After many years of campaigning by IFAW and other animal advocates, the British Parliament passed The Hunting Act 2004 (which came into effect in early 2005). Under the terms of the Act, which covers England and Wales, a person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with dogs. This includes all wild mammals other than rats and rabbits. Foxes, deer, hares and mink, which tend to be hunted by organised hunts, are included, regardless if they live in the wild or are in captivity. It does not require the mammal to be caught or killed. Pursuing the animal is an offence under the Act.
Some forms of hunting with dogs may be exempt from the ban, but many conditions need to be fulfilled. In most exempt hunts no more than two dogs can be used. Most organised hunts use a full pack of hounds.
The Act also outlaws hare coursing, whereby dogs such as greyhounds pursue their quarry by sight rather than scent. The goal of hare coursing is not necessarily to capture and kill the hare, but rather it is a competition between two dogs to see which chases the hare better. Hare coursing is often a form of gambling and hares always are stressed and often killed as a result of the chase.
In addition to organised hare coursing as a competition, there is also hare coursing as a form of poaching, where hares are simply hunted to death by poachers’ dogs on someone else’s land. Anti-poaching laws could be used to prosecute these hare coursers, but often the Hunting Act has been used instead, because it has higher penalties.
Hunting Act prosecutions against poachers can be easily successful because landowners testify that they did not give permission for the hunting to take place. When the landowner would not testify against the accused, as happens often in Hunting Act cases involving organised hunts, then prosecutions are more difficult.
IFAW is calling for changes to the Hunting Act to ensure those who illegally chase or kill foxes and other British mammals with hounds are successfully prosecuted.
Additional resources about the ban on hunting with dogs: