Strengthen the Hunting Act 2004

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The existing Hunting Act (2004) in England and Wales needs strengthening and reform to ensure British wildlife is fully protected from the mass hunting with hounds that still prevails in 2020, 15 years after the ban came in to place.

The 2018 hunting season alone saw 550 reports of illegal hunting, though these figures only represent known incidents. However, hard evidence is much more available, hundreds of videos are shared on social media that illustrate the mass scale of which this illegal sport continues to thrive in rural communities. Native mammals, such as badger, various deer species, and particularly red foxes, are actively chased to exhaustion and eventually torn apart by huge numbers of hounds at a time, all under the guise of trail hunting, which is legal. In reality, hunt organisers lay routes deliberately close to where foxes are known to reside, meaning they quickly become the subject of a hunt.

Furthermore, the manner in which fox hunting is outlawed is fundamentally flawed. The Act states that a person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog “Unless his hunting is exempt.” Here lies one of the many flaws of the Hunting Act, for it lists a total of nine reasons a hunt may flout the general ban. One of the more commonly invoked exemptions maintains that it is legal to hunt foxes if they pose a danger to livestock, game, crops or fisheries. This remains nothing more than a smokescreen to defy the ban. Not to mention, these activities take place in a rural setting, which, combined with an under-resourced and over-worked police force, means enforcement and monitoring is ultimately impossible, rendering the existing act weak and evidently riddled with loopholes.

Setting aside the barbarity of fox hunting, national Breeding Bird Survey’s suggests red fox numbers have declined by 41% since 1995. As a professional ecologist and environmental adviser to some of the UKs largest infrastructure, you do not need me to explain that this is a significant number. In Britain, the red fox is one of our last remaining iconic mammals and plays an essential role in the ecology of our landscape. Wolf, brown bear, and lynx, all once roamed our lands but were hunted to extinction, rendering many of our ecosystems now defunct and reliant on human management in their absence. For example, deer management costs the UK economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Strengthening the existing Hunting Act is now more critical than ever to protect the UKs red foxes and our other wildlife in the midst of a biodiversity crises.

This shameful and outdated tradition brings about unimaginable pain and torture to thousands of mammals across the UK. The existing Hunting Act is clearly not fit for purpose and is in desperate need of reform. A poll in 2017 found 85% of the British public want fox hunting prohibited. The Conservative Party's winning manifesto included pledges such as "delivering one of the best animal welfare policies in the world", claiming "animal cruelty has no place in a modern society", and pledged to end the import and export of trophy hunting on the grounds of it being "morally indefensible".

How can the British Government pledge to deliver the best animal welfare policies in the world whilst thousands of mammals in this very country are subject to the terrors of being chased to exhaustion and ripped apart by brawls of hounds in the name of sport? We are calling on the British Government to stand by their manifesto commitment to animal welfare and animal rights and significantly strengthen the Hunting Act 2004.