Is It Time to Look Again at the Hunting Act?

Surely we need an open and honest debate about the evident problems with this law and it needs to be sorted out one way or another. We need a sensible piece of legislation which clearly defines what it prohibits - the Hunting Act does not and which is based on animal welfare considerations not bigotry.

Following an incident in south Devon where a terrier appears to have been used to flush two foxes from an old badger sett, the Huffington Post has run an online poll asking its readers what the response should be.

The three options given were:

  • Nothing, it's a countryside way of life
  • If found illegal, they should be prosecuted
  • All three should be shoved into a badger sett and attacked with spades and guns

At the time of writing the third option was running at 39.56%. If both this poll and another recent poll conducted by the League Against Cruel Sports LACS that suggested an 80% opposition to hunting are to be believed it appears that around half of the people who oppose hunting also support the use of violence to enforce their moral view point. It's unclear whether the respondents voted in support of the men actually being shot dead, merely kneecapped or maybe just given a good old fashioned pistol whipping. Perhaps more research is needed.

These sentiments are clearly not just confined to Huffington Post readers. A small selection of the many statements made about the incident online also indicate a substantial support for extreme violence. These are taken from the comments sections of the local and national press and also from social networks:

Susan Coates: "If I was a farmer and seen them on my land I'd blow their heads off."

Bruce Cooper: "I could happily shoot the cruel, evil scum"

Ellie Catherine Wright: "I hope they get caught and killed in front of their children."

Jayne Hickinbotham Tudhope: "I'd shot the kids too or they will only grow up thinking this sort of behaviour is acceptable."

Some of the above statements may of course be internet 'trolling' of the kind that has recently got two culprits imprisoned after sending such messages to a feminist campaigner. However one rarely sees any of the other anti hunting posters objecting to such vitriol.

The current Hunting Act allows for up to a £5,000 fine. People can have their dogs destroyed however their is currently no provision for either lethal force or clubbing with garden implements to be used against participants in country sports. It would seem therefore that a substantial proportion of those opposing country sports do not think it goes far enough.

LACS have not come out in favour of such extreme Taliban-style punishments being meted out. One assumes that if any such sanction was to be performed it would be by a gang of masked anonymous men. There was a recent report of a hunt rider being beaten up by a gang of balaclavaed activists in front of his young daughter. Right along the lines of what the charming "Ellie Catherine Wright" above has in mind although maybe she would be disappointed that the man was left merely bruised and not dead.

The true position of the League Against Cruel Sports in this controversy is in fact somewhat hard to fathom and in my opinion it should be clarified. On the one hand their Chief Executive Joe Duckworth has gone on record as stating that terrier work is 'abhorrently cruel.' On the other hand the Hunting Act which they refuse to criticise in any way clearly allows for terrier work. The use of a terrier below ground in order to flush a fox to be shot is permitted under the Hunting Act in order to protect game birds to be shot. It's likely that this is exactly what has taken place in Devon and if so anyone that fully supports the current law would vote for the first option - to do nothing. The Hunt seems to have done the right thing by the law. They haven't killed the fox with a pack which is illegal but the fox has been flushed and shot which is not.

The League Against Cruel Sports also think that shooting game birds for sport is cruel.

Nevertheless their formal position is to support the existing legislation. In a 2009 parliamentary briefing they claimed to believe that:

"The Hunting Act makes provision for necessary and humane pest control".

The two main forms of what LACS have claimed is humane pest control that the Hunting Act allows for are the use of dogs to chase foxes and deer out of cover to be shot and the use of a terrier below ground to flush a fox - also to be shot. LACS have also released a report claiming that there is no need to shoot foxes and they have publicly opposed deer culling.

Can these seemingly incongruous positions be reconciled? How can the League support the use of terriers - which they consider cruel to facilitate the shooting of game birds that they also consider cruel - remaining legal? Do they really support people being allowed to take hounds into woodland - set them after the wildlife therein and then gun it down as it flees?

Maybe they only pretend to fully support the Hunting Act. Maybe their stated political position is a lie.

I don't agree with the Hunting Act because it requires me to shoot the deer that I flush with my dogs on my farm in North Devon. I just carry on and stick two fingers up to LACS. I don't shoot wild mammals I prefer to use no lethal methods of wildlife management. The local police do nothing to stop me because it is self evident that the law is in my case ridiculous. I've carried on using my dogs with deer, foxes and hares.

The Countryside Alliance clearly do not agree with the law and it seems that LACS also have reservations about substantial and important sections of it.

Surely we need an open and honest debate about the evident problems with this law and it needs to be sorted out one way or another. We need a sensible piece of legislation which clearly defines what it prohibits - the Hunting Act does not and which is based on animal welfare considerations not bigotry.

To get to this situation we need a civilised debate both without and within Parliament and we need to either revise, repeal or replace the current law. If we do not have that then the advocates of violent mob rule that voted in this poll will win.

Before You Go