It is exactly 10 years since the Hunting Act – which banned the chasing or killing of foxes, stags and hares with a pack of hounds for so-called ‘sport’ – came into force in England and Wales.
A significant landmark in the calendar for anti-hunting groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), there are certainly reasons to celebrate.
The Hunting Act is one of the most successful pieces of wild animal welfare legislations worldwide, with hundreds of successful prosecutions.
It was also introduced, after many years of dedicated campaigning by IFAW and others, because the vast majority of the UK public found it completely unacceptable that British mammals could be chased and torn apart by dogs for the enjoyment of a minority.
However, a decade on from the introduction of this landmark piece of legislation, sadly many hunters continue to flout the law so they can chase or kill British wildlife for fun.The campaign to protect wildlife goes on.
IFAW continues to monitor hunts to gather evidence of suspected illegal activity and is calling for better enforcement of the Hunting Act as its wildlife crime investigators repeatedly see hunters escape prosecution by using trail hunting (the laying of a man-made trail using a fox-based scent) as a false alibi for illegal hunting.
Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: ‘A decade on, the success of this vital piece of legislation should be celebrated, but nonetheless illegal hunting is a reality that we cannot ignore.
‘Trail hunting was invented by the hunting community as a response to a ban on hunting and time and again we see it used as a smokescreen – no more than a false alibi to illegally chase or kill foxes.’
IFAW says far too many allegations of illegal hunting are not properly investigated and far too many investigations are dropped by the police and CPS when it believes there is still a case to answer.
Jordi Casamitjana, IFAW’s Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, has studied more than 1,000 hours of hunting footage.
He said: ‘Since the Hunting Act, if hunts were genuinely following a man-made trail instead of trying to hunt foxes, we would see evidence of these trails being laid and followed when we are monitoring hunts.
‘We are not seeing this though, instead we regularly see suspicious behavior consistent with attempts to hunt foxes, as well as incidents of "hunt havoc", with hunts ending up crossing railway lines, main raids or private gardens.
‘How does this happen if they are following a planned false trail instead of following a fox? Hunters go to great lengths to prevent their activities from being observed and evidence gathered. When we see this behavior it begs the question, what do they have to hide?’
Mansbridge added: ‘Law enforcement agencies must recognize the reality of trail hunting to stop hunters from riding roughshod over the law. We also need our politicians to protect the Act and protect our British wildlife.’
Polling by Ipsos MORI in December 2014 showed 80% of people in Great Britain thinks fox hunting should remain illegal, 86% for deer hunting and 88% for hare hunting/coursing. The figures are about the same for rural and urban areas.
IFAW’s team of wildlife crime investigators remain committed to gathering evidence of suspicious behavior to aid private or public prosecutions against illegal hunters.
Members of the public who witness suspicious behavior by hunts are encouraged to call the non-emergency police number 101.
This is one of a series of articles written by Gay Star News in partnership with IFAW to raise awareness of animal welfare within the global LGBTI community. To find out more about IFAW’s work to protect animals around the world and how you can help click here.