Terrierwork, terriermen, and the grotesque world of fox hunting

Terrierwork, terriermen, and the grotesque world of fox hunting

Schedule 1.2 of the Hunting Act (which bans hunting wild animals with hounds) permits the use of “dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting”. It’s sometimes known as the Gamekeeper Exemption. Its wording allows someone to put a terrier in, for example, a fox earth to flush a fox to a waiting shooter so long as a number of conditions are met including:

  • No more than one dog is used.
  • The person is or has permission from the landowner.
  • It’s carried out specifically to protect pheasants and partridges (so-called  ‘gamebirds’) from “serious” damage.
  • The dog is used only to flush the fox or other creature out to be shot.

The specific wording of this exemption makes it nearly impossible for hunts to exploit during a day’s hunting. Crucially, as the Hunt Saboteurs Association’s magazine HOWL previously pointed out, terriermen can’t also be gamekeepers when they’re part of a hunt.


Schedule 1.2 invites cruelty

It isn’t hard to imagine the cruelty of putting terriers below ground to go after foxes (or other wild mammals). The terrier is trained to display aggression towards the fox, while the fox is likely to return that aggression in self-defence. Although the law states that terriers aren’t to attack or injure the fox, because they are underground and beyond the direct control of terriermen, there’s no guarantee the two won’t fight. At that point, with terrier and fox attacking each other, it’s little more than literal underground dog fighting. Both fox and terrier can end up with horrific injuries as a result of their confrontation. Britain banned dog fighting in 1835.

It should have banned the use of dogs below ground too. The report to the government by the Burns Inquiry, which eventually formed the basis for the Hunting Act, said that in the absence of a ban on hunting:

serious consideration could be given as to whether [underground terrierwork] should be allowed to continue”.





Complete ban on using dogs underground was part of original Hunting Bill

And a complete ban on using dogs underground was even part of the original Hunting Bill. Schedule 1.1.5 of the Bill in 2002 stated that “stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of a dog below ground”. This was based on the cruelty of having terriers and foxes confront one another underground. But this had clearly been amended by the time of the Hunting Act itself, swayed by arguments over the economics of predated ‘gamebirds’ and a claimed ‘crocodile tears’ concern for wild birds.

Even on the grounds of economic benefit, though, the exemption is spurious. An article by Wildlife Guardian explained that a British Association for Sports and Conservation (BASC) survey of 2800 gamekeepers returned a 9% figure for those using terriers below ground as a method of fox control. This survey was conducted in 1994, more than a decade before the Hunting Act came into force.

However, the National Working Terrier Foundation (NWTF) said that “26% of the total annual fox cull” resulted from terrierwork, citing the then-Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in its 2000 Burns Inquiry submission.

The actual figure given by the Ministry is 50,000 of a total 191,000 foxes killed by human-devised control methods. The Ministry said its figures were based on the work of biologists Baker and Harris, but these authors appear to have given differing numbers just a few years later. Website Wildlife Online said a 2005 paper written by the pair, Shooting in the Dark published in the journal Animal Welfare, gives a figure of just 10% of total annual foxes killed through terrierwork. This is much closer to the BASC’s 1994 figures. Meanwhile, a statement by the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) in 2003 said that “Forty six per cent. [sic] of gamekeepers use terriers in controlling foxes”.

Such varying figures reflect the Burns Inquiry’s conclusion that “no accurate estimate” existed for the total number of foxes killed through terrierwork.


However many foxes killed by terrierwork – it is too many

Whatever the figure is for foxes killed by terrierwork, the number is too high. Putting terriers underground to confront and potentially attack a fox is cruel to both creatures. Moreover, while idealised as an exemption for gamekeepers, the reality is this type of work is often carried out by the same people that act as terriermen for hunts, as clearly stated by the NWTF in 2005:

“Many gamekeepers, who may be specialist bird-rearers, contract out terrier work to many of our members — who may be hunt terriermen or various other individuals.”

And confirmed by the NGO in the same article, when its spokesperson said:

“The exemption applies in a gamekeeping situation, but it may not necessarily be done by a gamekeeper.”

While Schedule 1.2 isn’t exploited directly for hunting, the exemption does perpetuate the cruelty of terriermen and their world. Most importantly, though, the cruelty is perpetuated no matter who conducts the action or for what purpose. There are far quicker and more humane ways of despatching foxes, should someone insist on doing so.

In order for the Hunting Act to properly function as a law that cares for animals, it must do away with terrierwork altogether.