The first ever scientific study into the use of dogs to hunt foxes in the UK, published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, concludes that the law in England and Wales makes controlling foxes less effective and imposes a longer duration of pursuit on them than Scottish legislation.

As reported in the Sunday Telegraph on 28th October the study, carried out in Scotland where the use of any number of dogs to flush and shoot foxes remains legal, compares the use of packs of hounds to the use of two dogs as required by the law in England and Wales.

When a pair of dogs was used, as compared with a pack, only half as many foxes were flushed. The period of active pursuit from a fox being found to being flushed was over 5 times less.

The study was commissioned by the Federation of Welsh Farmers’ Packs (FWFP) which represents hunts and clubs which traditionally used packs of hounds to flush and shoot foxes to protect sheep and other livestock. Under current hunting legislation they are restricted to using two dogs to attempt to flush foxes including from some of the largest commercial forestry plantations in the UK.

FWFP Secretary David Thomas said: “The law as it stands in England and Wales is completely indefensible. Farmers’ packs were developed for the sole purpose of controlling foxes to limit the predation of lambs using the only practical method in a mountainous region with huge expanses of commercial forestry. The limit of two dogs was plucked out of nowhere. There is no evidence or logical justification for it. Anti-hunting organisations have even admitted that: “pairs of dogs are utterly useless in flushing to guns”. Farm incomes in upland Wales are amongst the lowest in the country and it is simply not acceptable that farmers are not able to protect their flocks. The publication of this study emphasises once again why the law needs to change”.

The Conservative Government brought forward proposals to amend the Hunting Act in 2015 to remove the limit on the number of dogs that can used to find and flush foxes to bring the law into line with Scotland. That proposal was withdrawn when SNP MPs signalled that they would oppose the amendment. The SNP Government in Scotland subsequently commissioned a review of hunting legislation in Scotland by senior law lord Lord Bonomy.

His review concluded that: “the use of packs of hounds to flush out foxes to be shot remains a significant pest control measure, both to control the general level of foxes in an area as well as to address particular problems affecting a farm or estate”.

And that: “not only that searching and flushing by two dogs would not be as effective as that done by a full pack of hounds, but also that imposing such a restriction could seriously compromise effective pest control in the country, particularly on rough and hilly ground and in extensive areas of dense cover such as conifer woodlands”.

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, which supports the FWFP call for a change in the law, said: “We are in a ridiculous situation where everyone knows the law has failed, there is peer reviewed science which proves that it is both inefficient and increases the duration of pursuit of foxes, and yet political prejudice continues to block change.

“The publication of this research does, however, mean that those who oppose amendment of the law to allow the use of packs of dogs to flush foxes in England and Wales are doing so in direct opposition to peer-reviewed science. The arguments against hunting have always been illogical, but opposition to this amendment is now an indisputable rejection of the clearest science and evidence as well.  Those individuals and organisations who take that route will have to justify their position.”