Thursday, 8 March 2018

Hunting with dogs: the facts

Thanks to the Hunting Act 2004, the use of dogs to hunt wild mammals has been prohibited in England and Wales. But were you aware that there are a number of different forms of hunting are still practice, one of which is questionable, to say the least.

Three forms of hunting are still carried out: drag hunting, trail hunting, and clean boot hunting. Here's how they differ:

Drag Hunting

Originating in the early 1800s, the objective of drag hunting is to have hounds search for a non-animal-based-scent, without the pursuit or killing of wild animals. These hunts take place in areas where there is unlikely to be any live quarry. The scent is laid up to 20 minutes before the hunt starts, and the huntsmen know exactly where the scent has been laid. There are a specific set of rules created by The Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association (MDBA) that must be adhered to, and the hounds are kept under close control to prevent any accidental chasing or killing of wild animals.

Trail Hunting

Originating in 2005 after the Hunting Act came into effect, the aim is to make the activity look as similar as possible to pre-ban hunting. Trail hunts take place on land that was previously used for pre-ban hunts, with the hounds following animal-based scents. The scent is still laid before the start of a hunt, but there is no predetermined time for this to happen; there are no official written rules for trail hunting. 'Accidental' chasing or killing of wild animals is more likely to happen on a trail hunt, as the hounds are not under such a close watch.

Clean Boot Hunting

Clean boot hunting is very similar to drag hunting, in that it is an alternative to traditional hunting. The main difference between clean boot and drag hunting, however, is that there is no use of an artificial scent. Instead, hounds follow the scent of a human runner. Aside from the scent, drag and clean boot hunting are very much the same in the way in which they are carried out. Clean boot hunting is considered the most humane way of hunting, as there is zero chance of wild animals being chased or killed. 

Trail hunting is an unfamiliar term to most, being the most recent form of hunting developed. As stated above, a main difference between trail hunting and drag hunting is knowing where the scent has been laid. If you don't know where the scent is, how can you prevent a hound from going off-track and chasing or killing an animal?

Trail hunting takes place on land that was previously used for hunts pre-ban, with many of these being National Trust owned. At the end of last year, a motion was raised at the National Trust Annual General Meeting (AGM) to ban trail hunting on its land. Initially, it looked as though those for the ban had won – 28,629 to 27,525. However, some members left their votes to the Chairman of the AGM, and with the National Trust against the motion, these votes would have been used to prevent the ban. The final result saw the motion defeated by a mere 299 votes. 

Since this meeting, the National Trust has revised its stance on trail hunting. The changes are as follows:
  • The use of animal-based scents has been banned to reduce the risk of wild mammals being chased
  • The presence of terriermen is prohibited, as they have no practical purpose on a trail hunt
  • Greater active management of hunts
  • Probing the track record of each applicant when they apply for a licence to hunt
  • Being more open with its members and the general public, by posting on the National Trust website the days and locations of approved hunts
  • Work more closely with the Police's Independent National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)
Despite the numerous pages on the National Trust website, its wording still seems vague in areas, meaning that loopholes will occur, and these loopholes can be used by those opposed to the hunting ban.

The issue with trail hunting still lies with the fact that wild animals are at risk, and huntsmen can plead ignorance if they are caught. One way to combat this would be to amend the Hunting Act to include a 'recklessness' clause, which would enable offenders to be prosecuted if it can be proven they did not prevent their dogs from hunting wild mammals.

Since the AGM last year, more progress has been made to reinforce the ban as a result of lobbying by the League Against Cruel Sports. Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to drop her party's policy of a 'free vote' to repeal the Hunting Act 2004, as well as plans to increase animal cruelty sentences from six months to five years. 

The battle may have been lost, but that in no way means the war is over. You can do your bit to support the ban by assisting charities such as the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA, and if you suspect trail hunting on National Trust land is carried out near you, be sure to raise questions with the Trust or the NWCU

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