OPINION: Fox hunting is banned - so why are they still being killed?

Foxhunting was banned in 2004 due to prolonged campaigning and public opinion.

A picture of a fox c/o JonPauling/Pixabay.
A picture of a fox c/o JonPauling/Pixabay.

Surveys prior to the Hunting Act (2004) coming into law and since then, persistently show that around 85% of the public oppose foxhunting.

So with so much opposition and a law now in place, surely that should mean our foxes are safe? Wrong.

I spoke to Lynne, the founder of Northumberland Hunt Watch, who told me, “the criminal justice system is failing our foxes and has done for almost 20 years.”

When foxhunting was banned, hunt groups invented trail hunting as an alternative – this meant that all of their arguments against the ban (people losing jobs, reduced income in hunt areas, hound packs being euthanised etc) were taken into account. Trail hunting is laying a scent (usually fox urine) for hounds to follow and for horses to follow hounds.

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These sorts of hunts are not supposed to end with a fox being killed. Yet time and time again we hear of foxes being ‘accidentally’ killed.

‘Accidents’ are not illegal, however, a trail is laid near where foxes live.

If the intention was to avoid fox deaths, surely trails would be laid well away from known fox dwellings?

Lynne continues, “trail hunting doesn’t exist, it is just a smokescreen to get around the law, and continue hunting foxes. In all of my time hunt monitoring, I have monitored hundreds of hunts. I have never witnessed a lawful trail hunt. What I witness week after week is intentional fox hunting.”

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Hunts should not end with a fox being killed, yet we repeatedly hear of foxes being killed ‘accidentally’ The League Against Cruel Sports figures for the 2019/20 season (which ended early due to Covid) reported 38 foxes being witnessed being killed, and a further 15 suspected kills.

Lynne says that this is “just the tip of the iceberg as kills happen deep in the countryside and in woodlands out of sight.

“Many people think it is illegal so it doesn’t happen, or it happens down south. In reality Northumberland has nine fox hunts.

“In the North East it is around 20. Travel a few miles outside of Newcastle, to some popular beauty spots and you will encounter a fox hunt.”

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She further estimates that around half a million foxes will have been killed in the years since the ban came into place.

Time and time again we hear of domestic animals being killed who live in hunt areas where hounds stray and, when in full cry, they attack and kill other animals in their path.

You would think that with a law in place that there is no need for hunt monitor groups.

Unfortunately, due to the number of foxes still being killed, there are still groups having to work hard all around the UK - not only saving our wildlife from being killed, but investigating law breaking with the aim of assisting with prosecutions.

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We have a number of groups around the North East and Northumberland working incredibly hard to make sure that those who break the law and kill animals are brought to justice, as well as making sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.

Northumberland Hunt Watch works with the police and their wildlife officer to prevent illegal fox hunting.

September to November is traditionally cubbing season – where hunts release a pack of hounds into a woodland where a fox family live, to train new hounds to kill fox cubs in preparation of the upcoming fox hunting season which runs from November to March.

This is against the law but we know it happens.

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Those who want to kill foxes cite tradition or call foxes ‘vermin’. But if foxes were purely ‘vermin’ then why would you need to have people on horseback directing hounds to find foxes.

Surely there are quicker and more accurate ways of killing foxes, as well as a more cost effective way.

And we know that hunts encourage foxes so there is always a supply to hunt, so again the ‘foxes as pests’ argument is pretty weak. And we have a lot of traditions including bear baiting and cock fighting which have all been brought down by public opinion and campaigning.

How can you help as an ordinary member of the public? Lynne says if you witness any illegal hunting or have any information you should report it to the police, ask for an incident number, then notify your nearest anti-hunt group who you will find on social media, or the League Against Cruel Sports Crimewatch line online.

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We really do need this cruel secretive sport permanently consigned to history and with your vigilance and support we can get there.