Yesterday’s report by BBC Scotland featuring alleged criminal activity by a mounted fox hunt in the Scottish Borders must have disgusted all who watched it ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-35922013 ) I for one was not surprised at the incident, filmed covertly by the League against Cruel Sports, as I have long suspected that this and other breaches of the law (criminal activity) is carried out regularly by some – or many – mounted hunts; this was just additional proof. In this case two men have been charged under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 by Police Scotland.
While I have no objection to fox control – as opposed to the completely different ‘sport’ of hunting foxes with hounds and riders – I wonder just how effective and necessary it is. The study by David Macdonald of Bristol University in his book Running with the Fox is one of many studies of vulpine ecology and shows that social factors in a fox group are probably the main influence on fox numbers, with only the dominant pair being the most likely to breed. The same conclusion is reached in a later study by IFAW, Bristol University and York University ( http://www.thefoxwebsite.net/After-the-Hunt.pdf ) Backing this up to a degree are reports from gamekeepers who have told me they shoot or snare a particular number of foxes every year on the estate where they work. One shot 40 a year on the hill land he was responsible for. If this is fox control why was the number not lessening every year as one would expect? The answer of course is that he was creating a vacuum which was filled in probably as quickly as he was making the vacancies. I did wonder why he bothered at all as the estate reared very few pheasants. Extra time on good husbandry might have been better use of the time, and in any case there was a huge rabbit population on the hill which would be by far the main food supply of the foxes in any case.
There is no doubt that some sheep and poultry keepers can have bother with foxes but again good husbandry – simple things like ensuring poultry flocks are inside at night and bringing lambs inside during their first week or so of their life – can limit predation. In any case this is also the kind of situation where the public is likely to have little objection to the shooting of a particularly determined fox.
But back to the criminal activity associated with some fox hunting. I have no intention on discussing the sub-judicae case filmed by LACS but I have strong views on the lack of ethics of some hunts, particularly of their so-called terrier-men. In Scotland the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 has as its principal offence: A person who deliberately hunts a wild mammal with a dog commits an offence. There are numerous exceptions in the Act, including using a dog under control to flush a fox from cover above ground but only if that person acts to ensure that, once the fox is found or emerges from cover, it is shot, or killed by a bird of prey, once it is safe to do so.
A further exception states, ‘Where a person is using a dog in connection with the despatch of a fox with the intention of flushing it from cover or from below ground in order that it may be shot or killed by lawful means, that person does not commit an offence by virtue of the dog killing the fox in the course of that activity. In my view this exception is to facilitate the control of foxes in dens at cubbing time, where the vixen occasionally may be killed underground by the dog rather than bolt to waiting guns. I have the view that this is during fox control rather than during the ‘sport’ of hunting with hounds and horses. It seems fair to me that if a fox being hunted for ‘sport’ manages to take refuge in a den or safe place elsewhere rather than run through a line of guns and is shot then it has won the day and should be left in peace. At best – and which again puts paid to the argument by fox hunters that they are involved in fox control rather than a jolly day out – when the fox is bolted by the terrier it is then shot as it does so. I doubt, however, that this will feature in Lord Bonomy’s report when he reviews the 2002 Act.
Irrespective of any court outcome which emanates from the LACS filming of this incident, fox hunting with horses and hounds has done itself irreparable harm and may well be a step closer to a complete ban in Scotland and a quiet withdrawal of the Tory desire in the rest of the UK to reverse the current limitations on hunting under the Hunting Act 2004.