A Countryside Tradition

Fox hunting! A famed countryside tradition that dates back to medieval times. Practised for centuries, fox hunting was banned in 2005. Though called a ‘sport’ fox hunting is put forward as a means of protecting other vulnerable species, preventing over population of foxes, protecting livestock, halting the spread of disease and because, as humans, we have a ‘duty of care’ to wildlife. Hunting is claimed to be about natural selection, but with that, we must accept that this does not mean that methods of management are always ‘humane’, or that it always removes the old and the sick of a population. Hounds are used because they do not cause painful wounding, the animal is either killed or escapes the hunt unharmed.

www.metro.co.uk

www.metro.co.uk

As many of us are aware, the ban is in constant contention, but it is apparently not clear. For example, it states that you can hunt a rabbit with dogs, but not a hare, and this causes confusion. The act does not actually protect foxes, it just creates difficulties for farmers by banning a useful management tool and creates a divide between the country people and the city people.

These are some of the main arguments that you will find put forward by numerous documents that support the case for fox hunting. Having read and re-read them, if I’m honest, I find them contradictory and opportunistic at best. I live and have lived in the countryside all my life and I do not consider fox hunting as ‘a way of life’, or creating a ‘divide between country and city folk.’  The assumption that all those who live in the countryside are in favour of hunting is ridiculous. Indeed, I know some people, some of them friends, who are in favour of fox hunting (we avoid the subject), but I also know many who are not. Personally, I take exception to the idea that fox hunting is ‘the voice of countryside people’ and that we all enjoy a good hunt. It’s just not true.

www.alan-whitehead.org.uk

www.alan-whitehead.org.uk

When it comes to justifying the hunt, many documents produced by the same organisations, are extremely and sometimes amusingly, contradictory. Many sprout claims that the hunt is all about ‘natural selection’ and that it creates a healthy population without disease; one that is fit and healthy, with the old and the sick being removed by hunts. Then, interestingly, I read another which said that ‘the old and the weak are not necessarily removed by the hunt.’ So, if we’re honest, not natural selection at all. After all, natural selection is all about ‘survival of the fittest’. If hunting can in fact remove the fittest and healthiest in the population, then you cannot cite natural selection. Perhaps, survival of whoever wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time? Then, of course, natural selection as an argument was never true and a shameful and opportunistic way of citing science to justify an action. Dogs, or hounds in this instance, do not distinguish between a sick animal and a fit animal when they find a scent. They lock onto the scent they have been trained to find and they track it until it is found, regardless of the health or age of the individual.

www.stmgrts.com

www.stmgrts.com

Another claim supporting the hunt is that there will be no wounding to a fox and that hunting is humane as the animal is killed with a quick nip to the back of the neck. However, there was another statement that they could NOT ensure that hunting is humane. I’ll just ignore that contradiction for a moment.

The idea that a pack of dogs will kill an animal they have been chasing for hours, with one quick nip to a certain location on the neck, is ridiculous. I am involved in a dog sitting and training business and have observed ‘packs’ of dogs countless times. There have, unfortunately, been birds, rabbits and leveretts that they have chased and when they chase together, they become frenzied and excitable, feeding off each others energy. Now, I accept you could argue that not all of these dogs have been trained like fox hounds have been. But have they really? I have forced myself to watch fox hunting footage and the idea that a pack of dogs that close in on their quarry will stand back whilst one gives a single fatal bite to the neck is a little patronising. The contradictory evidence is on film for all to see.

www.letsprotectanimals.co.uk

www.letsprotectanimals.co.uk

I apologise for this image, I would usually avoid such photographs, but I think it illustrates a point.

Hunters also state that they have a duty to protect wildlife, wildlife being animals that do not include foxes presumably. Especially considering the admission (in some documents) that they do not necessarily take the sick or old of the population or kill them humanely. The suggestion that without hunting fox populations would explode is doubtful at best. It is believed that because they are a predator, without management they will just keep growing and growing and growing, until they take over. But what of predator-prey interactions? This is what controls apex predators. When prey numbers are low, predator numbers drop off, when prey numbers are high, predators increase. If foxes truly were such a pest, since the ban has been enforced, we would have seen an increase in their numbers. In cities they have, you say? Maybe because, over the years, they have been chased out of the countryside.

In addition, the idea that foxes will take huge numbers of livestock is a little fanciful. In my area, more sheep and lambs have been killed by dogs than foxes. What about chickens? Protect them properly (it is possible), and it would not be an issue. There are so many prey available including rabbits and pheasants, it is unlikely that foxes would, regularly, attack sheep for instance. In fact, I can’t think of one farmer I know who has lost any animals to foxes.  You could argue that this is because foxes are managed. Or were. But, hunts have never come through my area and have never controlled our fox populations. Good job too, because I don’t think they would be very popular. Then the farmers must be issuing controls, right? Maybe. But then, if farmers can shoot foxes, which would be more humane, then surely the hunt is not necessary? Not if it is indeed ‘all about management.’

www.occupyforanimals.net

www.occupyforanimals.net

There is also the claim that the ban is confusing. After all, you can hunt a rabbit aided by dogs, but not a hare. Presumably, the confusion here lies with the difference between a hare and a rabbit. It’s a point, but then again,  if you do not know the difference between a hare and a rabbit, perhaps you shouldn’t be hunting. Or, here’s a revolutionary idea: look it up.

However, it’s not just the fox here that suffers. Treatment of hounds from accounts of ex hunters and even incidences that happen on the hunt are not acceptable. Now, I am not claiming that all hunters mistreat their hounds, but there have been cases of those who do. In fact, there are the whisperings that when a dog gets too old or too slow on the hunt, they are ‘disposed’ of. Often at the ages of seven or eight. In addition, if a dog is not considered suitable, they can also be removed at an even younger age. When it comes to the actual hunt, there are cases of dogs being hit and injured by cars.

The science behind the hunt is bad and the arguments are laughable. Hiding behind words such as ‘management’ and ‘science’ is not an excuse for the cruelty that many hunts have exhibited. If the thrill of a chase is really needed in life, chase each other. Don’t subject a poor creature to pain and exhaustion for no reason. Of course there is the view point that as an animal, foxes do not experience fear. Maybe, but as it cannot be proved, how can you know? My dogs experience fear when they hear fireworks or, as is the case with one of my dogs, when she hears gunshots. They panic and they look for reassurance, all of which are behaviours we have never reinforced. So if a dog can experience fear or anxiety, which I believe they do, why can’t a fox?

“What a tawdry little ritual this is. There’s nothing noble about this, this isn’t part of our heritage at all. I don’t believe this argument that the people who are hunters are those that are concerned about animal husbandry. This has nothing to do with a love of animals. This has nothing to do with a love of the countryside. It’s just disgusting.”- Tony Robinson.

“It takes a special kind of bravery to take on a fox, with nothing but 25 of your mates on horseback and 35 dogs.”- Ricky Gervais.

 

 

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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