Myths & Realities

  1. Why are hunts still operating, I thought hunting with dogs was banned?
  2. What does the law actually ban?
  3. Doesn't the ban hurt the rural economy?
  4. I thought fox hunting was necessary to keep down the fox population. Won't a ban cause a population explosion of foxes?
  5. Isn’t it hard to tell when hunts are breaking the law?
  6. How many hunts are breaking the law?
  7. How many prosecutions have there been?
  8. What are hunts doing now that they can no longer chase and kill foxes with dogs?
  9. Isn’t it easy for hunts to say they killed a fox ‘by accident’ whilst trail hunting?
  10. Why are deer hunts still operating in England and Wales?
  11. Doesn’t the Hunting Act need to be tightened to close all the loopholes?
  12. The Countryside Alliance claims that hunts are more popular than before the ban. Is that true?
  13. Hunters claim that the ban has led to more foxes being killed less humanely. Is this true?
  14. Is the ban here to stay?
  15. What should people do if they suspect a hunt is breaking the law?
  16. Is IFAW going to campaign against shooting/fishing now?


Why are hunts still operating, I thought hunting with dogs was banned?

The campaign to ban hunting with dogs was never intended to stop people from riding in the countryside with dogs – the intent was to stop the cruelty of chasing of deer, foxes, hares and mink with dogs.

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What does the law actually ban?

England and Wales

  1. Under the Hunting Act 2004 a person commits an offence if
  • he hunts a wild animal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt
  • he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used’ for hunting or
  • if he “permits a dog which belongs to him to be used” for hunting.

It is not necessary to prove that the people concerned intended the animal to be killed; pursuit of the animal with a dog suffices. An offence is not committed by observers of an illegal hunt.

The main categories of hunting illegal under the Hunting Act are:

  • foxhunting
  • deer hunting
  • hare hunting
  • hare coursing
  • mink hunting

The main categories of activities that are not illegal under the Act, provided that the strict conditions are met are:

  • stalking or flushing out a wild mammal with a view to it being shot forthwith and not using more than two dogs
  • use of not more than one dog at a time below ground in the course of stalking or flushing to protect birds for shooting hunting rats hunting rabbits Scotland

The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs. The legislation also bans hare coursing, mink hunting and the use of dogs to fight foxes underground. Hunting deer with dogs is not covered by the legislation as it has long been illegal in Scotland.

The Act permits the use of dogs under control to stalk or flush a wild mammal for certain purposes but only if the hunter acts to ensure that, once the target wild mammal is found or emerges from cover, it is shot, or killed by a bird of prey, once it is safe to do so.

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Doesn't the ban hurt the rural economy?

The UK Government formed a Committee of Inquiry into hunting with dogs, and they made the followign conclusions:

"The short-term loss would be limited, and extend not much further than those employed by the hunt and some employed by those hunt followers who immediately reduced their use of horses."

"In the long term, say seven to ten years, most (if not all) of the effects would be offset as resources were diverted to new activities and the rural economy adjusted to other economic forces."

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I thought fox hunting was necessary to keep down the fox population. WOn't a ban cause a population explosion of foxes?

According to the UK Government Burns Commission, "the overall contribution of traditional fox hunting, winthin the overall total of control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole".

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Isn’t it hard to tell when hunts are breaking the law?

The law is quite clear – it is illegal for a person to hunt a wild mammal with a dog unless his hunting is exempt. Most importantly, it is illegal to chase foxes, hare, deer and mink with dogs.

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How many hunts are breaking the law?

IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt so it is hard to say how many hunts are obeying the law. Our hunt monitors have seen some hunts chasing foxes illegally and have been concerned about deer being chased for long distances. Suspected incidences of illegal hunting are reported to the police by IFAW.

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How many prosecutions have there been?

In England and Wales there are currently a total of twelve convictions for illegal hunting which shows that the Hunting Act 2004 is an enforceable piece of legislation.

The League Against Cruel Sports took a private prosecution against Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant, a huntsman and whipper-in from the Quantocks Stag hounds. Both were found guilty of illegal deer hunting.

Upon passing his judgement on the case District Judge Parsons explained that it was clear that a chase of an animal by dogs would be incompatible with the objectives of the Act. He concluded the defendants “were hunting for sport and recreating to continue their way of life and are disingenuous in attempting to deceive me into believing they were exempt hunting”. In addition the judge commented that the dogs were not under sufficiently close control, as required by the Hunting Act 2004 and that the deer were not shot as soon as possible as required by the Act.

