Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Fox hunting is a form of hunting for foxes using a pack of scent hounds. The pack is often followed by riders on horses. Like all forms of hunting, fox hunting is a blood sport, and as such it is controversial and has been outlawed in some countries. Many animal welfare activists believe that fox hunting is a cruel sport that should be banned, while pro-hunters argue that it is an effective and humane method of vermin control.
The term "fox hunt" is occasionally used as a general expression for a search. In amateur radio fox hunting is a recognized sport, particularly in Europe, where teams on foot comb an area for a hidden transmitter.
Foxhounds (of the Foxhound or Harrier breeds) are specially bred and trained for the purpose of fox hunting. In the course of a hunt, hounds are directed (or "cast") towards areas (known as "coverts") deemed likely to contain foxes. If the foxhound pack manages to pick up the scent of a fox, they will follow it and the horses and riders will follow the hounds by the most direct route possible. The horses may jump over any obstacles in their way; indeed, this is the origin of the term National Hunt for horseracing over jumps. The hunt continues either until the fox evades the hounds, goes to ground, or is overtaken and killed by the hounds. In the United Kingdom, where the fox is the largest predator, it is legally considered vermin and a fox that goes to ground may be dug out of its hole and shot at the request of the landowner or tenant. In America there are many predators larger than foxes and so fox numbers are not nearly as dense, nor are they as serious a problem in most areas to livestock farmers. As a result, fox hunting in America does not have a primary goal of killing their quarry and kills are rare.
Hunts are generally governed by one or more Masters, who typically take much of the financial responsibility for the overall management of the hunt. Hunts typically employ a huntsman who is responsible (in conjunction with assistants, known as "whippers-in") for directing the hounds in the course of a hunt.
Hunts will also employ a kennelman who looks after hounds in kennels and ensures that all tasks are completed when the pack and other staff return from a day hunting.
In addition there are voluntary positions of responsibility who assist the master in running the hunt. Usually this will include two secretaries who collect the money (cap) for taking part in the hunt and other administrative tasks. There will also be a Hunt Supporters Club run by a committee who organise fund raising and social events.
Mounted hunt followers typically wear traditional hunting costumes. The scarlet coats often worn by huntsmen, masters, whippers-in and other officials are sometimes called "Pinks". These help them stand out from the rest of the field. Various theories about the derivation of this term have been advanced, ranging from the colour of a weathered scarlet coat to the name of a purportedly famous tailor. These theories are discussed in detail on the Horse Country article in the external links section. Other members of the mounted field follow strict rules of clothing etiquette. For example those under eighteen will wear tweed jackets or ratcatcher all season. Those over eighteen will wear ratcatcher during Autumn hunting from late August until November 1st. On November 1st they will switch to regular hunting kit where full subscribers will wear scarlet and the rest black or navy. The highest honour is to be awarded the hunt button by the Hunt Master. This means you can then wear the hunt collar (colour varies from hunt to hunt) and buttons with the hunt crest on them.
The role of "whipper-in" in hunts has inspired some parliamentary systems (including the Westminster System and the U.S. Congress) to use "whip" for a member who enforces party discipline and ensure the attendance of other members at important votes.
Using scenthounds to track prey dates back to Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian times, and is known as venery. In England, hunting with hounds was popular before the Romans arrived, using the Agassaei breed. The Romans brought their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds, along with importing the brown hare (the mountain hare is native) and additional species of deer as quarry. Wild boar was also hunted. The Norman hunting traditions were added when William the Conqueror arrived, along with the Gascon and Talbot hounds. By 1340 the four beasts of venery were the hare, the hart, the wolf and the wild boar. The five beasts of the chase were the buck, the doe, the fox, the marten and the roe.
The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as pest control. By the end of the seventeenth century many organized packs were hunting both hare and fox, and during the eighteenth century packs specifically for fox hunting were appearing. The passing of the Enclosure Acts from 1760 to 1840 had made hunting deer much more difficult in many areas of the country, as that requires great areas of open land. Also, the new fences made jumping the obstacles separating the fields part of the hunting tradition. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people began to move out of the country and into towns and cities to find work. Roads, rail and canals split the hunting country, but also made hunting accessible to more people. Shotguns were improved during the nineteenth century and game shooting became more popular. To protect the pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled the foxes almost to extirpation in popular areas, which caused the huntsmen to improve their coverts. Finally the Game Laws were relaxed in 1831 and later abolished, which meant anyone could obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares and gamebirds.
