Boxing Day is the biggest day of the foxhunting calendar in the UK. This year, over 250 hunts are expected to turn out supported by thousands of hunt followers and shadowed by the ever-present groups of saboteurs on the lookout for any transgressions of the current laws regulating the sport.
Perversely, since hunting mammals with dogs was banned in 2004 hunting has grown in popularity. Instead of hunting live prey, hunts operate by laying a trail for hounds to follow. This makes the sport not only more politically correct but safer for both horses and riders as the route is pre-determined and dangers such as barbed wire fencing, railway lines and roads can be avoided. I personally would not wish to ride out for an exhilarating gallop across the countryside knowing that a beautiful wild creature would most likely die purely to provide me with that experience and it appears many others are of the same mind-set.
Despite noises made earlier this year by the hunting community, it seems unlikely that the ban will be repealed any time soon. A recent MORI poll of UK residents (both rural and urban) showed a resounding 80% opposition to hunting with dogs for sport. Animal welfare groups remain vigilant however as there have been incidents where foxes have been caught and killed by hounds; albeit accidentally according to the hunts involved.
Farmers whose livestock is threatened by fox activity lobbied the Prime Minister in October this year demanding that the use of packs of hounds be permitted in order to flush out troublesome foxes. The foxes would then be shot. PM David Cameron suggested that the the law might be relaxed in the near future to allow farmers to use two dogs to hunt foxes on their land but with a general election looming in 2015 such an action would appear to be political suicide. Despite the PM’s sympathy with farmers, the Hunting Act will not be repealed and blood sports such as foxhunting will remain banned.
When the ban was originally introduced it was feared by the rural community that many hunts would be disbanded; hounds (which are unsuitable as family pets) would have to be destroyed and the impact on employment in rural areas would be catastrophic. It was thought that whole micro-industries which were intertwined with the hunts; livery stables, farriers, saddlers, hunt servants, kennel staff and even village shops and bed and breakfast businesses would all be lost if hunting were banned.
This doom and gloom however did not materialise and in fact hunting in its current form is thriving. The conception that hunting is the sport of toffs and the rich and idle is rapidly being dispelled with more and more ‘ordinary’ folk becoming involved. Country dwellers can now come out to watch the spectacle of the hunt or attend their local hunt-organised point-to-point race meeting, meet the hounds and admire the horses without the feeling that their support is in some way contributing to the slaughter of our wildlife.
I believe that hunting will go from strength to strength in its current form and that hunts should continue to move forward in sympathy with public opinion rather than looking backward to the past and remaining at loggerheads with the modern world.