As the hunting season opens, and the Government discusses a possible free vote on repealing the Hunting Act, Westcountryman Henry Chalfont argues in favour of a ban on the ban.
If I were a fox, and thought like a human, which of course foxes don’t, then I’d vote for a return of hunting.
Sounds bonkers, doesn’t it: like the turkeys-longing-for-Christmas syndrome. But it’s not.
You see there are no old folks’ homes for geriatric wild animals; no Welfare State that will see them housed, fed and watered until the Grim Reaper finally carries them away. In nature they die of disease and starvation, unable to feed themselves, and prey to a whole multitude of enemies.
That was where hunting foxes and hares with packs of hounds worked so well. Because it was such a thoroughly inefficient way of killing the wildlife, it worked as a highly effective culling system – generally catching only the very old, the sick and the infirm. One in ten of the animals found by the hounds would be caught. So several days of hunting might pass without a kill.
That’s what’s made the ban, surely the nastiest piece of socialist dogma to reach the Statute Book under New Labour, so counter-productive, particularly to animal welfare and the health of the fox and hare populations up and down rural England. For without the safeguard of hunting, and the knowledge that the fox population would be controlled through the hunting version of natural wastage, virtually anyone can have the excuse to go out and shoot foxes. Invariably that means the use of shotguns, and inevitably that means a large percentage of animals limping away wounded, to die horribly of gangrene and starvation. Now that’s real cruelty.
Nor is that system going to result in a realistic cull.
A man with a gun is not going to know, or care, if he is shooting a fit young fox, a cub, or a pregnant vixen. And, unlike hunting, there is no closed season. It happens all the time.
The result has been a consequent diminution in the fox and hare populations since the hunting ban was introduced.
The “Antis” can produce whatever piffling statistics they can dream up; if you live in fox country you will know full well that there just aren’t the numbers about that there were – you’re not seeing or hearing them to the extent that you did previously.
It was all so unnecessary and silly, an urban perception, fostered by the Anti organisations, of red-coated plutocrats charging around the countryside causing damage, with packs of wild dogs tearing poor little fluffy foxes to bits.
Total bunkum. It is natural for a wild animal to run away from humans and dogs, and when foxes and hares were caught by hunting they were killed with a swift nip on the back of the neck, all over in two seconds. In fact, few hunting people ever saw a kill before the ban. And they were certainly not the “blood-junkies” that the Anti organisations liked to claim.
Now the Antis say they are out to prove that the rules are being broken. But I have followed hunts up and down the country since the ban, and they have all assiduously stuck to the law, being meticulous in laying trails simulating foxes or hares (depending on whether they are foxhound or beagle packs), so that their followers can yet enjoy the ride or run across country and the pleasure of watching the hounds working the line of the trail in varying scenting conditions.
At meets of hounds there is always an announcement about who is laying (or has laid), the trail, either on horseback, from a quad-bike, or on foot, and how the day’s sport will proceed. The trail layers are recorded on timed and dated film or video going about their task, as proof that the rules are being obeyed.
Just as it’s in the interests of the Anti groups that they should come up with claims of law-breaking (it is, after all, their raison-d’etre), so it is vital to the hunting organisations that their members are policed properly and the image of hunting should remain squeaky clean, and the law observed in the minutest detail.
And speaking of police, there is an agency completely and collectively cheesed off with a ludicrous and badly drafted law, that has proved highly divisive and virtually impossible to administer. Before the ban came in one chief constable went on record as saying his force would treat claimed breaches on the Hunting Act with about the same attention as complaints about dropping chewing gum on pavements or letting fireworks off after midnight.
And contrary to what the Antis would like you to think, hunting is not the preserve of toffs, but a totally levelling occupation, with packs of hounds kept by hill farmers and Welsh miners, all with that shared love of the chase.