THE CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon and welcome back -- impressive time keeping from all concerned. Could I issue one request, please, which is that people should not speak too fast. I realise that there is a lot to be said, but the people who are talking should have some sympathy for the people who are taking the record of the meeting. If you could also, for the benefit of the people who are further back in the room, get as close to your microphone as possible when speaking. I think that it would help everyone. The order that I propose to do things in this afternoon is first fox, then hare, then deer, then mink. We will begin with fox. I mentioned, however, before lunch that I would like to break it up first of all into questions about population; secondly, reasons for population management; and, third, effectiveness of different methods. So if I could begin with general issues of population and ask if any of the people at the seminar would like to make any comments on the paper or presentations.
MR HART: Lord Burns, just to really start things off; it appears we have talked quite a lot about what are acceptable levels, what are optimum levels, what are minimum levels of fox populations, but one point seems to have escaped most of the conversation this morning and that is there was really only one section of the rural community who are in a proper position to judge what is an acceptable level or otherwise and that is the farming community upon whose land these foxes reside. Now, we are all conscious, I think, that that might vary from one place to another, from one farm to another, but the judgement ultimately is not on whether two foxes per square kilometre or ten foxes per square kilometre is an acceptable level; it is the level of foxes which causes the minimum acceptable damage to farmers which is the significant factor and therefore it is their judgement to a great extent as to what cocktail of control methods they employ to retain that level on their holdings. I think what I want to attempt to say is that there are some practical applications of the extremely interesting science we have heard which I think from the Alliance's point of view I would like to really inject.
THE CHAIRMAN: I am sorry to do this, I think you are actually on the second topic I had on my list. I have to rule you out of order at this point in time. I think that does get us into the questions of the reasons for population management. I wanted to deal, first of all, if I could -- and it may be there are no questions about this - what the numbers are; the alternative ways in which they meet their end; and other issues to do with the population dynamics. That is what I wanted to have under the first question. Then we will move on to the second question about population management.
MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. I wanted to make two brief points, if I could. The one I was concerned about is the two foxes per square kilometre killed per annum. I believe that was the estimate that was used in talking to farmers to try and get some sort of idea of the average numbers of foxes killed on farms. Please correct me if I am wrong in that understanding. One of the points that I wanted to make on this is the great difficulties in using data which are just acquired empirically from farmers in this way because there is a culture here that if a farmer is asked -- I must break there and I apologise to the transcript writers and say, with the knowledge of my own farming background, I know that people do this. If you ask how many foxes you shoot, they will not say, "We do not shoot any". There is a culture if you are not shooting foxes you are not a very good farmer. I would just question that figure as to how reliable that figure is and whether it is possible to make that as a statement. The second thing on population I am still not convinced on is in the upland areas that the population is in any way below that of the carrying capacity of the environment, even given the level of killing by the hunting packs, the dog packs, because the numbers killed each year do seem to maintain a degree of consistency. It comes back to this modelling on the amount of migration inwards and I just feel there is an awful lot more information needed on this migration topic, because I am still not convinced that the population is actually being controlled. I think a lot of foxes are being killed but I think the population may well be, I think there is a good reason to believe it may well be at its actual carrying capacity in those areas. Just those two points, thank you, Chairman.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Perhaps I should just say I tend to agree with that. We had to assume for our modelling work the foxes in upland areas were not at carrying capacity. That may be a false assumption, we just do not know. All we can say at the moment we are not even 100 per cent sure how many foxes there are in many parts of rural Britain. Our estimates are at the moment at best provisional. We are producing a more refined population estimate at the moment, in a year or two we might our estimates grossly underestimate how many foxes there are in certain areas; we just do not know at the moment.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: You make two points, and the first one is about the extent to which we can rely on the estimates that farmers, or anybody else for that matter, give us regarding the number of foxes killed or anything else, and I am happy that you are in fact endorsing them or re-emphasising the point I have made, that these data are exactly what they say they are; they are the answers that people have given to questionnaires. The status of the evidence we have not explored. I would just say to you though, since this figure of two foxes per square kilometre being killed average on farm lands has a larger life than I would originally expected it to have, having mentioned it that if people are interested in that figure, and they will find this retreating to the written version of the report, that comes from a survey that we originally did in the early 1980s which involved ten agricultural regions, 891 farmers who made their estimates. They made a number of other estimates, like the number of cubs they believe were born on their farm, the number of breeding earths and other things, all of which were published. We repeated that survey in 1998 and there is a publication we can make available to you, although it only exists in proof at the moment with updated data. This month in the Journal of Rural Studies you will find we have published a similar questionnaire for farmers in Wiltshire which, to my astonishment, comes up with the same estimates. Farmers at least agree, that is not to say they are right. The second point you raised was about upland areas and whether they are or are not at capacity. My own personal experience on that is to have worked on fox biology in the uplands of northern England. I want to make a proviso, a caveat, that we may have slipped past earlier. There has been a lot of talk today about mid-Wales as a paradigm of upland areas. That is solely because the data that we have been discussing happens to come from there, but I hope in our report where we have mentioned Wales we have always been careful to say something along the lines of, "upland sheep farming areas as typified by Wales", so were there comparable data from the north of England or from Cumbria where I have worked myself on foxes, I would imagine that similar sorts of things might apply there. The data from Wales was gathered largely from Jonathan Reynolds, who is here. I think it would be better for him to comment on this population carrying capacity issue that you raise.
DR REYNOLDS: There are a number of interconnected issues here. First, let me deal with the reliability of farmers' perceptions of how many foxes are killed on their reports of how many foxes are killed. In both the work done in Wiltshire and in the work that we did at the Game Conservancy Trust, Matthew Heydon and myself, we found over-reporting of the hunt culls by farmers. It seems to be intrinsic to the nature of reporting culls and I think there is experience from many other species too that if you just ask people how many animals they cull, you get an inflated figure. I think that is inevitable. The second thing is to do with how that reported cull might be compared with the population that is there at all, and I would thoroughly endorse Stephen's point that we have rather imprecise figures about how many foxes there are in different parts of Britain and, therefore, by implication how many foxes there are in the whole of Britain. However, there are three regions in which we worked intensively where we have much more precise estimates of numbers of foxes present, partly by doing line-transect surveys with a methodology known as distance sampling which gives us a good handle on how to reconstruct the population from the transect survey data, but also this is backed up by two other sources of information. One is a survey of cubbing earths and the other was an index of fox abundance from gamekeeper observations. So we have quite good data on fox abundance in three regions. We did not want to fall into the trap of simply comparing over-reported culls with good estimates of fox abundance. So what we did in order to assess the status of the fox populations in those regions was to look at their productivity, their reproductive success. Now, it is a widely held paradigm amongst fox biologists that reproductive success is related to the density of the population relative to its resources. So crowded population, lower reproductive success; and a less crowded population, higher reproductive success. What I am going to say is a relative measure between the three regions that we studied. We are not talking about absolute measure, but in relative terms, the Midlands area that we studied showed heavy suppression of reproduction in the population to the extent that about 20 per cent of vixens did not even produce any cubs at all, but the mean litter size was also reduced there. By contrast the mid-Wales and the west Norfolk areas had no evidence of reproductive suppression at all. We interpreted that as meaning that the population itself was not close to carrying capacity because if it were we would expect to see reproductive suppression. The fact that the reported cull was very high in those two regions and relatively low or moderate in the Midlands region also led us to postulate that the cull was the thing that was responsible for this population suppression.
