Last week, a new vote on whether the Hunting Act, the scorn of politics in the early 2000s, should be amended, was thrown out of the window. There was none of the anger that had filled the 400,000 protestors outside of Parliament Square in 2004, nor the 700 hours of debate that had occupied the Commons. Only a smug look from Nicola Sturgeon, as she realised she had outsmarted David Cameron.
Amending and repealing the Hunting Act has long been on the agenda for the Conservatives. Before the 2010 election, there were murmurings that, were a Conservative majority to take power, repeal of the ban on fox hunting with dogs would be looked at.
So let’s look at fox hunting with dogs. The Countryside Alliance declares the Hunting Act ‘bad for the rural economy, bad for rural communities, bad for animal welfare and a waste of police resources’. It is true that reports of malpractice on foxhunts and police prevention take up time and resources. Very few convictions for those hunting with dogs have ever been brought about, despite the amount of evidence which animal rights groups present. ‘Bad for animal welfare’ is somewhat difficult to comprehend, but if they mean that it is bad for animal welfare that poultry might be killed by a fox, before they are killed by the slaughterhouse, perhaps this is an understandable argument. Bad for the rural economy and rural communities is a dubious case to make. Many hunts have seen their numbers grow since the ban. The Burns Report, which examined hunting before the Hunting Act was introduced, registered 178 hunts in 2000; there are now 176. However, although there are fewer hunts, the number of participants has dramatically risen. 20,591 people were subscribed for foxhunts in 2000; around 45,000 now take part regularly in hunts. The demand for foxhunting has certainly not diminished.
Most interesting of all is to examine how hunting affects fox numbers. Perhaps the most reiterated reason which hunting enthusiasts enjoy promoting is that hunting is a form of culling – that without hunting, foxes would be ravaging farming communities. Realistically, fox hunting causes very little impact to fox numbers and likely increases them if anything. Fox numbers are determined by competition. Foxes will move into territories where they find it easier to find food and face less competition from other foxes. This means that there is a constant movement of foxes which cannot be stopped by hunting. Moreover, studies have shown that the more foxes killed in a winter cull, the more that are born in litters come springtime. The greatest regulator of the fox population are the foxes' social factors themselves: social groups of foxes will defend their territory from other fox groups on a nationwide level. Other factors involve food availability and disease, but these tend to be local issues with little impact.
Fox hunting has very little to do with the actual real numbers of foxes killed. Those who participate should not try to convince both others and themselves that they are a necessity to the protection of farming. It remains their liberty to hunt, but it is for the purpose of their enjoyment, not conservation.
This article was written by Benjamin Jackson, a Research Associate at the Adam Smith Institute. Benjamin is half-way through his Classics degree at the University of Edinburgh.