COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY INTO HUNTING WITH DOGS

ORAL EVIDENCE: COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE AND DEADLINE 2000

Monday, 10th April 2000

AT: Posthouse Hotel,
Bloomsbury,
Coram Street,
London, WC1N 1HT.

Members of Committee:

LORD BURNS (Chairman)
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH
LORD SOULSBY
PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER


SESSION ONE - REASONS WHY THE QUARRY SPECIES ARE HUNTED AND THE EFFCETIVENESS OR OTHERWISE OF HUNTING AND OF OTHER FORMS OF POPULATION MANAGEMENT

DEADLINE 2000

Representation Panel Chairman

William Swann Veterinary Consultant

Panel:

Douglas Batchelor LACS Chairman
Colin Booty RSPCA Senior Wildlife Officer
Mike Huskisson LACS monitor
David Coulthread LACS Head of Public Affairs
Kevin Hill IFAW monitor
Peter White IFAW monitor

Monday, 10th April 2000 (10.00 am)

THE CHAIRMAN: Good morning, and welcome back. Today we have a further set of issues. I am a little unsure about how fast we will get through the agenda but it is possible that we may spend the first session on the first topic, which is the reasons why the quarry species are hunted, and the effectiveness of hunting and of other forms of population management, and then deal with the other three topics in the second session. But if we make faster progress on the first topic, then maybe we will move on to the second. My starting point is we may have enough material in the first topic for the first session. Victoria will lead on this topic. The agenda suggests that we should look at it species by species. But I would like to ask you, again, whether you have any general comments on these issues, and whether you would like to make an opening statement.

MR SWANN: Good morning, Lord Burns, Members of the Committee. I have a very brief opening statement, and Colin Booty will be our main spokesperson for this first session. A "pest" has been defined as an animal which competes with man for a resource. It is established beyond reasonable doubt that the fox is not an animal which causes significant agricultural loss. Predators have always had a bad press. In more rational times, we would cite McDonald et al: Is the fox a pest? and endorse the MAFF submission to this inquiry. The fox does not cause significant agricultural loss. Bad farming, dealing with the rigours of marginal farming and changing weather do. There are valid reasons for reclassifying the fox as a mammal which is not a pest at normal, naturally controlled population densities. Where the population may rise in a local area, there are methods of keeping the population under control. Recent work in Melbourne, Australia shows that this can sometimes be achieved by chemical means. However, for the time being, in Britain we believe that the predominant method of control will be by shooting but primarily of individual animals as opposed to population control. The majority of Britain's farmers -- and let us remember that Britain enjoys the highest standards of animal welfare in Europe -- prefer shooting as a means of controlling foxes; if asked, they will say because they believe it to be more humane. The attack on shooting by the supporters of hunting is a misrepresentation of the facts in this respect. Most foxes killed by the hunt are young males, who play little or no part in breeding in the year they are killed. Few foxes survive into the wild into old age and the assertion that hunting kills old animals, I am afraid, is nonsense. When necessary, deer are controlled throughout the United Kingdom by shooting. The factor of one major Scottish estate has stated that, quite apart from the welfare considerations, important as they are, the unselective, time-consuming and costly nature of hunting with dogs would render it impractical as a means of culling. In our enlightened part of Britain, hunting with deer is of course illegal, with dogs. Hare are in need of conservation in most areas of Britain. Mink may be trapped or shot. It is the opinion of our organisations that the claims made by the Countryside Alliance -- that hunting plays a vital role in pest control and conservation -- are untrue, spurious and simplistic, and demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of how the countryside actually works. Thank you, Chairman.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: As Lord Burns has said, I think we will go through species by species for clarity. I wonder if we might start with foxes. You state that losses to foxes in agriculture are particularly low. I wonder if you have any evidence of the proportion of livestock lost in comparison with other losses, and whether changing farming practices is likely to change that proportion?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Dr Edwards. I will pass that question first to Colin Booty, Douglas Batchelor and myself may wish to comment as well. Thank you.

MR BOOTY: In relation to agricultural losses, if we take it species by species within that sector, perhaps, probably the most contentious area would be lamb losses. Our view, based on the evidence available, is that this is a relatively small proportion. We quoted -- in the RSPCA's submission to the Committee we chose to review documents which we thought were a fair summary of the vast amount of literature on this topic, and one document in particular: the review carried out by the Forestry Commission's technical staff. Their conclusion in relation to lamb losses was that, although this was often argued as being an important problem, the scientific evidence, and much of the anecdotes, suggested it was not. At most, we are probably talking about 1 per cent loss of lambs to foxes, and that is in context of losses of lambs of the order of 3-4 million, 3-4 million from a range of other causes, most of which is stillbirths, starvation, disease, et cetera, poor condition. Bill may give you further detail on that if you require it, but lamb losses were of that order.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, if I can perhaps clarify that point; that percentage was given of lambs lost, not of total lambs born. From my own experiences in hill sheep farming, I can state from first-hand experience that foxes are a very minor part of lamb losses. This is a view which is supported by the Sheep Veterinary Society. In studies done into lamb mortality, it is quite clear that the predominant cause of loss is either poor mothering or poor birth weights of lambs. This is a particular problem in marginal areas, where nutrition is likely to be poorer. In areas where lamb nutrition is better, losses are less. We can talk about lambing percentages in that the number of lambs that survive relative to the number of ewes giving birth, in some hill farms the lambing percentage may be as low as 70 per cent. I can cite areas of Britain historically where foxes have been absent, such as the Isle of Man, where marginal hill farming has achieved lambing percentages sometimes not much better than 70 per cent, which equate to some of the worst hill areas in the mainland of Britain. Again you have a direct comparison where foxes are and are not present. But lambing percentages get much better than that once you get off the marginal areas, and I do believe the reason the fox is seen as a pest is because these are areas where lamb losses are high. So it is a suitable scapegoat, a suitable reason, but, in point of fact, the predominant reason is poor nutrition. I would like to ask Douglas Batchelor, please, if I may, to comment on the same point.

MR BATCHELOR: My comments come from personal experience of sheep farming, which is actually my speciality. I managed over 4,000 sheep on Exmoor, over 8,000 sheep in Wales, and three other weekly farms that had sheep at various times. My experience of managing sheep flocks is basically this: that the management of the animals determines the lambing percentage. The fox, where it is relevant at all, is as a scavenger of animals who fall prey to management problems, not fox problems. Now, in essence, what Bill Swann said about mothering and birth weight, and I would add the weather, are the crucial factors. In sheep management, what I pioneered in Wales was in fact lambing indoors, until you had the ewe and the lamb, or the lambs plural, properly associated with each other, and then turning them out after lambing, usually 6 to 12 hours after lambing, into the weather conditions. My personal experience was that we would put something between 15 and 25 per cent on the lambing percentages of those flocks, either Welsh Hill or cross-bred ewes, and that had a very significant effect. The fox was a complete irrelevance in terms of percentage of lambs either born or reared or sold; purely a rural scavenger and not a management problem.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Would you recognise, however, having taken that evidence, that to farmers, particularly to individual farmers who are encountering problems, the fox is considered a pest?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, I think culturally farmers will always see the fox as a pest in certain areas, but I think this is a cultural point rather than a scientific point. I think when you are farming in areas where you are right on the edge, in marginal areas close -- in upland Britain, where you are close to the edge of moorland or extensive areas, then these are very difficult areas to farm in. These are the areas, as you have heard, where lamb losses are likely to be greatest, as a result of weather and as a result of poor nutrition. So the fox is probably seen more because there is more to scavenge on. You will have a high percentage of dead sheep littering the edges of moorland, which cannot be cleared away at that time of the year. This forms carrion for foxes to feed on. You will have dead lambs, which also is carrion. So it is a cultural point that farmers perceive the fox as a pest, but the science does not support that view in reality. I stress the cultural side of this as an issue. Thank you.

LORD SOULSBY: While agreeing that the numbers of lambs taken by foxes may vary greatly up and down the country, there seems to be, at least from the evidence we have received, parts of the country, such as the Lake District, where losses are a bit higher than the 1 per cent that you mentioned, and they would put it at 3 to 5 per cent from foxes. I think they will admit that the health of the ewe and the health of the lamb is important in that higher level. They would absolutely deny the figure which I think was mentioned somewhere of 25 per cent of losses of lambs, not due to foxes but as an annual death rate. But the point I am coming to is that if it is 1 per cent or 2 per cent or 3 per cent, any loss to a farmer is significant. It just adds to the general loss of lambs that would eventually end up by profit. So I do not think that one can necessarily dismiss the fact that it is only 1 per cent. That is -- certain lambs are not in part of the farmer's welfare, properly.

MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, I will give you a brief response to that. I know that Douglas Batchelor will want to speak on the same point. I would make the point that, in areas where losses are possibly higher, and the fox may be implicated, this can in large part be taken back to looking at the birth weight of the lamb and mothering capacity of the ewe. A fairly fit, active, well-fed ewe is a fairly formidable creature, and is a very good and effective mother. So if the lamb birth weight is high, and if the lamb has the necessary amount of body fat to get through its initial few days of survival, and if the mother is adequately fed, then I believe that is the greatest defence against lamb losses, be it from fox predation or whatever cause. I believe that where the percentage does creep up -- and I accept that it does in some upland areas -- I think it is primarily because we have these predisposing factors related to nutrition and weather. I do not think, once again, that the fox is acting as a primary predator. I think it is acting opportunistically because you have what are disadvantaged lambs available to be taken. I do not think it would take fit, healthy lambs, once they are up on their feet and running around. I am sorry, if I may just make the point on this: management practices can play an enormous part in reducing the losses of all types of lamb loss, but certainly this is one area where good management practice can make a big difference. May I ask Douglas Batchelor, Chairman, to make a brief comment on the same point.

MR BATCHELOR: Again, this is from my experience in farm management on sheep farms, but I think a distinction needs to be drawn between the fox removing the lamb which is already dead and the fox being the cause of death. The evidence, in my personal experience, is that if you take the weather in the last couple of weeks, when there was driving rain and freezing cold snow landing on young lambs, that would have had an enormous effect on casualty rates. To imply then that when foxes remove those carcasses that have basically died of hypothermia, that those losses were caused by the foxes is a complete nonsense. In management terms, our experience, and all the people I have worked with, has been that the fox is not the primary problem; it is either the weather conditions or the general conditions in which you are farming which are the primary problem. The fox is simply an opportunistic feeder on animals that have already died.

THE CHAIRMAN: There is an interesting issue here -- and it is one of the things we will have to discuss, the implications of -- but it may be that all farmers are wrong in that somehow or other they have not yet caught up with the science. But if they actually see it as a problem, does it not follow that they are actually going to seek to control the population of foxes by one means or another. And that really becomes the issue, as far as we are concerned, that it is unlikely that they are simply going to change their views about this in the short-term.

