I’ve been following links in several tweets regarding the attempt to overturn or moderate the Hunting Act 2004 in England and Wales. Scotland preceded this Act by two years and it has been operating fairly successfully here since that time. In fairness the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 has been used mostly in hare coursing cases until it was superseded in 2011 by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act, which included rabbits and hares within the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, a much more sensible amendment.
I have never been in favour of mounted fox hunting per se, which to me is a sport rather than any attempt at fox control. There remain much more effective means of controlling foxes through snaring, (even though this method offends many people), dealing with cubs and often the vixen and/or dog fox at a den, or lamping foxes at night. Lamping is probably the most effective (and humane) method of fox control but of course there are areas where this cannot be undertaken because of the terrain.
To state that fox hunting on horseback, with the participants dressed in their finery, is done for the purpose of fox control is a sham. It is done for no reason other than sport. If genuine fox control is required because of any predation on lambs or poultry, then the methods I have earlier alluded to are far more effective. I may have had more sympathy with fox hunting if those who participated ate their quarry.
I see that one of the relaxations in the current 2004 Act may be to allow a fox to be flushed from cover by more than two dogs. This is currently the position in Scotland provided the dogs are under control. To me this means that if the dogs chase the fox in any direction other than towards waiting guns they can be stopped and recalled, otherwise an offence is committed.
I think one of the most obscene parts of this sham relates to the digging out of a fox that has gone to ground to escape the hounds. If a fox has escaped in this manner – and bear in mind this is a sport, not pest control – it should be left and acknowledgement made that the animal has bettered the hounds. Reports that on some occasions the fox is dug out and thrown live to the hounds makes digging out the fox even more abhorrent. I say all this while still in support of fox control at dens, where the vixen may be shot and the cubs killed by a terrier since this is (a) legal, and (b) a genuine form of pest control.
I have no experience of stag hunting, which seems most predominant in the south-west of England. This to me is at least as Victorian as fox hunting and I find it unbelievable that the practice continues. Red deer are hardly pests, and I suspect that because of the increased adrenaline the beast may not even be worth eating.
We seem well ahead with wildlife legislation in Scotland compared to England, with more recent amendments tending to reduce suffering on wild animals and at the same time making the law more enforceable. It is interesting that we also have more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs….