SESSION TWO – REASONS WHY THE QUARRY SPECIES ARE HUNTED AND THE EFFCETIVENESS OR OTHERWISE OF HUNTING AND OF OTHER FORMS OF POPULATION MANAGEMENT
Representation Panel Chairman:
John Jackson Chairman, Countryside Alliance
Richard Burge Chief
Executive, Countryside Alliance
Simon Hart Countryside Alliance Campaign For Hunting
David Jones Huntsman, David Davies Foxhounds
Patrick Martin Huntsman, Bicester with Waddon Chase Foxhounds
Brian Fanshawe Countryside Alliance Campaign For Hunting
Tom Yandle Master Of Deerhounds Association
Sir James Eberle Association Of Masters Of Harriers And Beagles
Barrie Wade National Working Terrier Federation
Charles Blanning National Coursing Club
Desmond Hobson Masters Of Minkhounds Association
Douglas Wise Veterinary academic and lecturer, Cambridge University
THE CHAIRMAN: Good morning and welcome back. It is very good to see you all again. Could I ask you, Mr Jackson, if you would like to make an introductory statement?
MR JACKSON: Lord Burns, thank you, good morning, I will not. Richard Burge will paint the scene from our point of view. As you will see there are rather a lot of us on this side, so there are going to be quite a lot of contributions, I think, to your questions, but I promise you we will try to be brief so as not to take up your time.
MR BURGE: Lord Burns, if I may, I would just like to initiate it by making a few statements about the way in which animal populations work in the context of their environments and in the context of habitat management. Basically, I would like to start off by talking about a triangle. At that triangle we have three corners. One corner will be the conservationist, for whom the preservation and the maintenance of species is all important; and that is an extreme position. At another corner will be the welfarist, for whom the welfare of an individual animal, regardless of all other considerations, is of paramount importance. At The third corner is the evolutionist, for whom neither the species nor the individual matters at all; all that matters are the biological processes and the abiological processes of the earth, and, providing you keep those in place, species of individuals can rise and fall at will, or at the behest of evolution; it does not really matter. Of course, what most human beings and most organisations try to do -- and we are amongst them -- is to occupy a ground in the middle of that triangle to make sense of those extreme positions on the three corners. Populations of animals are regulated and levelled by two factors and two factors alone: their food supply and predation. Disease, male competition and other such factors can influence selection but, ultimately, the overall level of the population is determined by its food and by the action of predators upon it. In environments where human beings have effectively made them and sustained them and maintained them, what becomes an acceptable level of population is determined by its impact. In those environments -- and of course the United Kingdom is one, because there is no area of the United Kingdom, apart from a few remnant acres of Caledonian Forest and the foreshore which are not man-made and man-maintained -- the impact and the acceptable level of impact is determined by a complex of activities, and a complex of factors to do with that environment, not simply to do with farming but to do with wildlife considerations, to do with the recreational use of the land, and often just to do with the personal views of the individuals who are responsible for it. Hunting in all its forms is a legitimate means of sustainably utilising wild resources. In fact, in most of the developing world, conservation is defined as the sustainable utilisation of wild resources. That utilisation can take the form of keeping populations of animals down to levels whereby they do not become pests, but, equally, it can be used to restore populations of animals to levels where they can become utilised again. Finally, behaviour of an animal, under the species, evolves in exactly the same way as its physiology and its anatomy. The process of natural selection applies equally to the behaviour of animals as it does to their body form, and that study is called behavioural ecology. Distress to an animal occurs when it is faced with circumstances for which it is not equipped physiologically or behaviourally to respond. Thank you.
THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Again, Victoria Edwards will lead the questioning.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Good morning, thank you. I wonder if we might follow in the same order of species. We will start with foxes. What I would like is some comment on the type of evidence that is available that supports the supposition that the fox is a pest. In particular, I would like you to make some comment on the sort of ratio of its -- the degree to which it is a pest in terms of agriculture; game; and perhaps comment on, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture's evidence that says that it is not significant in lamb mortality, so the degree to which it is a pest; variation geographically; variation according to what it is preying on.
MR JACKSON: We will call on people who will talk about the need to manage the fox population, and people who have some observations to make on the predatory effect of foxes. Simon Hart, perhaps you would like to start on the need to manage the fox population.
MR HART: Dr Edwards, I think I will just make it very brief to begin with and hand, hopefully, over to others with the more statistical detail. All of the major land use organisations in the UK, those people actually actively involved in land management or farming or both, the National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of Wales, the CLA, Forestry Commission and many others, all conclude -- and indeed certain members of Deadline 2000 -- that fox control of some description is a necessity. The argument tends to centre about the best method, but those organisations that I have mentioned all refer to hunting with dogs forming some part, either regularly or occasionally, of that part of fox control.
MR JACKSON: Brian Fanshawe, would you like to add a bit to that?
MR FANSHAWE: I will back up what Simon said, to go on a little bit. Both the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA refer to fox control in some way or another. The RSPCA say: where action is considered necessary, it should be targeted at individual animals and not directed at wider attempts to control the whole population. I think it is worth noting that the Game Conservancy say that most culling is done not in reaction to a current problem but as a preventative measure; and I think that is very relevant. If you want me to go on, I can produce some details about the perception of predation.
MR JACKSON: Why do not you talk about the perception of predation?
MR FANSHAWE: The Game Conservancy research, the Rural Fox Management Project, showed that in Wales 61 per cent of sheep farmers had experienced lamb predation by foxes in the previous 12 months. Relative to that, 41 per cent of the farmers were lambing indoors. In the East Midlands, 49 per cent of the sheep farmers had experienced lamb predation by foxes in the previous 12 months, but 77 per cent of them lambed indoors. In East Anglia, the figures were 24 per cent experienced and 57 per cent lambed indoors. I think those comparisons are relevant.
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: I wonder if I could follow that up with the same sort of point I was making earlier, that the concept is that there must be some necessity for this process. The cases you have been outlining, the cases where the thing is seen as minimising, or minimising damage in some sense. Now, it is clear that in other situations, the activities relating to hunting look at preserving fox populations or bringing about fox populations. I would like you really to take me through the other side of that argument as well as, if you like, the negative end of it.
MR JACKSON: Brian, would you like to continue?