MR SWANN: I think, Lord Burns, you have put the issue in a nutshell. I think the fox is overrated as a pest in this respect. I think there are undoubtedly some justifications for looking at the fox in some of the marginal areas, as we have discussed, but I think your summary is a very fair one. I think farmers will continue to see the fox as a pest in some circumstances, whether through culture or through their own perceptions. But we believe that in this circumstance we are dealing with, by and large, individual foxes, and that the method of control is then specific to the problem as it presents. It is not a matter of trying to control the population; it is a matter of trying to control individuals which are seen as pests at specific times of the year in specific circumstances.

THE CHAIRMAN: One further question. Of course another point that is sometimes put is that we are dealing here, of course, with figures and experiences where there is an active attempt made to control the population. If one was taking a situation where there was no attempt to control the population, then of course we could be dealing with figures that looked a good deal greater than this.

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, may I ask Colin Booty to speak on that point.

MR BOOTY: Yes, Lord Burns. This issue has been investigated. Lord Soulsby referred to the Lake District; I can recollect reading the chapter in David McDonald's book, Running with the Fox, where he eventually persuaded the shepherd in that area to put a ceasefire on foxes for a term, over a year, so that David could study the foxes in that area, on that upland area. During that period of time, although foxes were in and out of the lambing fields, et cetera, that shepherd suffered no losses to the foxes. In addition, there was the detailed experiment carried out in Scotland by Ray Hewson, on the Eriboll Estate, where for a period of three years no foxes were killed on that estate. There was no significant changing in lamb losses during that period of time. So there is a limited amount of experimental study which demonstrates that the contention that you put forward is not necessarily the case.

PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: I wonder if I could broaden the discussion a little. If I have understood it correctly, there is an equilibrium population size of foxes, and that population size will be determined by a number of factors, one of which will be the total availability of food stuffs for it. We have concentrated very much on lambs, but of course foxes presumably consume other animals as well. In particular, they consume game. They are said to interfere with ground-nesting birds. They are also said to impact on outdoor-reared piglets. I would really like to hear you say a little more about that, because I think all those agencies actually do intervene in an attempt to protect their interests.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Sir John. I am going to ask Colin Booty to answer your first point on fox diet and significance to game. With regard to outdoor-reared piglets, then I think I can say that most of the evidence that I have seen to date tends to indicate that foxes are, again, opportunistic scavengers where outdoor-reared piglets farrow outside. Their strategy seems to be to take piglets which have perhaps been crushed by the mother, or which have been disabled by the mother, particularly if the mother and piglets are disturbed. So there may be a small level of piglet predation; I would accept that. Again, I do not think it is primary predation, and once again I think it can be managed by effective husbandry, because I think it is possible to mitigate against the disturbance that a fox could create. On the second point, if I may ask Colin to speak on the game side.

MR BOOTY: Sir John, of course the main item of the fox diet you did not mention on your list, which is rabbits; that is the major component throughout the country. So that is an important point that has to be borne in mind in this calculus about whether the fox is good or bad or whatever, where it is in-between. From a farming perspective, obviously, rabbits are, I think everybody would agree, a major, probably the major agricultural pest. There is evidence, both in this country and in Australia, that where predators are, in a sense, ruthlessly controlled rabbits are more numerous and more widespread. So there is that part of the fox equation to bear in mind. But if we look at game -- yes, there is work that bodies like the Game Conservancy have undertaken, but, leaving aside the ethical question about whether or not one takes a particular view about the purpose of that activity, that control of foxes on those estates can result in a higher proportion of partridge or pheasant which is then available to shoot. The work shows that. But, on those estates, that fox control is by and large undertaken by shooting. The Game Conservancy have also been investigating more subtle, more targeted means. We can perhaps come on to some of those in due course, but, to go through your list, that is one side of the game issue. There is perhaps also an indication in relation to foxes and red grouse, but perhaps the picture there is also more complicated, unfortunately, in that there is some evidence from studies that foxes will selectively prey on grouse which are affected by a parasite that is particularly prevalent in grouse. So a limited amount of fox predation can be a good thing, as well as competing with that harvestable surplus. In relation to ground-nesting birds, I do not think there is any evidence that foxes in general -- and I think there is a danger in making generalised statements -- are a problem in relation to ground-nesting birds in some species in some areas. In our submission, we make reference to some of them, and the review that was undertaken. One case in point was a coastal colony of terns on the north Norfolk coast, Sculpt Head, where fox predation was jeopardising the productivity and survival of that colony of protected birds. The solution there was partly a fence to prevent access but, because of the nature of that specific site and that specific habitat, some foxes managed to overcome the defences because they could walk around the edge of the fence at low water. So it was only a partial solution for part of the time. But the rest of that problem is mitigated by shooting, by and large, with a little bit of snaring. But it was primarily -- that suite of measures. So on that specific site there was a problem. But I do not think there is generally a problem. Certainly I am aware that, in the submission that the Director General of the Wildlife Trust made to the Committee, he made the point that he did not think there was a need for fox control nationally on nature conservation grounds.

LORD SOULSBY: Can I just clarify one point that you made. Mr Swann, you described the fox as purely a rural scavenger, an opportunistic rural scavenger. Would you say it is that, also, from all the other things that Mr Booty has been talking about, like rabbits? Does it only scavenge on rabbits, or does it kill rabbits? Does it only scavenge on birds such as duck, game and things like that? I rather gathered that with rabbits, for example, it actually killed rabbits and did not scavenge on the carcasses.

MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, you are absolutely correct because the fox has a preferred diet. In respect of its preferred prey species, it is a predator, but it does have a range of preferred prey species which, given the opportunity, it will catch indeed. It will then become an agricultural scavenger in the event it cannot find enough of its prey species. I am given to understand that that is the origin of the term. I can ask Colin Booty to expand on this, if you so wish.

