THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for getting back so quickly. Shall we move on to the question of population management of hares and, in particular, we might deal with the question of the contribution of hunting with dogs to the numbers of hares? We had a discussion earlier about foxes, about the extent of death through natural causes, of shooting and of hunting with dogs. To what extent can we come to any similar conclusions or non-conclusions in relation to hare. And, in particular, deal with the question of the significance of hunting towards the numbers. To what extent is there a problem in terms of hare numbers and is hunting contributing to that? Or, as it is sometimes argued, is the fact that there is hunting there leading to possibly more hares than otherwise would be the case?
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, again a personal comment: Traditionally we have had two packs of beagles which hunt over our land and I think there is absolutely no question but that the relationship between my family and the people who work for me and the people who manage and run those packs of beagles have encouraged us probably to be conscious of the needs of the hare, which is actually differing management in agricultural terms. I think there is an indefinable human piece in there which I cannot precisely put my finger on, but we are happy to have them come and hunt and there are hares for them to hunt. They do kill one or two. They undoubtedly do not kill as many as we do later on, either to go through my butcher's shop or to be sold on the open market.
MR HOBSON: Lord Burns, could I refer to some figures from areas where legal coursing takes place and I make the distinction between legal coursing and poaching? I know that research found that -- this was Hutchings' and Harris' data, reported in the Game Conservancy Trust' submission, that -- arable districts on average supported 7.1 hares per 100 hectares and this compares unfavourably with areas where coursing takes place where 30.4 hares per 100 hectares were recorded at Altcar and 13.8 hares per 100 hectares at another area where coursing took place, Chippenham. So I would contend that areas where legal coursing is practised have higher hare numbers because farmers take steps to conserve and manage hare populations on that land. I would also like to perhaps respond to a comment that Professor Harris made this morning, when he was saying that due to coursing hare numbers fall in coursing areas. I think that -- and I may be wrong -- he is referring to poaching, so where people are going on to land and they are undertaking an activity which is already illegal and, yes, in those cases then farmers are forced to respond in the only way they can to stop these violent gangs from going on to their land, but as this is already illegal, I wonder how a ban on hunting with dogs would actually solve the situation.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Could I respond to that? I think we always have the problem of misquoting figures out of context. I do not think it is relevant to quote a mean figure for a large area of land with two examples which you deem to have high densities. That mean figure was based on densities, including both with and without coursing and was simply a means that landscape across the whole of Britain, so I think the comparison made was meaningless. I think it is also a problem that we have trying to use the word "legal" and "illegal coursing". There is certainly organised coursing at a number of meets and the number of these clubs is in some ways difficult to define. There are 23 in the National coursing Club, but there are others who actually are not affiliated but still have comparable organised coursing meets. In addition, according to the Cobham Report, there are 70,000 people with lurchers used for hunting hares. They are not all poachers. They can go and use those lurchers for coursing quite legally on the land. It is only an illegal activity if they are trespassing or poaching. I do not think there is evidence to suggest those 70,000 people are not behaving illegally. So there is a lot of unquantified and unestimatable legal coursing of hares by people other than organised meets, and I think it should not be said that there are organised meets dealing with coursing. That is just not the state of the evidence.
THE CHAIRMAN: If I interpret it right, what you are saying is that there may be those two categories. But there are a number of other categories as well which fall somewhere between. I mean, you have official, you have unofficial and it may be illegal in some cases because trespass is involved. But it may well also be legal.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: That is absolutely correct. Nowhere can we find anywhere assessing the relative contribution to each one of those forms of coursing of hares.
MR WISE: Could I just add to that? I think that the damage to hares is done by illegal coursers, not by the dogs themselves; it is the sort of armed trespass which provokes keepers in those areas for reasons of self-defence or protection of the estate to wipe out by guns all hares on that estate, and quite a lot of areas in our part of the world hares are deliberately obliterated because of the degradations of illegal coursers, so I think there is possibly some misconception here. I would agree with Professor Harris. Obviously there are authorised lurchers which he cannot get detailed figures on, but there is a lot of also mass extermination of hares just because of this -- what I would call organised illegal hunt coursing.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Again, can I respond? I am not sure even I necessarily agree with that. It is true in some areas there is extensive culling of hares by landowners to keep coursing gangs off their land. If you look at the distribution of that in England, it is certainly focused particularly on the eastern side of the country. If you go to the western side of the country, we do not seem to see that as such as a problem, but there is extensive impact on low density hare populations by people coursing hares with lurchers, part legally, with the landowner's permission and I just do not see how we can actually separate out all those effects and compartmentalise them in the way that appears to be said.
