The overwhelming majority of the British public, at least three-quarters of those polled, want hunting with dogs to remain illegal.
Hunting with dogs was a British pastime. Dating back some 800 years, it was traditionally enjoyed by royalty, the aristocracy, landowners and country-dwelling clergy. Dogs were trained to hunt foxes in the 1660s and the 'modern day' form of organised fox hunting was introduced in the 1750s. Whilst other 'sports' that involved the setting of dogs on other animals became unacceptable and were banned in the 19th century, the first attempts to ban fox and deer hunting were not made until much later.
In 1989, IFAW began campaigning to ban the hunting of deer, foxes, hares and mink with dogs in England, Scotland and Wales in response to outcry from its supporters.
IFAW opposes hunting with dogs on animal welfare grounds. It is cruel and unnecessary, causing suffering to the hunted species during both the chase and the kill. In 1996, IFAW formed a coalition with the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports for "The Campaign to Protect Hunted Animals."
Before the Hunting Act 2004 was passed , photographic and video evidence collected by IFAW's two full-time hunt monitors, Kevin Hill and Peter White, enabled the organisation to show the public the cruel facts about hunting with dogs. In addition to the horrific footage of animals being chased down and torn apart by dogs, the monitors also obtained evidence to reject the claims of hunters that their 'sport' was all about controlling pests. The high-profile Beaufort Hunt was revealed to be building fox earths within its territories to attract foxes to the countryside. The hunt denied these were aimed at providing foxes to hunt. The monitors also obtained film footage of the Beaufort Hunt's official terrier man leaving food outside man-made fox earths.
On November 18, 2004 hunting with dogs was banned in England and Wales with the legislation being passed through the use of the Parliament Act. The ban on hunting with dogs became law three months later on February 18, 2005. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 had become law two years earlier, following IFAW's campaign in Scotland within a Scottish anti-hunt coalition with the League Against Cruel Sports and Advocates for Animals.
Working during the ban
After the Hunting Act was enacted, it soon became apparent that the pledge to disobey the ban many hunters claim to have signed during the campaign, and the thread from the hunting fraternity that they would not convert to drag hunting or bloodhound hunting (real sports where no animal quarry is chased), as the anti-hunting movement was asking, would be something more than just posturing. Indeed, initially no hunts were converted and allegations of illegal hunting appeared all over the country.
As there were few signs from the authorities that they would enforce this ban properly, it fell to the campaigning organisations to address the lack of enforcement problem.
Overnight, the hunt monitors who had gathered evidence for the campaign, became Wildlife Crime Investigators, now obtaining evidence of illegal hunting to aid prosecutions.
Campaigning organisations undertook the first prosecutions privately, with the League Against Cruel sports leading this effort.
At the same time, the hunting fraternity began exploring ways to exploit the “hunting exemption” in the Hunting Act, and they developed sophisticated false alibis (such as trail hunting, which did not exist before the ban) to make enforcement of the Act as difficult as possible. These enable hunters to falsely claim their hunts are legal.
Nevertheless, despite these alibies and the hunting fraternity’s constant efforts to prevent evidence of their activities being obtained (by hiding and harassing hunt monitors) several successful prosecutions were achieved, initially private, and eventually public.
Improving the Act
After 10 years of supporting enforcement of the Hunting Act with a team of Wildlife Crime Investigators which operate in very hostile conditions to produce evidence which not always ends up in prosecutions due to the false alibies developed by the hunting fraternity, still far too many wildlife criminals get away with hunting beyond what was intended in the Act.
Additional resources about the ban on hunting with dogs: