are often targeted by hunt members and followers: They have received verbal abuse, threats of violence, real violence and damage to their vehicles.
The reluctance of some hunters to be filmed inevitably raises suspicions as to the legality of their activities.
The harassment and intimidation endured by hunt monitors in England and Wales has increased dramatically following successful prosecutions for illegal hunting, which shows the law indeed has teeth. However, we believe that the deterrent effect of the Act needs improvement.
IFAW has had a number of specific concerns that have been repeatedly raised with the enforcement authorities, but not much has been done to address them. Too many hunts are claiming 'accidental' kills of foxes while claiming that they are legally “trail hunting”, a form of hunting created by the hunts after the ban in which the scent of fox urine is used to lay a route for the dogs to track. The fact that the huntsmen in control of the hounds are not told where the scent has been laid, and the fact that trail hunters operate in exactly the same copses and woods than before the ban where many foxes live, made us conclude the following:
Trail hunting was really designed as a false alibi to avoid prosecution of illegal hunting when real foxes end up being chased instead of the urine trail.
Police should be more cautious in believing any claim that a hunt was trail hunting because often illegal hunters would use this alibi without even having bothered to lay any trail (therefore making it a “false” alibi, not just an alibi).
IFAW has advised police and prosecutors that they should be suspicious if hunts try to defend themselves from allegations of illegal hunting by saying that their dogs were out of control while trail hunting. For centuries hunters have prided themselves on their ability to control their packs. If, for some sudden and inexplicable reason, they are now unable to reliably exert control they should not be out with their dogs.
Out-of-control dogs have also chased and attacked pets and livestock and even invaded homes and gardens. This would not happen if hunts were to adopt drag hunting, in which an artificial scent (ie. non-fox scent, such as aniseed) is followed, or bloodhound hunting, in which the scent of a person running is followed, both sports which already existed before the ban. In these cases, the huntsmen always know where the trail goes so they can stop the hounds if they deviate from it, and they take place in areas where foxes do not normally live.
A Lack of Proper Enforcement
Unfortunately we see far too many allegations of illegal hunting not properly investigated, and far too many cases dropped on account of using the trail hunting false alibi without such alibi being properly challenged.
Therefore, although the ban is working well when it is properly enforced, the current problem is the serious lack of proper enforcement, so far too much illegal hunting takes place unpunished. This has made us conclude that it is time to call for an improvement of the Act, to make its enforcement easier. We therefore are calling for the introduction of a recklessness clause to prevent ‘trail hunting’ from being used as a false alibi, the removal of the ‘observation and research’ exemption which has been abused by stag hunts to avoid prosecution for illegal hunting, and an increase in the penalty for illegal hunting to include custodial sentences, in line with other wildlife crime legislation.