Fox hunting hit the headlines again this week when it was revealed that the current ban may be ‘relaxed’. The Hunting Act 2004 states that not more than two dogs can be used to flush out foxes but British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is backing calls to relax this rule. Mr Cameron is sympathetic to the plight of sheep farmers who have reported a dramatic spike in the number of fox attacks on their flocks and the growing threat to lambs as the fox population explodes.
Hill farmers have lobbied MPs from all parties including Labour and Plaid Cymru to put pressure on Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson to relax the law and allow farmers to use more than two dogs to flush out foxes. The sheep farmers have reported that the 2004 ban has caused uncontrolled fox populations to rise, leading to a catastrophic kill-rate among their flocks. Because of the ban, they cannot effectively control the foxes which are largely regarded among rural communities as vermin.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has seen evidence that sheep flocks are being threatened by predatory foxes and are willing to consider adding their support to a change in the law. The secretary of the Federation of Welsh Farmers, David Thomas, feels that a solution to the problem could be easily found at no cost to the government.
The Hunting Act 2004 states that farmers may only use two dogs to flush out fox dens before dispatching the foxes humanely by shooting them. A recent study (the source of which has not been stated), maintains that a full pack of hounds is almost twice as effective as using just two dogs.
The proposed relaxation in the law has caused much excitement amongst the fox hunting community although MPs are keen to stress that lifting the two dog limit would not pave the way for repeal of the Hunting Act and a return to traditional hunting is not on the cards as there is too little public support for such a motion. Most rural communities however are fully supportive of traditional fox hunting and regard it as an effective and necessary form of pest control.
In the light of recent attacks on small children and family pets by urban foxes, concerns have been expressed by some wildlife experts that an overpopulation of foxes in the countryside has led to them spreading further afield in the search for new territory and that this search has brought them into our towns and cities. Foxes are natural scavengers and our rubbish left out in accessible bins provides an easy meal. Many people encourage foxes into their gardens by putting out food for them and experts believe that this is also causing problems. Foxes are naturally bold and curious creatures and encouraging them to become semi-domesticated will only end in tears.
As is the usual way with governments, the coalition have pledged to “bring forward a motion on a free vote” which would effectively enable the House of Commons to show its support or otherwise for the repeal of the Hunting Act. It is widely anticipated that the majority of Tory and Lib Dem MPs will vote to keep the Act as it stands which will no doubt come as a great disappointment to the hunting and livestock farming fraternity but as a considerable relief to those who campaigned long and hard to get the ban made law in 2004.
It seems that British wildlife is constantly under threat; foxes and badgers must be culled to protect farmers’ livelihoods. And yet the most popular programmes on television are those about our native wildlife and country living. Surely there’s an irony there?