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. Are foxes vermin that need killing?
  15. Is hunting a tradition that deserves preserving?
  16. Are the hounds working for hunts treated well?
  17. What about the public order incidents that still occur during hunts, between supporters and opponents?
  18. Is the ban here to stay?
  19. What should people do if they suspect a hunt is breaking the law?


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 deer, foxes, hares and mink with dogs.

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What does the law actually ban?

England and Wales

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
  • 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. In essence, this means that organised foxhunting, stag hunting, hare hunting (Beagling or coursing), and mink hunting are all now banned.

The Hunting Act also bans organised hare coursing events, and in these cases publicising them or even just attending them also constitutes an offence.

Some of the legitimate hunting activities that are not illegal under the Act (also called “exempt hunting”), 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 to protect birds for shooting
  • hunting rats
  • hunting rabbits


The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 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 also allows some “exempt hunting”. In particular it permits the use of dogs (no limit in number) 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. There has not been any successful prosecution of an organised hunt in Scotland under this law, despite numerous allegations of illegal hunting, since all accused hunts have successfully claimed this exemption.

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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 following 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, within the overall total of control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole.” The fox population has not changed either since the Hunting Act as hunting with dogs never had a real effect on populations due to the fact that foxes are territorial predators whose population self-regulate. If you kill some in an area you are going to have foxes from other areas coming in to replace the population you eliminated. The proof of this is that when hunting with dogs stopped during the foot-and-mouth crisis, research from Bristol University (Harris, 2002) showed that the fox population did not increase. On the other side, if you try to kill many foxes in an area using all possible means, research (Baker & Harris, 2006) has shown that the likely effect is an increase in fox numbers.

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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 and engaging or participating in the pursuit of a wild mammal is considered to be hunting. However, the hunting fraternity, as part of its defiance of the ban, has exploited some of the Act’s exemptions and has created false alibis designed to make the spotting of illegal hunting more difficult. For instance, they invented “trail hunting” with the specific intention to make it look very much like hunting before the ban, which certainly makes it hard for an untrained eye to see the difference.

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How many hunts are breaking the law?

It’s hard to tell. IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt but we suspect that most of those that we have monitored have indeed broken the law on several occasions. We did not always manage to persuade the police to investigate, even if we believed that there was enough evidence. We have not seen any evidence that supports the hypothesis that most hunts obey the law at all times.

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How many prosecutions have there been?

By the end of 2013 there had been more than 340 successful convictions under the Hunting Act 2004.

Most prosecutions have been against poachers since the landowner testimony always increases the chances of conviction, and most police forces are more keen to investigate poaching than hunting by organised hunts. However there have been several successful prosecutions of members of foxhunts, organised hare coursing, harriers and stag hunts.

As far as stag hunting is concerned, the League Against Cruel Sports took a private prosecution against Richard Down and Adrian Pillivant, a huntsman and whipper-in from the Quantocks Staghounds. Both were found guilty of illegal deer hunting. Upon passing his judgment 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 CPS later on successfully prosecuted Richard Down again, so he became the first huntsman successfully prosecuted twice.

As far as foxhunting is concerned, the first prosecution ever under the Hunting Act was the League Against Cruel Sports’ private prosecution against Tony Wright, a huntsman with the Exmoor Foxhounds, who was convicted of illegal fox hunting, although later acquitted in an appeal.

The RSPCA has successfully prosecuted several people using the Act, such as cases against the Huntsman of the Seavington Hunt which used evidence obtained by IFAW’s investigators, and, most importantly, the case against members of the Haythrop Hunt in which the hunt itself was found guilty as a corporate body.

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.

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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 (which has existed for many years before the ban) 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 farmers’ fences. Drag hunting dates back to the 19th Century.

Trail hunting was developed by hunters as a response to the ban on hunting with dogs and it is claimed that its aim is 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 claims that it 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. 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. For all these reasons IFAW believes that “trail hunting” was in fact designed so hunters could provide false alibis to avoid prosecution of illegal 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 another reason 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?