THE CHAIRMAN: Would it be right, however, to say that we do not have any reliable figures at all for any of these categories? Once one gets out of the world of official coursing where records are kept, then we are basically in the dark about the numbers concerned. There may be a view that it is happening but, as far as I can see, no one has been able to provide us with any idea of the scale.
DR REYNOLDS: Can I just comment that we are into dangerous ground if we speculate from the numbers of people estimated to hold lurchers and infer from those the impact on the hare population. It is rather like trying to infer the cull of ducks from the number of people who have shotguns. A lot of those lurchers will actually be used for perfectly legitimate rabbit control activities. Some of them are actually used for fox culling, but we cannot guess how many hares are killed by the national ownership of lurchers, even if we could estimate it.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Could I just clarify the figure I gave you? What Cobham says is these are lurchers -- these are people -- he does not say "lurchers", he actually says "people" -- who own lurchers used for coursing hares. You can argue whether he has his figures right or wrong, but basically that is about as far as we can go in giving you that data. I wish I could work out how many hares were killed each year by the average run coarser. There is no way I can find any data that would tell you that. The numbers of hares killed by coursers each year is entirely speculative as far as I can see.
MR SCULL: Lord Burns, I am not able to offer any evidence, but I can give an observation on how serious in some parts of the country illegal hare coursing is. In Cambridgeshire there is a dedicated police operation, Operation Tortoise. Similarly, in Suffolk and in Norfolk there are dedicated police initiatives to tackle this. In certain areas, particularly the eastern parts of the country, it is extremely serious.
THE CHAIRMAN: I think the other question which I have on this phase of the discussion is related to shooting of hares. To what extent are hare shoots recreational activities and to what extent are they meant to be pest control activities? Do you have any view as to the balance of these? It may well be that like much of this activity there is always a combination of motive that is involved. But I do not think anybody suggests, for example, that coursing takes place in order to control hares. As we have heard, nor, I think, really does beagling take place as far as I can gather in order to cull hares. To what extent does shooting take place similarly as recreation?
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, maybe I can help. I think one is the function of the other. If you have hares there is a need to control them because there is no doubt that too many hares does quite a lot of damage in cereal crops, and other crops for that matter, as well as in forestry. I think there are two ways in which there is a recreational value. There are people who enjoy hare shooting and who are prepared to pay for hare shooting and, therefore, there is quite definitely the ability for the landowner to make some money from laying on a day's hare shooting. Equally, there is the other side of it, which is that one's beaters and estate staff and farm staff, and so on, actually enjoy hare shooting, and in my case that is part of our thank you for them for being who they are and doing what they do that they shoot the hares with their friends. The last thing is that the hare is a very valuable product into a butcher's shop in that a hare will sell between 4 pounds and 4.50 pounds prior to 1st December and there are a lot of people that like eating them and, therefore, it seems a shame not to be able to crop them, harvest them and use them because people wish to eat them.
THE CHAIRMAN: Are there any more questions on the subject of hares? I propose to move on. The next topic I have down is deer. As we spent all day yesterday discussing deer I suspect we have done the bulk of the work here. But I would like to give the seminar the opportunity of raising any points that they would like to raise, both from the presentations and from the papers that have been done by the researchers.
MR YOUNGSON: Thank you, Lord Burns. There is a common theme running through today's debate concerning all quarry species and this relates to the implications of perhaps stopping hunting or how we are going to advocate control. We are all conscious of the fact that -- we do not understand what the interests of the different groups are. Although we are able to model and we are able to think in terms of strategies, we still do not really know what the interests of farming and forestry, welfare, conservation groups are. We are conscious of this in Scotland and we are trying to make headway by drawing all the interests together and drawing up management plans or guidelines for the future and really getting everybody together to voice their main interests and finding a common pathway. It is really quite interesting because we have brought community councils into it and local authorities and planners, and we have managed to find out the interests of main players and even some of the smaller players. It has allowed us, therefore, to form a management plan for the future, to be able to make decisions on real information, the data, which the two contractors have brought up-to-date and it is something which we all have to consider. We have published a guideline to collaborative planning which is being taken up just about by every interest and area in Scotland. Really all woodland owners and Woodland Grant Scheme applicants are having to produce a management plan like that. These plans could apply to all quarry species. If you would allow me to move on, Jochen Langbein at lunch suggested that we have not really tackled the costs yet. The Deer Commission and Forest Enterprise have been looking in some detail over the last six years at the costs of deer control in different habitats, especially woodland habitats and there are some frightening figures coming up. Although you are perhaps going to make recommendations for deer control, or control of other quarry species, some of the results of effort and cost are going to be difficult to impose in the field. For instance, we have been looking at Sika deer in the worst scenario areas in Scotland, in different woodland habitats. At worst it will take 30 hours to control one Sika hind. So, therefore, the annual control, say, for 1000 hectare block would take about 450 hours with a Sika population at about 20 deer per hundred hectares. Really you cannot impose that on the Forest Enterprise or any private forest company. So really the normal methods are not perhaps going to be cost probable or cost effective. We also looked at red deer and woodland control Finnary Forest, and at best we are talking about a control effort and achievement of about three deer per man day, three deer per eight hours at best, or at worst as population densities dropped down to a success rate of about 0.7 deer per man day. So really the effort terms of deer control in woodland areas have been quantified, some of the data has been published and can be available. Thank you very much.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I think this to some extent also deals with the point I alluded to briefly in our presentation, which was that a number of deer managers are becoming aware of this now and more and more, I think in England, they are talking about wishing to actually move away from some of the stalking approaches to actually moving deer to guns in a controlled way, partly to reduce that cost of management without necessarily any welfare implications or selectivity implications. I think once people are aware of the cost implications, some effort to deer control management practice are likely to involve change and hopefully improve as well.
DR LINDLEY: Thank you Lord Burns. A different issue, but one which has been raised in relation to all the species but I just wanted to clarify if I was right in my reading of David Macdonald's report as it has been very difficult to absorb in a short space of time, but I think there is a bit of information in there that answers to a degree the question of the effect of a ban in terms of what we call "landowner tolerance", and the often alleged likelihood of landowners being less tolerant of the animals if hunting was banned and, therefore, killing large numbers or larger numbers by other means. Am I right that in, I think, some data from Jochen Langbein that in the areas where there has been effectively a ban on hunting through National Trust and Forestry Commission decisions in the south-west the subsequent population census counts have indicated no change in deer populations?
DR LANGBEIN: Yes. If we refer specifically to the Holnicote Estate, which is the largest area of National Trust land where the hunting has been banned, certainly in those areas, within the estate itself, the deer population has remained fairly stable as determined from the visual censuses over the three years since the ban. For those data I would say that about 20 per cent of the Exmoor deer population is actually within that National Trust estate, so it is quite a substantial area, but it is just based on the visual count and just on that one area. I have not really got similar information on the other National Trust estates where hunting has also been banned which are much smaller and often surrounded by hunted land.
LORD SOULSBY: Thank you. I wonder whether probably Dr Macdonald could bring us up-to-date with some of the non-lethal control methods in deer, for example the use of fertility control or the control of pregnancy that has been practised in Australia and, I believe, may well be within your sights in Oxford too.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Two points: First, on fertility control, my Lord. My understanding of the data -- and I suspect Jochen Langbein will be able to answer in more depths than I -- is that that is not immediately a feasible option in this country. The developments still have a long way to go regarding deer and fertility control. Is that an adequate summary of it?
DR LANGBEIN: Yes, but I would say that certainly it has been attempted in a number of populations in especially the United States, and there usually it has been confined to island populations, and the main problem has been actually getting sufficient numbers of animals treated. It has been shown to work, immuno-contraception - by various teams, but actually delivering the drug to a sufficient number of animals is a major problem and it does not seem really to have potential for widespread use for general population control of the million or more deer that we have in this country.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I think the other problem you have to bear in mind when we are just talking about the cost effectiveness is the current culling strategies. The time involved in actually trying to apply fertility control technique is massive and it is only used in very specific circumstances. Even then a number of the American studies have found it has not been very effective. There are also considerable welfare implications because deer that do not breed tend to live longer and they start showing a variety of degenerative diseases typical to what we experience and there is a welfare cost there; it is not necessarily good welfare. Another thing is if we start using contraceptives on deer in Britain, clearly there may be part of a big change in current culling strategies anyway, because this may hamper quite what you do with a carcass that may or may not have a fertility control agent in it, so I think overall it is perhaps not a strategy going to have a wide applicability for free-living deer in Britain.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: If I could just add one thought to some comments that were made earlier? I think each of the species with which we are dealing brings with it its own particular problems and in some cases, at least, some glimmer of clear cut results and deer perhaps are one of the easier ones in terms of the perception of damage. It seems, taking up the remarks you were making about forestry, there have been surveys and there seems to be abundant data that when one asks the question, "Is there a problem?", then the answer from forestry and deer is quite clearly "yes", and that is a straightforwardness that we have not had at hand in some other respects. Similarly, as we presented this morning of summary data, there are at least circumstances where people in agricultural situations, if very localised rather than wider scale, and people in conservation situations, do face a definite need to do something about deer. So the question is rather different in this case. The question is about whether hunting with hounds is an appropriate solution to that, rather than whether there is a problem in the first place that needs to be dealt with.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, could I pick up a point that Professor Harris made? He, I think, said that there was a likelihood that deer would be moved through woodland. That begs the question what weapon would be used and how the deer would be moved. As I am sure we are all aware only in very rare cases where landowners/farmers/foresters are prepared to certify serious damage, can shotguns be used, and only then with cartridges with specific shot size - otherwise one is restricted to rifles. The use of a rifle when a deer is moving is an extremely skilled business. I would profess, having shot for the army and having had to shoot at moving things, that one's hit rate is actually probably quite small in relation to the number of rounds fired. The difference is that then one would have been on a range, not in the open countryside. Where one has footpaths, and so on, you begin to get into shark infested waters and I would suggest that at that point the ability to use hounds is extraordinarily important.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I think perhaps you are misunderstanding how proponents of deer stalking are thinking about moving deer to waiting guns. They are actually looking to move them to waiting rifles and they are not actually looking to shoot at moving targets, they are looking to move deer slowly out of cover, and if you do it slowly and carefully the deer are not particularly running away and moving at speed, they will move out of cover slowly, often stop and look back, and that is where they want to shoot. That is what the British Deer Society is saying to me. I report it simply as their perception because they are the experts on the subject.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Having, my Lord, Chairman, been a past Chairman of the British Deer Society and also having some experience of this particular matter, the length of time referred to by Dick Youngson would be multiplied by 2, because the majority of deer are not so accommodating as either to move slowly or stop when you wish to take a shot.
THE CHAIRMAN: Could I raise this question about population numbers in the event of a ban which has been mentioned? Dr Lindley quoted the case of the National Trust where maybe the numbers have not fallen. However, my understanding of the argument is that it relates to small estates where you have small farms and where there may be competitive culling in the absence of a ban. That may put the numbers in the south-west under threat. May I just raise the question to what extent would the information from the National Trust be relevant in order to predict that? Because you are looking at completely different circumstances where they are, presumably, managing the estate themselves. Therefore it is more akin to the situation in Scotland, as it is argued, where the ownership is in very large estates. I simply raise the question as to whether or not that evidence really does tell us anything about what would happen in the event of a ban when one is looking at the smaller estates which are typical, as I understand it, of the south-west.
DR LANGBEIN: Lord Burns, to confirm, first of all, the National Trust estate I referred to is actually the largest single landownership on Exmoor, but obviously there are some other large estates as well which may change their current deer management or stay as before, or try to conserve more deer in the event of a ban because of the perceived reduction in the numbers elsewhere. It has certainly been recommended, following my study, that deer management groups as they are practised in Scotland, should be set up in a lot of these areas, whether there is hunting or not, because hunting in the way it is organised at present is largely ineffective because some farmers do shoot, others do not shoot, a lot of them do allow hunting, but in general the lack of co-ordination is why it is so difficult to predict the impact of a hunting ban, because a lot of typical landowners will take quite different actions following a ban. Overall the average landownership in the south-west of England is actually much smaller even than in Scotland where they do have deer management groups and so the need for deer management groups is even greater in the south-west because we have tiny landownership there, with every Red deer readily ranging over five to ten, if not more, landowners' land.
MR HART: I just really want to agree with what Dr Langbein says, but also to just refer to the concept of deer management groups and just refer you to one point which was made in a submission by the deer hunting representatives in the south-west. That is that approximately 800 different landholders currently welcome hunting on their land as part of the deer management process. If that is not an excellent example of a deer management process actually at work and functioning, I do not know what is. I suspect to get a similar one in place, which would attract that level of general support, which also has an awful lot of other spin-off effects as well, is something which needs serious addressing before we move from the current position.
MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. You mentioned the Scottish situation and I think it might just be of interest that in a lot of the large Scottish estates there is not a uniform pattern of deer over them, that deer do live in very small groups and do not move off the home territory to any great extent. It is also worth pointing out that many of the larger estates, and particularly those in my part of the world, are sub-tenanted to a considerable degree and so you will have tenanted farms and you will have crofting areas. The difference is that the management of deer is co-ordinated and I think this is an important point, is that the significance of the large estates is that you do get co-ordination over a large area. I do not think the problems are that different from the south of England, but it is this level of co-ordination which is perhaps a significant difference.
THE CHAIRMAN: Any more points on deer, otherwise I propose to move forward looking at the tired faces around me? Can we move on to the question of mink and can I put together my questions as a group so that if anyone wishes to raise any aspect of the question of mink, if they would do so now.
DR LINDLEY: I do not know whether this would be a perhaps more appropriate point to go back to a question which I raised in relation to foxes that was not addressed, which was the question, when one is looking at whether or not a ban should be considered, of the direct impact of hunting activity on habitat and conservation of species through trampling, through disturbance, dogs going through wild habitat and followers, foot followers, horse followers, vehicle followers, and all the rest, and the fact that the RSPB, as noted by David Macdonald, does not allow hunting with hounds on its land, wildlife trusts do not allow hunting on their land. There is some suggestion there that hunting does have a direct adverse impact on wildlife conservation in some ways in some areas and I would have thought that was perhaps particularly noticeable in the case of mink and disturbance of waterways and riparian habitats.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Shall I have a go at that? I agree. I think in our report we actually raised the point that, having analysed in a numerical way the likely impact of mink hunting on mink populations and drawn the conclusion that it strikes us as improbable that mink hunting with hounds could contribute in a substantial way to limiting mink populations, we go on to say that another consideration is that the activities involved in mink hunting with hounds are likely to -- at least it is plausible that they would cause disturbance to riparian habitat, and one can think of all sorts of circumstances in which that might be the case. The very obvious example that will spring to mind is possible disturbance to otters in the same habitat as mink, even though the two species do have -- as Stephen was saying earlier -- a somewhat hostile relationship as it emerges at the moment, so it would be hard to control that disturbance, I would imagine. However, I am unaware of any data that we could draw on to quantify that view. It seems entirely plausible to me.
MR HOBSON: I would like to respond to that. Really what evidence is there that mink hunting does disturb otters? I am not aware of any evidence it does. The mink hunts are bound by strict rules to ensure that they do not disturb otters and if they do come across otters they have to withdraw their hounds from the river. I also note that in the areas where mink hunting is practised most intensively, in the south-west of England and west Wales, otter numbers are actually the highest. I note also from your report that you say that otters have expanded their range where mink hunting with hounds takes place, so to me that does not suggest that there is any evidence at all that mink hunting does adversely affect otters.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: I would agree with you that I too am unaware of any firm data to evaluate that which I hope I said. I just said that I thought it struck me as plausible that hunting along the riparian corridor could be disturbing to wildlife in general, but I am unaware of any data. I do, however, understand there is evidence of mink and otters, at least locally, occurring in the same area and I just thought it was practically difficult as an operational activity to control which species was disturbed at a given moment, but I have no scientific data to offer on that at all.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I was just going to say I did not address that further because obviously Lord Burns has had submissions from a number of the otter project officers working for the wildlife trusts and they do describe situations where otters are hunted by minkhounds and the disturbance problem, so they do describe it, but it is hard to quantify and it is hard to know how regular it is, but it is described.
MR HOBSON: Could I respond to that because I know Professor Harris was not at the sessions last week? With regard to those four cases which were submitted by the wildlife trusts in their submission, I have spoken to each of the hunts concerned and they all deny categorically that they have ever hunted otters. The one hunt -- I think it was the Pembrokeshire hunt which was accused of hunting otters 10 or 20 years ago, asked why the police were not involved 10 or 20 years ago and why were they not prosecuted for this, if they were indeed hunting otters. The police never contacted them and they were unaware of the allegations until they were submitted to the Inquiry as a report written by the anonymous friend of the anonymous observer of this alleged incident.
DR LINDLEY: Since I raised the subject, I was not myself specifically concentrating on otters, but the discussion seems to have done so. What I was raising was the suggestion, the possibility which I think David Macdonald in broad terms agreed with as a possibility, that the passage of a hunt with dogs and followers and huntsmen and the rest might, or could, cause disturbance to wildlife generally, not specifically to otters alone. It seems to me that perhaps this brief discussion raises a problem for the panel which is going to maybe affect you in a number of issues, which is that of burden of proof. Here we have a case where there is some supposition that there might -- the grounds for the possibility of some disturbance and no scientific evidence to quantify that or indicate its validity or not. On whom does the burden of proof lie? Do activities continue until there is proof that they are damaging, or do you take the precautionary approach and require the burden of proof on the other side?
THE CHAIRMAN: Could I say that I have been tending to be asking the questions today rather than answering them. And that is just one of the many issues that we have yet to resolve. But we do have a long time to do that -- we have all of five weeks.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Luxury, pure luxury!
THE CHAIRMAN: We heard this morning that numbers of mink are falling and have fallen very sharply over the last ten years. Those are firm figures, are they? Is there any dispute about that, or is this something that we can ignore silently?
PROFESSOR HARRIS: Perhaps I should defend that since I presented them. They are actually supplied courtesy of the Vincent Wildlife Trust. They have said that I am in the final submission to mark them as professional and they will play around with them a little bit, but they are not going to change by very much and what is quite clear is that there has been a substantial decline of roughly two-thirds and they are quite happy that that is now made public. They will actually publish the data in full themselves sometime next year.