The League Against Cruel Sports took a private prosecution against Tony Wright, a huntsman with the Exmoor Foxhounds, who was convicted of illegal fox hunting.

Hunt monitors from the League had filmed a fox being chased by two hounds. Tony Wright’s defence was that he believed that the hunting was exempt as he had been flushing foxes to guns. The judge ruled that the evidence showed that foxes were being hunted after being flushed as the dogs should have been called off as soon as the fox had been flushed. The film evidence showed foxes being chased for as much as two or three minutes after being flushed. In addition the judge found that the dogs were not under sufficiently close control and that reasonable steps had not been taken to ensure that a fox would be shot dead by a competent marksman as soon as possible after being flushed or found. The Court’s view was that the foxes were chased with insufficient close control and insufficient marksmen. Wright is currently appealing against the conviction.

The RSPCA has successfully prosecuted four individuals using the act after they were found to be digging for foxes. There has also been a successful prosecution under the Act of an individual who illegally hunted rabbits.

In Scotland there have been three prosecutions for fox hunting under the Protection of Wildlife Mammals (Scotland) Act. Two resulted in guilty verdicts and one in a not guilty verdict. In December 2003, David Murray from Dundee was found guilty after using two dogs to lure foxes into a trap. In March 2004, Stephen Scott, from Hawick, was fined £300 at Jedburgh Sheriff Court for sending two terriers into a fox earth and using a lurcher to pursue and kill the fox. There have also been three convictions in Scotland for illegal hare coursing.

Charges against more people have been brought in both Scotland and in England and Wales and a number of cases are underway including the first public prosecution of a hunt by Avon & Somerset police force.

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What are hunts doing now that they can no longer chase and kill foxes with dogs?

The Countryside Alliance’s ‘Hunting Handbook’, published following the introduction of the ban, advised hunts to adopt trail hunting in order to avoid their activities being confused with draghunting.

Draghunting involves riders pursuing a pack of dogs following an artificial scent laid down earlier in the day. The route usually takes the following riders over a variety of jumps including both fences and natural obstacles such as stone walls, hedges, ditches and farmer's fences. Drag hunting dates back to the 19th century.

Trail hunting has been developed by hunters as a response to the ban on hunting with dogs and its aim appears to be to replicate many of the aspects of live quarry hunting. Trail hunting differs from draghunting in that it uses a fox-based scent rather than an artificial one. Also whilst a single trail is laid and then ‘hunted’ in draghunting before another line is laid, trail hunting includes multiple trails being laid continuously at some hunts. Whereas the path of a draghunt is pre-determined, trails in trail hunting are laid so that the huntsman does not know their whereabouts.

In the view of IFAW the use of the scent of a dead fox or fox-based urine and the laying of multiple trails increases both the risk of ‘accidents’ during which dogs pursue and kill live quarry, and incidents of hunt havoc that would rarely occur during drag hunting.

It is perfectly feasible for fox hunts to use artificial scents to reduce the risk of live quarry being killed in contravention of the Hunting Act. Prior to the ban drag hunts advised that they obtained their dogs after they had hunted at least one season with a fox hunt suggesting that it is not difficult to retrain dogs to hunt an artificial scent rather than live quarry.

In June 2006 Barry Gardiner, the Defra Minister advised IFAW: “While the Government welcomes this move to trail hunting, the onus is on hunts to stay within the law and try not to use the practice as a subterfuge for engaging in illegal activities. Failure to prevent the dogs from chasing or killing a fox, and particularly a repeated failure to do so, could well be interpreted by the Courts as intent to break the law.”

IFAW believes that the reason why most hunts choose to trail hunt rather than switch to draghunting is to retain the dogs’ ‘taste’ for live quarry. This is part of the hunt lobby’s tactic of maintaining the infrastructure of hunting in the hope that the hunt ban will be repealed. IFAW has called upon the police to monitor hunts conducting trail hunting and to be suspicious of claims of accidental kills of foxes by ‘out of control’ dogs.

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Isn’t it easy for hunts to say they killed a fox ‘by accident’ whilst trail hunting?

If hunts are exercising their hounds or following a scent, and the hounds follow a fox, then the hunts must call the hounds back. The control of hounds is a crucial point. The whippers-in, the hunt master and others are responsible for the hounds and they must be controlled either by whip, horn, or voice command. Hunts that allow their hounds to follow a fox are breaking the law.

To kill a fox once may look like an accident but more than once it starts to look deliberate and then anti-hunt organisations and the police will investigate.

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Why are deer hunts still operating in England and Wales?

