As expected, the government has responded to a petition asking for a ban on so-called ‘trail hunting’ by saying that there is no need to change the law because the law already bans fox hunting and allows so-called ‘trail hunting’ (which the government appears not to recognise as a smokescreen for illegal hunting).
The government (via Defra) does make clear – again – what the responsibilities of fox hunts are, though, which may be useful to be able to quote back the next time they’re seen ripping a fox apart:
If dogs used for trail hunting pick up and follow the scent of live foxes during a trail hunt, it is the responsibility of the hunt staff to control their hounds, and to stop the hounds as soon as they are made aware that the hounds are no longer following the trail that has been laid.
Failure to prevent dogs from chasing or killing a fox may be taken as intent to break the law. Anyone who believes that an offence has taken place should report the matter to the police, as the police deal with complaints of illegal hunting. Decisions on the arrest and prosecution of those taking part in illegal hunting activities are matters for the police and prosecuting authorities.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsPetition response, Jan 21
“May be taken as intent to break the law” in the quotation above doesn’t (we think) mean that we can take it as read that a “failure to prevent” automatically means an offence has taken place, but is more likely to mean that an offence may have taken place but also may not have. Like so much to do with this particular issue nothing is absolutely clear-cut – or is at least open to interpretation by defence lawyers. This doesn’t mean (as the shabby Countryside Alliance routinely claim) that the Hunting Act should be scrapped, rather that it should be tightened up so that rural hooligans on horseback can’t get away with breaking the law. At least, that’s our opinion.
That’s not likely though because as the government response says: “This Government will not amend the Hunting Act.“
That actually mirrors a point we made when the Conservative Party said that for the first time they wouldn’t call for a free vote in the next Parliament to repeal the Hunting Act. The announcement was made in their 2019 Manifesto. The full ‘statement’ was tucked away at the bottom of page 43, and with no supporting detail simply said, “We will make no changes to the Hunting Act.”
Some pro-wildlife campaigners made a great deal of this, but – being more cynical than many within the pro-wildlife camp – we pointed out that this also meant that “that there will be no changes to strengthen it or help to enforce it either. No extra funding. No removal of exemptions. No ‘recklessness’ clause. Which essentially means that hunting will continue as it does now.” (See – Conservative Manifesto and fox hunting)
Pro-hunt lobbyists will say that now is not the time to ‘bother’ the government with fox hunting. We disagree. Yes, of course the government has urgent priorities on its hands right now (we all want vaccine roll-out to be successful and the pandemic controlled for example), but we have the right to ask for change whenever we want to. That’s democracy. Unfortunately at the same time we perhaps need to recognise that this was the course the government set out on two years ago: the legislation concerning fox hunting will remain untouched until the next election no matter how hard we petition for changes now.
Does that we mean we should give up though? Absolutely not. Now is not the time to back off. Hunts are under enormous pressure right now from leaked webinars, councils banning hunts from their land, ‘trail hunting’ licences suspended by major landowners like the National Trust and Forestry Commission, national media picking up on stories of ‘out of control’ hounds killing foxes or attacking domestic animals, and a financial crisis (because of lockdown stopping hunts collecting riding revenues) that hunts have never faced before.
Hunts are reeling under a barrage of continuous scrutiny, online information, and their own stupid missteps. We may not actually need legislation changing in Parliament – by keeping the pressure on, we’re all helping illegal fox hunting to die a deserved ‘death by a thousand cuts’ anyway…
If you’d like to support the growing movement towards a better countryside, please let your own council know that you want hunts banned. And why not consider joining LACS or the Hunt Sabs – or at the very least please let the Hunt Sabs know when you see hunts out and about breaking the law: