The Ban: Not As Straightforward As The Wording Suggests
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
On a fairly drizzly Autumn Saturday, my husband and I drove out to Dartmoor for a walk to take in the fall colours and enjoy a last picnic before the cold snap takes hold. We parked our car just outside Chagford and took up a path that would lead us to the Two Moors Way. It was then that we heard the dogs.
Rounding a corner on the path, we were able to look across a stream into the neighbouring field where cars were parked and people were gathered. Some were mounted on horses, some wearing black, but most wearing red. Around their feet and the horses’ hooves were the hounds.
The Hunting Act (2004) is a legislation that was passed at the end of 2004 which controls the hunting of wild animals with dogs and prohibits hare coursing in England and Wales. I was still a child when the ban was being campaigned for by League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). At the time, I could not understand who could possibly vote to oppose such a ban.
Fourteen years has passed since The Hunting Act was proposed and brought in to place, yet trips into the countryside or a quick Google search show the frequency with which hunting with dogs still occurs in England.
In 2017 in the lead-up to the general election, Theresa May put her support behind tearing up the act. The public, however, let their voices be heard through an Ipsos MORI poll which showed 85% of people think fox hunting should remain illegal, 87% believe stag hunting should remain illegal and 90% think hare coursing and hare hunting should remain illegal. It therefore follows that at least 80% of the voting public should be delighted with Corbyn’s promise. Labour has pledged to toughen up The Hunting Act by closing loopholes in the legislation that mean the killing of wildlife goes unpunished.
Shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, spoke about Labour’s position on the Act, saying:
“The government must enhance and strengthen the Hunting Act, as Labour has pledged, closing loopholes that allow for illegal hunting of foxes and hares.” (The Canary)
At present, ‘trail hunting’ is just one of these loopholes. This practice sees hounds following a human-laid scent trail but many argue that it is a cover for illegal foxhunting as participants in the hunt can then write off the deaths of animals as ‘accidental’.
LACS released a statement saying:
“Monitors from [LACS] and other animal protection organisations have observed the activities of hunts for more than ten years since the ban came in and their 4,000+ reports show they witnessed a genuine trail being laid less than one per cent of the time.”
In 2016, LACS estimated that around 16 000 illegal hunting incidents have happened every year since the ban came into effect. This statistic is particularly jarring when looked at in conjunction with the Guardian’s findings that convictions for wildlife crimes are at a historic low.
LACS, along with other animal rights groups and members of the public, argue that closing the loopholes in the existing ban would have a significant impact upon ensuring that the act serves its original purpose. In LACS’s words:
“The Hunting Act needs to be strengthened so it can achieve what was intended – an end to the killing of animals by hunts. So-called ‘trail’ hunting needs to be exposed for what it is – a deliberate conspiracy to circumvent the law.”
The Countryside Alliance, responsible for promoting rural issues, including hunting sports, argues that hunters “comply with the law”. This assertion may not be untrue as it is clear that the Act itself contains loop holes that can be exploited lawfully to allow for the practice of hunting.
If those surveyed during the 2017 poll retain their viewpoints on hunting, it is clearly within the public’s interest to tighten the restrictions in place by the Hunting Act. Corbyn’s Labour government, known and mocked for proposals that more Conservative voters deem controversial, has once again stirred up debate with this promise. However, in light of the release of the WWF’s shocking report that our species has eradicated 60% of those we hold dominion over since 1970, there may never have been a more opportune time to reconsider the value of British legacy over our responsibility to the animal kingdom.