with Horse and Hound

Ten Years of the Hunting Ban in England

norm DSC0995Liz Callar photoIt’s been ten years now since England’s Hunting Act of 2004 was enacted by the Labour government, and neither side is satisfied, says Stephen Moss in The Guardian.

To give the briefest of recaps, here’s what the law allows. Two hounds may be used to flush a fox to a gun; a pack of hounds may be used to flush a fox to a bird of prey; and/or a pack of hounds may follow a drag.

Most hunts in England and Wales opt for the drag. The problem comes when hounds find the line of a live fox and switch from the drag. At that point, huntsman and staff are supposed to stop hounds. The huntsman says, Easier said than done. The hunt monitor with his video cam rolling says, Not only did you fail to try to stop hounds, you even encouraged your hounds! There’s the rub, and there’s the basis of most of the prosecutions in court. In the end, it all depends on the persuasiveness of the evidence.

Tony Blair, prime minister at the time of the bill’s passage, later wrote that his support of the legislation was a mistake. When David Cameron, a foxhunter himself, became prime minister, he promised a free vote in Parliament aimed at reversing the ban. However, he has not been able to get enough support within his own government’s coalition to give him the confidence to push for such a vote.

Polls seem to indicate that eighty percent of Brits are in favor of the ban—not surprising since probably ninety-five percent of the population lives in urban settings and has no interest in foxhunting. And there are those among them who are happy to have had the chance to stick it to the toffs. On the other hand, there seem to be more people hunting now than before the ban.

Activists on both sides are agitating for change. The pro-hunting faction wants certain hunting restrictions eased if they can’t end the ban altogether; the anti-hunting faction wants certain provisions of the ban tightened up.

Old-time foxhunters say that while it’s not real hunting, the newcomers to the field don’t really care or know the difference. Those that remember the Champagne days of hunting say the thrill of the sport is in the random nature of the chase. One never knew just where the fox would take them. They say the newcomers—professional people as opposed to farming people—are just out for a gallop on their horses, live or drag. The old-timers are concerned that without foxhunters connected to the land and caring for livestock, hunting will gradually die out. By extension, some feel that because of the change in the demographics of the participants, foxhunting was doomed with or without the ban.

It should be remembered, though, that the end of foxhunting has been predicted for centuries. First it was the coming of the railroads, then it was road building and urban development that was predicted to end all hunting. What is probably true for each generation of foxhunters is that foxhunting as they know it is doomed. However, foxhunting seems to morph continuously into a practice that fits the times.

“[The Hunting Act] is a typically British fudge that leaves neither side satisfied,” writes Moss in his Guardian article. “The League Against Cruel Sports realises that some hunts—the ones using birds of prey, others who are beyond the video cameras of the antis—are still catching foxes. But the true hunters, too, know that this pseudo-hunting is second best.”

Posted November 28, 2014