LORD SOULSBY: It just occurs to me that, as a scavenger with a defined diet, it might occasionally get a bit hungry and then go over from its defined diet to undefined diets such as lambs.

MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, I will ask Colin Booty to give you a second response on that.

MR BOOTY: Lord Soulsby, the fox is a classic opportunist. Its diet is enormously varied. It is that variation and aptitude of the fox which makes it successful from virtually the Arctic Circle down to the deserts in Israel. It can cope with a wide variety of situations. It will, of course, predate/kill things at certain times. It will also scavenge on things at certain times. But, within that suite of options available to the fox, it does seem to have preferred items in its diet. For preference it will select rabbits and field voles, above most other things. The study I mentioned on the Scottish estate at Eribol(?) which was the subject of the three-year moratorium on fox killing. The researcher there found that, for much of the time, although only a small part of the territory was occupied by a sand dune area in which rabbits were fairly abundant, foxes spent a disproportionate amount of their time in that area preying on rabbits. Although there was, in a sense, from the shepherd's point of view, other stock that might have been available, that was where they chose to go. The food they preferred was there and they selected that.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if we might move on to other methods of population control in relation to foxes, and if you might say something about other methods, such as the Condition Taste Aversion, fertility, contraceptive methods, snaring and so forth.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Dr Edwards. That is a very broad question, and I will attempt to break that down by speaker as appropriate to your specific points. I am going to ask Colin Booty to speak, first of all, on alternative control methods. I will come back and talk about chemical control methods.

MR BOOTY: Condition Taste Aversion, or if I can shorten it to CTA. That is an interesting concept from a number of perspectives. I think if I take a step slightly sideways first to come at it, a few years ago the Game Conservancy, in a sense, were promoting the concept of controlling predation rather than controlling predators. We expand on that in our submission. That is a subtle but important difference. Rather than saying, for argument's sake, "The fox is a pest; we must seek to solve that problem by killing every fox", they were saying, "The fox is competing with our interest in terms of production of the game that we wish to shoot. How can we resolve that problem more subtly, more targetly?" The avenue they have been exploring -- and it is not unique to the work which the Game Conservancy are doing in this country -- a lot of work is being undertaken in the States, and in other parts of the country. It is not just on foxes; there are a range of species being considered. But, in essence, that is trying to, in a sense, say, "How can we make those foxes, in a sense, wary of, aversive to, potential prey such as partridge?" The benefit of that, if it can be achieved, is that you then have that territory, that fox territory, where you have foxes that will not prey on partridge, defending their patch of ground against other foxes who will not necessarily share that aversion. So, from that point of view, you deal with the bad side of the fox, if we can put it that way, but you keep the fox in place; it is preying on the rabbits, et cetera, the other agricultural component. So that was an interesting attempt to try and target.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I just come back on that point? I understand the theory side of that, but presumably the fox has to eat something. If you are going to use it, who decides what the fox eats and what it is made averse to?

MR SWANN: Colin, carry on, please.

MR BOOTY: Of course the fox has to eat something, otherwise they all go away and starve to death, and probably the imperative there to eat something might well overcome any aversiveness. But the aim was to try and make them aversive to, in a sense, what was a relatively minor component in terms of the quantity of their diet, i.e. the game birds that were the subject of the gamekeeper and the estate's interest. But that would only work in relation to, say, the partridge or the pheasant, whatever it is, but they are still going to eat rabbits, voles, earthworms, road kill, scavenging, et cetera. So there is a huge amount of diet/potential food still available to them.

VICTORIA EDWARDS: Would it not depend on who had control of the particular chemical used? In the sense that I think we have already acknowledged that to some people the fox is a pest, would it not then become a battle of who has decided that the fox is not going to eat the food that they are particularly protecting?

MR BOOTY: Yes, this technique would pose a number of approvals and regulatory hurdles to overcome. But it depends. I suspect, from a theoretical point of view, if you were trying to dissuade the fox from eating a major component of its diet such as rabbits, then I think it would be an uphill battle. In a different context, the Central Science Laboratory have been trying to run some trials trying to dissuade cormorants from eating certain fish. You can envisage that that is perhaps a slightly more difficult task than trying to dissuade the fox from eating a partridge because of the circumstances. But I do not see that -- we are not there yet by any means, but it is an interesting avenue, both in a practical sense and because it demonstrates this approach of trying to be targeted and specific about first identifying the problem. What is the problem? Is there an actual problem? And then trying to be refined and specific and targeted in trying to deal with it.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, you also asked about alternatives in terms of chemical control. The state of play with that at the moment is with respect of a study which was carried out quite recently in Melbourne, Australia, where fox populations have been successfully controlled with a drug called Cabergoline, which in effect disrupts the reproductive cycle of the fox by causing early abortion. It is considered that the stage at which abortion occurs is humane, although similar trials have not been conducted in this country. Cabergoline is licensed for use in this country and is available as a veterinary drug and is used in humans in this country. The problem in its application in this country at this point in time is that it is nonspecific, in that if you were to bait Cabergoline for foxes, you would have the risk that other species might take it. So the study from Melbourne is not directly applicable to the UK circumstances, but I do believe there is considerable potential there. I think if ever we do reach a point -- and I am thinking now perhaps more of urban foxes than rural foxes -- where there is a need to control foxes for whatever reason, be it through disease or through nuisance, this might well be an avenue that will in due course be the means of controlling the population. Certainly, the Melbourne study was very successful in terms of the population control. Thank you.

