Is Time Finally Running Out For Fox Hunters?

Last week something happened that just a few years ago many would have deemed impossible. Something that will be making anyone who still somehow thinks that in 2018 it’s still ok to go out and chase, kill and persecute foxes for a bit of fun and tradition, completely furious. It was that our very own pro-hunting Prime Minister announced formally that there would be no vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act during this Parliament. Despite Theresa May stating, rather uncomfortably, that her views hadn’t changed, she acknowledged that the will of the British people must be listened to.

Just before the Hunting Ban was introduced in 2004, there were barely a handful of openly anti-hunt Conservative MPs but now over a third don’t want the ban lifted – a real sign of changing times.

But it’s not just May’s recent interview which seems to signal that, finally, the tables may be turning for those that long to kill foxes for sport. Last year, a motion was tabled by a National Trust member to ban fox hunting on National Trust land. The National Trust didn’t favour this motion, on the grounds that the only hunting taking place was so-called trail hunting, where a fox-based scent is laid and followed by riders and hounds. That may sound reasonable, but the increasingly widely-known truth is that trail hunting is largely nothing more than a ruse created after the ban to allow hunts to continue with impunity.

Reports from investigators and hunt monitors all back this up. In 2015, here at the International Fund for Animal Welfare we released a report, ‘Trail of Lies’, which found that in 99% of hunts monitored over 10 years (almost 500 hunts in total), investigators didn’t witness anyone laying any potentially genuine trail. Trail hunting is simply a tried and tested way to create a false alibi should a hunt ever get prosecuted, claiming that if a fox is killed or pursued it’s simply an accident – that the fox just happened to cross the path of the fox-based scent, the scent that wasn’t actually there. The simple question this prompts is; if you genuinely don’t want your hounds to kill or chase a fox, isn’t it a tad silly to choose known fox habitats and using a fox-based scent?

With regards to the National Trust vote, a staggering 30,985 members voted to ban trail hunts on National Trust land, with 30,686 against. The National Trust used discretionary votes to overturn the will of the majority of their members, causing the motion to be defeated by a tiny margin of just 299.

But despite this setback, as a result of this vote and promises to introduce new regulations (such as hunts having to use artificial scents only, publishing details of hunts, and banning the use of terriermen), all eyes are now on the National Trust. Since the vote, numerous reports are appearing almost weekly about hunts trespassing on National Trust land without the correct licences. It will be extremely difficult for the National Trust to uphold its reputation as a trusted organisation if it keeps ignoring this.

Then there’s the press. Boxing Day is a big day for hunting in the media. This is the hunt’s PR day, when journalists are called in for the ‘tradition’ that is the Boxing Day Hunt. Everyone dons their best hunting gear and parades through local villages. They don’t even kill foxes (well at least until the press have gone). It’s normally a celebration of those glory days when people could kill anything they wanted, however they wanted, just because they wanted to. But this year in the press it wasn’t all about the pomp and ceremony; instead we saw numerous mentions of the myths of trail hunting, the controversy caused by May’s election manifesto pledge to vote on repealing the ban, and the amount of people (over 80%) in the UK who oppose bringing back hunting. My own letter to the Editor of the Independent regarding the need to stick to the spirit of the law and detailing findings from IFAW’s report was also published.

So, times are changing. In Scotland, following last year’s review of existing legislation conducted by Lord Bonomy, the Scottish Government are looking at strengthening the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act. Here in England, the Government has finally started to realise that popular policies, are, well, popular. As a result we’ve seen a number of animal-friendly moves such as a consultation on the ban of ivory sales in the UK, a promise to ban wild animals in circuses, a commitment to CCTV in abattoirs and a renewed interest in a ban on third-party puppy sales. It’s just the unscientific badger cull right now that’s a true stain on the Government’s welfare policy, so fingers crossed some sense is seen quickly with this policy too. And now, for the first time in years, it doesn’t seem out of the question that we maybe one day in the not too distant future we could see some reforms made to the Hunting Act to make it more effective at protecting wildlife.

In the meantime we won’t rest on our laurels. Instead, let’s take stock and make sure our voices keep on being heard to push for a true end to the cruel, outdated and pointless sport of fox hunting.