Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
More than 5 years ago our colleagues at the Federation of Welsh Farmers’ Packs approached us with their proposal to carry out research comparing the use of packs of hounds to flush to guns, which had been the practice prior to the Hunting Act across upland Wales, and the use of two hounds as the law in England and Wales now requires. As the Sunday Telegraph reported this week the study has now completed the peer review process and has been published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.
The research could only be carried out in Scotland, where the use of packs of hounds to flush to guns remains legal, and a number of Scottish packs very kindly agreed to help. The researchers compared data using two hounds and a pack of hounds in the same coverts and came to what to us is an unsurprising conclusion. The two hounds found half as many foxes, and took five times longer to flush the foxes they did find out of cover.
This would have been the end of any normal debate and the Government would have moved to bring the law in line with the evidence without further ado or opposition. The hunting ‘debate’ is not, however, normal. The reaction of anti-hunting organisations to the initial publication of the study in 2013 is proof that opposition to hunting has nothing to do with foxes. Despite the results of the study being entirely predictable and actually in line with the anti-hunt movements own views – a Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports had described using two dogs to flush to guns as “utterly useless” – they denied the findings on the basis that the study had not been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. Now that the study has completed the peer review process and been published do not expect any change in policy from those organisations. They will ignore the evidence and retreat to arguing that foxes are actually vegan and never take lambs, and that culling them has no impact on their population anyway.
Others, however, will have to take note. Politicians cannot claim to pursue evidence-based legislation, whilst ignoring the evidence. Real animal welfare charities must have a factual basis for their policies according to Charity Commission guidance, and that cannot mean contradicting peer-reviewed evidence. Interestingly Lord Bonomy, in his review of Scottish hunting legislation for the Scottish Government, accepted the findings of the research even before the peer review process was complete and entirely rejected the argument for limiting the number of dogs that can be used to flush to guns North of the border.
The ridiculous politics of hunting means that changes to the law are not feasible whilst a Government has a slim, or non-existent majority. When the political situation changes, however, the case for at the very least amending the Hunting Act is unarguable.
Follow me at @CA_TimB