DR LINDLEY: If I could, I do think, although there is a slight risk of labouring the point, this question of unreliability of evidence and lack of knowledge is really crucial to a lot of these discussions. Just to emphasise the point, the study that Jonathan Reynolds is talking about, the estimates of game bags in one region at the higher end of the estimates, went up to something like, am I right, 540 per cent of the annual production, which is clearly absurd? Unless there is an astonishing level of immigration. Elsewhere I think in both studies the authors have been able to compare estimates from farmers and landowners and gamekeepers of population numbers, estimates of cull levels, etc. with more objective data gathered in other means. By my reading of the reports, the estimates there are exaggerations of between 5 and 18 times, depending on which study has been looked at. So I do think it is important that everyone is aware that the reporting by -- well, by everyone who has been asked to provide information, is no more than people's opinions and has to be treated as such. It is unreliable. Which brings me to the other point I just wanted to put into the arena. We discussed briefly before lunch the main anthropogenic mortality levels and I just wondered whether it would help if around the table it is possible to get any kind of more accurate handle on what those levels might be, because on the whole neither of the reports addressed that in any detail. I notice that Professor Macdonald's paper made reference to some RSPCA information from wildlife hospitals but dismissed it on the grounds it might come from urban areas and so should not be considered further. I just wonder whether it would be helpful to try and get other people's views on what the likely levels of non-cull, if you like, mortalities are going to be in fox populations, so that we can begin to have a feel for whether that is having as much of an effect or more of an effect than various forms of culling activity. Just from my own figures, just to put on the table, the RSPCA runs wildlife hospitals which receive casualties of all sorts. Of the foxes, of the adult foxes taken in, between 25 per cent and 35 per cent are known road traffic accident victims, and a further 25 to 40 per cent -- these ranges are between hospitals -- 25 to 40 per cent were classified as injured but cause unknown, but certainly not shot. I think there is an indication there at least of casualty foxes of a very large proportion suffering, certainly anthropogenic but non-targeted, non-culled related injury, which may have resulted in deer having to be taken for treatment. I do not know whether Professor Harris would want to refer to a study which his team did some years ago on rehabilitated foxes, foxes taken in for care and treatment and then released. Obviously not necessarily completely representative, but I think that study found that something like 55 per cent of foxes that were released back into the wild suffered death from road traffic accidents. So, to my mind, clearly, these non-cull mortalities are a very significant proportion of the population and I think it might be helpful to get some kind of view of how that relates to culling activities of various sorts.
THE CHAIRMAN: Could I ask a supplementary, very much on the same lines. And it may be that I am trying to be more specific than we possibly can be. We have heard that there is a stable population of about 240,000. There is then a number that die each year, about 400,000 to 500,000. We can then split that in four parts: one is vehicles; second is natural causes; third is shooting and the fourth is all manner of deaths in association with dogs. Is there any consensus about any of those figures, other than the 240,000?
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Should I try and answer? I think the simple answer is frankly "no". As stated the earlier figures based on the studies we have done in Bristol which, again, is not prime fox hunting country, but I think it has some relevance in that we could at least have a very clear handle on the population, something like 25 per cent of our foxes who die each year were dying from what I would loosely call misadventure, injuries, to gathering day-to-day life, disease. Quite a lot were dying in fights between foxes; a whole variety of factors, which I am sure are replicated in the rural environment, people cannot monitor the population as close as we did that in population in Bristol. So I guess it is probably quite high, and I will get the exact figure for you. Beyond that there is an estimate based on some quite reasonable samples of known road mortality of 100,000 foxes bowled over on the roads each year and I guess it is probably in that order of magnitude. I would not go much further than that. Beyond that you can start speculating. 14,000 killed by packs of hounds last year, and that is the last figure I can even try and put a number on, frankly. Beyond that the numbers shot, particular numbers taken by lurchers, by poaching, the numbers taken by terriers are particularly problematic because there are just so many people out wandering around with two or three dogs randomly hunting foxes, no permission, no right of access to the wider countryside. I think the numbers are entirely speculative. I go back to the point we would not like to lay our life on the line; it is 240,000 plus 425,000 cubs a year. In a year or two we might do that, but beyond that I think you are asking a lot in trying to get those figures. We can give you a ballpark figure, but I would not base too much credence on it. If I could come back to my other point that Jonathan made in relation to his study. He said there is a widely accepted paradigm in relation to density and productivity and numbers. I am not sure I believe that paradigm and we have been in a position in Bristol where our population crashed with 33 adults per square kilometre to currently under 2 adults per square kilometre. That is a fairly massive population change in the same habitat, but at the same time the proportion of vixens breeding each year has stayed the same, the number of cubs they are producing has stayed the same. You cannot automatically expect you are going to see these differences the paradigm predicts. You can look at animals who seem to be in the populations producing a lot of cubs in the high reproductive output they can still be very close to rhythmical culling capacity if there is such thing, it is a very complex issue.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: I think this section of the conversation illustrates that the answer to your question is no, that we do not have the data to provide specific answers exactly as Stephen says.
LORD SOULSBY: Can I just take up the question of migration of foxes. One area that has received no attention whatsoever is the urban fox, and it may be that that is not part of the total equation, but is there any movement between the urban fox population and the rural fox population, in either direction, and could this be a factor in the immigration and the invasion of the territory that may be depleted by hunting from urban foxes? That is the first question. The second question is when we have been going around we have met anecdotal comments -- only anecdotal -- that urban foxes have been dumped in rural areas because they have been collected by the dog catchers, the vermin catchers. That may not be true, but I just wonder if you would like to comment on the immigration.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I will deal with that because I have the data. Well, the question was basically: is there movement in and out of the city? And, yes, there is a low level of movement. If we take the large number of foxes in Bristol and, yes, we had some born in the centre of the city that dispersed out of the city 20 kilometres and then spent the rest of their lives living as adults in the top of the Mendip hills. That is a pretty dramatic change in habitat in that dispersal period and dispersal is a very swift process. Really the movement in and out was surprisingly small. I think, if I have the figure right from memory, it was a few years ago we published it, there was only a 6 per cent movement out and we have estimated roughly the same movement in. It was a very small movement and around the edges of the town and very foxes. Frankly, the distance they moved, they were not moving far enough to get into hunting country and we had to cut all the hunts around Bristol trying to get tagged foxes. I do not think a hunt ever returned the tag to us and we tagged 2.5 thousand foxes. I think the movement out of the urban area into hunting country is virtually non-existent. As for the old myth about people catching foxes in urban areas and raising them in the countryside, I have heard these people driving out with vans full of them, I wish I could catch vans full of foxes, it is not that easy. Where do you keep them when you have these van loads of foxes? I am afraid it is a myth, I think the RSPCA still has a reward out for anyone who can prove any evidence of this ever happening. Back in the early 1970s when I worked in London, it was then the practice of some of the local authorities to catch foxes in cave traps and take them out, release them in the countryside rather than to shoot them because they did not have a gun. Now I do not think even they do that and I think if any release is done it is the odd animal.
