Fox hunting is a ‘traditional sport’ in which hunters, usually on horseback, follow a pack of hunting dogs aiming to pick up the scent of a fox, chase it – and kill it. Fox hunting is illegal in England, Scotland  and Wales, but evidence suggests that hunts are regularly breaking the law.

Foxhunting is just one of the four types of the “sport” of “hunting” traditionally undertaken by organised hunts in the British Isles. The other three types of hunting are staghunting which targets red deer, hare hunting (sometimes called beagling) that targets brown hares, and mink hunting. They all use a pack of dogs to find the scent of the animal and chase it until it is killed by the dogs or the hunters. Fox hunting is the most iconic and common of the four types, and targets the European red fox.

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Why do people go fox hunting?

Early fox hunting with packs of hounds first emerged in the UK in the late 1600s. While in some cases foxes were hunted to stop them from killing livestock, the ‘thrill of the chase’ became a sport in its own right. The excitement of the ride plus the social and apparently glamourous aspects of hunt gatherings established hunting as a fixture of the countryside. But these were the reasons why it flourished, no other.

The suggestion that fox hunting is about ‘pest control’ can be dismissed very quickly by the fact that hunts have been caught capturing and raising foxes purely so they can then be hunted. In May 2015, a League investigation revealed 16 terrified fox cubs held captive in a barn linked to a fox hunt in Yorkshire. We rescued them, took them to a vet, and sadly one died, but we released the others to safety. We are proud to have protected those foxes.

While the scale of this fox ‘factory’ was shocking, it’s not an isolated case. In December 2015, League Investigators released a fox found locked in a building near to where the Belvoir Hunt was meeting. It is worth mentioning that a few months later, while monitoring the same hunt, our Investigators were brutally attacked, leaving one with a broken neck, which we believe was retaliation for us rescuing this fox.

Watch the story of 16 fox cubs found captive in a barn close to a hunt kennel.

Hunting is cruel

Scientific evidence shows that the animals targeted in hunting suffer physical and mental stress when chased by a hunt - whether or not they are eventually killed.

The Burns Report produced in the year 2000 stated that “There is a lack of firm scientific evidence about the effect on the welfare of a fox of being closely pursued, caught and killed above ground by hounds. We are satisfied, nevertheless, that this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the fox.”  That is one of the reasons hunting with dogs for sport was banned in Britain over a decade ago.

Foxes naturally escape predators by going underground, but hunts employ staff to block up these escape routes the morning before a hunt meet, forcing an unnaturally long chase. If someone is found guilty of blocking a badger sett, it is often done for this reason.

If a fox does succeed in escaping underground, hunt followers send terriers down the hole to trap the fox while they dig it out and then shoot it. Again, the Burns Report concluded that the inability to escape dogs underground causes the fox ‘extreme fear’ and is a ‘serious compromise of its welfare.’

Autopsies reveal hunted foxes are not killed quickly, but endure numerous bites and tears to their flanks and hindquarters - causing enormous suffering before death. Foxes forced to face terriers underground can suffer injuries to the face, head and neck, as can the terriers.

Hunter with red coat carrying a dead fox followed by his hound

Foxes aren’t vermin

No other native British mammal divides opinion as deeply as the red fox. We believe the evidence does not support the criticism of this iconic British species. While foxes are of course predators – they kill other animals for food – their impact on livestock is exaggerated, and can be reduced with good farming practices.

The threat of the ‘fox in the chicken coop’ can be remedied with a secure electric fence. While sheep farmers may curse foxes for the loss of their lambs, in reality studies have shown that poor farming practices, disease and bad weather are far more likely to lead to lamb deaths. A 2000 study in Scotland found that around just 1% of lamb losses could be directly attributed to foxes.

On the other hand, by feeding on rabbits, a 2003 study estimated that rural foxes save British crop farmers around £7m per year.

The other victims of hunting

The animal being hunted is the ultimate victim of hunting with hounds, but there are others.

Hunts regularly breed more puppies than are required for the hunting pack. Only the most promising are selected, often through the tradition of ‘cub hunting’, during which the riders surround an area containing fox cubs and send the hounds in to learn how to kill them. We also have recent evidence of fox cubs being thrown to the hounds at a hunt kennels – to teach the dogs that they should kill these animals. Those dogs that fail to make the grade at any stage from birth onwards are killed.

Once dogs have entered the pack they are culled if they fail to thrive as pack animals, if they become ill and unable to keep up with the pack, when they become too old to hunt with the pack, or when they become surplus to hunt requirements. The average hunt dog lives much less than the normal life expectancy for a dog of the breed.

Fox hunting also relies on terriers to chase foxes underground. This so-called terrier-work leads to painful injuries to both the dogs and the foxes.

Hunt Havoc

Hunts can cause havoc in the countryside when the pack of hounds picks up the scent of a fox. It is common for the hunting dogs to maraud through farms, disturb and kill livestock or pets, and often be seen crossing major roads and railway lines – all of which helps to prove that the pack is not following a pre-laid ‘trail’, which the hunts claim they are doing. Anyone suffering from hunt havoc can contact our Animal Crimewatch team.

Protecting the Hunting Ban

Hunting wild mammals with dogs for sport was banned in Scotland in 2002 and England and Wales in 2004. These are fantastic achievements! However, the battle to stamp out hunting in the UK is not yet won as these bans have not been properly enforced, the attempts to eliminate or weaken them continue, and hunting is still legal in Northern Ireland  

There were two attempts by the Government to weaken the Hunting Act, most recently in July 2015. The League was at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that this attempt to bring back hunting by the back door did not succeed.

In September 2016 we teamed up with respected explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes to educate MPs about the realities of hunting at the Conservative Party conference, leading Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom to drop mention of repeal from her speech.

As a key player in the hard-fought battle to get hunting with dogs banned in the first place, the League Against Cruel Sports is working hard to ensure the law is properly enforced, and that any attempts to weaken or repeal the legislation are successfully exposed and blocked.

We would like to see both the Hunting Act 2004 in England and Wales, and the Wild Mammals Protection (Scotland) Act 2002 strengthened, as currently hunts are regularly either simply ignoring the law under the cover of false alibies such as “trail hunting”, or abusing the use of ‘exemptions’ to allow them to carry on as normal. We are also working to see hunting with dogs banned in Northern Ireland, which remains the only jurisdiction in the UK where it is still legal.

After 90 years of campaigning to both bring about and enforce a ban on hunting with hounds for sport, we remain ever vigilant in defence of the ban. We believe that campaigning for a strengthening of the laws to facilitate enforcement and creating a stronger deterrent effect, is the way forward.

Hunting is deeply unpopular

If you are opposed to hunting, then you are in the majority. More than eight out of ten people are opposed to hunting. This includes more than eight out of ten people in rural areas – which shows that people who truly understand and experience what hunts do want to see it remain illegal.

Hunting is not a town vs country issue, and it is not a ‘class’ issue. More than seven out of 10 Conservative voters want hunting to remain illegal. Hunting is an issue of animal cruelty, nothing else.

Some argue that ‘hunting’ should continue because it’s a grand old British tradition. However, bear baiting and bull baiting were also traditions, and they were rightfully consigned to the history books. Traditions are measured in more than years.  They have to reflect the values and attitudes of a society, and the vast majority of the British people oppose hunting with dogs.

How can I help stop fox hunting?

  • Contact your MP and ask them to urge their party to keep and strengthen the foxhunting ban
  • Join one of our supporter groups to help us raise awareness that fox hunting still takes place


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