The Hunting Act: 15 years on

On this day in 2005, the Hunting Act was enforced across England and Wales. Over the last fifteen years, there has been lobbying from both those wanting to repeal or strengthen the ban. It has created widespread interest and even been among the center points of political party manifestos. However, interestingly, the Conservative parties manifesto for the most recent 2019 General Election did not indicate an intention to reverse the ban. This is the first time since the ban was enforced. Perhaps a sign of moving times and recognition of the overwhelming public opposition.

But why 15 years on do campaign groups, NGOs and other individuals continue to lobby for change? Quite simply, the Hunting Act isn’t enough. Flaws across the legislation itself, policing and prosecutions have meant hunting of mammals with dogs continues, both illegally and legally. In a campaign launched today by the League Against Cruel Sports marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Hunting Act, they’ve published a map of the 299 hunts that still operate in the British countryside.

The interactive map encourages people to enter their postcode and see where hunts of foxes, hares and deer still operate near them. The ‘Map of Cruel Sports’ aims to highlight and create awareness about wide scale hunts that still operate. Whilst exploring the map this morning, I was quite shocked by how many hunts still operate. We can’t deem all these hunts to be carrying out the illegal activity, but the pure principle remains barbaric and doesn’t belong in modern society.

 

As part of their campaign, the League is encouraging members of the public to contact their local council and ask them to ban hunting on public land. Simply stated on their website: ‘If there is no land, there is no hunting’. This is very important as many hunts still operate on public land or use public land to gather and receive support. This sends firm signals that the hunts aren’t welcome.

This sort of action is vital in eliminating hunting from the British countryside. Just a few weeks ago I read a report of a hunt losing control of their hounds on Bodmin Moor. The pack had discovered a fox which was then chased through a nearby public car park. On the contrary, lobbying councils has been very successful. A recent success last year was when Nottinghamshire County Council passed a motion calling for an end to trail hunting, exempt hunting and exercising packs of hounds on County Council land.

The fox hunting season runs from November to March. Although the hunting of foxes with dogs is illegal under the Hunting Act, trail hunting has taken its place. This is when dogs follow a pre-laid trail and, if lawful, no foxes are killed. However, despite this, many illegal activities and incidences are reported each year. Also, as already mentioned, it isn’t just foxes, the Hunting Act protects hares and deer. But other mammals are also reported to be affected, including badgers with reports of setts being blocked.

Some of the most recent data produced by the League stated that by 2018, 497 convictions had been obtained for all offences under the Hunting Act. Along with 47 people who have received cautions for hunting offences. Numerous examples and case studies demonstrate how the law is also exploited and abused, making policing and prosecution very difficult. Fortunately, the work of groups and individuals out in the field who are monitoring and recording means some incidents are reported. But when it comes to wildlife crime, we all know how difficult this is. These figures and case studies could just be the tip of the iceberg.

The issues here are deeply rooted in the legislation, policing and prosecutions. There is currently no offence under the ban that carries a custodial sentence and, as mentioned, there are several exemptions that hunts can use to avoid prosecution. But how effective are the prosecutions? A recent Hunting Act conviction before Christmas involved two members of the Meynell and South Staffordshire hunt who pleaded guilty to hunting fox cubs with dogs. They were fined a mere £350 each.

Despite being a very important piece of legislation, many aspects are seemingly flawed. Fifteen years on, there is still a desperate need for change to outright ban this barbaric past time. I believe today’s campaign by the League will open people’s eyes and encourage them that we still need to act. Whether it’s writing to your local council, MP or supporting the League and related organisations.

I can’t help but think what does this say about us as a nation? Where such traditions still exist, and the law is defied for the benefit and enjoyment of a few. Such abuse in other areas of society would have much stronger consequences, but as seen across many areas of our environment, things are not taken seriously. An occurring theme at a worrying and unstable time globally.

What about the next 15 years then? The Hunting Act needs to be strengthened quickly to further protect our countryside and mammals from such practices. With public support against hunting strengthening, by 2036 let’s ensure that this past time and cruelty has completely diminished.

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