DR REYNOLDS: About ten days ago I met a young chap from Switzerland who had just completed a PhD study on urban foxes in Geneva. Basically they were looking at genetic differences between the urban population and the rural population and came to the conclusion that there is almost no interchange between them. In fact there are two sub-populations in Geneva separated by a river and the next nearest related population is in another town about 40 kilometres away. So, although there may be movement of individuals from one habitat to the others, as Stephen has described, it probably has no lasting impact and that is perhaps understandable if you think about the extremely different selective environments that exist within an urban area and outside. If you are afraid of man in an urban area, you are not going to get anything to eat, whereas in a rural area if you are not afraid of man, you are probably going to get killed, so I think there is very little voluntary exchange of blood, if you like, between rural and urban areas. The other thing concerns the dumping of foxes. We do have some handle on the total number of foxes handled by wildlife hospitals in the course of a year and it amounts to some few thousand. Now, if all of those were dumped in the countryside it would have a really trivial impact on the total population in the countryside. However, if those few thousand were dumped on one estate of course it would be rather a headache for the gamekeeper or whoever was living there, but in national terms it is not a big deal.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Would you mind if I come back, because I do not think Geneva foxes have much relevance to what I know of British foxes, we have had ours -- the city of Bristol have been quite happy living out on the Mendips for a number of years and breeding before they get killed, so certainly I would just say that that is the evidence from Britain and I would stay with it.
MR HART: I just want to come back to the comments about incomplete data on mortality of foxes just really to add another factor which will further muddy the waters. That is, of course, a substantial proportion of foxes that are either injured as a result of shooting or injured as a result of road traffic accidents, are either tracked and dispatched by the person who shot them or, indeed, by hunts or keepers in that vicinity who find them, locate them, either underground or above ground, and deal with them accordingly. Perhaps one of the reasons why there are not too many of these foxes appearing in wildlife hospitals is that is a route which is taken by people who actually live out there and deal with the problem as and when they find it.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, could I come back to the subject of urban foxes because in 1997 the NFU conducted a survey of a large number of their members because we were keen to establish what was happening in a range of pest species and certainly the perception was -- and I stress the word "perception" which has been used a number of times this morning -- was that foxes were coming out of big urban conurbations and foraging on farms which were next door to those conurbations. I actually live in that situation, and because we control foxes for conservation reasons for wild game, I can state categorically that they do come out and they do get killed.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Perhaps this one has been exhausted, but I think often today, in this debate, we find ourselves dealing with things that at first seem contradictory but are actually simultaneously true, and this is one of those many things. It depends again on the scale at which you look at the issue -- at least that is how. I understand the answers that colleagues around the table have been giving. I have personal experience, as does Stephen and I think others, in radio tracking individual foxes and can say that I have known individuals -- in fact whole communities of individuals -- who have behaved in the way that you are describing, often at the interface between the suburban environment and the rural environment, which is actually a very happy interface for foxes. It is a habitat that suits them well, at least judged in terms of their population densities, so I do not think anybody is arguing that individual foxes may have territories that span that interface and may on a day-to-day basis find themselves moving from a piece of habitat which is suburban or urban into a piece of habitat which is in itself rural although juxtaposed close to a town. The other issue though is on a different scale and that is whether there is large-scale movements, which I think is behind your question, between urban and rural circumstances and actually I felt that although it is slightly misunderstanding, perhaps, in the answers, that Stephen's answer and Jonathan's were trying to make the same point, namely that while individuals may come and go on some basis, making excursions from one habitat to the next, broadly speaking there is not a huge flux of urban foxes into the countryside or vice versa. I think, Stephen, is that your point as well? I know it is the one Jonathan was trying to make too, so actually it is purely a matter of scale.
THE CHAIRMAN: I think we probably should move on. It has been my experience since I have been reviewing the subject over the last six months that most people wish to talk to me about urban foxes. I keep saying that we are dealing with the issue of hunting with dogs and how does this impinge on the issue of urban foxes? I suppose, given that there is not any hunting in urban areas, it is the other direction that maybe might have some relevance, if there was a notion that there was going to be more foxes in the countryside then even more may start coming into towns. It is a terribly interesting issue, but I think we have gone as far on this as is relevant to this study, or to our inquiry, unless you can advise me differently.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Perhaps I can say there is actually some hunting with dogs in urban areas. We have problems with people running lurchers at foxes on open playing fields in city and terriers are used in some parts of cities and moderately commonly, so hunting with dogs does occur in urban areas, but clearly it is not the bulk of your remit.
THE CHAIRMAN: Shall we move on to the next subheading we have about the reasons for population management. And maybe, Simon, you would like to restate your question again?
MR HART: Thank you, Lord Burns. It was purely really to inject a slightly practical comment into the debate, which was that the only people who appear in a perfect position to judge what is an acceptable population level of foxes, whatever that might be, are the people upon whose land or within whose control they actually live; by that I mean landholders or keepers, or in some cases both. It would, therefore, to me seem to be a dangerous road to go down to suggest that there is an optimum level or a maximum or minimum level which is deemed acceptable. That level has to be deemed acceptable by the people who actually have to derive some form of livelihood or living from the land. One farmer on one side of the road may have a completely different view than that which lives the other and the consequence of this is that fox control, in its various forms and its various legal forms, can be tailored to suit the individual requirements, parish by parish, farm by farm, to some extent, even field by field. What I am suggesting is that whilst we are talking very much of the scientific analysis of fox populations, it actually is what happens practically out there which is what is important. What people actually believe to be the case, what they perceive to be the dangers and what they ultimately deem to be the acceptable population level. Now, I am not commenting about whether their judgement is necessarily right. I am simply saying that in the absence of any conclusive evidence that they are wrong, and I have not heard much of that so far, then I think these are questions which need to be addressed and hopefully by both contractors.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Perhaps I could start, Lord Burns. I have to say I do not disagree with a word you have said, Simon. I think it is entirely up to people to decide what foxes they want on their land and manage them with the numbers they find acceptable. That is entirely up to them and that actually has many advantages; you have a variety of fox densities in different pieces of land. I do not see any problem with that. I think the problems are that obviously if you are trying to manage a piece of land in isolation, then you are going to have a lot of problems with immigration from other areas where they are not managed to the same level and that is just the point David and I made in our submissions. I think also it is difficult to actually then determine why people -- the problem we had, I think, in trying to draw our reports together, if I read what David said correctly, is that we just have trouble understanding why people chose to decide that they wanted this number of foxes or that number of foxes, but, yes, there is no problem with people managing the numbers they perceive they want. It might be nice if we had some way of actually trying to understand what they were trying to achieve and then we could see whether they are actually achieving it, but that is a problem we just could not find a way to do that.
MR HART: In which case you do agree with what I was saying, because the point I made was it was the individual landholder who had to decide and was the best person qualified to make that judgement, which from what you have said --
THE CHAIRMAN: I understood Stephen to say he did agree with you.
MR HART: I thought he said "did not".
THE CHAIRMAN: He did.
MR HART: I beg your pardon, from where I was it sounded like "did not".
THE CHAIRMAN: It may be very unusual for people to agree with you!
