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Submission to Lord Burns'

Committee of Inquiry into

Hunting with Dogs


The Mammal Society


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The Mammal Society's mission statement
The need for better legislation
Population control versus control of damage
Welfare considerations
Documents submitted

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The Mammal Society's mission statement

The Mammal Society works to protect British mammals, halt the decline of threatened species, and advise on all issues affecting British mammals. We study mammals, identify the problems they face and promote conservation and other policies based on sound science.

Specifically, The Mammal Society seeks to:-

Raise awareness of mammals, their ecology and conservation needs

Survey British mammals and their habitats to identify the threats they face

Promote mammal studies in the UK and overseas

Advocate conservation plans based on sound science

Provide current information on mammals through our publications

Involve people of all ages in our efforts to protect mammals

Educate people about British mammals

Monitor mammal population changes

The Mammal Society's position

Whilst The Mammal Society has no specific policy on hunting with dogs, there are a number of associated issues that are of concern to The Mammal Society. These are outlined below.

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The need for better legislation

1. The Mammal Society is very concerned that there is no comprehensive legislation to protect mammals comparable to that afforded to birds.

2. Nearly half a century ago, the Protection of Birds Act 1954 established the principle of comprehensive bird protection in Britain. This has been variously amended, and the primary legislation affecting wild birds in England, Scotland and Wales today is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The basic principle of this Act is that all wild birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law, and some rare species are afforded special protection. There are certain exceptions to this, notably in respect of wildfowl, game birds and various species that may cause damage.

3. Birds and mammals are the only warm blooded vertebrates and it is illogical that there are different standards of welfare and protection for them in the wild. Yet nearly half a century after the introduction of comprehensive legislation to protect birds, there is still no comparable protection for mammals. There is limited species protection for badgers, deer, seals, and some rarer mammals, but generally most species are afforded little protection. The Mammal Society believes that we need comprehensive legislation protecting British mammals. This should include Schedules listing those species that can and cannot be killed and identify close seasons as appropriate. The Schedules should also both prescribe and proscribe methods of killing for game species and those considered to be pests.

4. The Mammal Society believes that the continued practice of hunting with dogs has been a major factor in preventing the enactment of better legal protection for British mammals. We would quote as examples the problems faced in providing protection for badger setts: this was only achieved in 1991, and then only with special exemptions for foxhunts. Nevertheless, monitoring of foxhunts by the National Federation of Badger Groups and others shows that this special exemption is regularly abused. We would also quote as an example the Wild Mammal (Protection) Act 1996. This was originally designed to provide wild mammals with protection against cruelty comparable to that afforded to captive mammals. Because those interested in hunting were concerned that the courts might consider that hunting with dogs was cruel, the original Bill was extensively modified and now only certain specified activities are illegal, and even then intent has to be demonstrated.

5. The result is that the laws affecting wild mammals are inadequate and anomalous. It is, for instance, illegal to set a dog on a fox in captivity, but legal to do so in the wild. Similarly, it is illegal to set a dog on a badger, whether in the wild or in captivity, because this is considered cruel, yet it is legal to do the same to a wild fox. Many of the anomalies in the protection afforded to wild mammals are to accommodate the specific interests of individuals who hunt with dogs.

6. The Mammal Society also notes that it is illegal to hunt deer with hounds in Scotland. On welfare grounds, the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 only permitted deer to be killed or taken by shooting with a permitted firearm. This simple approach was possible because, at that time, deer were not hunted with dogs in Scotland. In contrast, hunting deer with dogs continued in England, and so to avoid opposition to achieving improved management standards for deer, the Deer Act 1963 specified those techniques which cannot be used to kill or take deer in England and Wales: this proscribed list does not include hunting with dogs. Subsequent changes to the deer legislation in England and Wales included changes such as specified weapons which were specifically designed to facilitate hunting deer with dogs.

7. The Mammal Society believes that none of these anomalies in the current legal position are defensible.

8. The Mammal Society also notes that the brown hare is the only game animal in Britain that does not have a close season. The Brown Hare Action Plan charged the Department of the Environment (now the DETR) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to "Review legislation pertaining to the shooting and selling of the hare in the light of new research findings on the seasonality of hare productivity" (Anon., 1995). The Mammal Society regrets that, five years after the Action Plan was published, neither body has addressed this issue.

