Hunting Act has helped 100,000 animals - but it could have been 2.8m

Let's put some fresh new numbers into the hunting debate melting pot.

On the day the Conservative Party issued their manifesto – which included a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act 2004 – the League Against Cruel Sports released new figures looking at how many animals that law has helped.

It was timely. False arguments have been made that the Act doesn’t actually help animals, or indeed led to more cruelty than existed before. When such arguments are being made, with no justification, it’s time to do the maths.

Let’s begin by counting policies

There are six policies that matter in the current hunting debate in the UK. Three ways in which pro- hunt people could get rid of the hunting ban, and three ways the anti-hunt people could preserve it.

When we talk about the hunting ban being under threat, we actually mean two things: on one hand the ban not being properly enforced and increasingly being ignored by the hunts who continue hunting as before the ban, and on the other the laws that ban hunting being threatened with being eliminated or wrecked.

The first threat is definitively happening all over Great Britain (hunting is still legal in Northern Ireland), while the second one is only happening so far in England and Wales where the Hunting Act 2004 is the law there that banned most forms of hunting with dogs.

Which are the three ways the pro-hunting people can completely eliminate the hunting ban?

The first one is by repealing the Act, which is what pro-hunt politicians have been asking for since the Act was passed (and even a few weeks ago the current Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the Government will put this question to Parliament and suggested she would vote for such repeal). The second one is by weakening the Act by modifying its schedule with a Statutory Instrument (which effectively would be a repeal by the back door), which has already been attempted twice.

The third one is by replacing the Hunting Act by a weaker law disguised as a “wild mammal welfare law” that some on-the-fence politicians may naively buy into. This would effectively be a modern version of the “middle way” options of the Hunting Bill which appeared during the original hunting debate, based on licensing hunting rather than banning it. The argument for this uses the false claim that hunting is a humane way to kill animals, which has been repeatedly used by pro-hunt propagandists.

Two hounds tearing apart a hare

Which are the three ways the anti-hunting people can preserve the hunting ban?

The first way is by preventing any attempt to repeal, weaken or replace the laws that ban hunting with weaker laws, and so far we have been successful in doing this. Unfortunately the new Parliament after this coming election may turn out to be the first Parliament with a majority of pro-hunt MPs, so this may be more challenging now.

The second way is by strengthening the hunting laws to make their enforcement easier and create a stronger deterrent, something that may be happening soon in Scotland with the review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. We will need to wait until we have a new UK Parliament with a majority of anti-hunt MPs before we attempt this with the Hunting Act 2004.

And the third way is by lobbying for a better enforcement of the current laws by exposing the use of false alibies (such as “trail hunting”, not to be confused with “drag hunting”), the abuse of hunting exemptions (such as the ‘flushing to guns’ exemption in Scotland or the ‘Research and Observation” exemption in England), and the poor enforcement of some police forces, the CPS or landowners that license hunts.

Now let’s count animals

Some people say that the Hunting Act does not work at all, others that it is the best wildlife law ever, and others that it is not perfect and can be improved. How can we measure this? By counting how many animals the law has helped so far, as this is a piece of animal protection legislation created to help animals. Because nobody had done this calculation before I decided to give it a go.

What I needed to do is to calculate how many animals were the victims of hunting before the Hunting Act 2004 was passed (and to do that data published by the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales is helpful), and then found out what the hunts do differently now and how this affects the animals they hunt.

We have said before that having studied hunt monitoring reports for over 12 years we estimate that there have been over 200,000 illegal hunting events since the Hunting Act had been in place, so most animals are still hunted as before the ban.

However, there have indeed been changes in the behaviour of hunts that has led directly to fewer animals being disturbed, chased or killed by them. For instance, some hunts have disbanded or merged and the number of hunting days per year has been reduced in some hunts.

Also, the areas they use to hunt in particular meets have been reduced either because they lost the permission of some landowners or for any other reason, and some hunts are losing some of the time they were hunting by moving from place to place to make hunt monitoring work more difficult or by building the false alibi of trail hunting.

Being able to calculate averages of these changes, and using scientific data such as the average density of animals per square kilometre, one could estimate the number of animals the Hunting Act has helped, and the number that would have been helped if the law had been properly enforced and obeyed.

With the help of hunting publications, hunt monitors reports, scientific research, analysis of meets maps, and the Burns Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs, we were able to calculate such averages using various samples, arriving at the following conclusions:

We estimate that the Hunting Act 2004 so far has helped over 100,000 animals, but if it had been properly enforced it would have helped up to 2.8 million animals

We estimate that preventing the repeal or weakening of the Hunting Act would help around 10,000 animals per year, but strengthening it until it is properly enforced would help up to 230,000 animals per year

The breakdown of types of animals we estimate the Hunting Act has helped and could help every year is:

Animal helpedIf the Hunting Act is repealed, weakened or replaced by a weaker lawIf the Hunting Act is kept as it is nowIf the Hunting Act is strengthened and properly enforced

These are all approximate numbers and we of course had to make some assumptions and generalisations to arrive to such estimations. For instance, we have assumed that for each animal killed by a hunt, more would have been chased or disturbed. We also assumed that hunting across England is quite uniform and that changes seen in one region are likely to have occurred also in another. Also, we have not taken into consideration anti-hunting activities such as hunt sabotage that occurred both before and after the ban, unless their effect was clearly different because the risk of prosecution under the Hunting Act.

It is important to understand that we do not mean that all these animals have “been saved”. For “helping an animal” we mean preventing it being killed, chased or disturbed by the activities of the hunts at least once (as these are the activities that the Hunting Act 2004 banned, not just the killing). Some of these animals may still have died from horrible deaths another day, for instance if caught by snares (which we also want to ban), or shot by non-proficient shooters, or killed by dogs on another day.

But snaring, poor shooting and other inhumane methods of “lethal control” existed before the ban and there is no evidence that they have been practiced more since the ban has been enacted, so the ban has helped some of these victims by removing the terrifying event of being chased by a pack of hounds.

So, now you know it. The Hunting Act does help many animals, but it is not perfect and it can definitively be improved. If it is strengthened to make it easier to enforce there is a good chance that it can help considerably many more animals and this is what we would like to happen. But if it is repealed, weakened or replaced by a weaker law it is unlikely that it will help any, and this is what we want to prevent.

So, armed with these new figures you can now ask your political representatives for their position on the modern hunting debate, and inform them if they are wrong.

Counting helps put things into perspective, doesn’t it?

It's not too late - tell your election candidates that you want hunting to remain illegal - just Vote for Vinny today!

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