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, could I refer to a comment I made earlier that in a sense the decline in numbers is interesting and is relevant at a national level. The individual farmer looking after a river which has a problem with mink is not affected by the fact that the population is either larger or smaller. What he is affected by is the problem that is being posed to that river or to his poultry or whatever, and I think we must, if we may, strengthen the resolve to look at the local level and the individual who at that particular moment is faced with the risk and, therefore, having to make a decision outside of a national figure which may be rising or falling.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: Perhaps I might just add to that and also endorse again what Stephen said about the fact that we all see that there is such a decline and there is no dissent on that. What is rather interesting is the pattern of that decline and there is work which is perhaps not directly relevant to your inquiry but, nonetheless, fascinating, trying to work out what the mechanisms are. There is also the question about the extent to which the decline of mink is one in overall distribution or in numbers in particular areas, so, for example, we have people in my team at the moment working in the south-west of the country where mink have disappeared largely from river systems where they were present previously. There is other areas where they still appear to be in similar numbers to their previous density and yet other areas where they appear to be declining. While competition or interactions of some sort with otters is a hypothesis that certainly has a lot of support, there may be other factors involved as well. The details are not directly relevant with hunting with hounds but, nonetheless, this complicated process is going on.
MR HART: Can I just revert back to one comment which then leads on to what we are currently talking about and that is the disturbance element which is allegedly caused by minkhounds with particular reference to otter habitat or similar? What has not been mentioned is the regularity with which minkhounds visit certain locations and the evidence that we have seen indicates that it is rarely ever more than twice per annum that the minkhounds visit the specific areas and, even on those occasions, the relative areas of the river they visit are actually extremely limited. Secondly, that they actually assist in identifying where mink populations are residing, thus enabling other methods of control sometimes to complement that particular cocktail available to the people who manage that particular part of the river. So whilst the mink hunt results might not show anything which registers on the sort of Richter Scale of mink control, what it does do is alert people to their presence so they can undertake that. Also, clearly even if there is damage caused by mink hunts, and there is by no means any evidence which has been put forward to suggest that is in there tablets of stone, that needs to be measured against the possible damage that an infestation of mink could do ecologically to that area if they were not subjected to some form of control.
THE CHAIRMAN: I think that I for one am certainly reaching the capacity of my ability to absorb information on this subject. I am very grateful to everybody for the contributions they have made. I would like to do the same as I did yesterday which is to go round the table to see if people have any final comments that they wish to make on any of the points that have been raised to date. And, as yesterday, I am going to start in the opposite corner to where we started this morning. But as Mr Swann was sitting in the same place, as yesterday, he therefore was no doubt able to predict this.
MR SWANN: I have been dropped in it now, thank you, Lord Burns, because Arthur has declined to make a comment. I would like to say that the work that these two papers have presented we have found exceedingly useful. Despite the limitations, and we have had a go at one or two of those on gathering of data and the imponderables, I think this is a subject where there always will be imponderables and I think always there is going to be a lot of reliance on local data and impressions and trying to carve a way through that to get something sensible out of it is an unenviable task and I think both researchers have had an incredibly good shot at it. I think the papers are useful; we found them enormously helpful. I think the conclusions they draw broadly support the arguments that these organisations have made throughout this presentation to the Committee that there is basically no real role for hunting with dogs in population control and that where population control may be demonstrated to be necessary, that there are alternative methods which are more effective both in terms of time and cost. So I think today's discussions have been instructive in this respect and I do not really, Chairman, need to say any more, thank you.
MR HART: Lord Burns, if I may really make a comment which I was going to make at the beginning but I think it is even more relevant now. The Alliance, like Deadline 2000, welcome the publication of these research documents which go some way -- and I emphasise that, some way -- to a more informed debate on this issue. However, that should not imply that we as the Alliance necessarily agree with all the findings. It is encouraging, however, that both reports broadly concur with one another -- that is interesting -- although the authors also state their concerns quite loudly about the timescales under which they have been invited to operate. In particular, we have taken note that both reports conclude that the four subject species, deer, hare, fox and mink, can and do cause damage and that they all need control and management of some sort. That concurs quite neatly with the evidence put forward by the NFU, Farmers Union in Wales, country landowners, referred to also in the Forestry Commission and Ministry of Agriculture leaflets and, presumably, it is the reason why they appear in the 1947 Agriculture Act as a pest species. Although Professors Harris and White do not touch on cruelty, Professor Macdonald does comment and I will just read the particular quote, which I think is of relevance: "No scientific aspect of quantifying hunting with dogs is sufficiently vast to enable simple judgements of the complexities involved in comparing species, circumstances, duration and numbers of individuals. Therefore, any immediate judgement on the humaneness of each type of hunting with dogs can be based only on fragmentary, although interesting, evidence and common sense." Both reports, however, agree that control methods are likely to increase in the event of a ban on hunting. So, in summary, what the Alliance takes note is that hunting is acknowledged by both parties as one of the four existing and legal methods of control. In certain places, such as the famous mid-Wales, it appears to be the preferred and principal method of control. It is the only method for which the landholder generally pays nothing. It is the only method that guarantees death or escape and nothing in between; that there are wider issues associated with it, such as a fallen stock collection and a social and cultural contributions to rural areas; that hunting attempts to achieve balance rather than extermination; that both reports acknowledge widespread support for fox control within the farming community, confirming research by Produce Studies and the hunting organisations, contributions to your inquiry, i.e. That only two and a half per cent of farmers actually disapprove of fox control; that there would be increased hostility towards quarry species in the absence of organised hunting; the true test of whether the fox is a pest is in the attitude of the human victims of the fox predation; that additional research is required in any many areas; that non-lethal methods appear not to have much enthusiastic support from the contractors, and that there is a certain relationship which exists between the hunter and the hunted which science cannot and does not even attempt to quantify. So in short, again, we endorse what Professor Macdonald says really, which is that science of this nature only really informs the debate and does not necessarily provide solutions to all of the problems. So our conclusion is it cannot necessarily be right to criminalise one activity, which has seemed to work quite well, on the basis that it might be possible to achieve the same result by some other as yet untried method.
MR WISE: I will attempt to be brief, Lord Burns. I would just like to say I do not think there is any less, or there is no more welfare friendly way of culling than with a combination of approaches in different circumstances and I am absolutely convinced that if hunting with dogs were to go, animal welfare in fox terms would be much worse. I also feel the same as with the other species we have discussed.
MR HOBSON: Lord Burns, could I say a little about conservation? I think that in response to Dr Lindley, I think that we need to recognise that hunting with dogs is compatible with conservation and that, on the contrary, many Wildlife Trusts do permit hunting with dogs to take place over their land. They often issue licences. I also note that the EU at a Natura 2000 conference two years ago did recognise that hunting (and that was in the European sense) so hunting with hounds and shooting are compatible with conservation issues. I think also we have not looked, and it is not surprising because it is not in the brief for today, at the role that hunting plays in conservation of habitat. Professor Macdonald did refer briefly to hedgerow maintenance and those effects are well-known, but interim results from ongoing research on woodland management shows that hunts and hunt supporters are managing about 10 per cent of the rural woodland available to them and that that is about 560 hectares in each area, so this is a very significant benefit of hunting which should be considered.
MR SWIFT: I too would like to add my congratulations on behalf of the AOC to both teams for the huge amount of work that has gone in. It has been genuinely impressive. What has struck me as being the general level of agreement that there is a need for good control, whether of foxes or of the other subjects that we are talking about, and the problems to livestock and game which have to be addressed, and there will have to be lethal methods of control. I think that I am not shifted from the view that the report, once again, supports the central contention that the method of control is best determined by the owners and occupiers of the ground and they know all the factors and can weigh one objective with another. All the matters -- all the methods are required and used to a greater or lesser extent, depending on various circumstances, including geography, time of year, the weather, economics, I guess tradition as well. As to -- I had a slightly irreverent thought -- that the arguments about whether something is effective or not, I think that the farming community, who are notoriously economic with their effort and energy to expend so much energy in pursuing something which over the years we are being told is completely ineffective, strikes me as just slightly implausible. Thank you very much.
DR HARRADINE: I would just like to make a point in order to make a request, if I may? I think we have been left with the impression that shooting with hares is problematic. Yet I am conscious of the fact that one of the main reports from Professor Harris' team does not address and present a case for problems, so with that in mind -- and clearly a lot more material has to be added, particularly, I think, to that report and perhaps revisions to existing material in the light of further analyses, could we please have an opportunity to comment on the final versions of the reports before they get finally get to your team?
MR OLIVER-BELLASIS: Lord Burns, may I make three points? Firstly, can I reiterate a point that I made earlier which is that the risks which a farmer faces on the farm at the local level in trying to manage a natural threat is something that he does and I believe takes that responsibility very seriously. He does not wish to see a species exterminated. He is making a response to a threat and he assesses the risk and deals with it. The second point is that in relation to foxes we have not discussed the business of disease. I believe there is some evidence that there is a correlation between urban foxes and mange and dog populations which has been drawn out by the Game Conservancy in relation to reports from vets and I believe that ought to be looked at, because I do believe it is an issue, and I do not personally know which way the thing is travelling, whether it is travelling from dog to fox or vice versa. The last point is that when you were discussing the business of what might happen in relation to foxes with a ban on hunting, can I offer one thought and that is that if a farmer is to control the risk that he perceives and one mechanism is withdrawn, then it is logical to assume that he will resort to a proportion of the other mechanisms. In the case of using shotguns and rifles, there are already very strict rules in this country for the ownership of those weapons and it is by no means easy for individuals to be able to obtain those rifles and, therefore, be able to use them. I suggest that there are places within this country where farmers do not have currently certificates for rifles or shotgun certificates and therefore they might have to get them and there is a whole issue in there. I cannot quantify it and I do not wish to try; I merely raise it as an issue because I do believe in certain places where hounds are commonly used, that people would not have necessarily the access to some of the alternative mechanisms of control. Can I also add my thanks to Professor Harris and Professor Macdonald and to your team for enabling us to come and discuss with you the issues which you wish to discuss today. Thank you.
MR YOUNGSON: I too would like to add my congratulations to the researchers concerned with both reports today, which I accept, and the conclusions reached. I would also like to thank you for giving me the chance to represent the Deer Commission here in the last few days. Thank you very much.
DR RUSHTON: I think I am sitting on the other side of the fence in the sense that we have done some of the work. I really I would like to comment from the modelling side, if you like. I would like to say that I think we have some evidence to suggest -- however slight -- that hunting with hounds does not appear to have any effectiveness as a control, at least within the East Midlands. I think we need to know more about dispersal.
DR LANGBEIN: I just really want to, as a point of clarification, answer Simon Hart. He mentioned that our team is saying that non-lethal methods were not really of great importance, and obviously at least for deer it is of importance. I take it that really you just meant to refer to 'novel' rather than all non-lethal methods, like fertility control and condition taste aversion. Certainly for deer, non-lethal methods, such as habit manipulation, providing food and shelter within the home range are probably as important for control but that needs to be backed up also by lethal control. Certainly expenditure on fencing and tree shelters are more costly nationwide than the lethal control which often tends to pay for itself in the case of deer. I just really wanted to make sure you are not left with the impression that we are dismissing all non-lethal forms of control. Thank you.
DR REYNOLDS: I would really like to re-emphasise a point which David Macdonald made soon after lunch and I am not entirely sure it has been taken on board, that is we have talked about hunting with hounds as being pretty ineffectual in the great scheme of things. I think we need to be careful to distinguish between hunting with hounds, as practised in most Midlands hunts, and hunting with hounds and hunting with dogs of any kind in principle. In our report we do explore the issues of what more hunts could do to make themselves more effective and we also explore the regional variation in how effective hunting with dogs actually is. One further thing which has not come out in our discussions today but which I think was quite a lesson for me when we started to model the -- or when we had modelled the impact of hunting, and that is that one has to be analytical here. There is an essential difference between a hunt and a lot of people shooting with rifles on individual estates and that is on any one hunt country there is only one hunt. It is acting rather like a huge predator, roving round this hunt country and, on average, in a typical Midlands hunt, it is getting one fox per day and moving on to the next place at the next meet. By contrast, in the scheme of things that we modelled, shooting by individual landowners or their agents can take place simultaneously on many different estates. This is a qualitative difference really between the two things and almost by definition, if you had a smaller hunt country or more meets, or whatever, hunting would improve, but the essential difference remains there are many, many landowners and gamekeepers and only one hunt.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD: I am happy for a rest.
PROFESSOR HARRIS: I am strangely silent too actually.
THE CHAIRMAN: Well, I am very grateful to everyone. It has been a good discussion and I hope the researchers have not found it too much of a burden. We appreciate the terrible timetable that is involved. All I can say is that it is a pain that we share. We look forward to the final versions. We have asked for the final reports before the time that we come our report and it is our intention that when we get the final reports we will make them available. So although there is not time for another iteration in the sense of being able to comment on the researchers' reports, there will still be a few days for people to give us comments after they have seen the final versions of the reports. So I hope that answers your query. Whether we will have finished our report by then, we will see. Once again, thank you very much. I hope that you have all found the format has worked reasonably well. From our point of view I think that it has. As you know, this is a very sensitive subject. It is a subject that often can bring forth some very strong opinions. I am very grateful to everyone for keeping the temperature down and conducting it in a very positive way. Thank you all very much, have a good Easter and some of us will be meeting no doubt again in the subsequent seminars. Thank you very much. (4.25 p.m.)
(The hearing adjourned)
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