• The Hunting Act 2004 is the law which bans chasing wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales – this basically means that fox hunting, deer hunting, hare hunting, hare coursing and mink hunting are all illegal, as they all are cruel sports based on dogs chasing wild mammals. Hunting is illegal in Scotland under the Hunting With Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023, which replaced the weak Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002.

  • Official figures demonstrate that the Hunting Act has protected some animals, with people being convicted for crimes covered by the law. However, the Act has a serious enforcement problem, with even senior police officers admitting it does not work.

    The Act contains ‘exemptions’ built into its Schedule, and hunts often use these exemptions as an excuse if they are caught hunting. For example, stag hunts use the 'Research and Observation' exemption that was designed for researchers and not hunters, and some fox hunts carry birds of prey in order to claim that they use the 'falconry' exemption, which was designed for falconers.

  • The most common way illegal fox hunters avoid prosecution is with 'trail hunting'. Most registered fox and hare hunts claim to be trail hunting – an activity that was not in existence or envisaged when the Hunting Act was drafted, and which should not be confused with 'drag' hunting (see next question).

    Trail hunting purports to mimic traditional hunting by following an animal-based scent trail (using fox urine, according to the hunters) which has been laid in areas where foxes are likely to be. Those laying the trail are not meant to tell those controlling the hounds where the scent has been laid, so if the hounds end up following a live animal scent the hunt can claim that they did not know.

  • Drag hunting is a legitimate sport created in the 1800s which is not intended to mimic animal hunting. Instead, hounds search for a non-animal scent without chasing or killing wild animals. In drag hunting, or bloodhounds hunting (also known as 'clean boot' hunting), the scent of a human runner is followed instead of a drag. The trail never contains animal scent, is never laid in areas likely to have foxes, and those controlling the hounds always know where the trail has been laid.

    Trail hunting, on the other hand, takes place in areas where old fashioned illegal hunting took place pre-ban, uses animal scent, and hounds are often seen trespassing on roads, railways and through private property where trails simply couldn’t have been laid. This does not happen with drag or clean boot hunting.

    For more information visit our trail hunting page and read or download our detailed report on trail hunting, drag hunting and the 'clean boot'.

  • As Scotland as already strengthened its hunting laws, we’re calling on Westminster to do the same. In fact, we’ve been asking for this since it became clear the hunts were determined to use the many weaknesses in the Hunting Act to get around the law.

    We are asking for the Hunting Act to be strengthened including by:

    1. Banning trail hunting, a smokescreen for illegal hunting

    The League Against Cruel Sports believes that trail hunting is simply a smokescreen for illegal hunting, designed to disguise the chasing and killing of animals as accidents. We are calling for it to be banned, including by outlawing reckless hunting, so that trail hunting cannot be used to conceal the intention behind its cruel and inevitable consequences.

    2. Removing exemptions that enable illegal hunting to continue

    There are many exemptions in the Hunting Act which are routinely abused by hunts to continue traditional hunting despite the ban. These include exemptions exploited by hunts claiming to be conducting scientific research, rescuing injured wild animals, or hunting rabbits rather than hares. Dogs are also used to flush foxes from below ground to protect gamebirds – which can cause terrible cruelty in itself, but also provides cover for terrier men to prevent foxes escaping underground during hunts. The falconry exemption allows foxes to be flushed out towards a bird of prey, but is used to disguise the tell-tale signs of fox cub hunting.

    3. Introducing custodial sentences for those who break the law

    Unlike other animal welfare and wildlife laws, serious and repeat offenders who are successfully prosecuted cannot be jailed. To properly deter law-breaking and reflect the seriousness of the organised cruelty involved in hunting with dogs, courts must be given the power to impose custodial sentences rather than simply handing out fines.

  • The Hunting Act has, over many years, demonstrated itself to be a hugely popular piece of legislation. In recent years, as the cracks in the Act have been shown, and the prevalence of illegal hunting has been highlighted on our screens, this support has prompted consistently high levels of support for strengthening the Act.

    The latest polling conducted by Find Out Now and Electoral Calculus, both members of the British Polling Council, conducted in March and April 2024 on behalf of the League shows:

    • 76% of British adults believe that the law on hunting should be strengthened
    • 70% of rural people also believe that the law should be strengthened
    • 58% of people would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported strengthening the law, while just 7% said they would be less likely to support such a candidate

    A clear majority of voters for all major parties support strengthening the law on hunting.

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