THE CHAIRMAN: What about the legal methods of control, and the alternatives there? Could we hear a little more about that, please?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. I think probably a few of us will want to speak on this topic because, principally, we all support the view that shooting is the viable alternative, with certain conditions attached to that. One of the conditions is that it must be the appropriate weapon for the circumstances, and the second is that it must be a competent marksman. I made the point in my opening address that competency and marksmanship is not something that should come as any surprise, because any agricultural tool requires a certain degree of competency in its use. The information on shooting foxes -- we are told, we are asked to believe -- is that a very large number of them are injured and suffer injuries. That certainly is not my experience. It is not the experience which is borne out by people who work with wildlife in carrying out postmortems, or looking at animals which have been injured for whatever reason. There is just no evidence available to indicate that foxes suffer high rates of injury. This is borne out by the statements made by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, which would also refute the notion that injury rates are very high. I think it would also fly in the face of farming opinion, because the majority of farmers believe that shooting is the most humane method of control, given the provisions which I have stated: that we have the appropriate weapon and a competent marksman. I would like to pass this on now to my colleagues, who would wish to comment on the same subject. Colin Booty, if you would like to start, please.

MR BOOTY: Thank you, Mr Chairman. In relation to shooting, the RSPCA has submitted data from its wildlife hospitals to those undertaking the research contracts to try and assist and inform that part of the work. This data comes from three of our establishments based in rural areas, a sample of 1,200 foxes that have been dealt with over a number of years. Out of those, only one fox is recorded as being admitted because of a shooting injury. A couple of other points to follow up on what Bill said. I was struck -- there was, you may have seen, an article in The Times last Wednesday. One of the authors was claiming that 90 per cent of foxes that were shot were wounded. There has been a response from the British Association of Shooting and Conservation that this is complete rubbish and there is no evidence of that at all. So there, in a sense, you have two extremes of the argument. On Thursday, the Committee was trying to explore in a different context what hard data there was, trying to get a quantitative feel for various aspects, rather than anecdotal. One thing that struck me in relation to shooting is that it is often asserted that, if you shoot, wounding is a major problem. But none of the submissions I have seen -- and I do not confess to have read all of them from end to end; I leave that to you.

MR BOOTY: But one thing that did strike me was, in a sense, there is very little anecdote and there is no hard information to say, well, the wounding rate is 10 per cent, 15 per cent, 20 per cent, whatever. There is no hard information in there. There is an assertion that in essence there is a major problem with wounding, but the evidence is not there. What evidence we have from our hospitals is that there is no major problem.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Colin. One point that has been made to me on a number of occasions with shooting small animals, and certainly those of the size of a fox or less, is that you have quite a small target area. If you have a projectile which has the appropriate energy at the point of impact with the body and hits the body, then the amount of disruption that is done is going to lead to a fatal wound. This is a very valid point because, it being a small target, if the animal is hit, the likelihood is that it will die. If it is missed, it is missed. The chances of hitting extremities such as limbs is very small because they do present an extremely small target area. The crucial point here is the energy of the projectile when it enters the body. If an animal is mis-hit, it is usually because the shot, or bullet, or whatever, does not have sufficient energy at the point of impact and as such it does not do the extent of tissue damage required to effect a fatal wound. This comes down to competency, because this lack of energy at the point of impact is only likely to occur if people are using the wrong weapon or using it at the wrong range. David Coulthread would like to make a brief general statement on the same subject.

MR COULTHREAD: One of the claims made for an increase in legal forms of killing is probably based on the assumption that hunting is an effective form of fox population control, and, therefore, its loss will be replaced almost exclusively by currently illegal and crueller forms of killing. The fact of the matter is that even the best estimate of the number of foxes killed by hunting only puts it at about 4 per cent of those foxes that are actually killed in any given year. In practice, Deadline 2000 believes that a ban on hunting will have a minimal impact on the fox population in any case, and in practice, farmers will continue to shoot foxes in much the same way as they already do.

LORD SOULSBY: Can I come back to the shooting. You say that the injury rates are very low, which is good news. What sort of guidelines would you like to see put in place which would ensure that to everyone who went out to shoot a fox? Would you give guidelines for the type of gun, shotgun, rifle, cartridge, load and things like that?

MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, I think that this would be valuable, but it is available. Quite a few of the shooting associations do give guidance on appropriate weights, calibres. It is not my specialist subject, and I will not attempt to answer the question in specific terms, but there are guidelines available. I think this would be an excellent way forward; that people should be given precise guidelines as to what is reasonable, what is going to achieve the highest kill rate. Colin Booty may wish to make a brief comment on this as well.

MR BOOTY: Yes, Lord Soulsby, really only to reinforce some of the points that Bill has just made. There are detailed recommendations in the submissions, for example, from the British Association of Shooting and Conservation. They also have a number of detailed Codes of Practice in relation to shooting, in relation to night shooting. So I think that information is out there, being promulgated by those bodies associated with shooting.

THE CHAIRMAN: Can I press you further on that. If there were to be a hunting ban, would you like to see legislation in terms of how shooting should take place for foxes?

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, at this point in time I do not think we have any proposals to recommend the legislative route, but we do look towards what are reputable associations to produce effective guidelines and Codes of Practice.

THE CHAIRMAN: Do you think there is anything in the argument that says that some parts of the country and some types of the countryside are less appropriate for shooting, such as upland areas, mountainous areas, whether it be the Lake District, Wales or whatever?