MR FANSHAWE: Yes. There are different situations across the country, but I would also like to refer that there are different situations within fox hunting countries. Fox hunts try and react to the demands of their hosts; the land owners. Undoubtedly, in the hill countries lamb predation is seen as very significant. In West Norfolk, preservation of game is seen as very relevant. So there are different situations. Even within hunting countries, a hunt may be on one farm, and there will not be necessarily a hard pressure to catch foxes, and be on an adjoining estate which may be a big sheep farm, it may be a shooting estate, where the hunt will be under far greater pressure to cull foxes. So it is very, very difficult to actually get a generality. Overall, what hunting tries to do, as Richard Burge intimated, is to maintain an acceptable and sustainable fox population right across the country.
LORD SOULSBY: Thank you. I was interested in your comments that hunting can restore populations of animals to sustainable levels, and you are correct in what you say. Were there to be a theoretical situation where you had an area where there were no foxes at all, would you want to populate that with foxes? That is the first question. Secondly, given a population, what level of fox population would you accept as a sustainable level?
MR JACKSON: I will ask Richard Burge to take those points.
MR BURGE: Lord Soulsby, if I could answer your first question. In terms of restoring a population where there is none, the fox is an indigenous animal to the United Kingdom. Apart from the fact that there is a conservation principle, in the sense that if an animal is indigenous and has been forced to extinction in part of its home range, it should be restored, there is also a European Directive which obliges countries to do that as well. This applies not just to the ones that get the news, like restoring beaver populations to Scotland, or the potential of restoring the wolf population to Scotland; it actually means bringing back populations of animals in gaps in their home range as well. So there is a point on that. In many parts of the world, particularly in parts of the world where -- and the places I am thinking of, in particular Mozambique -- where human conflict has led to a massive decline in animal populations, particularly large mammal populations, giving local people hunting rights, both in terms not just for the use of the meat for themselves but also the use of the meat for sale, and also for the sale of hunting rights, has enabled certain large mammal populations, particularly deer species, to be restored because of local collaboration and local help. In terms of what would be an acceptable level of fox numbers in the country, I do not think there is a national level that would be acceptable. It is actually affected by the different nature of the landscape and the different utilisation of the landscape by human beings. I think also the problem we have is that the way we are looking at foxes now is in a controlled environment already. We would almost need an extremely complicated Krebs type experiment on foxes, similar to the Krebs experiment on badgers, to try and determine what would be required. I am sorry, I find it an impossible question to answer in the current environment of heavily-managed fox populations.
LORD SOULSBY: If I may just make a comment about the Krebs and the TB in badgers, yes. But you must have some idea, or is there not an answer to this question: what, from your point of view, is a sustainable level?
MR JACKSON: Douglas Wise will try and help you.
MR WISE: Dr Edwards, there are apparently estimated to be about 240,000 spring population of foxes. I think if you ask the average gamekeeper, or wildlife -- or shooting estate, they would suggest there are probably tenfold more foxes than historically there should be, because the natural predators of the fox such as wolf, lynx, have disappeared. If you ask the hunters, I presume they would come up with a higher figure than that. There is no absolute figure, but the population of foxes across the country is determined to an extent on the balance between those who hunt, those who shoot and those who do neither. I think too that it is very important not to focus entirely on agriculture, in that wildlife conservation, not just game bird conservation, is extremely important in this area, if indeed we do have a very large number, or high density of foxes relative to other threatened species. It is likely that small mammals, hares and significant numbers of ground nesting birds are threatened in part at least by the heavy predation of foxes. Now, if fox killing or culling were made somehow illegal, in whatever form, shooting estates would probably not find it worthwhile to employ keepers. The habitat that is particularly produced for the benefit of game birds, which has enormous advantages for other wildlife, would probably no longer exist.
THE CHAIRMAN: Could I put to you a question which has been put to us. It is that, with the breeding rate of foxes so high, and the average lifespan so short, they quickly replace themselves. And basically seeking to control numbers is a waste of time; that it is self-defeating within a very short order as they are replaced by other foxes.
MR WISE: Lord Burns, this is approached really in the Game Conservancy submission; it depends when and how you control, and whether you are talking about individual estate control or regional control. But there are good grounds for believing, I think, on the basis of Game Conservancy data, that fox numbers nationally would increase without existing methods of control, and that certain shooting estates could not survive without very targeted local control at specific times of year.
THE CHAIRMAN: I think the follow-up probably would be to say that is it not the case that with the relatively small number of foxes that are killed by hunting, that that really does not make any major contribution to the control of the numbers?
MR HOBSON: Hunting is the only method which acts on a regional scale. This has been borne out by the Game Conservancy research. So it enables, in a way, fox management to be measured at a regional level. Furthermore, the individual control of foxes by individual farmers and land owners will have a regional effect because, as the Game Conservancy submission states, it has a sink effect, a bit like a sieve full of sand. So some areas are sources; some areas are sinks. So, yes, it will have a regional effect.
MR JACKSON: Perhaps Brian Fanshawe could add a bit to that, Lord Burns.
MR FANSHAWE: Lord Burns, I think the effectiveness of what we see as recognised fox hunting should be achieving the acceptable sustainable population. I think, beyond that, the MAFF submission clearly states that 80,000 foxes are taken out through shooting, and 75,000 foxes each year are taken out using hunting with dogs. If you look at that figure, that is something like 20 per cent of the total count.
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: Just looking at the hunting with dogs part of it for the moment, one of the things that impresses somebody looking at it from outside is that, if you take the aggregate expenditure involved in hunting and divide into that the number of animals killed by hunting, this appears to be an extraordinarily expensive way of dealing with foxes. Even if you look in more detail at the numbers, it is clear that in some areas the cost per fox removed is really relatively low compared with what it is in some other areas. Now, if our control processes are designed to achieve, whatever that means, some acceptable numbers of foxes, why do we not use the least expensive means of doing this in all cases?
MR FANSHAWE: One way to look at a fox hunt is in the light of cost. I have always seen the people who go fox hunting as the audience who are watching the play; the actors in the play are the fox, the hounds and the huntsmen. The people who are prepared to pay for this are the audience who are the people who follow the hunt. I think this is a very important point; that hunting does not cost the farming community or anybody else any money whatsoever. It is the money of the followers who enjoy it who actually pay for it.
