Wild Mammals (Protection) Act (1996)

Prior to 2004, the only law forbidding the killing of foxes came from the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act. This Acts states “If … any person mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags or asphyxiates any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering he shall be guilty of an offence”. Failing to abide by this act could result in a five thousand pound fine. However, part of this act states that killing of a wild mammal for the purpose of hunting is acceptable, so the sport fox hunting was largely unaffected by this legislation.

The Burns Report and the 2004 Hunting Act

A growing concern for the welfare and ethics of the sport led to an inquiry by the government of the United Kingdom. The inquiry was officially announced in 1999 by the Right Honorable Jack Straw. A committee was established to look into the aspects of different types of hunting with dogs in order to determine if a legal ban on use of dogs in hunting should be established. This committee was to be headed by Lord Burns, and thus came known to be “the Burns Inquiry”. A conclusion of the Burns Inquiry, documented as the “Burns Report” was completed in the summer of 2000. The burns report documented compiled information pertaining to the impacts of hunting with dogs on rural economy, agriculture and pest control, the social and cultural life of the countryside, the management and conservation of wildlife, and animal welfare.

The resulting discussion of the Burns Report and its findings led a heated debate within parliament, lasting for a number of years. Originally, the House of Lords was largely opposed to any sort of ban on fox hunting, due to the sport being considered a traditional activity of the privileged. However, a ban on fox hunting was passed through the Parliament Act due to a vote in the House of Commons passing the motion with a vote of 356 for the ban, and 166 against it, leading to the passing of the Hunting Act in 2004. The Hunting Act states “A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt”. This law effectively banned fox hunting with the use of dogs except under special circumstances, such as if flushing out the animal is required to prevent damage to livestock, crops, property, or the biological diversity of the area, or the animal to be hunted will be used for consumption, which is not commonly done for foxes. Another condition under which the hunting of foxes is permitted is if it occurs under a “field trial” or competition. In any case, the flushing out of an animal cannot be performed with the use of more than two dogs, which are not permitted to kill the fox. Hunting of foxes is also permitted if there is reasonable concern for the animal’s well-being, and the hunting of said animal will lead to the relieving of its suffering. Essentially, these laws still permit someone to kill a fox under the rules of the Wild Mammal Protection Act, as long it is not by a hound. A person who disobeys these laws is subject to arrest without a need for a warrant, and a fine of up to five thousand pounds, the equivalence of about eight thousand Canadian Dollars. Even still, there is much opposition to the current law.

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