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.’

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].

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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.’

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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.