Produced with massive help from the ‘League Against Cruel Sports’ (LACS) – London.
Much of the information is reproduced from their site at https://www.league.org.uk/hunting-act
The Hunting Act 2004 is the law which bans chasing wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales – this basically means that fox hunting, deer hunting, hare hunting, hare coursing and mink hunting are all illegal, as they all are cruel sports based on dogs chasing wild mammals.
The introduction of the Hunting Act followed an extensive and often exhausting campaign spanning 80 years, with the League Against Cruel Sports and its supporters (including us) at the forefront since 1924. In Scotland, hunting with dogs was banned earlier by a different law, the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.
Securing the Hunting Act was a key moment in the history of animal protection legislation in the UK and public polling consistently shows it is a popular law. Yet, since its introduction, the Hunting Act has been the target of considerable attack from the pro-hunt lobby which has waged an on-going campaign to try and undermine the Act with the aim of getting it scrapped or weakened, and defied the Act by developing and promoting methods to circumvent it in the form of false alibies or illicit exploitations of its exemptions.
This sabotage of the law continues today, despite the legislation of 2004.
Prosecutions and Exemptions
Official figures demonstrate that the Hunting Act has protected animals, with people being convicted for crimes covered by the law. However, far too many allegations of illegal hunting have not been properly investigated and far too many illegal hunters have got away with it unpunished, which means that the Act has a serious enforcement problem. Because of the weak enforcement by the authorities the successful prosecution of registered hunts was spearheaded by the League when we took private prosecutions against illegal hunters.
While many people have been convicted under the Hunting Act, most of these are in fact poachers rather than hunters. Unfortunately we believe that illegal hunting with dogs by organised hunts is very common across the country, while there are very few prosecutions. The problem is that considering the defiance of the hunting fraternity and how they have created sophisticated alibies and illicitly exploited the exemptions of the Act, it is often hard to catch hunts in the act of chasing and killing a fox, and even if they are caught, it is hard to prove in court.
The Act contains ‘exemptions’ built into its Schedule, which were designed to prevent the ban affecting activities which Parliament did not intend to prohibit. Unfortunately, hunts often use these exemptions as an excuse if they are caught hunting. For example, staghunts use the ‘Research and Observation’ exemption that was designed for researchers and not hunters, and some fox hunts carry birds of prey in order to claim that they use the ‘falconry’ exemption, which was designed for falconers.
However, the most common way illegal fox hunters use to avoid prosecution is with ‘trail hunting’. Most registered fox and hare hunts now claim to be trail hunting – an activity that was not in existence or envisaged when the Hunting Act was drafted, and which should not be confused with ‘drag’ hunting.
Trail hunting is an entirely new invention which purports to mimic traditional hunting by following a scent trail (using fox urine, according to the hunters) which has been laid in areas where foxes are likely to be. Those laying the trail are not meant to tell those controlling the hounds where the scent has been laid, so if the hounds end up following a live animal scent the hunt can claim that they did not know.
Having looked over 4,000 hunt monitoring reports of over 30 hunt monitors from different organisations covering the majority of hunts in England and Wales (157), since the Hunting Act 2004 was enacted these hunt monitors have reported witnessing someone laying a possible trail only in an average of around 3% of the occasions they monitored hunts, but they believed that only an average of around 0.04% of the occasions they may have witnessed a genuine trail hunting event, rather than a fake one.
Trail hunting is not the same as drag hunting, a legitimate sport created in the 1800s which is not intended to mimic animal hunting, but instead is a sport using hounds to search for a non-animal scent without the pursuit or killing of wild animals.
In drag hunting, or in bloodhounds hunting (or hunting the ‘clean boot’ as it is also known) where the scent of a human runner is followed instead of a drag, the trail never contains animal scent, is never laid in areas likely to have foxes, and those controlling the hounds always know where the trail was laid.
This is why in drag hunting, ‘accidents’ when live animals are chased are very rare, while in trail hunting they are very common.
The League believes there is no such a thing as the ‘sport of trail hunting’ and it is simply a temporary, false alibi to cover for illegal hunting while the hunting fraternity hopes for the hunting ban to be repealed or weakened.
Hare hunting and hare coursing
Hare hunting is the lesser known cousin of fox hunting and deer hunting, but in the days before hunting was banned in England and Wales, one in three hunts were actually hare hunts. Despite the ban, when hunting with dogs was made illegal, most of these hunts still exist, and are chasing and killing hares in the name of ‘sport’.
Hare coursing is a different ‘sport’, involving two fast dogs being set loose to chase a hare. Traditionally, this could take place on a small scale but also as a large-scale, organised event, such as the famous Waterloo Cup event which attracted thousands of spectators who came to watch and place bets. Hare coursing was banned, along with hare hunting, by the Hunting Act 2004, and is illegal, but coursing still takes place
According to the Hare Preservation Trust, the number of brown hares in the UK has declined by 80% since the late 1880s – that’s a devastating drop. While modern farming practices are thought to be the main cause of this decline, hare hunting and hare coursing also had an impact. A return to these cruel sports could see brown hares wiped out in many parts of Britain. The brown hare is listed as a conservation priority in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, meaning we should be doing all we can to protect this vulnerable species.
There is nothing ‘natural’ about a hare being chased with a pack of dogs. Hares have evolved to sprint at high speeds for short periods to escape predators. They cannot match the stamina of hunting hounds who will continue the chase until the hare is exhausted and can run no more. When talking about hares and hunting with dogs, the Government’s Burns Report published in 2000 concluded that ‘this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the hare.’
Watch the reality of the Hare hunt: https://youtu.be/Xrhkt0EOGx4
In many ways it is still a bloodbath !