MR HART: It is the first time for some time, I have to say.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: I actually also do not dissent from anything that has been said, except that I would say we were given a rather clear brief by the Committee and it was, as I understood it, to report on entirely scientific aspects, as far as we could discipline ourselves to do so, and there are elements of the question you raised which would go beyond the remit we were trying to address. I am, first of all, keen not to be lured off what was our remit, but not necessarily the entire remit of the Committee. But I would take you up on just one phrase you used -- it is always awkward when people catch a couple of words -- but you said: farmers were perfectly positioned to make these judgements, and insofar as that phrase captures the thought, that of course is the farmer's property and the farmer has, I think, the great wisdom from a professional, it brings him or her into contact with the countryside. Nobody could dissent from the view the farmer is, as you said, perfectly positioned to make judgements. However, I would say that there are things we are talking about today which turn out not to be very easy to measure, and wildlife biologists, also with some training and some experience, struggle for a lifetime to measure really rather simple things, apparently rather simple things that have been relevant to this conversation, and find it difficult to do so, so the farmer may be well-positioned to see and form opinions about many things, but a lot of the stuff we are debating about cannot easily be assessed by the farmer nor, indeed, anybody else. As a point of evidence in favour of that view, which is in no sense demeaning or diminishing the farmer's insights, is to say that in the early 1970s when both Stephen and myself started our careers, much of the accepted literature on the creatures we are talking about today, and particularly foxes, described an animal that appears to behave quite differently to one that science has now revealed to be the reality. There are many aspects of fox behaviour that were not apparent to any community previously until new technology and new ideas came on stream, so I just want to make it clear that I do not want to dismiss rural insight, but there is a lot that science has to contribute to the understanding of these creatures.
DR LINDLEY: Thank you, Chairman. I wanted to make something of the same point David has just made. To suggest that a particular individual or a group of individuals is perfectly positioned to make decisions about levels of acceptability for their populations or whatever, presupposes that that individual, or group of individuals, has, if they are perfectly positioned, perfect knowledge of population levels, of the impact of those populations on their financial interests, on the likely effect of particular culling activities on those population levels. I think the one thing that it seems we have established today is that farmers and landowners, no more than anyone else, is anything like perfectly positioned to make those judgements. It is quite apparent, I think, that many of the estimates made by the farming community of all those factors are significantly off the truth.
DR REYNOLDS: I think it is almost self-evident that the farmer has very little handle on the fox population which is either on his land or on the surrounding land and, given the caveats that David has been making about how difficult it is for even biologists to determine these numbers, I think that is bound to be true. However, it is also the case that if you have a lot of people individually culling foxes on one piece of ground -- sorry, on their own patch of ground -- then together those will add up to a regional cull. There is no escaping this. They are a part of the total mortality of the fox population in that region, and if there are enough of them, as we found in mid-Wales and in west-Norfolk, then that total cull can be very substantial, probably the most substantial cause of mortality in the fox population in those regions. As Stephen already mentioned, the task that faces somebody doing local control on an individual estate, is quite a major task if the background fox population is very big because of immigration. You have seen earlier when David made his initial presentation the task that faced a gamekeeper in South-east England when he had a terrific influx of foxes from the surrounding areas. Now his task would have been a lot easier had he been in west Norfolk where there is a very high density of gamekeepers and where the fox population as a consequence is very low. I am not saying that this is therefore a desirable system to have in the whole of the UK. What I am saying is that if you want to understand the position of the individual landowner and why he makes the decisions that he does, then you have to understand that there is a very long history of fox culling in each of these regions and it is peculiar to each region. So the landowner faced with his aims of wishing to conserve game or wishing to protect his livestock, or whatever, makes his decisions based to a large extent on cultural inheritance - I think we should really describe it in those terms. He is not making his decisions based on his current or even his recent experience. He is making his decisions based on perhaps a lifetime or several generations of experience. I am not saying, again, whether he is right or wrong; that is the way the world is operating at the moment.
THE CHAIRMAN: To a degree that would explain this phrase about people saying that there are just too many foxes, which is one of the replies that you get in your surveys.
DR REYNOLDS: Perhaps it is also the occasion to raise that, because another thing you must bear in mind historically is that man has had a lot of influences on the fox population in this country, starting with the creation of suitable habitat from an originally forested island and ending up with the introduction of a number of very significant prey species, like the hare back in the Iron Ages and the rabbit more recently, and the pheasant of course -- one must not forget that -- released in huge numbers around the country and it is a substantial source of food for foxes. So the ultimate carrying capacity, if we can use that term for convenience, for the whole country is going to be pretty big and it may be a level which we have never yet seen, which is unprecedented. We just have no concept of where a fox population could end up if you took off all the constraints. Can I just add to that, that the desirability of that level, whatever it might be, is something we must also consider, not just from the point of view of each landowner, but also from the point of view of the native wildlife which has been here all along, because the rate of predation by foxes on some minor prey species -- like, for instance, avocets, or terns, or whatever -- is not going to be related to the density of those species specifically; it is going to be related to the density of much more common prey species like rabbits.
THE CHAIRMAN: You were looking like you might want to say something, Stephen?
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I think that is largely the position we have come to and I think the cultural inheritance is the problem with fox culling at the moment. People cull foxes -- and this was the problem we had, we tried produce our understanding of why people cull foxes and the benefits of culling foxes. They are free to do it and that is the position but we have no understanding of why they do it, what they are hoping to achieve and it is the fact that it is a cultural inheritance they are acting under, rather than perhaps moving towards a point where we understand the costs and benefits of culling foxes?
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, whether we, as farmers, are perfectly positioned, or whether it is cultural inheritance I am not quite sure, but I think I must point out that farmers make local decisions on their farms when they perceive a threat, and they relate their position to their stock to the threat, which may be a fox, and they, under those circumstances, make a decision whether to kill a fox or not. I think we must be very clear that this happens on lots and lots of holdings all the way round the country. There are 80,000 working farmers, covering over 70 per cent of the United Kingdom land mass, and there are pockets exclusive to Wales and the uplands where there are sheep which are under threat, or piglets which are under threat, or poultry, and the farmer under those circumstances sees the fox as a threat and deals with it on an opportunistic basis, which is the basis upon which the fox attacks his stock. He sees it as a financial threat and therefore deals with it. But it is local, it is human and it is natural forces.
THE CHAIRMAN: We need to come, I think, to the end of this section quite soon. Normally in conversations on this subject, one would be having more interchange about particular issues about predation on lambs, on pigs, on game, et cetera. Does anyone want to question any of the views that have been put to us about the significance of that? We seem to be moving to a position which says that some of these other non-measurable factors seem, in many cases, to have more significance than do the particular economics of predation of particular farm or game animals. Before moving off this topic, I would like just to be sure that people have said what they wanted to say on those issues as well.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, could I make one very quick point on the economics? The percentage has been raised by Professor Macdonald of 0.6 of numbers of lambs that are killed. In a sense, to me as a stock farmer, that is the percentage of failure. I think we have to recognise that if I allow one of my lambs to be taken by a fox I fail. I have to raise the question what would have happened if I had not have made the effort to kill foxes in relation to the remaining lambs, the remaining piglets, or the remaining poultry. In a sense that too is very difficult to judge, but I think one has to raise it, particularly since the loss of a lamb in today's circumstances is a serious issue.