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: Can I just follow that up because it seems to me you are saying that, ultimately, really, in terms of the justification of hunting with dogs, pest control is really a secondary issue. The justification is that people actually find this a spectacle and activity which they enjoy taking part in.
MR FANSHAWE: I think achieving a balance is what we are after. In many parts of the United Kingdom, including where I live, the local hunt is the chief measure of control.
MR JACKSON: Perhaps it is worth adding that, in general, hunting takes place on somebody's land, and what happens is what is acceptable to them and wanted by that person.
MR FANSHAWE: To add one more rider: it happens over lots and lots of adjoining properties.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER: I wanted to go back, if I may, to the need for control. The argument put to us that in fact it would be better to have a larger fox population in some areas to control rabbits; rabbits are a major pest and a principal component of fox diet.
MR JACKSON: Douglas Wise will try to help you on that.
MR WISE: Professor Winter, I think Professor Harris has stated that although rabbits are an important part of the fox diet, in general they have no significant effect in controlling rabbit numbers. What rabbits do is provide, if you want, the bread and butter for the fox. We heard this morning how a fox is opportunistic. Where it does its damage is it will every night tend to patrol a proportion of its territory. If it comes across leverets, young mammals, ground nesting birds, at that time, it will take them regardless of whether rabbits are there or not. I think in Professor Harris's experiments in fact he showed that in Bristol, householders were actually, effectively, breeding urban foxes to the extent that they were putting food out specifically for them, and that there was enough food put out in Bristol to feed all the foxes in Bristol, which reached a density of something in the region of one fox family per every 20 hectares, which would, if extrapolated up across the UK, probably give us 8 to 10 million foxes. But until they were all wiped out by mange, what was found was that although they had enough food available from bird tables and what was put out specifically for them; they nevertheless ate other dietary constituents purely as a result of their opportunistic hunting efforts to the extent of 30 to 40 per cent of their diet.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if we might move on to alternative methods of control when compared to hunting; and if you might comment on the use of hunting with dogs in terms of selectivity of foxes, the extent to which that is relevant, and also the dispersal. It seems that there could be an argument that, in terms of population control and pest control in particular, it seems rather ridiculous to disperse foxes rather than treat them when you have them in a contained area. Could you comment on the relevance of that.
MR JACKSON: I will ask Simon Hart to lead on that.
MR HART: Dr Edwards. The dispersal element, again, comes about largely at the early part of the hunting season. As we have stated last Thursday and again today, part of the overall contribution that hunting can make to pest control is over a sustained period of time, over a sustained area. The business of actually attempting to target problem foxes generally only occurs when it is too late, when the target fox has actually performed its task of perhaps taking some form of domestic or agricultural animal. So the point is we try, by particularly September and October, to focus hunting attention on those areas where fox populations are at their highest. By definition, where they are at their highest tends to be the greater strain on the natural food supply. So by actually going into those areas, perhaps culling a small proportion of those foxes, and distributing the others over a wide area. So the effect on -- or the potential effect, is not only reduced then but it is also reduced later in the season, perhaps at lambing time, perhaps when there are other vulnerablities in the agricultural world; so that the response, say, in April/May to lambing time produces the sort of statistics we have heard this morning, whereas lamb losses are relatively few. That is actually as a result of dispersal and proper control, spread over the entire area at the appropriate times of year.
MR JACKSON: Leading on from that, I think David Jones's remarks might be interesting.
MR JONES: Dr Edwards, good morning. I would just like to give you one incident where last Saturday I was called out to a farm who were losing lambs. The lamb that was caught was killed that morning. They say that foxes only kill weak lambs, this lamb would be a month old. We skinned it, and it was bitten through the head. Its head was as big as a fox head, if not bigger. They had had an expert rifleman out there four nights on the trot. He had shot at it twice and missed it. We went with the hounds and caught it.
MR WADE: Good morning. In terms of selectivity, terrier work is specifically aimed at the pest control aspect. In terms of the annual cull of foxes by legal methods each year, the Game Conservancy Trust and MAFF both suggest that the figure is something in the region of 200,000. Various other sources, including the RSPCA, suggest that around 50,000 of those are controlled with terriers. So something like 25 per cent of the present cull of foxes is conducted with terriers. In terms of the selective nature of terrier work, I would like to refer the Inquiry team to appendix 8 of our submission. Typically, terrier work is involved in going round to a particularly selected earth, whether that earth be as a result, as Mr Jones suggests, from a lambing call where hounds have been taken to a particular field where damage has been done, and a fox is then tracked back to a particular earth, and then located and disposed of with the terriers, or whether people go round and find a particular earth with signs of the relevant damage around it. So it may be, for example, that someone has been losing chickens or lambs or whatever, then the appropriate debris tends to be scattered around that general area. It is very easy, in certain instances, to actually identify the residence of the fox that has been doing the particular damage. So very much in terms of pest control, and very much in terms of selectivity. Thank you.
THE CHAIRMAN: In your evidence, there is a certain amount made of the difficulties with shooting and the unsuitability of shooting, and yet we know from the figures that shooting accounts for rather more foxes than does hunting. Does that not, in a sense, recognise that shooting is always going to play a major part; that actually it does work in lots of situations? The question then arises as to why could it not work effectively in all situations?
MR JACKSON: I will ask Brian Fanshawe to start on that question.
MR FANSHAWE: I think the arguments we have been using for at least the last eight years, Lord Burns, is that there are only four legal methods of fox control remaining, which are: shooting, whether it is rifles or shotguns; trapping; digging use in terriers; or hunting with hounds. What we would argue is that the countryside, and the people who live in the countryside, manage the countryside, need to retain the four legal methods. No single one of them is suitable for all circumstances. Very often, we get a combination of methods that are used for fox control. What is quite obvious to the people who manage the countryside, I believe, is that if you start limiting the existing legal methods, then you put extra pressure on the other methods. Just on the rifles, I would be the first to admit that if you achieve a clean shot with a rifle that is the most humane method. It is the favoured method of the gamekeepers, but the Game Conservancy Reports will show that they are only able to achieve 33 per cent of their cull by the use of the rifle. There are lots of limiting factors; safety, topography and others such as licensing. There are lots of limitations. There are lots of limitations to every method of control.
MR JACKSON: I will ask Douglas Wise to add something, if I may.
MR WISE: It is not always terribly easy to kill foxes in the spring time with guns. It is often more convenient to identify the earths to use terriers. If there are cubs underground, use of terriers is the only way you can legally kill anything underground and it is probably the most humane method when there are cubs around. The alternative is snaring of course, which is probably more practical than shooting on many shooting estates at certain times of year. We did hear from Mr Booty this morning that shooting with a rifle is usually lethal to the target animal. Obviously, with a correctly placed shot that is the case. Even with an incorrectly placed shot, as he was suggesting, if you use the right calibre of weapon, it will ultimately kill the animal. What he did not discuss was the period between the impact of the bullet and the death of the animal, which is often not as short as one would be led to believe. The evidence that only one wounded fox out of 1,025 turns up in RSPCA hospitals I believe has very little significance. Most countrymen, if they came across a wounded fox, would render it insensible immediately; they would not take it to an RSPCA hospital.
MR JACKSON: Richard Burge would like to say something about the farming community on this topic of shooting.
MR BURGE: I would like to point out that the MAFF submission was completely contradicted by all the farmers' unions that submitted evidence to you. All of them said they wanted to have a range of control methods. In some circumstances they said that shooting is the humane option, but that is some circumstances. In other circumstances, other methods they consider to be more humane. What is critical about humanity in this, is that, whatever means is used, it is handled by skilled practitioners, which of course is what hunting is, what snaring is and what shooting is. It is a question of horses for courses; there is no one blanket solution for pest control, of the fox control, any more than there is a blanket solution for anything.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I follow you up on that. You have stated that you believe that more inhumane and illegal methods would be used if there were to be a ban on hunting. Have any surveys been conducted on that, or do you have any data that supports that suggestion?
MR FANSHAWE: Dr Edwards, no, there is no survey I do know, but I think there is one thing we have assumed; that, whatever the legislation is, farmers, gamekeepers and conservationists are going to continue to cull foxes.
MR JACKSON: Perhaps we could revert to that, Lord Burns, this afternoon when we talk about animal welfare.
THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. I think maybe we should move on to the question of deer, and raise the two questions with regard to deer that we have been discussing this morning. One is about the need for an overall population control, and the second, again, is about alternative methods.
MR JACKSON: Tom Yandle.
MR YANDLE: On Exmoor, the deer population is generally considered to be in the region of 3,000. MAFF, the NFU, particularly the Exmoor National Park, have taken the view on the number, the amount of damage that they would cause. They talk about 900 livestock units equivalent which, if you like -- many that are not involved do not know what a livestock unit is. It is 900 big fat cows eating all day long. Anybody who has been to Exmoor, as you have, Lord Burns, and seen the large numbers of deer that appear every now and then, must know that they do considerable damage, and of course there is a need, therefore, to cull them.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if you might comment on the extent to which hunting with hounds is needed as part of that cull, as opposed to other methods such as shooting; and perhaps comment again on the two issues of selectivity and dispersal.
MR YANDLE: The need is for around 500 deer, which is 20 per cent of the count, to be culled each year. The hunt on the moor accounts for around 150 of those, which leaves 350 to be killed in other ways. There are probably 250 of these killed by shooting, and we all allow that shooting is a perfectly reasonable way of doing it in some places. We have never said, the stag hunters have never said, that hunting alone could do the total control necessary. What is actually pertinent is not how the deer are killed but how they are kept alive. Because of the presence of the hunt, the farmers and land owners will tolerate numbers of deer that to some people would be considered too large. The second question is of selectivity. The selectivity by hunting is more efficient than selectivity by shooting because there is no restraint on what deer may appear, or be seen during a day's hunting, such as there might be with a rifle when you cannot always shoot at the one you might want to. The big stags in the autumn. This morning it was suggested that we always hunt the most magnificent stags. The big stags in the autumn, we hunt the ones that are 5 years old and upwards. We try and select -- some of which are magnificent -- in fact they are all magnificent, all stags are magnificent, especially when they are looked after like we look after them on Exmoor. But we tend to choose stags that have had big harems of hinds for 2 or 3 years. They will be the bigger stags. Their horns will be going back actually, but it is extraordinarily difficult for a nonexpert to know, especially when they are being seen on the moor. I suggest an inspection of the trophy heads at the end of the year would show the Committee that the hunt is selective with the big stags. The hinds in the winter are indeed hunted by the hounds hunting a batch of deer, and they will hunt one that drops off. It is highly unlikely that the strongest hind will drop off at the beginning of the hunt. If that were the case, and there were other deer more suitable, or a sick or wounded one in the herd, they would certainly not hunt the first one that dropped off. Thirdly, in the spring, the spring stags, as was explained to you last week, the ones that are likely to produce less good heads, or are compromised in some other way, are hunted.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if someone might comment on the way in which selectivity is practised in parts of the country where there is not hunting with hounds.
MR JACKSON: Talking of Scotland, or other parts of the world?
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I suppose we ought to stick to red deer, but I am interested in all other types of deer in other parts of the world.
MR JACKSON: Yes, Tom Yandle will have a go at that as well.
MR YANDLE: Some people might say I am on dangerous ground, but I have been stalking in Scotland. I have talked to lots of other stalkers. Most other red deer -- as you mentioned red deer -- in England are woodland animals. You would not see them except in the early morning or the late evening when they come out to feed. So there would have to be an awful lot of reconnaissance to identify the right animal to be shot, and then an awful lot of waiting to make sure that you shot it. So there is that selectivity, but it would not be the natural selectivity of hunting. Of course, you would not be able to select any deer that were compromised if you did not see them come out to feed. This morning you were told that it is easy to collect casualty deer because you just watch them feed, come out and feed, and then shoot them. Anyone connected with deer would know that deer that are injured are very unlikely to come out and feed; they are sitting in the woods, and they do not go anywhere; they just hold up. So I am sure stalkers do a very good job and I am sure they are selective. I think in some cases they would find it rather difficult.
