Is change to hunting law in sight?

As opening meets take place across the country this

weekend, the hunting world may be on the brink of receiving its first piece of

good news for some time. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is being urged by

a cross-party group of MPs to amend the 2004 Hunting Act by statutory

instrument to allow hunts to use more than two hounds to flush foxes from

covert to shoot them.

This follows a report commissioned by the Federation of

Welsh Farmers’ Packs
(FWFP) which clearly shows that-unsurprisingly-a full pack

of hounds is nearly twice as effective at pushing foxes out of woods and undergrowth

than the pair of hounds stipulated under the Act.

The research was carried out by Dr Jeremy Naylor, a

racehorse trainer and vet, in Scotland, where the Protection of Wild Mammals

(Scotland) Act 2002 allows hunts to use a full pack of hounds to flush to

waiting guns. FWFP secretary David Thomas explains: ‘Prior to the ban, between10,000

and 15,000 foxes a year were controlled by the FWFP, of which 99% were shot.

That number is now less than 1,000 a year. Soon after the Act came in, I talked

to the then First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan-the present First Minister, Carwyn Jones, was actually there with him-and told

him that using two hounds couldn’t work.

In large tracts of forestry, using a pack of hounds is

considerably more effective. He replied, “You don’t know, you’ve got to

try it. If it doesn’t, bring me some evidence”.’ Mr Thomas adds: ‘No one

listens to a farmer with 40 years’ experience, but they do listen to a

scientist with lots of letters after his name.’

Recommended videos for you

Mr Thomas says that, this spring, after reasonably good

weather, lambs were turned out. But in late March, a dramatic drop in

temperatures led to a lot of lambs dying. ‘And when the snow went, the greatly increased numbers [since the ban] of foxes were hungry. Farmers

lost more lambs to foxes than they had for very many years.’ Away from upland

and forested areas, this minor adjustment to the law would have little effect

on most packs, which rarely flush to a gun. MFHA chairman Stephen Lambert explains:

‘This would make very little difference to packs recognised by the MFHA, as our pre-ban hunting was almost never conducted with guns- we await

repeal [of the Act].

* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter

Pre-ban, gun packs were important to farmers in managing

the fox population; now control of fox numbers has collapsed. There is a strong

feeling among farmers that urgent action is needed.’ A law change could have a

subtle effect on country people generally: the Government would be seen to be

doing something for rural voters.

David Cameron has been quoted as being ‘sympathetic’ to the

Welsh farmers’ situation, but he needs to persuade his Coalition partners to allow the proposal to be taken forward- and

MPs to vote it through. ‘This is a pragmatic approach to an increasing problem

for farmers and does little more than align Wales and England with Scotland,’

points out Simon Hart, MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokshire. ‘There are

no reasonable grounds why anyone should raise an objection to this.’ George Bowyer, director of lobbying group Vote-OK, commented:

‘The measure being discussed is not full repeal of the Act,

which the Countryside Alliance is campaigning for. However we support the Welsh

farming community in its call for this eminently sensible measure and there is

no doubt that MPs’ responses will be carefully observed by country people. Much

campaigning work has been carried out in the past to ensure that candidates of

all parties who understand the countryside get elected, but there is a feeling

of disillusionment and irritation because of issues such as HS2 and perceived

mismanagement of the badger cull.’

* Give Country Life this Christmas and save up to 40%

It seems that this very slight amendment to the law could

be an important step towards motivating those who helped Mr Cameron in 2010 to

work for him again in 2015.