Hunting with dogs and the “unenforceable” ban.

The UK Hunting Act 2004 was never going to work.

Hare, hare coursing, illegal hare coursing, cruelty to animals, animal welfare
Watch out, there’s a hare courser about.

Whenever there is talk about the Hunting Act it tends to revolve around fox-hunting but other forms of hunting with dogs were also banned particularly hare-coursing. Fox hunts were not disbanded, but given an olive branch and allowed to flourish through drag or trail hunting and remain popular events with the public particularly the festive Boxing Day hunts.  Traditional fox-hunting with dogs is still legal in Northern Ireland and hare coursing events continue in southern Ireland. This has allowed hunts to continue to breed and keep their hound packs for the day traditional hunting is made legal again.

In the case of hare coursing, although there is an outright ban, there has been little protection for the hares as illicit coursing continues unabated  in some parts of the country, particularly eastern England and just like fox hunting the police and enforcement authorities have no way of stopping it even though they have more powers than for fox hunting. They have been forced to use hundred year old laws like the Night Poaching Act 1828 and Game Act 1831 to help combat it as the Hunting Act is so useless. Some Police authorities have stated that it is more prevalent now than before the Act with hundreds of dogs abandoned, injured and killed as a result. [More on hare coursing in a future post]

The Act was badly conceived mainly because the Government tried to appease all sides of the debate and did not consider the practical aspects which has made the law a bit of a farce and has resulted in some forms of hunting of foxes and hare coursing to continue.

Hare, hare coursing, illegal hare coursing
There is not let up for the poor hare with gangs of hare coursers roaming the countryside.

The UK Hunting Act 2004  is so complicated and full of loopholes that law enforcers try not to involve themselves in investigating alleged offences  because obtaining sufficient evidence to put before a court is costly, time-consuming and a nightmare. This becomes obvious when you read the various websites and reams of advice issued to try to clarify the subject .

So what is hunting with dogs?

The legal definition under the Hunting Act 2004 of hunting is:

  • to pursue or kill for sport or food;
  • to try and find by diligent searching and to pursue and capture;
  • to pursue or approach stealthily or to move silently through;
  • to drive (a bird or animal, especially game bird) from cover.

The Hunting Act 2004 describes 5 punishable offences:

  • Hunting a wild mammal with a dog;
  • permitting land to be used for hunting a wild mammal with a dog;
  • permitting a dog to be used for hunting a wild mammal;
  • participating in, attending, facilitating or permitting land to be used for the purposes of hare coursing;
  • entering, permitting or handling a dog in a hare coursing event.
A wild mammal is defined or considered to be a mammal which is living wild, bred or tamed; in captivity or confinement; escaped or released from captivity.

Basically on the face of it any live mammal is protected from being hunted or pursued by dog(s), but of course this would be too easy and so to appease the hunting lobby,  hobbyists and pest controllers there are exemptions which can be exploited to continue fox-hunting.

The “Unenforceable ban”

So it is legal to use dogs to hunt rats, rabbits and wounded shot hares, but there are several farcical loopholes that hunts can use to continue hunting almost normally under what is known as the “unenforceable ban” which include:

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.

flushing a fox to a bird of prey which allows a hunt to take a bird of prey 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” as long as the bird is capable of catching  the animal such as a large eagle owl.

But the major loophole was allowing drag or trail hunting to continue, a situation that 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 and you can almost imagine the Master lining the hounds up for their pre-hunt pep talk :

“Right lads normal tactics today, you know the drill. Try and keep on track, but if you get a whiff of a real fox scent and happen to veer off in its direction do not make it too obvious lads as we will all be in trouble-know what I mean, [Wink Wink]”.

Hounds of course are not going to go against their natural instincts and sense of smell obtained over countless generations and many huntsmen are not going to pass up a golden chance to hunt a real fox when the opportunity presents itself.  Although it would be heartening to believe that not all Hunts participate in any wrong doing realistically many probably do. Everyone knows that the excuses that the chase was purely accidental or unintentional and the hounds were out of control are always going to be difficult to legally dispute. The act of hunting must be proven as predetermined or intentional which is difficult to show in most cases.

Anti-hunt saboteurs continue to monitor hunts

Many potential court cases are dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) due to what they view as a lack of tangible evidence and those that do reach court are rarely successful in regard to fox-hunting, but there have been many successful prosecutions for hare coursing. The Police and RSPCA do not have the time, and in the case of the Police, the inclination to keep an eye on the hunts which results in anti-hunting charities and hunt saboteurs having to continue monitoring hunts. This in turn causes friction leading to often violent disturbances. In practical terms it is impossible to keep track of the freely roaming hunts which are often held on private land.