LORD SOULSBY: If I follow your argument, you are saying that the most magnificent stags -- all stags are magnificent -- are hunted because they would be replaced by younger stags to keep the bigger of the herd up. Have you any evidence that the stags that you actually select to be hunted would in fact be displaced by younger stags if hunting were to cease? Is there a natural population flow from young stags to get rid of the older stags? Can you identify that stag that would in fact go through natural competition?
MR YANDLE: I think you have asked a very difficult question. Around each group of hinds on Exmoor there will be younger stags. There seem to be 4 year old, possibly even 5 year old stags, moving around, being -- the word we have heard a lot of this morning -- opportunistic. I have no evidence of what particular deer would take on, but if we take a large stag out of a group of hinds that he has been commanding, there is never any doubt that there is not another stag there next morning, there waiting somewhere. Now, whether they leave other hinds, bring their hinds with them where they come from, I have no evidence, but that happens. I have to say that, whatever the argument about how good we are at selecting the right stag, especially in the autumn, we do have every year a better and better selection of big, strong, majestic stags.
THE CHAIRMAN: Could I raise the question of the hunting at this time of year, and the question of trying to identify the weaker stags by looking at their heads. Is there any science in this, or is this totally random? To what extent, if you see deer with antlers which have been damaged, is that genetic. To what extent is that accidental? To what extent does it actually have any effect in terms of their breeding ability? Or is this not something which, maybe, one would like to be the case but is much more random than that?
MR YANDLE: The person in charge, as you saw, is the harbourer, who has a given area when he is the harbourer. There are three or four harbourers at three or four different parts of Exmoor. That man, whom you met, will know an awful lot more than I would, for instance, about the deer in his area. So when the meet is at a certain place in the area, he will already have in his mind, "I wonder if we will go to A, B and C", a wood, or wherever it is from that meet, and he will know of deer in each area. He will know of some that he would rather hunt than others in that area because of his observations in the past. It would be random insofar as he may or may not see the ones he would be looking for the night before that morning of the hunt, but he will very often definitely have certain deer in mind. He will, as happened last week, which coincided with your visit, have a deer in mind, which we did not see that morning harbouring, but did turn up during the hunt and was, in fact, hunted and killed.
THE CHAIRMAN: That was the point I was raising. If I remember, this was a deer that had one antler. My question is: does that actually have any implications for its breeding potential? Or is it simply just a result of accident, either physical or genetic? Is this genuine selectivity, or is it --
MR JACKSON: Perhaps Richard Burge as a zoologist could say something about this.
MR BURGE: Well, an ex-zoologist, my Lord. Yes, it is an indicator. Horns are produced every year and, of course, they are part of the symbolism that the stag uses, if you like, to attract hinds and keep away other stags. Combined with that, his general body shape and body condition, and also his roaring ability, which again is a highly energetic activity. Taking those signals in combination, that is basically how a stag maintains the hind herd and keeps other stags away. When another stag comes across a stag, if it believes it measures up to the opposition there will be roaring, there will be posturing. They will assess each other, if there is only a marginal difference between them, then there will be a fight. The antlers themselves do two things. First of all, the energy required in the pre-reproductive phase to produce them is considerable. The investment made by that animal -- and I use that obviously in a non-economic term and a biological term -- is enormous. Therefore, it must have surplus resources in order to do that, above and beyond its normal body functioning requirements. The reason it does this every year is because, of course, it gives it an ability to not maintain a preposterous thing on its head if it does not actually have the resources to go with it, both in terms of reproductive capacity and also defending the hinds from other stags. So it is a very good indicator, but it goes alongside roaring, it goes alongside body posture. There are circumstances where the horns can be damaged, which actually, therefore, is also an indicator that maybe the stag is not in peak condition. If it has been damaged, the horn, one of its antlers damaged; it will, therefore, not be in peak condition. They can also be malformed genetically, which again might be an indicator itself.
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: I am a bit puzzled actually. As I understand it, you take 500 out annually to maintain the population roughly where it is. Earlier on, you have been explaining to us how very costly the deer are in terms of the nutritional requirement which they have on the environment. When we were talking about lambs, we were making an important point about the importance of the lambs to the economy of these relatively fragile farming systems. If you look at the farms around Exmoor which many of you are hunting that seems to be relatively fragile. What I wanted to get a clear understanding of is why, in this case, farmers are happy to, if you like, maintain the population, which is quite expensive in terms that you were describing -- in terms of the nutritional requirement for them -- whereas in the case of the fox and the lambs they want to get rid of the fox in order to preserve these marginal lambs?
MR JACKSON: Richard Burge will start on that, and then we will move to Tom Yandle.
MR BURGE: I think this is a difference between a farmer and an agro-industrialist. An agro-industrialist, I imagine, would have no problem getting rid of stags and deer, purely on the basis of the cost benefit ratio of having them there. A farmer as I observed on Exmoor, again as a non-Exmoor person and non-hunter, is far more than an agro-industrialist. They see having deer on their land as part and parcel of their stewardship and their responsibility and their place in the community. It is a cost they willingly bear but up to a level which, they believe, they can sustain, not only for their own generation but for future generations.
MR YANDLE: It could not be put any better than that, could it? I have to say, in another way of responding to your question, if stags ate lambs we might have a problem. I would like also to point out that the farmers do benefit to some extent by having deer on their land. They love seeing them, but it is a tourist attraction. Everybody knows that the deer are only there by sufferance to the farmer. Everybody tells the farmers that, and that makes them to some extent happy with the amount of damage that is done to them. I think I had better leave it at that.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. I wonder if I might follow up on that in the case of a ban on hunting, because it seems that in Exmoor there is a good co-operation between the farmers in terms of managing the herd; and certainly a willingness to do that and to conserve it. Can you comment on the extent to which local co-operative management could be established in the event of a ban on hunting; and how effective that might be?
MR JACKSON: This comes close to a very important point. Tom.
MR YANDLE: It would be very difficult because of the range of the deer. As was mentioned earlier on fox hunting, the hunting covers the whole area. So the management covers the whole area of Exmoor. Although it was not mentioned this morning, earlier, there is an Exmoor District Deer Management Group which also covers the whole moor. We even have the Forestry Commission and National Trust coming to those meetings, although they have a different view from most other people. So to replace that you need something that everybody would accept and everybody would agree to. Almost every farmer, 90 something per cent of the farmers on the moor, are very happy about the hunting and, therefore, the deer management. To get 500-odd farmers and land owners to agree on a particular subject is magic, when you find it very difficult -- sometimes we do -- to get two farmers to agree on any subject.
