MPs highlight illegal hunting under the guise of trail hunting

It's just under three weeks since the Prime Minister dropped her Government's commitment to a vote on repealing the hunting ban in this Parliament, and in our opposition to the continued hunting and killing of British wildlife, it feels like we're increasingly on the front-foot.

In our review of 2017 at the turn of this year, we expressed the hope that we can move beyond simply defending the Hunting Act, onto pro-actively looking towards its strengthening. So, it's positive to see the issue of the hunting and killing of foxes and other mammals in defiance of the law gaining greater recognition - in the public consciousness, media conversation and political debate.

Yesterday was the first chance Parliament had to question the Environment Secretary and his fellow DEFRA Ministers since it returned in the New Year. Two MPs took the opportunity to raise vital questions in strong terms, about the use of trail hunting as a cover for illegal hunting and what assessment the Government has made of the situation.

"Concerns are growing that trail hunting is being used as a cover for illegal hunting. This was recently brought into focus by the invasion of a cat sanctuary run by the well-known Celia Hammond Animal Trust in East Sussex by a pack of hounds from the East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt. So what action will the Government take against those who continue to hunt illegally?" - Grahame Morris MP

The answer was concerning but one that we have grown to expect - that the Government has made no assessment of the situation. However, the mounting evidence of the cynical use of trail hunting to "continue to hunt and kill foxes with impunity" as highlighted by Chris Matheson MP, and the dubious exploitation of exemptions such as hunting and killing deer while claiming to be conducting 'research and observation', suggest this answer is increasingly untenable.

That's why it's heartening to see politicians increasingly highlighting such examples of hunting in spite of the ban, which point to the need for policy to be updated to allow animals to be protected as intended by the hunting ban.

"In the four weeks since Boxing Day, at least four foxes in Cheshire have been illegally killed by trail hunts." - Chris Matheson MP

These questions come hot on the heels of positive statements made in the National Assembly for Wales just last week, when Julie Morgan AM highlighted the regular killing of foxes by trail hunts and the problem of the havoc caused by out-of-control hounds, referencing the League's calls for more rigorous enforcement of the ban. Leader of the House Julie James AM expressed the hope that the UK Government will take the views of the public into account when it comes to enforcement, and made positive suggestions to help with engagement with police commissioners on making enforcement a top priority.

"I completely concur with her that the vast majority of people find foxhunting both abhorrent and extremely cruel. We do hope the UK Government will take account of that in its enforcement." - Julie James AM

We believe that the Hunting Act needs to be strengthened, including to ensure that reckless behaviour is considered an offence, a measure which would also aid in enforcement.

At present, it's necessary to prove a person's intent to hunt a wild mammal with dogs in order to secure a conviction. Hunters are therefore able to hunt as they always have, save for supposedly following a scent trail rather than a live animal, and claim that any chasing and killing of wildlife is simply an "accident". We believe that trail hunting is a false alibi for illegal hunting, and adding a recklessness provision to the Act would prevent it, as hunters could be prosecuted for reckless behaviour and failing to prevent their hounds from hunting.

As we work towards that goal, we are glad to see the issue growing in prominence and welcome politicians speaking out about the need to tackle trail hunting and protect British wildlife.

The session of oral questions to the Environment Secretary can be viewed here.

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