MR SWANN: My Lord, I can only speak from personal experience on this because my farming experiences are from upland areas of this type. On the very few occasions where I have seen foxes shot, there has been no difficulty in doing this. I was actually 7 years old the first time I ever saw a fox, and was so surprised; I was expecting something much larger and much more substantial. But in years following that, where we did see foxes around the farm, then I have never perceived it was a problem of being able to shoot them; they were always visible. The attitude always was that at lambing time -- which is when we thought we might have a problem with them -- you would see them, because they were actually around the lambing fields, or they were visible in such a way that it had not occurred to me that this might be a problem trying to shoot them because they have always been visible. Sorry, my Lord, Douglas Batchelor has indicated if he may just briefly speak on the same subject.

MR BATCHELOR: I think the parallel is worth making with the 90 per cent of deer that are culled by rifle in a wide variety of rural landscapes, be that hill to woodland, to mixed hill and woodland, safely, with, as far as I am aware, no record of a single human injury or fatality due to people using rifles under those sort of circumstances.

THE CHAIRMAN: Could I come back to the issue that we discussed briefly last week, which is about the Welsh gun packs, and just explore it again, the reason why you were against this form of shooting. On the basis I think of what the Committee saw, basically, the hounds were not being used to actually chase the foxes, so much as to disturb them and make them wander off in the other direction, which then gave the marksman the opportunity to kill them. I just wanted to press again the question that you are in principle opposed to this as well?

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, Douglas Batchelor will speak first, and I may make a comment following that with your permission.

MR BATCHELOR: I think the main problem we have is right back where we started. We do not accept that, other than in very rare circumstances, the fox is actually a pest. We simply see it as part of the ecological balance of the countryside. Therefore, our principal objection to that activity is simply that it is fundamentally unnecessary. I think the earlier comments that have been made about if there is a genuine belief that a fox must be killed, then it should be done in a humane manner, by a person qualified enough and experienced enough to do it.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Douglas. Lord Burns, I would make the point that flushing, in my experience, is carried out with a small number of dogs, which are under very tight control and which are not of the species or type that would chase. We are away from the pack to a small number of controlled animals. Now, in that sort of circumstance, flushing can be carried out very successfully. I have no experience of this with foxes, so I will not attempt to speak about foxes in this respect, but I do have with other species. My concerns are for large packs and the control of the pack. I would prefer to see any arguments on this side being brought forward making a case for smaller numbers and well-controlled dogs.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER: Can we just pursue this gun pack issue a little bit further because earlier you conceded that farmers, for whatever reason, were likely to continue to regard fox control as important and that shooting would be acceptable. Given that, are you proposing that it would be right and proper to make that task much more difficult for them; that they would continue to be allowed to stand around forestry plantations and shoot but have to wait for the fox to come out by chance rather than flush it out with hounds?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Professor Winter. Once again, I believe that we are down to the argument which we have put forward this morning, which is control of individuals where they are seen to be a pest. If you are not seeing them, they are not a pest, basically. But, in circumstances where there is a need, if it could be demonstrated that there was a need to control foxes in a local area, to try and reduce numbers for whatever reason, then I believe that that would have to be looked at in its own merits. But I am not convinced that the case has been made that there is a need to try and control the population, because this is one of the fundamental points we have tried to drive home: that you cannot effectively control the population of a fox in a small area because other foxes will move in from outside, and the breeding rate of foxes is sufficient that the population will rapidly recover. So in terms of trying to -- I want to get away from this idea that you are controlling the population of foxes, because this is not practical, this is not what is being done, apart from cases such as the Melbourne case, where you are using breeding inhibitors. But in terms of control of individual foxes, then this is a different matter altogether. I am not convinced that the gun pack is an essential means of controlling an individual. It is non-selective. It is not picking up individuals, and it is not contributing towards population control.

THE CHAIRMAN: I think we probably should move on to deer now. We have spent enough time on foxes. Could I raise again the same two questions? One is of the need for population management, and, secondly, the question of alternative methods of doing it if you do accept it.

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, I would like to ask Colin Booty to open this one. Thank you.

MR BOOTY: In a sense, the same principles apply, the same hierarchical set of questions: what problem are you trying to address, et cetera? That is fundamental. With deer, there is, I think, greater evidence, and a greater acceptance, particularly in relation to deer in fact on woodland, that there is a problem that can be resolved in part by measures to reduce the numbers of deer. The focus is on trying to prevent the problem. In some situations the problem may be prevented by using deer fencing. For example, if you are trying to coppice woodland, and you want a short period of protection to allow that coppice to get away, then a temporary fence can be effective. But it may be a question of, if your goal is to protect some element of woodland, then control of numbers in relation to other measures may perform a role. In relation to other aspects of potential damage, there is surprisingly little hard evidence at the moment about agricultural impact of deer. One of the points that we picked up in our submission, there was some work being done by the Ministry of Agriculture, which showed that there was no clear relationship at that stage of the research between numbers of deer and the damage that was being recorded on various fields, but they were doing further work to try and quantify that, and relate the damage earlier in the season to see what effect that had on yield. But, generally, there is an acceptance, I think, that deer numbers can cause problems, and that control is appropriate in some situations, and there are mechanisms in place, being put in place, to achieve that.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Could I ask you to comment on two particular aspects of hunting with hounds in terms of deer, and that is the arguments that the dispersal is useful, and the argument that the selectivity of it is useful?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Dr Edwards. I am going to pass that over to Colin once again. Thank you.