9. The Mammal Society would also like to remind the Committee that, whilst it is focussing on foxes, red deer, brown hares and mink, in the recent past many other species were hunted with dogs. These include: fallow, sika and roe deer (Whitehead, 1993), otters (Strachan & Jefferies, 1996), pine martens (Webster, 2000), polecats (Blandford, 1987) and even stoats (Cameron, 1936), which were hunted with packs of beagles. Currently, there is no legal reason why hunting most of these species could not resume, or new species, such as the recently established wild pigs (Central Science Laboratory, 1998), could not be hunted with dogs. It should be remembered that packs of mink hounds were only formed from 1978 onwards when otter hunting ceased.

10. With the current legal position, hunting of past quarry species may be resumed without consultation. This can be seen by the resumption roe deer hunting in recent years. It should also be remembered that hunting otters with dogs was never made illegal: it ceased because it was made illegal to kill an otter, not because it was made illegal to hunt otters with dogs. That protection, from 1978 in England and Wales, and throughout Britain from 1982 (Corbet & Harris, 1991), was on conservation not welfare grounds. The otter population has staged a remarkable recovery (Strachan & Jefferies, 1996). Should otters be removed from Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it would be perfectly possible for otter hunting to resume: many of the packs that now hunt mink are simply packs of otterhounds that have been renamed.

11. In conclusion, The Mammal Society is concerned over the lack of rationale underpining the protection afforded to different species of wild mammal and the absence of comprehensive legislation comparable to that afforded to birds. The Mammal Society believes it is time these issues were addressed, but past experience has shown that this will be extremely difficult whilst hunting with dogs continues.

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Population control versus control of damage

1. At present, there are no quantified data on which to assess the economic costs and benefits of any species of wild mammal in Britain. Despite widespread perceptions to the contrary, this remains the case for foxes, deer, hares and mink. The Mammal Society believes that such information is essential to formulate effective management programmes for these species.

2. Much of the perception of the need for the control of wild mammals is based on a lack of knowledge, folk lore and/or a lack of quantified data on their true economic impact. Detailed reviews show that many established perceptions are ill-founded e.g. the impact of foxes on prey populations (Baker & Harris, 2000) and agricultural interests (McDonald et al., 1997; White et al., 2000) and deer on forestry and agriculture (Putman & Moore, 1998). In November 1999 The Mammal Society, jointly with the Linnean Society, organised a symposium on Farming and mammals. At this meeting it was clear that there is remarkably little quantified information on the impact of wild mammals on agricultural interests, and that most perceptions are based on either a lack of data or extrapolation from single studies, which are often undertaken on study sites that are atypical of the situation in the wider countryside.

3. Despite the absence of quantified data on the need for, and success of, different management programmes, there are extensive culling programmes for species such as foxes. Yet in a review of the impact of culling on wild canid populations, Harris & Saunders (1993) concluded that "ill-monitored or poorly designed canid control programmes are unlikely to be successful, yet considerable effort and money are often spent without adequate research or monitoring of events". This remains the situation today: we are no further forward in evaluating the need for, and success of, widespread culling programmes.

4. The Mammal Society believes that management programmes should be evaluated for both effectiveness and necessity, and these should use both lethal and non-lethal means as appropriate to local circumstance. The Mammal Society also believes that for both foxes and deer, there is no evidence that levels of damage are related to population density. It is, therefore, hard to understand the rationale for the widespread culling programmes currently underway. The Mammal Society believes that there is a need for research to establish which methods of damage control are the most cost effective in addressing local problems.

5. The Mammal Society sees no evidence to support the claims that hunting with dogs plays any role in reducing the levels of damage caused by the quarry species. There are no data to indicate that hares or mink cause significant economic damage (although the ecological problems caused by mink are clear), and so for these species there can be no economic argument in favour of hunting with dogs. For both foxes and red deer, the economic losses are equivocal and there are no data to indicate that hunting with dogs reduces the level of economic loss. Whilst there are claims of significant economic expenditure on hunting with dogs (Cobham, 1997), the level of expenditure bears no relation to the economic losses attributable to these species. Thus The Mammal Society can see no economic rationale for hunting foxes, deer, hares or mink with dogs.

