I have found myself discussing fox hunting quite a bit of late: with my family, friends and even as part of my Masters course – an odd choice of topic seeing that ‘the hunt’ was outlawed quite so time ago. Indeed, only this morning I found myself reading yet another excellent article from the Guardian’s Patrick Barkham, in which he draws attention to back-peddling of Andrea Leadsom who, upon her ascent to the role of Environment Secretary, vowed to work towards a repeal of the hunting act with some haste. Something that, mercifully, has not yet come to fruition – largely due to the large number of Tory MP’s and voters actively opposed to practice. This article, coupled with no end of recent dialogue, causing to contemplate (once again) just why I oppose hunting with hounds. To such an extent that I thought I would broach the topic here for the first time – cue the disgruntled comments.
Ethics. After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that the main reason I support the ban stems from the questionable (or not existent) ethics of the hunt. Though anyone who knows me will know I am far from an animal rights activist, and often find myself agreeing with the lethal control of wildlife for myriad reasons: to control invasive species, to protect embattled breeding birds, to safeguard human health and, from time to time, to protect human assets. The latter of which also extends begrudgingly to foxes on occasion, which I accept that, under the right circumstances, can prove problematic for both conservation and human interests. This said I cannot condone the barbaric, unnecessarily brutal way in which foxes meet their end once cornered by a pack of hounds. Or, for that matter, the torment they endure during the chase. The thought of watching a distressed animal eviscerated for human amusement is far from my cup of tea, plain and simple. And I find the entire process, from start to finish, cruel, warped and outdated. Even when conducted under the vague pretence of ‘control’, which takes us nicely to my next point.
The control myth. As I stated above, I accept that from time to time, foxes require control – for a host of reasons. This, however, should be done in the most humane manner possible, through lamping and shooting. A precise gunshot courtesy of a trained professional preferable to what, on occasion, amounts to little more than torture. Though there are, of course, those who criticise the ethics of this method too. Including many among the pro-hunting camp, who highlight the fact that a shooter may miss, and thus inflict injury, not death. Well, to those people I would simply say that if you own a gun, as many who seek fox control do, you should know how to use it. Or at least be prepared to fork out the extra cash to employ someone who does. If, indeed, killing must take place at all. Which in equally as many areas it does not. Anyways, doesn’t the scientific literature show that hunting, as a form of control, has little impact on fox populations? And therefore is not a viable means of suppressing numbers and mitigating the negative impacts of the bushy-tailed ones. See Baker et al (2002) Ecology: Effect of British hunting ban on fox numbers.
Economics. It is true that a relatively small number of people were employed in fox hunting prior to the ban – many of them still are, in one form or another. Though the number of these – 8000 or so I believe – is relatively small. At least when compared to other fields ports such as driven grouse or pheasant shoots. Fox hunting is, for most, a hobby; not a financial pillar of the rural community. Seeing as most of the people formerly employed by the hunt still hold their positions, the loss of fox hunting has had but a minimal impact on the economy. And its return, should that sorry day ever come, would be similarly insignificant. Though I do not agree, I accept that many people enjoy killing, though to attempt to pass hunting off as financially important is nonsensical, at best.
Hounds. Okay, this one comes down to ethics again – maybe I am turning into an “anti” after all – but as a dog lover, I cannot stand the idea of hounds being destroyed when their speed wavers and they are deemed obsolete. I am sure many huntsmen adore their dogs, most no doubt, but given the findings of the Burns Inquiry – which found that some 3000 hounds a year were euthanised needlessly by hunts – I am inclined to say that quite a few do not. And find this equally as distasteful as the torment endured by the countless foxes killed prior to the ban.
That just about covers it. I oppose the hunt based on ethics, humaneness, practicality and its relatively low monetary value, not out of a dislike for the upper class. In keeping with the line so often peddled by those in favour of the practice. Quite frankly, I could not give a foxes whisker. For me, supporting the ban is not about buying into class warfare, nor is it because I possess any great species-specific adoration for foxes – I like them just as much as the next naturalist, and have enjoyed many great encounters with them but still – it is because I abhor cruelty. It is because I believe wildlife management, when deemed necessary, should be conducted with consideration, and because I see no need to deploy such thuggish tactics in the present day.
I sincerely hope fox hunting remains what it is at present: a regrettable relic of the past. Whether this is the case or not, only time will tell, though with 83% of the general public (and a great deal of politicians too) opposed to a repeal of the hunting act, I find myself feeling optimistic. Fingers crossed eh/
*Update: tonight I had the pleasure of once again entertaining a young fox in my urban garden – it spent a good quarter of an hour snaffling slugs from the lawn. A pleasure to see and yet another reminder as to why I stand opposed to the needless killing of its country-dwelling kin.*
By Pawel Ryszawa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1629175
Well said James. My only concern is the fact why so many foxes are still being killed by hounds and the Law appears to turn a blind eye. Many foxhunting sabs are often injured too yet again its extremely rare for prosecutions. In parts of the country it seems to be a regular occurrence.
As for foxes being a nuisance I was read a report by someone who stated it was rare for foxes to take healthy lambs and 9/10 its usually a sickly lamb which is killed. As for chickens having kept them and having a regular visit of a fox most nights I never lost a bird. Then again I ensured the fox could not get into the coop. In fact when I did lose 2 birds it was due to some thieving little kids who took my hens. Enough said!
Hi Lynne, I disagree with foxes being killed in any manner as a first resort. And yes, they do not always pose a problem to lambs. The RSPB and other NGO’s remove them when they threatened rare wildlife at some sites however, which I do agree with. Some species need all of the help they can get.
A fox hunting for food is completely natural whereas the hunting of foxes is not. Foxes rarely cause problems to humans and foxes attacking humans is a myth. However humans attacking foxes is not. Keep the ban in force and let these creatures live as nature intended, There is no sport involved in fox hunting and anyone who can watch a pack of hounds tear a terrified animal apart and think that is a sport deserves to have an equally horrible end to their lives.
Excellent article James. If culling is absolutely necessary (and I’ve yet to be convinced that’s the only option to manage a situation) then it should be done humanely. It really is quite obscene that some humans derive pleasure from an animals distress.