MR BOOTY: If I can start on dispersal, it may be that one of our monitors has some practical observations to reinforce that with, but the dispersal issue was one of those dealt with by Jochen Langbein and Rory Putnam in their 1992 report to the National Trust. They specifically addressed the question that was being put forward by the hunt; we are providing a valuable service, going through an area, dispersing concentrations of deer so that they do not cause too much damage. The evidence that Langbein and Putnam came up with was that was not in fact the case. That evidence took two strands. It was evidence from the behaviour of deer observed in deer parks, where, for example, when there was a disturbance, the deer aggregated together. They did not disperse away from whatever that harassment was. They clumped together. Likewise, in relation to the Exmoor Park, the observations of Langbein and Putnam there was that when hunts went through the Holnicote Estate, the deer aggregated themselves shortly after the hunt. You could see clusters of deer, herds of deer together. It did not serve to disperse. They came up with the contrary conclusion that, in a sense, hunting served to aggregate/bunch up the deer rather than disperse them.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, could I also ask Kevin Hill to speak on the same topic.

MR HILL: Yes, Dr Edwards. My experience of monitoring deer hunts for the best part of ten years now is that, in fact, when it comes to hinds, they may disperse one deer, and that is the deer that they may chase away from that area. The rest of that particular group of deer in that area, initially they will herd together. They will disperse for a short time. My experience is that, if you go there the next day, you will see exactly the same number of deer in that position, so I do not actually agree that they disperse the deer through hunting.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards also asked about selectivity, and I will just briefly introduce that topic, and with your permission will pass this back to the hunt monitors as well, that it is my understanding that the selectivity is in terms of stags primarily on appearance, that wherever possible it is the selection of a handsome stag, if that is the right word, to make it worthwhile chasing. And the second point is that hinds are selected just purely at random. It just happens to be the first one that will jump out and run when the hounds are put into appropriate cover. Those statements will be supported by the hunt monitors, and I would like to ask Kevin to speak, please, on that.

MR HILL: Yes. Regarding the selection of hinds which are being hunted, it is in fact the first hind that runs away from the group of hinds in any given area, and that hind may be a good hind, it may be an inferior hind, but there is absolutely no selectivity at all. Often that hind will also have a calf with her, and there is some feeling that if the hind is eventually killed, then that calf will become somewhat lower down the social group; it may actually struggle; it may actually die. Regarding stags, again, with the best part of ten years' experience, I can say that it is my experience that the most beautiful, most magnificent stag is selected for hunting. The hunting fraternity will push the idea that is frequently put in their reports; an old stag going back. In my experience, that is not the case. They will certainly hunt the largest stag in the area. If there is only two stags in the area -- I can recall a case last season when the Quantock stag hounds were hunting in an area in which they do not usually hunt. There were two stags there. There was a younger spring stag and a larger autumn stag. They actually chased the larger stag. Now, in terms of conserving the herd, what is the point in killing the only large stag in the area?

THE CHAIRMAN: The point is made -- and it has been put to us -- that the deer herd in the areas where there is hunting is, in terms of quality, very good, and it may even be better than it is in some other parts of the country. To what extent do you think this is a regional issue? Is it about environment? Is there any truth in it? Or is it due to hunting, which is what is suggested?

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, I will ask Colin Booty to speak on that point.

MR BOOTY: Yes. Most of the comparisons in terms of body condition are made in relation to where red deer have been studied most intensively; and that, not surprisingly, tends to be upland areas. Upland areas are poorer habitats for the deer. So, if you are comparing parts of the Lake District or Scotland, it is poorer quality habitat, from the deer's point of view, and, therefore, poorer body weight, poorer survival, et cetera, poorer productivity. So Exmoor, in a sense, is a much richer habitat. I think it is an environmental factor at large. To support that argument, I would say that you only have to look a bit further south of the Exmoor Park, where red deer are present in the countryside, and they have an even larger body weight condition than deer on Exmoor. So, again, they have an even lusher countryside, as reflected in their body weight and performance.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. I wonder if we might move on to the role of the hunt in terms of casualty deer. Could you comment on the usefulness of the hunt in those cases, and, if it is not used, who might pick up the casualty deer?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, I would like to ask Kevin Hill to speak on that, please.

MR HILL: Dr Edwards, this subject may well come under the heading of the welfare of deer. In my experience of seeing hunts actually chase injured deer, I myself find it quite appalling that you should chase an animal for sometimes up to an hour to put it down. I believe in the other method, which is to have a trained dog which will carefully, quietly go into a cover. It will trap that injured deer. As soon as it knows that injured deer is within the range quite possibly of the stalker, it will stop. Then it is actually down to the stalker to shoot that deer. The other method -- and I have seen this occur on many occasions -- I have been with a stalker who has been putting down injured deer. He takes local knowledge from the people in the area. He will gather the knowledge where that injured deer particularly comes out late afternoon/early evening to feed. He will find a position in that area. He will wait for that deer to come out. Then he will efficiently put that deer down. I have known that on five occasions with the stalker I have been with. So I actually do not believe that the hunt method is efficient at all. I do think there is a serious welfare problem.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, if I could also just ask Colin Booty to speak on the same subject from the RSPCA's perspective.

MR BOOTY: Dr Edwards, this is again an issue on which the RSPCA has made detailed data available to the various people engaged in the research contracts. So some of this information in more detail will feed in through the seminars, I hope, and the research reports. To give you, however, some flavour: deer are being injured, whether that be through road accident, whatever, throughout the country. There is nothing unique about Exmoor, that they only get injured in that part of the country, obviously. There are systems in place throughout the country. I asked one of my colleagues to examine one of our databases. For example, over the last three months of last year, the RSPCA received over 800 calls regarding basically casualty deer, and dealt with those primarily by our own staff, our animal collection officers, our inspectors; sometimes by referral to vets, sometimes by referral to other agencies, stalkers, whatever. So there are systems in place. Those systems vary a little bit from area to area. Sometimes if the police are contacted, they have the Forestry Commission Ranger on their books, et cetera, so that person is called out. So there are mechanisms in place throughout the country. So I do not think this, in a sense, is a unique service they are providing.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. I wonder if I might move on quite briefly to the consequences of a ban. If you would like to comment on -- you mention, for example, that you would expect things like the British Deer Society to set up local management groups. Can you comment on the extent of work that needs to be done before a ban were implemented: licensing stalkers, setting up deer management groups and so forth?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Douglas Batchelor has indicated he would like to speak first on this.