Although viewed as a typically traditional rural British activity, hunting with hounds takes place all over the world. Hunts in the United States, Canada, Ireland and India are legacies of the British Empire to some extent, although some claim that the first pack devoted to hunting only fox was located in the United States. In 2004 the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America included 170 registered packs in the US and Canada, and there are many additional farmer (non-recognized) packs.
Many other Greek- and Roman-influenced countries have their own long tradition of hunting with hounds. France and Italy for example, have thriving fox hunts. In Switzerland and Germany, where fox hunting was once popular, the activity has been outlawed, although Germany continues to allow deer to be driven by dogs to guns. In some countries drag hunting is also popular, either instead of or in addition to quarry hunting, in which a scented bag is dragged over a pre-determined course. Bloodhounds are used in some areas to hunt the "clean boot", a human runner, for sport.
When fox hunting in the United States, the fox is rarely caught. In fact, much effort goes into training the foxes so that they do not get caught. In the summer of the year, the hunt take the young hounds out "cubbing". They teach the puppies to hunt while they are teaching the young foxes to give chase. In Britain "cubbing" consists of interesting the young hounds in hunting by setting them upon fox cubs, which are easier to catch and kill than adults.
Hunting bans in the UK
England and Wales: The Hunting Act 2004
Anti-hunting protests became more prevalent during the Great Depression, and after the Second World War the British government held the Scott Henderson inquiry about cruelty to British wild mammals. That report judged that shooting, gassing, trapping and poisoning caused greater suffering than hunting, and therefore hunting should continue.
The Labour Party manifesto of 1997 pledged "a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation". A private member's bill which would have banned all hunting of wild mammals with dogs was introduced by Michael Foster, Labour MP for Worcester, and won the support of a majority of members of the House of Commons. The bill later ran out of time before clearing the House of Commons. Had the Bill reached the House of Lords it would have faced strong opposition there.
In 1999 Home Secretary Jack Straw arranged for a six-month government Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales. Chaired by Lord Burns , the Committee presented its Final Report to Parliament in June 2000. It was not part of Burns' remit to support or oppose a ban on hunting, but to clear up some of the disputed issues surrounding the issue. Among his other findings, Burns found that banning hunting would have little effect on the number of foxes, and that the number of jobs likely to be lost by a ban was about 700. On the issue of animal welfare, Burns reported that hunting "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox" but that alternative methods of fox control were worse, with the 'tentative' exception of lamping in areas in which that method was possible. The report is available in full at http://www.huntinginquiry.gov.uk/.
The 2001 Labour manifesto contained a promise to allow "Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue". In 2003, the government introduced its own Bill which would have instituted a system of licensing and regulation of hunting. However, anti-hunting MPs passed a series of amendments to introduce a total ban on hunting with exemptions only for rats, rabbits, and raptors (falconry). The government initially described these as 'wrecking amendments' but later accepted them as the will of the House of Commons. This Bill did not complete its stages in the House of Lords.
In an attempt to raise animal welfare standards at the same time, allow an escape from legislation that specifically targeted hunting, Lord Donohugh proposed the Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill. This would have made it the case that "any person who intentionally inflicts, or causes or procures, unnecessary suffering on or to any wild mammal shall be guilty of an offence." A matching bill was introduced in the commons with the support of The Middle Way Group (see below). Both bills failed to become law as they were blocked by Labour members who wanted a specific hunting ban.
In the next session in 2004 the government re-introduced their Bill in exactly the same form and it passed through the Commons in one day in September, together with a 'suggested amendment' under the Parliament Act procedure that would have delayed the ban for 18 months until July 31, 2006, if accepted by the Lords. This Government argued for such a delay as an opportunity for hunts to wind down or adapt before the ban came into force; hunt supporters believed that its primary purpose was to prevent the ban and associated protests from coming into effect a few months before the expected general election in May 2005.
The House of Lords passed a series of amendments to return the Bill to the original government Bill of 2003 for licensing and regulation. Under this proposal, hunting would only be able to take place if they could show "utility" (a need to reduce the local fox population) and "least suffering" (lack of any alternative procedure involving less suffering to the quarry than hunting). The Lords amendments included delaying the Bill coming into force until at least December 1, 2007 after the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had reported on whether hunting involved more or less suffering than the alternatives.