Under the cover of the false alibi of trail hunting, unfortunately yes. However, if video evidence is obtained of the hunt’s behaviour during the alleged accident, it is possible to prove that it was not really an accident. 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.

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Why are deer hunts still operating in England and Wales?

Stag hunts are exploiting several exemptions of the Hunting Act in order to continue hunting.

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 in the Act. West Country deer hunts have claimed to be flushing deer to guns, but some that have done so have already been successfully prosecuted.

Other stag hunts have successfully claimed the “observation and research” exemption of the Act to avoid conviction, which IFAW believes is an abuse of the Act.

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

We believe so. After 10 years in operation any law would benefit from a tightening and improvement, and the Hunting Act is not an exception. Although as a law the Hunting Act may be working, the problem is that it has not been properly enforced, so we believe that amendments that improve enforcement are needed. In particular, we 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.

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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. 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.

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Are foxes vermin that need killing?

Foxes are not vermin, and research has proven this (McDonald et al, 1997). In fact, foxes are essential predators needed for the health of ecosystems, and great contributors to the British economy since they predate on animals that damage human crops. It has been estimated that they save £7 million every year to British crop farmers (McDonald et al, 2003).

Also, claims that foxes need to be killed because they are a significant problem to farmers is just a myth that has already been repeatedly debunked by scientific studies, which DEFRA accepts. Such studies suggest that predators and misadventure (e.g. lambs going missing) account for only 5% of these losses, with the actual proportion of these lost to foxes being very difficult to determine and likely to be overestimated (Macdonald et al, 1997). According to Defra (2004), the main causes of lamb loss are: abortion and stillbirth; exposure and starvation; infectious disease and congenital defects. Therefore, 95% of lamb losses are due to farm husbandry practices. A study of two Scottish hill farms found that less than 1% of lamb losses could be confidently attributed to fox predation. Losses are also low with chickens. A study of free-range poultry farmers showed that fox predation was reported as less than 2%, and it was greater on farms where lethal fox control occurred.

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Is hunting a tradition that deserves preserving?

We do not believe so. We should not forget that Britain has had a long tradition of centuries of inflicting torture to animals as it invented dogfighting, bullfighting, cockfighting, bear baiting, badger baiting, otter hunting, foxhunting, stag hunting and hare coursing. Fortunately, the “Age of Enlightenment” movement in the 19th century created a much more important modern British tradition, abolishing cruel activities such as slavery and cruel sports. One by one all such bloodsports have been banned, and despite the repeated protest of those that practised them, no such bans have been repealed,which explains why the overwhelming majority of the British public does not want any of these bloodsports to return.

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Are the hounds working for hunts treated well?

Although we do not doubt that some huntmen look after their hounds properly, we believe that, in general, hunts often consider their hounds as disposable “tools” to be used only for the purpose of sport, and they kill them even when they are perfectly healthy and can still live many years, simply because they consider them surplus to requirements (too old, not good enough hunters, too many in a litter, etc.)

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What about the public order incidents that still occur during hunts, between supporters and opponents?

There is often talk about the clashes between pro-hunt and anti-hunt supporters as if we are talking about two sides of a football match where everyone has the same chance to win, but today’s reality is that most of these clashes are between criminals and law enforcers, between those that break the law and do not want anyone gathering evidence of their illegal activities, and those that take it upon themselves to gather such evidence in hostile conditions because they do not see the authorities doing it as they should. If all allegations of illegal hunting were properly investigated by the police, all Hunting Act offences were treated as any other law by the CPS, and the trail hunting false alibi was no longer a viable defence either because the authorities no longer believe it, or laws are amended so it can no longer be used, most public order incidents that still take place would disappear.

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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 insists that it will repeal it when it will have enough MPs to do so. However, this would be a step backwards and against the majority of public opinion. In order to keep the ban, we need to ensure that it is properly enforced, and amending it to strengthen it will help.

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.

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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 (to their non-emergency 101 number) or if you prefer to remain anonymous to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

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