Hunting was banned in England and Wales 13 years ago – so it’s about time hunts stopped killing animals.
The sight of riders in red coats following a pack of baying hounds across the countryside is one that has been seen across the UK for hundreds of years. The less glamorous denouement – that of the fox, stag or hare being ripped to shreds – was in theory banned by the Hunting Act 2004. But sadly, these deaths continue.
More than eight out of 10 people want hunting to remain illegal, but many of those probably thought that the killing had stopped. Over the last few months, there’s been a growing realisation among the British public that they have been fooled. Last year we had an election in which one of the most controversial issues was hunting – the public were shocked at the Prime Minister’s personal backing of a cruel sport. Then we had a campaign to ban ‘trail’ hunting on National Trust land, because increasing evidence shows that these ‘trail’ hunts are simply a cover for traditional, lethal hunting.
We’ve also seen a raft of positive new policy pledges from both main parties focussing on animal welfare. A promise to increase sentencing for animal cruelty from a maximum of six months to five years was overdue but very welcome. Suggestions – perhaps misreported – that the UK wouldn’t recognise animal sentience post-Brexit were met with outrage. Just this week, Labour have published proposals on animal welfare which range from strengthening the Hunting Act to ending the disastrous badger cull.
These moves from politicians recognise that the British public despise animal cruelty and want those who inflict it to be punished. And that’s why it’s bad news for hunts.
As the Hunting Act turns 13 on Sunday 18th February, we must acknowledge the benefit it has had in punishing those who chase and kill animals ‘for fun’. But like with all legislation, we should learn from our experiences and seek to strengthen it. Hunts have shown a relentless ambition to ignore, bend or undermine the hunting ban – not just in England and Wales, but in Scotland too - so they can continue to kill. We must stop that.
The League Against Cruel Sports is recommending a number of amendments which would tighten the loopholes. These include proposals which would make it harder for hunts to claim ‘accident’ when their dogs chase and kill foxes under the guise of trail hunting; increasing sentences in line with other animal cruelty laws, and stopping stag hunts from claiming that their awful activity is actually ‘scientific research’.
It wouldn’t be difficult to bring in these changes, and they would make a huge difference to the safety of our wildlife. Making them happen would prove that politicians actually want to be tough on animal cruelty – and aren’t just talking about it because it sounds good.
The League has just launched a petition calling on people across the UK to help us stop the killing of animals by hunts – once and for all. If the recent moves towards better animal welfare are anything to go by, an awful lot of people will be signing that petition. The number 13 could turn out to be very unlucky for the hunting community.