The Commons disagreed with those amendments and insisted on the total ban bill. On November 17 the Lords insisted on its amendments to the main bill, though it varied their suggested delay until 2007 to decouple it from any RCVS report. This time it was presented as a fairer opportunity for hunts to wind down than the 18 month delay. The next day was the last day of the Parliamentary session. In the Commons, the government's last-ditch attempt to compromise on a delay until July 31, 2007 won the support of only 46 MPs, although the delay until 2006 was inserted in the Bill. The Lords would have had to have accepted the Commons' other amendments (including the principle of a ban on hunting) in order for this delay to have been approved, and therefore rejected them by 153 to 114.
When the Lords and Commons were unable to come to agreement by the end of the Parliamentary year on November 18, the Parliament Act was invoked, and the banning bill received Royal Assent that evening, becoming the Hunting Act 2004. With no agreement on the 'suggested amendment' to delay the ban, it came into force three calendar months after Royal Assent on February 18, 2005.
England and Wales: The Hunting Act 2004: Legal Challenges
There have been a series of declarations by various groups of hunting activists that they will still go hunting in defiance of the law. According to the Hunt Facts website some 56,000 people have signed a declaration that they will do this. A part of that statement reads that they "do not take such action with any expectation of escaping punishment, but rather in the hope of persuading both the legislators and our fellow citizens of the injustice of a ban." It is expected that many will hunt in defiance and then offer themselves up for prosecution.
The Countryside Alliance has said it will mount legal challenges to the Hunting Act 2004 (both in the British High Court and European Court of Human Rights). These are expected to include, a ruling on the legality of the Parliament Act 1945 itself, and a quite separate challenge as to whether the anti-hunting legislation contravenes individual rights protected in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Countryside Alliance are expected to request a court injunction delaying the implementation of the Hunting Act 2004. There are those in the legal profession who have indicated that law can only be delayed by act of parliament, not through a court injunction. However, the Government have indicated that they will not challenge such an injunction.
The Countryside Alliance have reported 300,000 spectators at over 200 meets on Boxing Day. Since hunts do not meet on Sunday's, Boxing Day hunts were held on the 27th December. The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claimed in November that Hunting is not a major issue, though feeling across the country is still strong, on both sides of the hunting argument. Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that hunting will be an election issue (Tony Blair tells BBC News Online: Hunting will be an election issue)
In February of 2002 the devolved Scottish Parliament voted by 83 to 36 to ban hunting with dogs. MSPs decided not to give compensation to those whose livelihoods or businesses might suffer as a result of the ban. An article in the Guardian on 9 September 2004 reports that of the 10 Scottish hunts, 9 have survived the ban, as it is still possible to use hounds to flush foxes to guns. As a result, the total number of foxes killed by hunts has doubled because even the healthy foxes rarely escape the bullets.
Controversy over Hunting
There are many arguments on all sides of the debate. Not all arguments are used by all advocates of each view, and almost all views stated are disputed by the opposing party.
It is argued that no law should curtail the right to do as you wish so long as it does not harm others. The counter argument is that animals are included in the 'harm others' and that interfering with the liberties of non-human animals is as unacceptable as with the liberties of human animals. This counter argument is not accepted by those who consider humans to be morally superior beings.
Should we control the fox population?
"We are a part of nature, not apart from it". The British countryside is far from natural, fox predators like the wolf or bear were eliminated a long time ago. The only predator left are humans, with or without dogs under their control.
"Self Regulation of the fox population"
It is put forward by some that population control is not necessary, that the fox population will self regulate. Foxes can exhibit a form of self regulation, when resources are scarce, but this method is spectacularly unpleasant, and only comes into effect at a point where the population has run out of food or territory. (See Burns Report). At this point members of the population will be suffering a long slow death through starvation and / or disease. The most common UK fox disease is Mange, a parasite that causes irritation and hair loss which leads to death through hypothermia. Mange becomes prevalent when the fox population becomes dense enough.
Fox birth rate control consists of vixens intimidating each other to the point at which they reabsorb or abort their foetuses, or if that fails they will cannibalise each other. Finally, of course, there is the issue of controlling foxes in order to protect the farm livestock and other species they predate upon. Farmers are not going to give that up. Foxes are a threat to a variety of their livestock. (See McDonald et al within the Burns Enquiry commissioned evidence, and other parts of the report).
To say you wish to allow the fox population to expand in an uncontrolled way is effectively to say you wish to see foxes' prey species hunted to death by foxes, and that you wish to condemn a large number of foxes to extended suffering.
Animal Welfare - Is it Cruel?
Pro-hunters point to the comments of Lord Burns, Chairman of the Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs, who stated in the Lords that "Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel... The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty".
They state that if it is accepted that fox control is desirable it is then our duty to ensure that it is done in a humane way, and that hunting is humane when considered against all reasonable alternative methods of control.
The alternative methods are poison, gas, snare, "humane trap", or shooting.
There are no legal poisons or gasses available for fox control in the UK, and such methods invariably wind up killing the wrong species.
Snares are a wire loop that catches and tightens on an animals neck or leg. They are set on a known path the animal takes. It is not uncommon for animals to gnaw their own legs off when caught by such devices in order to escape. Humane traps are boxes or cages with a one way door in which an animal will be held. Wild animals show considerable distress in such conditions. Both snares and other traps have the sole purpose of holding the animal until such time as someone arrives to kill the animal and put it out of its suffering. There is no relocation for these animals as there is no where for them to go.
There are two predominant methods of shooting foxes. Either in daylight a fast moving fox may be taken by a shot-gun, or at night through the use of a rifle. Both have significant wounding rates. Following Lord Burns' request for further evidence on the matter, the Middle Way Group commissioned a study into what those rates were. The results are available online at their website.
The finding of their investigation was that a significant number of animals will be wounded and will suffer a protracted death either through gangrene, or starvation if they are unable to pursue quarry. In this state they anecdotally become a greater threat to domestic farm stock.
Is foxhunting with dogs effective?
Foxhunting can be made to be very effective, depending on how intensively it is practised. Hunting is inevitably more likely to catch sick and weak foxes, no other form of culling has this feature. In some terrain, hunting is the only practical option, for example wooded upland areas where using guns is impractical.
Some intensive sheep farming areas use hounds in combination with guns, with hounds sent in to a wood kill, or to flush foxes out which are then shot using shotguns. If the shot is not clean the hounds are present to dispatch the fox as rapidly as possible. Despite being far more effective than rifles on a moving target, shotguns have a high wounding rate. The current state of the supposed banning law in Scotland, permits the use of hounds for flushing out foxes to be shot.
That hunting is an integral part of rural communities, and that it is a prime example of co-operative working.
Pro-hunters believe that that there is a popular perception in the UK that Hunting is elitist and costly, only accessible to wealthy aristocrats. They claim that this view is held by and motivates a large part of the anti-hunt lobby, above and beyond any welfare issues. Whilst the main stream anti-hunt campaigns do not often use the class point, the pro-hunt lobby has felt that class war is a major driver for the wish to ban hunting, and that it needs to respond to it. The Countryside Alliance's "Pure Prejudice" campaign is in part an example of this.
Hunters point out that people of all social backgrounds and wealth take part in hunting, not just "toffs". Indeed historically fox-hunting has been somewhat looked down upon by some areas of the aristocracy.
They point out that the social aspects of hunting reflect the social make-up of the area it takes place in, that the Home Counties packs are very different from those in areas of North Wales and Cumbria where the hunts are very much the activity of farmers and the working class. The Banwen Miners Hunt is sometimes used as an example, though its membership is by no means limited to miners.
It has been claimed that at the end of the final vote on the Hunting Bill, back bench MPs on the Government side were heard to shout "That's for the miners". This is a clear indication that for some that this bill is based upon a foundation of class, though it is disputed whether the incident ever took place.
Hunt supporters say that on the hunting field everyone is considered on their ability to ride, and on their "hound sense" rather than on their social background.
All hunts have a large turn out of "un-mounted" followers i.e. not on horse back. They may follow on foot, or by vehicle or bicycle. The majority of packs do not use horses at all. For the packs that do use horses, the mounted followers contribute a sum of money "a cap" to the days hunting, but the unmounted followers are not usually asked for any financial contribution at all. For the unmounted packs, known as foot-packs, everyone pays a cap.
Cap for the mounted packs will start at around £20 but can be much higher for certain packs. For the foot packs cap will be around £5. Farmers and supporters of the pack will pay a nominal sum only. Tea and sandwiches are often thrown in.
In response to claims that cock fighting and badger baiting were only banned because they were working class, and hunting survived as it was upper class; they state that animal baiting and fighting sports was outlawed because they are cruel whereas hunting is not (see welfare section). They also point out that fishing is not threatened with a ban whereas hunting is directly because hunting is seen as a minority upper-class pursuit, whereas fishing is enjoyed by persons of all classes, and is reportedly the most popular participation sport in the UK (see also welfare section for welfare implications of fishing vs hunting).
