Why strengthening the Hunting Act isn’t the answer to ending fox hunting

Many of you might be reading this with a degree of shock or surprise. Because hasn’t Protect the Wild (formerly Keep the Ban) campaigned for the 2004 Hunting to be Strengthened over the last few years? Well, you would be correct in thinking that. But times change and the political situation has evolved so much even in the last six months.

In this article I set out Protect the Wild’s stance on why strengthening the ban on fox hunting may not be the best outcome for wildlife. And how if we really want to end all hunting with hounds for good then a new piece of legislation and a clean slate is the best option for wildlife.

In recent weeks a coalition to strengthen the Hunting Act has been launched. And don’t get me wrong I am not saying this is a bad thing. It is always encouraging to see groups come together in agreement of a common goal, but I am not convinced the goal is the right one. Whilst the initiative seems promising and correcting a faulty piece of legislation appears to make sense, I feel there are simply so many loopholes and exemptions that fiddling around with it could end up doing more harm than good. By advocating for the current ban to be amended and changed it leaves the back door open for pro-hunt MPs to also have their say and advocate for compromise. We should be calling for the strongest possible course of action to end hunting, not messing about with a piece of law that is not working. As it will only take one error or lax wording open to interpretation to enable hunts to carry on as normal and we’re back to square one arguing over a broken ban.

The issues with the Hunting Act

The Hunting Act, as it stands, contains problematic loopholes and exemptions, cunningly inserted by pro-hunt members of Parliament. These legal loopholes have transformed a straightforward law banning the hunting of wild mammals with hounds into an ambiguous and pliable statute. As a consequence, prosecutions often face challenges related to “intention” and the definition of “searching,” leading to inadequate outcomes. Even when presented with undeniable video evidence stopping just moments before a kill, convictions have been elusive, and prosecutions are frequently abandoned under questionable circumstances.

Moreover, the concept of ‘trail hunting,’ which did not exist before the enactment of the Hunting Act, has emerged as a contentious issue. Despite clear evidence of its use as a mere ‘smokescreen’ to continue fox hunting, ‘trail hunting’ is categorised as a ‘lawful activity,’ tilting the balance in favour of hunts when encountered by law enforcement and monitors.

The implications of this categorisation extend to criminalising acts of protest aimed at protecting wildlife from these hunts.

Borwn hare in long grass

And we cannot forget that at its heart the 2004 Hunting Act can arguably be read as a pro-hunting piece of legislation, at the very least it is anti-wildlife. Particular species of animals can be hunted and killed at will such as rats and rabbit with such hunting exempt if taken place on land which belongs to the hunter.

While Scotland has made remarkable strides with its Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill, effectively outlawing hunting with hounds, England and Wales are yet to follow suit. As advocates for wildlife, we must strive for a level playing field in these regions by not only eliminating the ‘trail hunting’ exemption altogether but ending all forms of hunting with hounds against ALL wild animals.

The tides are turning in favour of a complete ban, with growing public awareness and mounting media coverage of illegal hunting incidents. Video evidence of such cruelty has sparked widespread outrage, and national news channels have taken notice, amplifying the call to end this barbaric practice forever.

Simultaneously, the attitude of law enforcement towards hunts has begun to shift, with some police forces revaluating hunts as Organized Crime Groups, recognizing the criminal nature of their activities. This change indicates a departure from the once entrenched ties between hunts and officers. However, we must ensure that this progress endures.

The political landscape is also evolving, with pro-hunt parliamentarians losing influence, and a new generation of MPs, empathetic to wildlife preservation, emerging on the horizon. Seizing this opportune moment, we cannot afford to revisit existing legislation, risking its derailment by politicians who have long fought to preserve hunting.


It is time for a proper ban on hunting

It is time to act decisively. The calls to strengthen the ban on hunting represent a step in the right direction, but if we are to truly ensure no more loopholes emerge then surely the safest bet is a bulletproof new bill and an unambiguous ban on all forms of hunting with hounds. That’s why we have created The Hunting of Mammals Bill. And this new Bill is more than just an update of the 2004 Hunting Act. It is based on years of campaigning against hunting and the understanding that until the loopholes and exemptions inserted into the Hunting Act are removed and legislation banning hunting is absolutely clear, wildlife will never be safe from the hundreds of packs that still go out thousands of times a year. You can read our entire proposal here, arranged in twenty detailed and carefully-worded sections. And you can sign our 25,000+ strong petition in support of it here

We owe it to the brave monitors and saboteurs who devote themselves to protecting our wildlife every week. Let us not settle for anything less than an absolute end to this senseless cruelty inflicted upon innocent animals.