MR SWANN: Sorry, Chairman, I just went slightly off-track there. The data that we had presented to us this morning, I am still trying to get my head round, and I am not going to waste your time in this Committee, but I feel that the estimates are too high. I think that they are based on farmers' perceptions I think we will have to talk about this, but I think what you are actually saying is that the figures are as high as 10 per cent of lamb losses, and I think that would be far, far too high.
THE CHAIRMAN: No, absolutely not.
MR SWANN: I am not sure if that is what you said this morning. We have been trying to get our heads round this and we cannot work out your figures.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: It would be helpful if I said that we are talking about 0.6 per cent which is six lambs in 1,000. Does that put it in a way that is helpful?
MR SWANN: That is of all lambs or of lambs --
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Pre-weaning mortality and the estimate of farmers in one hunting country in Wales.
MR SWANN: Thank you, that does clarify it. I am sorry to bring that up, it is a crucial point and I just, this morning, thought there was some confusion about it. I would like to just make another quick point on culture. I think this has been covered by others and we have made this point previously in the oral submissions, in that there is undoubtedly a culture among farmers about wanting to kill foxes, and particularly in the upland areas, and because they think that they do kill lambs -- and I do not think anybody has ever denied this cultural aspect of it and this needs keeping in perspective, because I think it is primarily a cultural point. I do not think it is, in any way, an actual definite point in terms of lamb predation. Arthur is desperate to speak.
DR LINDLEY: Thank you. It was really in response particularly to the point that Mr Oliver-Bellasis just made. Clearly a farmer perceives a loss if he loses a lamb, but I see, for example, there is a section in David Macdonald's paper which addresses the cost of culling in Wales -- specifically in mid-Wales -- whereas I understand the figures here it comes out quite clearly, the cost of culling as undertaken in mid-Wales, more or less exactly matches the cost of the perceived losses of lambs to foxes. So there is no net benefit to the farmer in engaging in those practices.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Maybe I could just clarify that and if we need to go into greater depth, I will pass to Jonathan, but I suspect we may not need to go into greater depth. First of all, I think that Hugh raises a very interesting point and that is that many of the measures that are currently taken of all sorts of things we have discussed today, are taken under the current situation, the current circumstances. So, for example, the loss of lambs perceived by farmers in this now much talked about area of Wales, is under circumstances where they have pulled out all the stops already to do what they can to kill foxes. So you quite rightly phrased the question: "What would happen if that level of culling were to change?" That is precisely the sort of question which I believe can only be answered properly and technically by the sort of experiment I commended to you earlier on. Although many of the questions we are tackling today are probably not feasible, politically or logistically, in terms of experimentation, the lamb loss is one I believe is. So if we wanted to know what would happen if there were no fox control in that area, or half the amount, or twice the amount, we could actually find out by experiment. But until we do find out we maybe are not going to benefit greatly from pursuing the detail in terms of minutiae, other than to say that Arthur is also right that in our calculation we looked at very loosely estimated costs to the -- and the basis of that calculation is set out in our report, if you want to look at the detail -- of killing the foxes in question in this area in mid-Wales and the value of the lambs lost, as based on the farmers' judgements of how many lambs they lost and they more or less balanced as things are. We then went on, as Hugh had in mind, to ask the question of what would happen if the fox killing finished, and we took as an opening gambit an exploration which said, "Let us imagine the fox numbers double and if they do, then the cost benefit analysis -- not surprisingly -- shifts in favour of the farmer's position". Since we do not know what would happen and nobody has done the experiment, other than illustrating to you the principle, I am not sure that it is very helpful to your Committee for us to go a lot further into the detail.
THE CHAIRMAN: Could I have two supplementaries on that. One we heard when we were in Wales, again this famous part of the country, where it was suggested that part of the problem in terms of lambs was of twins. Is this an issue? It certainly was a point that came up several times. The second point I just make by way of exploration on this issue of cost benefit analysis. It is, of course, the way that culling is currently organised, certainly in Wales. There is a recreational element to this, which is used to subsidise the cost to individual farmers. Therefore, when you are looking at it from the point of view of an individual farmer, the economics of this can look rather better than it does if you look at the total amount of resources that are put into it. Some people are willing to subsidise this because they actually want to do it.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Absolutely. I can make a quick comment on both of those points. When you raise the issue -- it is a question really -- as to whether second lambs of twins are more susceptible to fox predation than others, that opens up a fascinating, but poorly studied, arena of debate of all the different aspects of sheep farming that may affect susceptibility to predation. And also opens up, by the way, a wider literature on carnivore behaviour and how carnivores select their prey and the extent to which they select disadvantaged prey or whatever. It is certainly the case that sheep breeds differ in relation to their tendency to twin. It is certainly the case that their maternal capacities differ, and if farmers take this sort of thing into account in choosing their stock and in shepherding -- we talked this morning about how many of the animals we consider have different jobs, as it were, different perceptions. I, for my part, have to confess to you I have a little sheep farm and I was lambing before I came here this morning. I can tell you of the four breeds of sheep I have. I doubt if any shepherds in the audience will dissent from this view: each has a different maternal behaviour and each has a different tendency to twin and so forth. So these are all factors that are probably extremely relevant to this debate, but nobody to the best of my knowledge has explored these ethological, these behavioural issues, in the sort of depth that would allow you to put a great deal of flesh on these bones, other than to say: yes, twins are harder to defend, there is a singleton and on a hill farm twins are less likely to be viable than singletons anyway, depending on how hard the ground is. You also make the point about the recreational element of this, which we were keen to, in a sense, keep out of our motivation for attempted population control because we saw it as a different kettle of fish. But, nonetheless, when we were exploring the cost benefit analysis to Midlands farmers of hunting, something we did involve in that very tentative calculation was that to non-hunting farmers the loss of those foxes to the extent that it is a benefit is entirely free and paid for by the people who pay for the hunt. So you, I think, are quite right in picking up that asymmetry in the economics.
DR WHITE: Just to add a bit of hard information on the instance of twinning and likelihood of losses of lambs to foxes. A couple of studies that we have been involved with: one on a couple of farms in Scotland; one in the Penderland Hills in Mid-Lothian and one in Crianlarich; it was possible to actually follow flocks and lambs throughout their life history. There, we found that there was a correlation between likelihood of sheep losing lambs to foxes and the instance of twinning or multiple births. However, it does appear to be quite common, as David alluded to, with different breeds having different maternal behaviour and that sort of thing, in that a wider survey of about 450 to 500 sheep farmers has actually shown that the instance of multiple births is not that strongly correlated with the incidence of loss. In other words, if we get multiple births it does not mean that you are more likely to lose your lambs. So it does appear, again, to be a question of scale. If you are looking at one particular flock, it might be the lambs which are going to be lost, the ones with multiple litters. But if you are looking across lots of different flocks, it might not be quite so obvious.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: One final point on sheep: there was a question of whether we should do experiments on them. To some extent some of those experiments have already been done. Do not forget Ray Hewson back in the 70s and 80s looked at this problem in Scotland, and he compared lamb losses on two flocks on adjacent bits of land, one on an island without foxes, one on the adjacent mainland, the lamb losses were identical in both of them. Then he went up to Eriboll in the north of Scotland, actually did an operation where they stopped fox culling for three years and to lamb losses we could see no detectable impact. So there are some data that have moved towards that experiment with (inaudible) already.