There was a golden opportunity missed to completely halt hunting with dogs if the law makers had only banned drag hunting and the keeping, breeding and use of packs of hounds, but this was too easy. If the day ever arrives when hunting with hounds is made legal again, they will be ready and waiting to step in with all horns blaring complete with all the equipment and facilities to begin again.

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Boxing Day Hunts still attract crowds & violence.

Boxing Day Hunts still attract the crowds, demonstrators and violence, but why?

Sixteen years after hunting was banned the unnecessary Boxing Day Hunts gather and take place on the pretext of preserving rural tradition and these attract the inevitable controversy and conflict which has accompanied them since the Hunting Act 2004 was introduced.

The Act was supposed to stop hunting and settle all the arguments once and for all, but as with most animal protection law it has failed dismally and we still must put up with all the nonsense caused by the red-coated individuals who use every excuse to continue their hobby and flout the law and escape prosecution.

One such “hunt” gathers each year in the picturesque Kentish town of Tenterden, once my childhood home, where every 26th. December at around 10 a.m. I had a birds-eye view of the hunt from my bedroom window  when they noisily assembled outside 70 High Street where we lived above my father’s shop.

The annual day of chaos has economic benefits for the town and is therefore welcomed.

Although an extremely picturesque sight it also caused chaos as thousands of people from all over the district piled into the usual sleepy town and gridlocked it for two hours or so until  the Hunt, suitably imbibed with drinks from the Vine Inn Public House next door, cantered through the melee to the sound of horns like the charge of the Light Brigade to cheers and waving from the onlookers. This annual chaos is of course welcomed by the town because of the economic benefits involved.

I watched this annual event from about 1957 until I left home in 1975 and it was noticeable that its attraction never wavered, while my attitude against hunting became more established despite being countryside bred. During my informative years as a youngster demonstration was almost non-existent and little thought given to the ethical and moral issues of hunting as it was just a lot of fun the day after Christmas.

Four decades on, it is clear that the popularity of these festive hunts is on the increase with more people than ever attending, but why do the hordes continue to descend in this way. Is it to support the Hunt or because they are purely viewed as family entertainment?

The Hounds have always been the biggest draw

From my bedroom it was always obvious that the hounds were the biggest draw with everyone including me wanting to get close to pet them even though they smelled rank due to the poor conditions they are kept under, something most of us were unaware of. They were noisy, boisterous, cheeky and naughty and appeared to be having a great time.

The horses were also a draw, but in hindsight it is difficult to understand why we all stood around, often in freezing weather, for an hour waiting for a group of red and black-coated horsemen and women to finish a morning drink outside a pub.

Hunting hounds, fox hunting, cruelty to dogs
The hounds are usually the major draw for crowds at Boxing day Hunt meets.

Boxing Day hunts attract the crowds in ever-increasing numbers.

I no longer have any real association with Tenterden and rarely if ever visit because my father’s shop closed in the late eighties and both my parents have died, but the scenario shows that nothing has changed over the last four decades and despite all the campaigning and hunting ban we are even more happy to support such events despite what they stand for.

The Boxing Day Hunts are just a spectacle for most, but for hunt supporters they are an important way of keeping the debate in the public eye until that Nirvana in the future when hunting is legalised again.

Lets take the hounds out of the equation.

The law makers missed a golden opportunity to put an end to all this violence and mayhem towards both humans and animals on both sides of the debate. All that was needed was to make it illegal to participate in a drag hunt and to own, breed, keep or let loose packs of more than two dogs onto any land whether private or common for any purpose.

Arguments that the dogs (and horses) would all be killed as they are unsuitable as pets was always groundless as there will always be an animal lover on hand to devote their energies into saving them if required.

There is no reason why the meeting up of hunts cannot continue in order to maintain the postcard images and spectacle. There is no harm in allowing them to meet up outside a local village pub on horseback for a few drinks dressed in their red and black finery for the sightseers to clap and cheer as they ride off at the sound of the horns. They can still continue enjoy an exhilarating gallop across the countryside in search of wildlife, but let us dispense with the hound pack and drag hunting and the use of the poor creatures as bargaining chips to continue hunting.

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