MR JACKSON: We will be picking this up ourselves this afternoon, Lord Burns, because we are coming into the area of what actually would happen if hunting was stopped.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I just ask one last question before we move off deer, and that is about casualty deer. I have a couple of questions related to casualty: one is, there is a claim that shooting and stalking is not as effective as hunting with hounds because of the risk of injury. Knowing that you pick up injured deer as part of the casualty injury service, I wonder how many of those injured deer are injured as a result of shooting, and also a claim that casualty deer could be dealt with with a single count. I wonder if you can comment on that.
MR JACKSON: Start with Tom Yandle and I think Douglas Wise may say something too.
MR YANDLE: I do not have the exact figures, but I would have thought something in the region of half the casualty deer found; either on call-out by the hunt, which is on non-hunting days when people see them and ring them up, or during hunting days, have some sort of bullet wound. The answer to the question about one hound -- sure, I expect one hound might do the job as well as two or four or ten. There are never many hounds taken on casualty call-outs. They do not take the whole pack. They would take probably three or four older hounds, ones that they know they know will do the job properly. A casualty deer would not actually be hunted very far because, if it is a casualty, it would stand to bay to those hounds.
MR WISE: Dr Edwards, I have to disagree slightly with Tom from the statistics of casualties. I believe my own figure was 26 of the casualties had either shotgun or rifle wounds, of which 26 per annum are from the Quantocks and the Devon and Somerset region. Probably over half of those were dead on arrivals, as opposed to live at the time that they were retrieved. However, this is not to underplay the importance of hounds in terms of reducing suffering of casualties, because a lot of these -- significant numbers of the casualty deer are found during hunting days and may well not have been found for some time were that not to be the case. Furthermore, the quick response time makes it extremely unlikely. The repeated experience of hounds in looking for casualties makes them uniquely efficient. There are only about 20 per cent of stalkers who have trained tracking dogs, and very few of those would be terribly efficient, I am afraid to say. The British Deer Society publishes figures on how to train tracking dogs. It is an art that is much better developed in Europe than in the UK but, essentially, the main method is to send the dog forward to the wounded deer. If the deer has collapsed, the dog will come back and find its owner. Needless to say there is quite a lot of potential for chaos if it is a running or walking wounded animal. So that the stalking dog with the stalker is extremely useful at helping him to retrieve bodies that have run on into woodland and collapsed, but it is not necessarily an efficient method for taking a deer that has run off a considerable distance.
THE CHAIRMAN: As I understand, this is the method that is used in Germany where hunting with dogs is banned. To what extent would it be possible, if we did have a ban in this country, that such a system could be used efficiently here? MR WISE: I believe that in stalking areas in Scotland it may well be that there may be a sufficient density of stalking in the region to justify a centralised small team of quasi-hounds. I would not use individual tracking dogs, but I think there could be, as long as somebody paid for it -- I do not know who would pay for it. The difficulty in other parts of the country is that the call-outs would be such that -- an experienced dog nevertheless needs experience and training, and where is it going to get the experience from? An individual stalker may be keen on his own particular dog. Usually the dogs get practice because the stalker has shot a deer and then sweated blood dragging it along in order to get the dog something to do. I mean, stalkers, as we have heard, do not go around wounding a large number of the deer. Most of the casualties on Exmoor are nothing to do with shooting; there are all sorts of other injuries, mainly road accidents.
THE CHAIRMAN: Could we move on to the question of hare?
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: Could I ask you one question relating to shooting deer; it goes back to tourism? It has been suggested to us that if you go for shooting, the deer disappear. Why is it, since the majority of deer that I understand it -- large numbers of deer, are already shot, that they have not already disappeared?
MR YANDLE: Very good question. They are shot in certain little pockets for various reasons. There are places where the hunt cannot go, or close to roads, railways, link roads. They are shot on National Trust land now, where the hunt does not go. They were always shot on some part of the National Trust land where the hunt has not been since the turn of the Century. So if that shooting that I talked about happened all over Exmoor, of course it would have that effect.
THE CHAIRMAN: Can we move on to the question of hare? Do you accept the case that has been put to us that there is no case for population control in the case of hare because there is no problem? If anything, in many places, the aim is to actually increase the numbers. Again, could you deal with the second point we have been raising about alternative methods of dealing with them when there is a question of control.
MR JACKSON: I will ask Charles Blanning to deal with these questions.
SIR JAMES EBERLE: Hunting and coursing are part of a very long established process. It is a process of hare management. Part of that hare management is control. The control is only necessary in those areas where there are very large numbers of hares -- that is, particularly, on the South Downs, on the Lambourne Downs and in East Anglia. In those areas, hares exist in very large numbers and they are controlled by shooting. Over a much larger part of the country the hare population is much smaller. And in many areas it needs to be improved. We have under the Government's National Bio-diversity Action Plan set a target for doubling the spring hare numbers in Britain by the year 2010. It would be clearly ridiculous to try and double the number in areas where already they are a pest and they are shot in numbers which are something between 200,000 and 400,000 a year. But in the other areas, it is a matter of management and has been pointed out it is keeping the population stable and up. I have never heard, in 44 years of being very closely associated with one pack of beagles, any other alternative form of management that has been proposed. What is being done under the bio-diversity scheme is to see if we can improve the system of management so that we can in some areas improve the number of hares. Now the only people, or almost the only people, who have the experience of knowing where it is those hares are short, where it is the hares do not need improving in these other areas, how it may be done, what are the reasons for decline, is the hare hunting community. Throughout the country now, hunts are co-operating very closely with the various local authorities who are responsible for the hare bio-diversity action plans and we find that, in most cases, our assistance is greatly welcomed because they agree that otherwise there are almost no people available who have the knowledge on which we can base this management plan.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER: Could we pursue the role of hunting in this a little further? There are bio-diversity action plans for many, many species and I have not heard the argument made before that hunting is indispensable to all those other plans. I find it a little difficult to accept that there could not be a bio-diversity action plan for this species that was based on ordinary methods. There is already a lot of information available; English Nature publish a nice booklet explaining to farmers what to do to maintain and increase hare populations.
