The infamous flushing exemption to the Hunting Act requires various conditions to be met to make the flushing of deer and other wild mammals from cover with dogs legal. One of these conditions which is in the political limelight is that no more than two dogs are used. Another less discussed condition is that the animals are shot dead as soon as possible after they are flushed out. To quote the law itself:
"reasonable steps are taken for the purpose of ensuring that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person"
The courts ruled as far back as 2007 that when a herd of deer - maybe twenty or so animals - are flushed then 'reasonable steps' must be taken to shoot the entire herd. This basically involves flushing the deer towards a line of guns and them then dying in a hail of gunfire. If any deer are merely wounded or indeed escape the initial armed onslaught then they will need to be followed up and eventually dispatched, a process that can take some time.
In my opinion shooting entire herds of deer is nothing short of barbaric.
I have for many years questioned the need for such legally required carnage. I use collie dogs to flush deer from cover. I find it reduces the numbers of deer in my woodland and improves my coppice. I believe that not killing the deer is kind not cruel. Over the years since the ban I have used between two and five dogs. Deer are flighty creatures and it's actually very simple to flush them out; all you have to do is wander through woodland or other areas where deer are present and as soon as the deer become aware of the dogs they run off.
In the same 2007 case the court ruled that flushing did not even need to involve a chase. One could perfectly well flush deer with dogs on leads - although I would not advise it with rutting stags for health and safety reasons.
Parliament are due to consider whether to allow more than two dogs to flush wild animals to be shot. I would like to put forward another proposal.
The law should not require flushed wild animals to be killed.
I put this proposal recently to the anti hunting campaigner Dr Toni Shephard on twitter:
Dr Shephard's response is interesting and it's worth noting that she represents the prominent anti hunt charity The League Against Cruel Sports. As she says they are against flushed wild deer being allowed to escape unharmed because of the conclusions of a twenty year old report into stag hunting by a professor Bateson.
This is a classic example of the misuse of science to support the entirely unnecessary killing of wildlife. Professor Bateson who admitted his conclusions were not conclusive was referring to the pursuit of wild deer with hunting hounds over many miles after which they were made to stand at bay and be shot. Dr Shephard is twisting his report in order to justify whole herd slaughter in completely different circumstances.
There is in fact very little correlation between pursuing wildlife for miles with a pack of hounds and someone simply wandering round a woodland with a few dogs as I do. Both may involve the flushing of deer from cover but that is about as far as any similarity goes. As I make clear to Dr Shephard, I allow the deer to escape unharmed. Yet still she and her organisation believe I should have to shoot them dead as soon as possible.
In my opinion wildlife should only be killed if it can be justified. The Hunting Act already bans the extended pursuit of wild deer. It then requires them to be shot if flushed in order to prevent such an extended pursuit. Requiring potential victims of crime to be killed in order to prevent them becoming victims of crime is a nonsense. There are many alternative ways of preventing dogs engaging in such an extended pursuit that do not involve mass killing.
Shooting entire herds of deer fleeing dogs is cruel - far from requiring it the law should prohibit it.
I've campaigned against deer and other wildlife having to be killed in these circumstances for several years. My moderate proposals have been vehemently opposed by extremists on both sides of the debate. For these people killing is everything - there is no alternative. Other people - both anti and pro hunting support my right not to kill wildlife if I don't want to. Some of them have dogs and I am sure they realise that they too flush wild deer from time to time and whether intentional or not it can be done without cruelty.
I know someone who is adamantly anti hunt yet campaigns for the use of morema sheepdogs to guard livestock from potential predators such as foxes and badgers. This is a service my humble North Devon Collies have performed for many years - helping to keep my cattle shed badger free. They simply chase the badgers away if the come near. It's worked for me and has protected my buildings from being undermined if not my cattle from bTB. I've never shot a flushed fox, badger or deer.
The fact of the matter is that the Hunting Act is a poorly thought out and ineffective law. Most people from all sides of the debate and none now acknowledge this. Parliament needs at some point to revisit the law with a view to repealing, revising or replacing it.