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Welfare considerations

1. The Mammal Society believes that where lethal methods of control are used, these should be humane. The studies undertaken by Professors Bateson and Harris have shown that hunted red deer show considerable physiological changes (Bateson, 1997; Harris et al., 1999). Furthermore, Professor Bateson has concluded that hunting with dogs causes unacceptable levels of suffering to red deer.

2. The Mammal Society is concerned that the available scientific data question the welfare aspects of hunting with dogs. These data also reinforce The Mammal Society's concerns over the lack of consistency in the laws determining acceptable levels of suffering that can be inflicted on different species.

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1. The Mammal Society works to protect British mammals by promoting conservation and other policies based on sound science. The Mammal Society believes that the arguments presented in support of hunting with dogs are not based on sound science.

2. The Mammal Society believes that Britain should be setting the standards for the humane and effective management of wild mammals. The Mammal Society regrets that this is not the case and believes that the lack of progress with formulating effective management programmes does not reflect well on a country that prides itself in the excellence of its science base.

3. The Mammal Society is also concerned that at present there are no quantified data on, or means of monitoring, the numbers of wild mammals killed each year by dogs. Registered packs of hounds account for only a small portion of the total, which may exceed 200,000 per annum. The Mammal Society believes that it is important that the Committee considers all aspects of hunting with dogs and not just registered packs of hounds.

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Documents submitted

1. To help the Committee assess the impact of hunting with dogs on foxes, deer, hares and mink, The Mammal Society encloses a copy of a report entitled A review of British mammals: population estimates and conservation status of British mammals other than cetaceans. This was compiled by members of The Mammal Society and provides the most comprehensive review of population sizes and trends for each species.

2. A copy of The Mammal Society's recent report The state of British mammals is also enclosed. This provides an overview of the current conservation issues affecting British mammals.


Anon. (1995) Biodiversity: the UK steering group report. Volume 2: action plans. HMSO, London.

Baker, P. & Harris, S. (2000). A review of the diet of foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and an assessment of their impact as a predator. In Farming and mammals (ed. F. Tattersall & W. Manley), in press. The Linnean Society, London.

Bateson, P. (1997) The behavioural and physiological effects of culling red deer. Report to the Council of the National Trust, London.

Blandford, P.R.S. (1987) Biology of the polecat Mustela putorius: a literature review. Mammal Review, 17, 155-198.

Cameron, L.C.R. (1936) Stoat hunting with beagles. In Deer, hare & otter hunting, pp. 243-246. The Lonsdale Library of sports, games & pastimes volume XXII. Seeley, Service & Co., London.

Central Science Laboratory (1998) Current status and potential impacts of wild boar (Sus scrofa) in the English countryside: a risk assessment. MAFF, London.

Cobham Resource Consultants (1997) Countryside sports - their economic, social and conservation significance. Standing Conference on Countryside Sports, Reading.

Corbet, G.B. & Harris, S. (1991) The handbook of British mammals (third edition). Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.

Harris, R.C., Helliwell, T.R., Shingleton, W., Stickland, N. & Naylor, J.R.J. (1999) The physiological response of red deer (Cervus elaphus) to prolonged exercise undertaken during hunting. R & W Publications, Newmarket.

Harris, S. & Saunders, G. (1993) The control of canid populations. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London, 65, 441-464.

McDonald, R., Baker, P. & Harris, S. (1997) Is the fox a pest? The ecological and economic impact of foxes in Britain. Electra Publishing, Cheddar.

Putman, R.J. & Moore, N.P. (1998) The impact of deer in lowland Britain on agriculture, forestry and conservation habitats. Mammal Review, 28, 141-163.

Strachan, R. & Jefferies, D.J. (1996) Otter survey of England 1991-1994. The Vincent Wildlife Trust, London.

Webster, J.A. (2000) A review of the historical evidence of the habitat of the pine marten in Cumbria. Mammal Review, in press.

White, P.C.L., Groves, H.L., Savery, J., Conington, J. & Hutchings, M.R. (2000) Missing lambs on hill farms: is fox predation important? Veterinary Record, in press.

Whitehead, G.K. (1993) The Whitehead encyclopedia of deer. Swan Hill, Shrewsbury.

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Date uploaded to site 16 March 2000