Good news for some foxes this winter.
Following the news that the police have launched an investigation into the activity of the Hunting Office after it was alleged that hunt masters had held webinars on creating hunting “smokescreens” to cover illegal fox hunting, there has been a mad scramble by landowners to distance themselves from the “sport” and either ban or suspend permission to use their land.
The Hunting Office, was established in 2005 after the Hunting Act 2004 was introduced, and is the administrative, advisory and supervisory arm of the six governing Hunting Associations. Their purpose is to “set and maintain high standards of conduct in the activity of hunting with hounds”.
Police are apparently studying two webinars allegedly showing leading hunting figures and retired police officers discussing ways to create a “smokescreen” around unlawful hunts and ways of avoiding prosecution.
Landowners & Local Authorities rush to suspend permission.
This has resulted in a scramble by large landowners and local authorities to either suspend or ban trail hunting. These have included owners of the Lake District National Park, Forestry England which manages 1500 publicly owned woods and is England’s largest land manager, National Trust and United Utilities and Natural Resources Wales. There are calls for others such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Duchy of Cornwall and Church of England to follow suit.
Local authorities are also getting in on the act with Peterborough City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cherwell District Council banning or considering bans.
The Hunting Act 2004 banned hunting of live foxes but did not disband hunting hound packs so the Hunts were able to continue their pastime by developing trail and drag hunting. Trail hunting is where fox scent is laid for the hounds to follow. Landowners license or give permission for trail hunts to take place on their land, but since 2005 there has been constant allegations that the Hunts use trail and drag hunts to cover illegal fox hunting. Allowing drag or trail hunting to take place under the law was always a recipe for future trouble, a fact well anticipated by the hunters. Allowing packs of hounds to continue careering around the countryside was always going to lead to confrontations with foxes.
To make matters worse other loopholes in the law make it relatively easy to circumvent what has always been a farcical ban. Among these are:
using 2 dogs to “flush a fox out of cover” to be shot by a qualified marksman if it is being done to prevent damage to property, food crops, timber, fisheries or biological diversity, but of course the marksman could miss and the fox escape with the trained hounds in pursuit;
and “flushing a fox to a bird of prey” which allows a hunt to take a large bird of prey like an eagle owl along and as many hounds as they wish to flush out a fox “for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt the wild mammal”.
Temporary good news for foxes.
Although all these bans are good news for many foxes this winter there is no guarantee that the suspensions will lead to permanent bans as it will all depend on police findings and the Criminal Prosecution Service as to whether there has been any criminal activity. If not normal service will probably begin as landowners will insist there is no evidence of wrong doing to justify bans.
Meanwhile sixteen years on from the Hunting Act ban we will still be in the situation of the anti hunt lobby accusing the Hunts of illegal activity and the Hunting lobby protesting injustice.