BY: SYDNEY KEEFE
Fox hunting is the traditional sport that consists of tracking and chasing the red fox with the use of foxhounds followed by a group of unarmed followers known as “master of foxhounds”. A title that seems to have too much gravitas for a bunch of people who essentially just follow their dogs around. The hunt culminates in the hounds ripping a fox limb from limb.
The practice has been prevalent in the United Kingdom and other European countries for centuries and can be traced back to Celtic Britain, which existed centuries before Conformité Européenne. This sense of tradition is why a portion of British citizens are hesitant to let go of this brutal sport.
Fox hunting was banned in 2004 by Tony Blair’s parliament, and had previously been banned in Scotland in 2002 (with some serious loopholes available to hunters).
In the past 12 years, despite the ban or perhaps in spite of it, many British citizens still chose to participate in fox hunting. In 2015, 250,000 people participated in the boxing day fox hunt. Luckily there are Brits who think the unlawful chase and painful death of foxes is cruel and in response formed the “Hunt Saboteurs Association” in 1964, led by John Prestige, with the focus of ending blood sports.
Essentially the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) attends hunts with the sole intention of rescuing foxes from excruciating deaths and therefore sabotaging the event. One infamous member, Gwen Barter, sat in a fox hole which prohibited hunters from digging out the fox, and on a separate occasion sat on the hood of a deer cart that was carrying deer with a sign reading “The cruel barbaric ritual of carted deer hunting must stop now”. In the 1960s the HSA used hunting horns and developed a harmless masking scent to confuse the hounds and stop the hunt. In recent years they have also taken to filming illegal hunts as well. Unfortunately, the saboteurs have experienced violence from hunt supporters from the 1960s until recent years.
The violence began a year after the HSA’s formation in 1965 when three saboteurs were attacked with an axe and later were charged £10 compared to their attackers who were charged £15. Later that year Saboteur’s cars would be surrounded, windows smashed, and they would subsequently be dragged out and beaten. Unfortunately, these depraved acts of violence have continued into the 21st century and have increased in frequency since The Hunting Act – which bans the hunting of wild mammals (notably foxes, deer, hares and mink) with dogs in England and Wales – was passed in the UK in November 2004.
Since the passing of the ban, Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that he will be attempting to repeal the ban in the 2015-2020 parliament. Cameron has since stepped down following the Brexit and Theresa May has since been elected. May will continue with Cameron’s proposed action to repeal the ban.
Emails from Lord Mancroft, who is the chairman of the Hunting Associations, describe his plan to garner support for Prime Minister May in order to reverse the ban in upcoming free vote. Mancroft is utilizing May’s expected conservative majority as a way to ensure the repeal of the ban, as it is believed because of the strength of her government they will be able to repeal successfully. Mancroft stated in his email that hunt supporters will withdraw their support from May if she does not intend to repeal the Hunting Act. Following this email Leak, May cowed to Mancroft and has promised a vote to bring back fox hunting.
This is problematic because many hunt supporters, like Lord Mancroft, are powerful members of British society. Mancroft himself is a member of the House of Lords, and is an friend of the Prince of Wales, as they have been pictured together at the Beaufort Hunt. The League Against Cruel Sport accused the prime minister of pandering to the privileged, as fox hunting is historically enjoyed by the upper class. The charities director said “This smacks of a small minority with a cruel hobby wielding an inappropriately large influence over the people in charge.”
A free vote on fox hunting was promised to appear on the parliamentary manifesto in 2010 and again in 2015, but two years ago the historic protest outside parliament, which included animal activist and rock legend Brian May, lead to the vote being shelved. But with assurances from Mancroft’s leaked emails it has become clear that May is intending to include the free vote for fox hunting in her manifesto despite personally voting against fox hunting previously. This change of heart can be attributed to Mancroft and other prominent hunt supporters threatening to oppose May if she does not include the fox hunting in her manifesto. Unfortunately the cruelty foxes have endured has been politicized to the point that the suffering and fear they experience has become a commodity to buy votes and support.
Supporters like Prime minister May rely on outdated and grossly inaccurate information to solidify their stance on torturing foxes. One of these arguments is that fox hunting is needed to control fox populations as they are considered a pest in the UK.
According to the UK government Burns Commission “the overall contribution of traditional fox hunting, within the overall total of control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole.” In fact research from Bristol University has proven that foxes self regulate their populations so there is no increase in population when there is no fox hunting (Harris 2002) and there is no decrease in population when you try to exterminate all the foxes in an area using any means necessary (Baker & Harris 2006). It has actually been proven that that the most likely effect of this will be an increase in fox population.
Another pro hunt argument focuses on the rural economy that would be effected by the end of fox hunting.
The UK Government inquired into the economic effects of hunting with dogs and found the immediate effects would be every limited to individuals who work directly with the hunt. Furthermore, longterm effects would not extend past 10 years and would just be the eventual diversion of countryside resources to new activities.
Pro-hunting MPS include Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary. The opposition includes tory MPs Tracey Crouch, sports minister, Caroline Dineage, the equality minister, and the former justice minister Dominic Raab, all of whom are apart of the Conservative Against Fox Hunting.
And while it is incredibly important that the Hunting Act remains in effect it is arguably more important that the loopholes and poor policing of hunts that currently stain the Hunting Act be dealt with first.
The Hunting Act allows for hunters to lay a false fox trail for their hounds. The problem with this is that it is easy for hunters to pretend to be following a false trail when they are actually just killing foxes. Not that it matters, as the hunts are poorly policed anyway. Despite the 400 prosecutions of illegal hunters, those who oppose the hunt say there are many many more who never experience any penalty. This revelation begs the question why are we fighting to keep a proposed law when we should be fighting to improve the one we are already saddled with?
Suggested amendments to tighten the Hunting Act are; introducing a recklessness clause so hunters cannot claim to be trail hunting and that their dogs accidentally hunted a fox, as well as an increase in the penalty for illegal hunting to include custodial sentences, in line with other wildlife crime legislation.
So far 650,000 Brits have signed a petition against lifting the ban.