MR JACKSON: Desmond Hobson will speak on that.
MR HOBSON: With hares, the bio-diversity action plans, the hare hunts are involved in them, as has just been explained. They are also instrumental in ensuring that farmers and land managers view hares as a good thing, because hare shoots can be very effective in reducing numbers of hares where they are a pest and they can take out between 40 and 70 per cent of the population. So hare hunts play a role and I think the figures from the coursing world show that in areas where coursing is practised, hare numbers are higher than the average density of hares in farm land.
THE CHAIRMAN: We heard the point, when we were going on our visits, on more than one occasion. It was an argument which was similar to the argument we have heard about deer. It is not in the cases where you have hunting, you actually have a better stock of hare than in the cases when you do not have hunting. Could you take us through these a), is this a case that you make and b), what are the mechanisms which bring this about?
SIR JAMES EBERLE: Could I take you through a few of the things which hunts do which go to improve and maintain and sustain a healthy population? First of all, it is the knowledge of what that population is. Hares are very secretive creatures. If you are hunting then you see a large proportion -- not all -- who are in a particular region and area. We, as the hunting community, have and share with everybody else who is interested, knowledge of the population. Secondly, we go to investigate the reasons where there is decline. There are all sorts of reasons; it may be poaching, it may be disease, it may be just bad weather for breeding, but it is important to know because hare populations can collapse very quickly. Hares live on average for not more than 3 years. So they can collapse very quickly but, of course, the contrary to that is they can increase very quickly. Next, having discovered what the reasons are, the hunts are much more able to take appropriate action and in the AMHB report we do quote a particular case of how that actually happens. And, of course, one of the more important things is to speak with farmers to know what their feelings are, to know how they believe that hares are an important part of the balance of wildlife, that they need to maintain them and therefore to give advice as to how that best may be done.
THE CHAIRMAN: On another point which came up this morning. This was the question of transporting hares from one part of the country to another. Could you say how often this happens and are there any regulations or practices in place to say that this has to happen in a certain period of time ahead of any coursing event or other hunting activity?
MR JACKSON: Charles Blanning will deal with this, Lord Burns.
MR BLANNING: There is no limit on the amount of time which hares have to be on an estate before coursing actually takes place. What the rules of the National Coursing Club state is that the hares should show sufficient knowledge of the ground if that is not the case then the club could be brought before the National Coursing Club as breaking the National Coursing Club's rules. All our experience indicates to us that where hares are transported -- and I would say that it is in a minority of cases; on my count not more than 7 of the 24 greyhound coursing clubs have been involved in transporting hares -- that the hares do not, are not coursed until they can show sufficient knowledge of the ground, until they are properly orientated. However, what I would state is this, that where it has taken place, and we only have to look at history if you like, to see that moving hares can be a conservation plus; after all, the brown hare would not be in this country if the Romans had not used them for sporting purposes in the first place. Where hare movement has taken place it has been an enormous and sustainable success.
THE CHAIRMAN: How do you know when a hare shows knowledge of its area and secondly typically how long do you think that gap is? There may not be a rule about the gap there should be. But do you have any indication that you can give as to what it typically would be?
MR BLANNING: We have no indication no, because when hares are moved they are given a considerable amount of time to get used to their new surroundings. The calendar, if you like, dictates this because hares are mainly moved in the late winter or early spring. That is when the hare shoots are usually going to take place and the hares are moved from estates where otherwise they would have been shot for control purposes. So what is happening is that the hares are being put down, often in late February, early March and then, of course, they are outside the coursing season. The coursing season does not start again until the following September.
THE CHAIRMAN: So that would be six months, effectively.
MR BLANNING: Yes.
LORD SOULSBY: Along the same lines as Lord Burns' question, we heard this morning that in 1988, there was a restocking programme from East Anglia to the north-west coast, the Morecambe area but it was not successful and I am wondering why it was not successful. Did they not become acclimatised to that part of the world, or was there disease or something like that happening?
MR BLANNING: The introduction of the hares in fact was a success. The figures being referred to by Deadline 2000 and which actually they will find in the Game Conservancy submission to the Inquiry, show that hares were introduced between the ending of the Waterloo Cup and the second count being taken. The reason why the count was being taken was for the Game Conservancy to discover just what the disruption was amongst the hare population by a major event like the Waterloo Cup. So they counted the hares just before the Waterloo Cup and they counted them just afterwards. But in the meantime, because the hares have become available, 128 hares had been moved to Southport and what the report on Game Conservancy states in its evidence, is that this was an anomaly and therefore it explained the discrepancy between its 2 figures. What it was doing was trying to show what the actual disruption percentage was and, in fact, they found that 6 per cent of the hares disappeared, possibly because of mortality, and 15 per cent of the total because of disruption which would be temporary because the hares would eventually return. Now what happened between 1988 and 1989, when the Game Conservancy discovered that there was a lower figure per 100 hectares than in the previous year, was a factor which the Game Conservancy also referred to in its report and that was that in 1989 and 1990 the counts took place in appalling weather conditions. If I can just refer to the coursing calendar of those two years. In 1989 it noted about the Waterloo Cup: "There had been heavy rain at (inaudible) in the week before the meeting and there was standing water on the Withens. The gale blasting across the fields from the west blew throughout the meeting." And In 1990: "Apart from anything else, the 1990 Waterloo Cup will be remembered for its appalling weather. On the Monday and the Tuesday the area was battered by storm force winds". This, of course, was at the time when the counts actually took place. In 1988, when the first count had taken place, the weather conditions were ideal. As everyone knows who is concerned with hares, and the Game Conservancy points out, where there are storm conditions of that kind, the hares take refuge in woods and in any available cover and therefore, were not on the grounds where the Game Conservancy took its count. That is the reason for the discrepancy between the figures.
THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I think time is running out. Could we just have a few minutes on the question of mink? In particular, the questions that we would like to raise with you, which we raised earlier, is the extent of the disturbance to habitat that takes place with mink hunting. And the other point that comes up quite a lot, which is: is this really a very efficient system at all? Is it not much better to deal with the problems of mink by trapping?
