Could attitudes to fox hunting be the deciding factor on which way the polls go on May 7? It’s a particularly pertinent question in this part of the country, where so many hunts operate.
When the Hunting Act was given Royal Assent in 2004, it was a landmark moment for animal welfare. After 80 years of tireless campaigning, the legislation finally made it illegal to hunt a wild mammal with a pack of dogs, one of the worst acts of cruelty allowed to take place in our countryside.
The Act drew a clear line in the sand as to what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour in a civilised society.
More than ten years on, people’s views have not changed. The general public, both rural and urban, and the majority of MPs, still think hunting a fox, deer, or hare for sport is unacceptable. It’s neither class, nor political persuasion that makes people support the ban – it’s simply a concern for the welfare of animals.
The fact is that 80% of people do not want fox hunting made legal again. (IPSOS MORI, 2014). And there’s very little difference in their views whether they live in the countryside (78%) or a town (81%).
Furthermore, 86% think stag hunting should remain illegal and even more – 88% – are against hare hunting and coursing. These strong convictions are likely to be reflected in the voting choices people make at the forthcoming General Election.
Despite this, there still remains a small minority who want to return to a time when chasing and ripping apart wild animals for fun was legal. Some of these individuals carry on hunting regardless of the law and others hope that the Act will be repealed by a new government.
The pro-hunt movement’s tactics are to try to keep unscientific myths alive to justify their own brutality. But time after time, the hard research proves them wrong.
Hunting is not an efficient method of population control – as soon as one fox is killed, another will move in on its territory.
And it is not natural for any species to be chased by 40 dogs while surrounded by shouting, horn blowing hunters.
Since the Hunting Act came into force it has quickly established itself as the most successful piece of wild animal welfare legislation, with the highest number and rate of convictions since 2005.
But the Hunting Act has also been the target of considerable attack from the pro-hunt lobby which has waged an on-going and concerted campaign of disinformation, continuing to lobby for its repeal.
Some of these opponents point out that illegal hunting still take place. Sadly, this is true, but the problem is not the law itself but those who flout it.
Illegal hunting is unfortunately a problem up and down the country, with both registered hunts and individuals breaking the law and causing suffering to wildlife. These problems are compounded by a culture of secrecy, intimidation, disdain and anti-social activity perpetrated by parts of the pro-hunt faction directed at those who oppose their brutish behaviour.
That is why we would like the new government to make the Hunting Act stronger by banning hunts’ cruel use of terriers below ground to corner and fight foxes, inserting a ‘reckless’ provision to ensure the killing of wild mammals during a trail hunt cannot be passed off as an ‘unfortunate accident’, and by making the Act tougher by introducing prison sentences for those who break the law. This would bring the Act into line with other animal welfare legislation.
The Act is a great example of one of the most important British traditions – our love of animals. Brought in to end the profound suffering of animals caused by hunting with dogs for sport, it is one of this country’s proudest achievements and must be defended against those wanting to return to a time when this type of cruelty was legal.
The pro-hunt lobby should accept that the Act has been in place for ten years and not take us back to the past. They should respect the law, respect our wildlife and respect the will of the British people.
Joe Duckworth is chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports.