How bad are hunts for conservation?

Hunting and conservation - it is a matter of common sense

Killing wild animals inhumanely is not good for wildlife. You cannot conserve natural ecosystems if you are negatively affecting the native wildlife in them. You cannot expect a pack of hunting hounds to understand that they have to be careful with vegetation, animals and soil when they enter a protected area. You cannot expect a protected area to not be disturbed by the presence of an active foxhunt, stag hunt, mink hunt or hare hunt, which are not only composed of packs of dogs often let out of control, but also by many people following them on foot, horse, quad bike or other vehicles.

But in case common sense has abandoned some people, possibly chased away by the relentless hunting fraternity propaganda aiming to make them forget that what hunts do is simply a blood sport done for fun, I thought that it may be useful to produce an evidence based report to asses the conservation implications of hunting since the hunting ban was enacted. So, in 2017 I did, and it is titled “The Conservation Problems of Hunting with Dogs during the Hunting Ban in England and Wales".

With the Hunting Act 2004, hunting wild mammals with dogs was banned in England and Wales. However, some types of hunting with dogs, known as “exempt hunting”, are still allowed providing several conditions are met. In addition, those registered hunts that were hunting foxes, deer, hares and mink prior to the ban did not disband but instead invented other types of hunting with the intention of circumventing the ban (e.g. “trail hunting”, which should not be confused with drag hunting that existed before 2004).

Most wild animals that were hunted before the ban are native to the British Isles, and so their preservation should be considered an important part of conservation work in England and Wales. The Hunting Act 2004 should therefore have had a positive impact in preserving them. However, the hunting ban did not stop registered hunts going into the countryside as they took a defiant attitude and tried to continue hunting in any way they could, often illegally.

The report identifies four main activities now undertaken by registered hunts that can have negative conservation implications:

  1. The use of “trail hunting” as a form of simulated hunting where the hounds are set to follow a trail of an animal-based artificial scent (often fox urine) in areas where wild animals live, without those controlling them knowing where the trail has been laid.
  2. The use of “exempt hunting” as an excuse to continue hunting wild mammals, pretending to be controlling wildlife, doing research or rescuing animals, thereby abusing several of the exemptions of the Schedule of the Hunting Act 2004 for which they were not created.
  3. Claiming to be “exercising their hounds” in areas far away from their kennels in pre-arranged meetings where hunt supporters turn out as they always have done to observe actual hunting.
  4. Illegally hunting either blatantly or under the cover of the other activities mentioned above.

The report also shows, with particular examples, that these activities are causing the following disturbances that can have negative implications for conservation:

  1. Disturbance to habitats by packs of hounds on the loose, riders or vehicles entering protected areas and potentially doing physical damage to the vegetation, soil or wildlife.
  2. Disturbance to animals belonging to protected or endangered species, or otherwise, by interfering with their shelters, disturbing their natural activities, injuring them or even killing them.
  3. Disturbance to the environment by spreading contaminated dog faeces all over the countryside, and potentially biologically polluting the environment by spreading animal by-products such as fox urine (which is what hunts claim they use for “trail hunting”) that may be unsafe or illegally imported or produced.
  4. Disturbance to historical sites by potentially damaging soil or structures when trespassing.

What can be done to solve this? Firstly, strengthening the Hunting Act 2004 to better facilitate enforcement, and both prevent “trail hunting” from being used as a defence against allegations of illegal hunting and stop the Act’s exemptions being abused. Secondly, major landowners could stop licensing registered hunts for “trail hunting”, exempt hunting or exercising hounds on their land, or simply ban hunts from their land, to mitigate the negative conservation problems caused by hunting.

‘Conservation’ and ‘hunting with hounds’ are concepts that do not go together, despite what the hunts claim. If you doubt it, then please read the report.

Let’s make sure it is a matter of common sense.

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