MR JACKSON: Desmond Hobson.
MR HOBSON: Thank you. Mink hunting takes place during the summer, simply because during the winter the water is too cold for the hounds to be able to get in and out of the water and they would get hypothermia. Mink hunts make every effort to avoid disturbing habitat and, in fact, on occasions when I have arrived late at a meet of the mink hounds and I have looked up and down the river to see which way they have gone, it has actually been almost impossible to see which way they have gone, because unless a mink is actually actively being hunted, the disturbance is very slight and the hounds and the followers and the hunt staff will have moved through, probably within one minute. Temporary disturbance like that does not have a lasting effect on wildlife. What does have an effect on wildlife is regular repeated disturbance, so say, for example, the activities of other users of the river bank. Furthermore, hunts take great efforts to avoid disturbing wildlife sites. They try and liaise with the farmers, with land owners and say, for example, if they find a swan on her nest, then they will take the hounds out of the water, walk round the swan and then put the hounds back in the water. So they make great effort to minimise disturbance. On the question of efficiency. Mink hunting with hounds clearly complements trapping. Yes, trapping is an efficient method of control but so is mink hunting and I think we should view it in the context of the fact that there are only 20 mink hound packs operating in the whole of England and Wales and that is about one pack per 10 fox hunts. So on those rivers which are regularly hunted for mink, mink hunting must be having an effect and mink hunting is also valuable in pointing out the presence of mink, which farmers may not have otherwise been aware of, so that those mink which they do not manage to catch -- and they do not always catch all the mink present -- farmers can then attempt to trap. In terms of time spent, trapping is very labour intensive. By law traps have to be checked every 24 hours. Trapping is not feasible in areas of high public access because river keepers tell us that if the public see traps they throw them into the river. So with the increase in public access to river banks which is expected, then trapping may become less and less possible. In terms of time spent, well, in the space of a couple of hours the mink hunt may be able to catch say three or four mink, which depends on the numbers of mink there, which is probably far greater than the numbers of mink which can be trapped in that time space.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if I could pick up on the question of otters. It does seem a little strange that when we are trying to reinstate otters, we are allowing hunting with hounds that previously -- I know not the same hounds -- but previously the history of those packs were hunting otters. How able are you train the hounds not to attack otters, not to disturb their habitats and so forth?
MR HOBSON: Up until recently, the rules of the Master of the Mink Hunts Association said that mink hunts were not allowed to use hounds which were entered to otter, which means that they were not able to use hounds which could recognise the scent of otters. They have dropped that rule simply because there are now no hounds alive which can recognise the scent of otters. In the past people said that otters were the hardest quarry species to enter hounds to. The rules of mink hunts now say that hunts must take precautions to avoid finding an otter and if they do find an otter then they must withdraw their hounds immediately. This morning, in the first session, we heard of submissions put in by the wildlife trusts by the Otters River Trust people and they were alleging that mink hunts disturb otters. Well, I have spoken to all the hunts concerned and they all flatly denied that that occurred and the one example of the Pembrokeshire mink hounds, which took place during the 1980s, which was done by the anonymous friend of the anonymous person who saw the hunt, the huntsman said: if they found otters, why was attention not drawn to this 15, 20 years ago when it supposedly occurred?
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if I might follow up on further disturbance apart from the disturbance that might or might not be caused by hounds. You cite quite a lot of followers and I think your own submission cites up to 150 people supporting the mink hounds. That sounds like an awful lot of people running up and down the river bed when most of us recognise that the (inaudible) is fairly fragile particularly to human damage. Do you log occasions of damage? Can you give us any evidence of how much damage there is, how that is minimised and maybe perhaps the other types of hunt could comment in the same way?
MR HOBSON: Mink hunts are required to have a field master and the field master's job is to ensure that the followers do not stray in areas where they might cause damage. The followers do not walk along the river bed, they walk along the river bank and only when the hunt is actually in progress do one or two members, normally only the huntsman, actually get in the river and that is only when necessary. They go to great lengths to avoid damaging crops or habitats, simply because if they did, the farmer would not invite them back the next year. So they have a vested interest in ensuring they do not. I certainly note that Deadline 2000's submission has not been able to document a single example of an otter being killed by mink hunts.
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I ask before the other hunts carry on if Professor Winter could come in?
PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER: I just wanted to pursue this matter of disturbance. You say hunt followers are advised to keep to the river bank and not the river. But, of course, those of us who followed with interest the re-introduction of the otter and the improvement of its river bank know the river bank is crucial to that. Indeed, most countryside stewardship scheme agreements with farmers to do with otters, are all to do with fencing off and protecting river banks and I am wondering how you deal with that, which would actually prevent people from getting close enough to see anything, I would imagine. MR HOBSON: The followers walk along the river bank. They stay on the river bank and they -- normally crops go right up the to the edge of the river, so they normally walk in that narrow margin between the growing crops and the bank itself. Also river banks are not very nice places; they are normally covered in 8 foot high nettles so I think it is a disincentive.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER: I think this is perhaps slightly dated. There are large areas of river bank now set aside and with countryside stewardship schemes and so on and so forth where that is not the case and where ideal otter habitat has been provided. Certainly, the whole emphasis of policy at the moment is to get crops back from that area because that is what otters need and it seems to me there is an issue here of how you deal with that.
MR HOBSON: Absolutely. The trend is definitely to provide greater habitats and to provide linear features along river banks which can be used by otters and other forms of wildlife. The areas which are important to otters are the root structures under river banks which may be used as holts and refuges and also stick piles, whether they are natural piles or artificial piles. Hunts make a great effort to avoid damaging those areas and where they do, where a mink has gone to ground in one of those structures, they are required under the rules of their federation to restore that bank back to the condition it was in. Normally, mink will go to ground, say in the rubble behind a weir or in rubble which has been in field along a river bank.
THE CHAIRMAN: Okay. I think that is probably sensible time to stop. Thank you very much Mr Jackson and your team for evidence. I think we have covered most of the agenda and certainly we have covered the issues that we wanted to raise with you.
MR JACKSON: As I said, there are one or two points we would like to pick up this afternoon.
THE CHAIRMAN: Okay.
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