DR REYNOLDS: May I just say that the subject of Ray Hewson's study at Eriboll I think is going to be one of those areas where we have to agree to disagree, because I am afraid it is a seriously flawed piece of work -- and I say that with the greatest respect to Ray Houston who I know personally -- but as evidence that ceasing to cull foxes has no impact on lamb losses, I am afraid it is a very poor piece of evidence.
THE CHAIRMAN: I think I would rather not get into this debate, unless you really think there is going to be merit in it. It seems to me this should be sorted out outside of this seminar. Could I move on to my third heading, which was "Effectiveness of Different Methods". Is there anything anyone wishes to say under this third heading, as far as foxes are concerned?
MR WISE: I think it is very important, Lord Burns, that there is a variety of methods available to control foxes according to different times of year and different people's needs to control. There are very few legal methods left, if you discount live trapping, which is not really practical for anything other than the urban fox. One has snaring, shooting, or use of dogs in one way or another. Shooting tends to be most efficient if one is talking about shooting at night with rifles after harvest in sort of arable areas certainly -- I do not know about grassland areas. If you are concerned with controlling foxes by day with guns, one is going to be reliant on driving shotguns, and then you will inevitably need dogs to sweep up the wounded foxes that will be produced. So night shooting is not appropriate for most times of year and one is, therefore, only left with snaring, or hounds, or terrier work, or something, and terrier work is the only legal method to deal with the problems of cubs which may be often left to starve underground otherwise, unless dog work remains.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, could I support that. I do think it is very necessary to understand that different circumstances that farmers find themselves in demand different solutions, as between the uplands and the lowlands, as between close to urban conurbations or footpaths, or whatever. I think it is very important that we do not fail to recognise or that we should recognise the need for a range of control methods. In a sense, the efficacy of those control methods is something that the farmer will judge in relation to his local circumstances and his knowledge of his own farm and the threat.
DR LINDLEY: Firstly, if I may, Lord Burns, just to follow on that, it seems to me a little disingenuous to argue that a landowner must have a range of methods available, regardless of the effectiveness or acceptability of those methods. I thought, at least, if nothing else, this seminar had established that hunting with dogs was an ineffective mechanism for culling foxes, if culling of foxes was seen to be necessary. So I cannot see really much of an advantage in landowners having access to a mechanism which is ineffective. Could I raise two other points briefly on different issues within this arena. The first related to condition taste aversion work and other forms of non-lethal control. I am just interested to hear a little more about that, because it was my understanding both of the work that David McDonald and his team were doing and that the Game Conservancy were involved in, until recently that that was looking quite promising, and potentially quite a fruitful new method to explore. But all of a sudden it seems, though it does not seem to have much information to back that up, that it is now regarded as a bit of a no-hoper. I just wondered why there had been a switch in attitudes to that. The other point, which is, again, completely different -- I am not sure whether it relates to this element of the discussion -- but, if we are looking at the impact of hunting and the impact of the potential of a hunting ban, I was slightly surprised that neither of the studies addressed the question of the direct physical impact of a hunt on conservation of species and conservation of habitat. Although there was some information in the studies about the tendency of landowners to conserve habitat features if they did or did not support hunting, but neither addressed the potential impacts of trampling and of disturbance on particularly sensitive habitats, ground nesting species and the like. I did note that in David Macdonald's study he mentioned that the RSPB does not allow hunting on its land, but did not explain why. I am aware that certainly a number, if not most of the County Wildlife Conservation Trusts, do not allow hunting on their land. In that case, from my own previous experience, I know that one of the principal reasons there is concern over disturbance of is damage to natural habitats. It seems to me that was a whole issue that had not really been addressed.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: There has been a lot of, some big and some small, comments made there and I hope I can hold them all in my head. Going through them briefly, at some point early perhaps in your remarks there was mention about what is important to farmers in terms of taking decisions. It occurred to me that while we have spoken a lot about lambs, for which there are rather few data, that farmers are amongst people who wear several hats in this debate, and I suspect a lot of the motivation -- and Hugh will correct me if I am wrong -- from farmers being concerned to control foxes, is to do with game management, rather than agricultural stock. It may be helpful for people to have in mind that distinction which has not hitherto been emphasised. Then another point about linguistics. We were talking about hunting with dogs, Arthur made a point, and I think it is generally unhelpful that we have fallen into using English in that way, because there is all sorts of different sorts dogs involved here, and many of the remarks that came out of Stephen's report and mine, I think I am right in saying, where we were using that number of 14,000, or whatever it is, killed a year by traditional hunting refers to hunting with hounds in the traditional mounted sense. When Hugh was talking about things open to farmers, I believe he had in mind a whole suite of things that included not just hounds, but a spaniel putting up a fox in front of a row of guns and things. So the word "dog" covers such a miscellany of different things that we must be very careful there, and I sensed a confusion growing up amongst us. Arthur asked about non-lethal control -- of which I personally am a huge fan -- whether non-lethal control is going to have advanced as far as we would all like by the end of May when you have to report is a different issue, but --
THE CHAIRMAN: I have a very lot to do.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: -- at least in principle, I think it is morally, philosophically and, indeed, scientifically proper that people should be looking very, very hard indeed in all sorts of wildlife management arenas for novel ways of solving problems. Remember all this should be aim driven -- there should be an aim that people are trying to achieve, and if it is stopping a problem, then just killing the animal is a rather unimaginative sort of solution. Arthur Lindley is right in saying that there is work going on of all sorts in this arena. In my own group we are working on condition taste aversion, as you say, both with foxes and with corvettes and we are working on repellents of all sorts. There is other work going on with regard to habitat restoration and Stephen was saying fencing -- other things that are to do with this whole basket of possibilities. My own feeling, at the moment, is the repellents are looking rather good. The corvid work with condition taste aversion is also looking rather good. Jonathan recently has had some practical difficulties in the field which led to the remark in the report here that condition taste aversion with foxes was proving logistically awkward. Part of the reason for that, if I can stumble through this and Jonathan will then help me out, is that some of the compounds that might be used in this would require the PSD registration. It would be a difficult hurdle to get over, so there is logistical as well as technical issues. While there may be advances at different speeds in different arenas here, I think Arthur is right to say that non-lethal control is a hopeful arena, but one which has not been anything like fully explored.