The Hunting Act prohibits pursuing wild mammals with dogs, but permits animals to be flushed from cover by not more than two dogs in order for them to be shot forthwith. Further conditions for this activity are outlined the Act. West Country deer hunts claim to be flushing deer to guns.

It is feasible to use one or two dogs to flush mammals from cover whilst complying with the Hunting Act. However, the aim should be to move the animals slowly so that they stop periodically, are reluctant to move from cover and hence do not run. This makes it easier to shoot them and to achieve a clean kill. This technique is used for killing deer on the continent but is rarely used in Britain where deer stalkers tend not to use dogs. Generally only one dog is used so that the deer feels comparatively little threat and moves slowly. But while a deer is unlikely to be worried by a single dog, two dogs are perceived as a far greater risk, making the animal much more likely to run. Furthermore, the two dogs encourage each other in a pursuit.

When flushing a deer, the shot should be taken as it emerges from cover. If this is not possible the animal should be left. There should never be a pursuit since there is no chance of a safe shot once a deer is running.

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Doesn’t the Hunting Act need to be tightened to close all the loopholes?

No, the Hunting Act is working. There have been three prosecutions and alt least another two are pending – one of which is based on evidence obtained by IFAW’s hunt monitors. The law is very clear about what is illegal and what is not. There are clear and narrow exemptions but no loopholes. The Countryside Alliance has deliberately tried to muddy the waters and talks about the Act being confused but that is not the case at all. It is illegal to chase deer, fox, hare and mink with dogs. There are exemptions in the Act for certain activities – but these are very tightly drawn so as to ensure that the main purpose of the Act is not circumvented. For example, the judge in a successful private prosecution of an Exmoor huntsman by the League Against Cruel Sports commented that the exemption for flushing to guns was phrased very tightly. He actually said it was drawn so tightly that it begged the question as to whether it could ever be possible, save in some limited areas of woodland or similar cover, to utilise the exemption with foxhounds on Exmoor.

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The Countryside Alliance claims that hunts are more popular than before the ban– is that true?

The law is aimed at stopping the cruelty of hunting wild mammals with dogs. If hunts are not chasing deer, foxes, hares and mink, that is to say, if they are obeying the law then we have no problem with increasing numbers.

IFAW’s Wildlife Crime Investigators attend hunts to monitor their activities and they see something different from what is being reported by the Countryside Alliance other than on big hunting days like the start of the season and Boxing Day. In general, hunts are meeting for shorter periods of time and there has been a significant drop in the number of hunt followers since the ban. On average car and foot follower numbers are down by half and riders by a third.

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Hunters claim that the ban has led to more foxes being killed less humanely?

There is no evidence that this is the case. Crucially, there is no evidence to show that the fox is a pest and needs to be controlled. Fox population numbers are regulated by availability of food and territory. There is no need to control the population through lethal means. If an individual fox is proven to be a problem for a specific farmer, then IFAW believes that the most humane way of killing that animal is by a trained marksman with an appropriate firearm and ammunition. When hunting was stopped during the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001 there was no significant change in fox numbers.

IFAW has always argued that, if an individual fox is causing problems, the best and most humane way to deal with it is shooting or lamping by a skilled marksman with an appropriate firearm. Click here to read the After the Hunt Report

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Is the ban here to stay?

In England and Wales the hunting lobby refers to the ban as ‘temporary’ in view of the fact that the Conservative Party has promised that a victory for them at the 2009/10 General Election will present an opportunity for the hunt ban to be reversed. The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, has pledged to give MPs an opportunity to reverse the ban. However, this would be a step backwards and against the majority of public opinion.

Hunting with dogs was banned because most people in Britain believe it is wrong to set animals against animals for entertainment – that’s why they lobbied MPs for a ban. We don’t know what will happen at the next election but whatever does IFAW will continue to campaign to protect animal welfare and to keep the ban on hunting with dogs.

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What should people do if they suspect a hunt is breaking the law?

Report the incident with as many details as possible (photographic/video evidence if possible) either to the police or if you prefer to remain anonymous to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111

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Is IFAW going to campaign against shooting/fishing now?

Since its foundation in 1969, IFAW has not campaigned against sport shooting or fishing in the UK and it has no plans to do so in the future.

IFAW is not opposed to shooting wild animals or fishing, provided the target species is a legal quarry and the most humane methods are used. Shooting should be carried out by a trained practitioner, using a weapon and ammunition appropriate to the species and the situation.

IFAW is opposed to any hunting of endangered species or hunting which involves cruel practices.

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