Hunting is alive and well.

Hunting is alive and well: part two of Land of Hope and Glory: British Country Life (BBC2, Friday, March 11, 9pm) features breathtaking shots of the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray hounds in Petworth Park and their huntsman, ‘Sage’ Thompson, talking about why he still has the best job in the countryside.

Eleven years after the Hunting Act came into effect on February 18, 2005, no pack has disbanded and more people than ever are going hunting. Hunts are still subject to unpleasant visits from masked protestors, but convictions of hunting people are extremely rare and support for anti-hunting bodies is falling away – the time and money spent by the RSPCA on prosecutions has been roundly criticised.

However, despite Labour (and anti-hunting Lib Dems) losing the English countryside vote last year, an adjustment to the Hunting Act was still prevented from getting through Parliament after an about-turn by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who indicated her party would help vote it down.

The permitted use of more than a couple of hounds to flush out a fox would have aided fox control, particularly in upland, sheep-farming areas, and, ironically, brought it more into line with Scottish law in which a full pack may be used to flush a fox to a gun.

If the Welsh Assembly, whose rural laws, including on the badger cull, already differ from Westminster is granted further devolutionary powers, changes could come to fruition in Wales, where hunting is less of a divisive issue and where farmers have complained about fox predation. Traditional hunting is still permitted in Northern Ireland.

Now, the SNP, under pressure from an anti-hunting organisation, has commissioned a review into the Scottish law by a High Court judge, but his remit does not cover whether predator control is necessary. Jim Barrington, a former chief of the League Against Cruel Sports, who now campaigns for hunting, points out that a scientific study, which took place in Scotland, showed using a larger number of dogs would be more efficient and reduce the duration of the flushing process.

‘As a former senior judge, Lord Bonomy must surely be able to see the purely political motivation behind this review and for its limited terms of reference, compelling him to rely on the false premise of the Scottish legislation,’ says Mr Barrington. ‘As such, through no fault of his own, Lord Bonomy’s review can never realistically address wild mammal protection in Scotland.’

How the Hunting Act has (not) worked:

  • Ministry of Justice figures up to the end of 2013 show that 96% of convictions did not involve hunts
  • By January 2015, there were 30 completed cases involving registered hunts
  • Twelve of those resulted in 22 convictions; 16 failed (six were dropped before trial and 10 resulted in all defendants being acquitted) plus one was discontinued and one resulted in a caution
  • In 2012, the RSPCA was criticised for spending £327,000 on a (successful) prosecution of Heythrop hunt staff
  • A YouGov poll indicates that public support for the Act has dropped by 10% to 51% since 2004; 44% of Conservative voters oppose it, but 64% of Labour voters and 48% of UKIP voters support it

Countryside Alliance (www.countryside-alliance.org; 020–7840 9300)

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