DR REYNOLDS: I would just like to briefly talk about CTA and then come back to the range of methods issue. On the subject of CTA, disappointingly, the things that made condition taste aversion ultimately look unpromising for use against foxes to control their predation on game birds, were exactly the same kind of issues that dog lethal control methods, issues of ethics and of non-target involvement and of logistics as well. Going back through those in reverse order, the logistical problem is it is simply extremely hard to target every fox in a population using baits. Stephen Harris has had the same experience in Bristol. There is a proportion of foxes which never come and take the bait, so you must always reckon with having a proportion of uneducated foxes who continue to take game. The ethical question is that the most promising, existing candidate chemical for engineering conditioned taste aversion in a wild animal, is actually an oral oestrogen and because of that, it has side effects. It is a strong chemical. One sniff of it would probably change me considerably! One has to be very careful handling it. It comes under Pesticides Safety Directorate jurisdiction and they made it clear to us that no way would they ever countenance licensing this chemical for widespread environmental use. We were examining it as a model system only. The last thing is non-target involvement. Whatever we did out there in the field -- this was not just a logistical problem of research; this is a serious logistical problem of applying this method, or this proposed method in the field. Whatever we did, we involved badgers, we could not exclude them from our work, and so they too -- well, arguably if they involved themselves -- are a partridge predator and, therefore, should perhaps be addressed. But the fact is, they are heavily protected by legislation and it would be deemed unethical, I think, in most circumstances to include them in the population of animals addressed. The other issue is the range of methods and I think it is quite significant to note here that there is a general agreement around the table here, that shooting is a jolly effective and jolly humane method of despatching foxes and other animals. But the people who practice shooting with a rifle most in this country are professional gamekeepers, and amongst professional gamekeepers it is not the case that every fox is killed using a rifle and a spot lamp, or even just using a rifle. In fact, only about 50 per cent are killed using a rifle, 25 per cent with snares, and a further 25 per cent or so is actually taken at the earth, at the culling earth. We therefore do not know by what method it is taken; it could be partially using shotguns, partially using rifles, partially using terriers. At any rate, at a minimum estimate something like 30 per cent of gamekeepers' cull is taken using methods other than the single most acceptable method.
THE CHAIRMAN: I know that Simon wanted to speak, but I have a supplementary on that. One of the issues we clearly have to address is that if there was to be a ban on hunting, what are the methods that people would actually use in order to manage the problem. Then we have to assess whether they are better or worse than hunting. It is not a question of saying what method they should use; we have to ask ourselves in part, what is the method that is going to be used? The comments you have just been making have some relevance to that question. But I would like to ask others if they would also address that question. It takes us on to the issue of not only the effectiveness that we would choose if we were looking at this in an academic way and saying what is the best way of dealing with foxes that have to be culled, but what we believe would be the consequences of it in terms of the methods that would be used. Then I think we must try to move to wrap this up and move on to the next.
MR HART: Could I come back to a comment made about the effectiveness or otherwise of hunting with hounds? It was suggested on my left that we were all agreed that hunting was an ineffective method of control and I want to come back to that, because it was mentioned this morning. First of all, clearly within the agricultural industry there is not necessarily an agreement with that statement. It may be statistically the case here, but it is certainly not the case if you see the evidence which has been submitted to the Inquiry from the major land use bodies. We never really covered, I do not think, in sufficient detail on that particular point, targeted control which can be afforded by hunts, can be afforded by lamping, can be afforded by terrier work, can be afforded by shooting in connection with those particular specialities, nor does it really address the regular nature of hunting over a particular area of land properly conducted over a period of time, i.e. the season, its consistency, its ability to increase or decrease its intensity according to landowners' particular wishes or particular fox populations or trends, and it does not really address the fact that this form of fox control is relatively evenly spread over the whole sort of land mass of the UK. It did not really, as far as I understand, address the dispersal qualities that hunting can or cannot afford. We touched on it with Professor Macdonald, but I do not think we ever came to a particular conclusion. I think one thing, Chairman, that you mentioned -- of course we have not really addressed either -- the fact that in the absence, take that particular aspect of fox control out of the equation, and you automatically increase the likelihood of pressure on the other remaining methods of control to replace it. As yet, I have not heard anything which -- I think this is what Lord Burns has said -- actually indicates which of the three remaining methods would be the preferred choice and the welfare implications that that might actually throw up. The other point is this. That is all of the figures we talked about; predation, and the debated figures which we talked about, almost all, and I think almost without exception, and even in the case of Hewson in Eriboll, all of those figures must be taken in the context of the fact that the existing methods of control were practised, either in that region, or in the very close proximity of that region, which may have affected the results. So my point, basically, is that we have still not, I do not think, satisfied the question of whether we are moving from a position where we vaguely know what is going on to one where we almost certainly do not know what is going to happen.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Perhaps I could just come back to that point and also perhaps the first point that was made. Looking at the claim that there needs to be a plethora of control techniques available to the landowner, I think in the table you have, because I gave a copy of it to Brian, you will actually see, if you look at the one: "Culling tends to be our regional method", there is very heavily reliance on one or two methods. Okay, farmers, landowners, gamekeepers can at the moment take X per cent of their foxes by a means other than shooting, but it does not mean they have to use those means if those means are not available to them. It does not mean so far -- and you can see no data that can convince us -- that that would cause them any problems in actually trying to achieve their management goals if they did not have those techniques available to them. I think that is also reflected in the further table we gave you later on, which was simply the one type of procedure change in the levels of control. Most practitioners said if they were not allowed to use dogs; that included both terriers and hunting with hounds, for fox control, would they include shooting, snaring, trapping and so on? Naturally, most of them said they probably would not. Their perception at the moment is they do not actually need those techniques available to them; that is what the survey seemed to show.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Taking Simon's points, to repeat the thought that what we in our reports have been trying to do is to evaluate the scientific evidence. I would just like to draw a rather frustrating circle around what we are capable of, because we cannot produce scientifically evidence that does not exist. That really is the nub of your point, so I can only agree with you that it is a pity there is no evidence, but it means we cannot say a hell of a lot about it. As I mentioned earlier, that I believe that applies, unless somebody can help us out by providing the data in any systematic way to studying the effect of targeted hunting, for example on-call lambing and so forth. I guess we have all watched that; I certainly have quite often, but that does not enable me to form a view scientifically and so no evidence. Similarly, about the consequences of the ban. There are various questionnaires we have heard about and some of them differ in their conclusion, as to what sort of actions, if any, people would take if there was a ban. These are what people say they would do, but since it has not happened yet, we cannot tell you what they really would do and we raised the technical issue, I think it is an important technical issue, that we are unable, at the moment -- it was one of our important missing understandings in the first part of my talk -- to talk about the compensatory relationship insofar as it exists between all sorts of different types of fox mortality. We just do not know and therefore we cannot come up with, frustrating though it may be, a technical answer to your question. I guess you can assume one of two things will happen, both of which split in half: either people will increase their onslaught on foxes or they will not and if they do either, they will do so using existing methods in the same proportion that they always have, or they will not.
THE CHAIRMAN: I am not sure that I could use that as a final paragraph.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Just trying to be helpful.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: John I think was before me, Lord Burns.
MR SWIFT: I think I would like to come back on the principle that there should be a range of different techniques available and decisions on those different techniques should be made at the local level, or that the decision should be made at the local level. I think I would encourage people not to have a problem with that principle and to accept what Professor Macdonald said. If I got it right, it was that contradictory things may be said and they may be simultaneously true, to paraphrase what he said, because although the gross figures may indicate that hunting has a relatively low cull, in fact in certain circumstances it may be highly appropriate, and if you look at the diverse nature of landscaping and social situations that apply, then techniques which would be inappropriate in certain circumstances become appropriate, and those decisions need to be taken locally and with all the different options available. I think that if we are looking at the future and what might happen, would there be additional fox control activity if there were a ban? Perhaps there is an assumption that there would be additional control. There may well, I would ask this panel about it, are there circumstances where the hunts have reduced their activity for one reason or another? Has that resulted -- there must be circumstances where that has happened locally -- and has there been an outcry in those areas because of additional fox control activity which has affected the public conscience and, if so, I have not heard about it. I think once you start to speculate in this area, you have to look at the forms of control which take place on certain types of land and would it be the land in relation to game managed areas, or not game managed areas, to try and assess what would happen. In game managed areas, for example, you would have professional and competent gamekeepers to have access to section one firearms, and in non-game managed areas you would tend not to, but as soon as we get into this area we are into the realms of fantasy and speculation and I think that it is likely to be rather unproductive. The important thing that I was saying yesterday is that we should have high standards of practice and that we should be disseminating those and promoting them publicly by every means, so that whatever option, whatever the future holds for store, we put ourselves in the best place to address it.
THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We are planning to have a short break at 3.00 pm for a cup of tea. I would like to move on to the next topic, unless that is going to create umbrage and to start this section about hares.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: I am happy to move on.
THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. I think we have had a good discussion and I think we have covered a lot. We have covered most of the topics we wanted to. I think some of them have been general points which actually apply to some of the other species as well. I think we must go through them. I would like to, just before we break, begin to deal with the first heading: population, as far as hares are concerned. That takes us, in fact, really to this morning's discussion where there seems to be much greater disagreement about the whole question of hare population and modelling than with regard to foxes. Or have I got that wrong? If I can be more specific: I am still trying to get a feel of the extent to which there are differences of views. Are those differences of views wider when it comes to the question of the hare population and its behaviour et cetera than there is with regard to the fox population? Or are you going to tell me you do not know much about any of them?
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Probably. Let me try to summarise my take on our discussion this morning. Between us, between the two teams, we produced two completely different sorts of model and therefore, as Mark Shirley was explaining this morning, some of the sorts of conclusions we could draw from them were rather different. That is no source of awkwardness or embarrassment or rightness or wrongness between us, it is just a different scale of resolution, a different approach, so I do not think there is any issue to be further explored there. Also this morning we were talking about interpretation of the mechanisms involved in the work that has come from Stephen's study area in East Anglia. Jonathan and Stephen had different interpretations. That is also scientifically not a particularly surprising state of affairs, and nor do I think it has great ramifications for our conclusions in this report from either of us about the impact of hunting with dogs which, so far as I recall, were rather similar between the two reports. So it seems to me that while you are right that there may be a topic for scientific debate about the mechanisms involved in attempting one study, I do not think there is a great issue in terms of our respective conclusions in terms of the impact of hunting with dogs on hares. Jonathan, do you want to?
DR REYNOLDS: I think it is only fair to mention there has been a fairly longstanding difference in interpretation about the trends in hares during the last few decades. That difference has been, on the one hand, Professor Harris suggesting that there has been a significant decline in recent years and, on the other hand, my boss, Dr Stephen Tapper, suggesting that although there was a significant decline in the early 1970s and perhaps through to the 1980s, due to the intensification of farming, currently hare populations appear to be stable. Now, the difference arises here really through differences in approach, I think. On the one hand we have the National Hare Survey which Stephen set up and oversaw, which has been repeated twice now. So we have two pretty good measures of the hare population in Britain at a space of eight years, but those are only two points. The point of disagreement is whether or not you can infer a trend from the two points and it is a fact that the only data which is repeated on an annual basis, for what it is worth, is sighting data from the Master of Harriers and Beagles Association, which basically records the number of hares seen each time they go out to meet. That is widespread data; it is available for most of the country and it is repeated on an annual basis. On the other hand, it is not an estimated population density but it does not show any trend in it either. I think that has really explained the difference of opinion.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I think the difference between our interpretations are actually very small. Mine says there are 10 per cent less hares in a decade and Steve Tappers's data suggests there is no change. There is a difference in the way we collect our data though. I think Steve and I both agree that this is probably a major contributing factor to why we get different results. We are trying to write our data up jointly, for a joint paper, to actually put it together. The Game Conservancy data are based on data from hunting estates and data where people go to hunt hares. You do not go to areas where there are few or no hares to hunt, because you are wasting your time. My data actually stratified across the wider countryside and I include a lot of sampling areas where there are very few or no hares. I think common sense alone suggests you might see slightly different results from that. They may not be widely different, but there are areas when you are looking, areas that manage the benefit of game comparing with the countryside generally, you might get slightly different results and the two results are slightly different; I do not see a great surprise in that. All I can say is that ours are based on the countryside generally not on specific habitat types.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, can I make a personal comment because my farm actually has had hares and I have records that go back to 1897 and in fact Professor Harris is correct that our numbers have declined about 5 per cent in that period of time. I think the difference though, which is underplayed very often, is that the loss of mixed farms and the loss of spring cropping, that has had a very dramatic effect on habitat available for hares at different times of the year. We happen to have a mixed farm and we happen to have some spring cropping and we have maintained our hares. It must be against the background the fox's favourite food is leverets and we kill our foxes.
DR LINDLEY: Just a quick question: is Mr Oliver-Bellasis in possession of any data to support leverets being the fox's favourite food?
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: It is the observation of my keepers who see it happening.
THE CHAIRMAN: Are you questioning this, Dr Lindley?
DR LINDLEY: All the data that I have ever seen in relation to fox diet does not suggest leverets as being a high component.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Could that be there are not very many leverets where the foxes are being looked at!
DR REYNOLDS: In 1985 and 1987, we did a very interesting study on fox diet in relation to densities of game species of prey in north-east Dorset. What we found was that if you work out the density of foxes and you work out the bio-mass of each individual prey species eaten by those foxes, for the hares, it worked out to a very considerable bio-mass, even though on that site the hares were only 11 per cent of total fox diet. I think the point to take home here is that foxes have a very broad diet and in an area like rural north-east Dorset there are a lot of prey species there for them to depend on. So the fox population is sustained by a pretty broad base of prey species. That does not mean to say that a prey species which is minor for the fox is not severely affected by the amount of predation on it. What we seem to be seeing with the hares was a very substantial predation and when we modelled this out, and you have heard a lot this morning about the perils of doing modelling, they apply to us as much as to everybody else, that when we modelled this out, it appeared that this was in the same sort of order of magnitude as the total annual productivity of the hare population. What we argued in the paper, and it since has been questioned by Professor Harris, is that what we were looking at there was a perfectly ordinary density of hares and a perfectly ordinary density of foxes and in the light of experience -- I would still stand by that -- although, again this is a matter of some debate.
THE CHAIRMAN: Any other questions or points to be made on population?
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Could I just say, if I interpreted Hugh's statement correctly, he kills all the foxes on his estate, but the hare numbers have still gone down by 5 per cent, so clearly -- is that what you said?
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, what I said was that since 1897 the hare numbers have declined by something around 5 per cent. I made the point about changing agricultural practice which I believe has been responsible for a part of, if not all of, that decline and I merely made the comment that we do kill foxes and they do eat hares and somewhere in there is the answer. But I still have a very substantial number of hares, probably rather more than my farming director would like.
THE CHAIRMAN: I can hear the tinkling of tea cups and that is the point at which to stop. We will break for, shall we say 10 minutes but we really must start in 15 minutes and I hope for everyone in the audience as well.
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