The Middle Way Group
The Parliamentary Middle Way group favours the continuation of hunting under a strict licensing scheme managed by a statutory authority; they argue for this position on both animal welfare and civil liberties grounds. They state that each hunt should apply for a licence to and show that their method of quarry control involves less suffering than any alternative method.
They have commissioned research into The Welfare Aspects of Shooting Foxes, showing the wounding rates caused by different types of fox-control with guns.
All sides can agree that it is bad for the State to make anything illegal without purpose. Parliament has on several occasions in the recent past passed Acts whose purpose was to improve animal welfare or reduce animal cruelty without being faced with large demonstrations arguing that these Acts represented an unreasonable curtailment of liberty, so it seems that most people feel that reduction of cruelty to animals is a worthwhile purpose of legislation, and the only question remaining is whether outlawing fox hunting is sufficiently effective for that purpose to justify the cost in curtailment of liberty (among other costs).
This usage, however, is a dilution of the term "civil liberties"; one more usually hears the term used to refer to those liberties whose curtailment threatens the functioning of democracy itself, such as freedom of speech or freedom of assembly. By comparison, one may find many references to drug prohibition resulting in unreasonable curtailment of civil liberties (by eg resulting in unreasonable search and seizure powers), but it is rare to hear it argued that it is a curtailment of civil liberties in and of itself, because while it may be seen as a form of liberty it isn't seen specifically as a civil liberty.
Hunting is unnecessary
Fox numbers are primarily controlled by the resources available as with any animal population, and hunting does not have a significant effect—indeed, many more foxes are killed on the roads than by hunting.
Hunting is cruel
Supporters of a ban on hunting with dogs claim that there are more humane methods of control if required, especially where those applying the methods of control are appropriately trained. Most suggest shooting as the most humane alternative.
If it were conceded that Parliament has the right to legislate to reduce animal cruelty, and if it were conceded that fox hunting was cruel, then few would argue that the practice should nevertheless continue either in the interests of maintaining community or preserving jobs; conversely, if it were found that fox hunting minimized animal cruelty then there would be no case against it. Given this, it is unclear what arguments that do not address the central issue of cruelty add to the debate. However, it should be noted that anti-hunt activists dispute both the likely job losses resulting from a ban and the likely effect on community put forward by pro-hunt organisations.
Some of the hostility towards fox hunting stems from public perception of fox hunters as typifying a disliked aspect of the upper classes. Oscar Wilde once characterised hunting as "The English country gentleman galloping after a fox—the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable", and the British anarchist group Class War used to argue explicitly for disruption of the hunt on class warfare grounds. Those who support the hunt say that this is the main motivating factor in their opposition (eg Baroness Mallalieu: "[the Bill's] foundations are naked prejudice and wilful ignorance").
Peter Bradley wrote on 21st November 2004 in this article in The Telegraph shortly after the Hunting Act 2004 was passed that "we ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom, it was class war." This statement was cited by hunt supporters as evidence of class motivation, and was widely reported as such. The same newspaper published a front page lead article in the same edition titled "Government finally admits: hunt ban is part of the class struggle". Bradley wrote this letter in response insisting that he had not meant this. He stated that he had meant that the struggle over the bill had "become a clash of political cultures", moving beyond the debate over animal welfare and personal freedom.
Most supporters of a ban on hunting however, claim that they are not concerned with class issues and that the pro-hunt supporters' arguments that it is not an upper class pastime is a straw man argument. In support of this view, they cite for example their lack of opposition to drag hunting.
- Hunting and pro-hunting organisations
- Anti-hunting organisations
- Other organisations
- The Parliamentary Middle Way Group (UK)
- "The Burns Report" - The Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales (UK Government enquiry)
- Progress of the Hunting Bill through Parliament in 2004 (Houses of Parliament Bill Index Database - Links to Hansard
- Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management
- JNP Watson, The Book of Foxhunting (Batsford, 1977) ISBN 0713408073
- House of Lords speech by Lord Burns, chairman of the official Inquiry, explaining his position against a ban on October 12, 2004
- Horse Country - The Legend of Tailor Pink
- Guardian - Special Report: Hunting
- BBC News - Hunting with Dogs Debate
- CBBC - Fox Hunting (information aimed at children)
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