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March 21, 2014

Maintaining the Hunting Act

Let's keep cruelty history

Humane Society International/UK

  • He should not suffer the fate of being ripped apart by dogs. Alamy

Update: On 26 March, in reply to a question in from Angela Smith MP, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, confirmed that a proposal to amend the Hunting Act had been made to the Environment Secretary and that it was being considered, adding: "but I regret to say that I do not think there will be Government agreement to go forward." This apparent U-turn is thanks to the efforts of HSI UK and its supporters, and those of other organisations. We will continue to review this issue and work with colleagues to ensure the Hunting Act is not weakened.

After a century-long campaign to end it, hunting with dogs was finally outlawed (with certain exceptions) by the Hunting Act in 2004.

Since then, hunt supporters have continually called for the Act to be overturned, and the coalition government pledged to hold a free vote on the issue during the current Parliament.

In March 2014, Farming Minister George Eustice, MP confirmed that a proposal to amend the number of dogs used in flushing had been put to the government and that it was “looking carefully at the issue.”

Any move to lift the restriction on the number of dogs (currently two) allowed to be used for flushing would undermine the Act, rendering it toothless.

Brutality of the past

Years ago, hunting involved encouraging packs of specially trained dogs to track down, chase and kill wild mammals.

Chases could last more than an hour, and once exhausted, the animal would either be surrounded and held “at bay” by the dogs until being shot (deer), or attacked and killed directly by the dogs, usually by disemboweling (foxes, hare and mink). In the case of hare coursing, two dogs were sent after a lone animal, in a “test” of agility and speed, until the hare either escaped or was caught and killed, often in a “tug-of-war” between the two dogs.

These pre-determined, brutal pastimes were rightly condemned by most of the British public (both rural and urban) for many decades before finally being outlawed. The ban also had, and retains, the support of a large majority of Members of Parliament, across all political parties.

Successful legislation

Uses and exceptions

The Hunting Act has been used successfully many times in the last decade to secure prosecutions against established hunts, hare coursing gangs and landowners who allowed their property to be used for hare coursing events.

The Act allows for a number of exemptions, mostly relating to shooting and falconry, including a provision to allow the use of two dogs to “flush” a wild mammal (from undergrowth) to waiting guns.

Addressing arguments

Claims from pro-hunt sympathisers that hunting was an effective way to control numbers of mammals or protect farm stock are a mere smokescreen that doesn't stand up to proper scrutiny. Fox predation, for example, accounts for only a very small proportion of lamb losses and has a negligible financial impact.

Keeping cruelty history

Any weakening of the Hunting Act would be nothing more than an underhanded attempt to effectively legalise the horror of wild mammals being chased and torn apart by packs of dogs once more. Working with our like-minded partners, HSI/UK will do all we can to prevent this from happening.

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