MR BATCHELOR: The Deer Initiative is actually a national grouping that has been set up to address exactly the issue you are talking about. It has a policy that has been accepted by all the members. I can provide you with a list of the members. The policy includes the fact that deer can be controlled by humane means, but that specifically excludes hunting as a method of control. It does talk about the educational qualifications in terms of stalking and deer management and, where necessary, humane despatch of deer; so that is a national initiative which has the backing of the Forestry Commission, as a national approach to cover the whole of England and Wales in terms of deer management. The majority, but not all, of the deer management groups belong to that national initiative. The ones who do not belong are the ones who believe that hunting with hounds is an ethical way of disposing of deer.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, could I also ask Colin Booty to make a comment on the same subject? Thank you.

MR BOOTY: Yes. Dr Edwards, to reinforce that point, I have been the RSPCA's representative on the Deer Initiative for some three or four years now. The Deer Initiative's prime function -- I cannot profess to speak on behalf of the Deer Initiative because it is a partnership -- is to encourage the establishment of deer management groups, and to provide a support service for deer management groups. It is, in effect, the Government's preferred method of delivering what they call "sustainable deer management". Various Government statements have been issued to that effect. There are also grants available from the Forestry Commission to support and assist with the formation of deer management groups. There is not a complete network by any means, but there is a network of deer management groups throughout many parts of the country. Some deer management groups already exist down in the South-West. There is a group in the Quantocks, for example. So, in a sense, the structures are essentially there, support is potentially there. The Deer Initiative itself is in the process of a transition; as from the beginning of this month it now has a paid Director. It will be engaging paid staff to, in a sense, act as Deer Liaison Officers, to take this issue forward, and not just specifically in relation to the small part of the country where hunting with dogs exists but to address deer management issues across the country.

PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: Could I follow that up because you told us a lot about methods and organisation, but the fundamental question about management is: how do you determine what is the opportune size? Can you tell us a little more about your thoughts on that?

MR BOOTY: I am tempted to say no. Why I am tempted to do that is that, when I was rereading Jochen Langbein's Report, he would not give an answer to that question either. Jochen Langbein's Report is a very interesting study which the organisations this end of the table contributed to funding, as well as in a sense organisations such as the British Field Sports Society, as they were then called, the Exmoor National Park Authority, et cetera. So a very broad suite of organisations funded that research project, which was trying to take the early work on to see, well, what information is there to address some of these management-related issues; are the deer causing a problem in terms of overgrazing of the heather moorland, or in terms of woodland regeneration in some of the areas of Exmoor? One has to try and tease apart the effect that large numbers of sheep in the areas are also having, but it seemed that, in some woodland areas, the numbers of deer were such that they may have been affecting regeneration. And Langbein suggested that that was an issue that may need to be addressed by the appropriate authorities. But he felt unwilling or unable to say what an optimum figure was in terms of the number that should be supported in any area. If Langbein were unable to or unwilling to say what the optimum figure is, then you are not going to tempt me.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We have about ten minutes left, I think. I would like to use that time to deal with hare and mink. Could I ask you to address them both in terms of population control and in terms of alternative methods of population control, if it is thought to be necessary?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. Once again, I am going to rely on Colin's scientific knowledge in this field to open the subject. Colin, would you like to speak on this, please?

MR BOOTY: Perhaps if we deal with hare, first, in terms of those two questions. In terms of population control, in a sense, the question -- if I may be so bold -- hardly applies, because what is trying to be achieved is not control of the population but an increase in the population. The brown hare, it is reckoned, has declined by something in the order of 80 per cent during the course of this century, down to somewhere now, give or take a few, 800,000. It is the subject of one of the Government's Bio-diversity Action Plan targets, which is trying to double the number and increase the distribution of hare. So, in a sense, to the broad question, "Does the hare population need to be controlled?", the answer is, "No, it needs to be protected and increased." But there does seem to be some evidence that the hare population is not evenly distributed. It is clumped and very abundant in some areas, so that in some of those areas there may be some damage caused. Again, it is surprising that relatively little scientific work has been done to try and evaluate the extent of that damage, but the reviews that I have examined say that, by and large, there is no significant agricultural damage. There may be some damage to cereals in some situations. Although, again, the picture is complicated, because cereal crops can, in a sense, recover, and can compensate for losses early on in the growing cycle. But some root crops, such as beet, may be affected. There is some evidence that specialist crops, such as vines and peas, may be affected in some situations. Now, in those situations, control, it is conceded, is necessary; there is an identified problem, and control is necessary in those situations. Control is by and large achieved through shooting.

MR SWANN: Sorry, Lord Burns, do you want him to proceed straight on to mink, or would you prefer to question on that area first?

THE CHAIRMAN: Could I just have a couple of minutes on hares? Some people have put to us that they cannot quite understand, in a sense, why there is so much concern about the small number of hares which are killed by dogs, whereas there is nothing that is said about the very large number of hares killed in hare shoots. Indeed, if anything, by the nature of much of your other evidence, where you suggest you prefer shooting over hunting, it is as if it was condoning the very large numbers of hares that are shot.

MR SWANN: If I could just briefly answer that, Lord Burns, by saying that our primary concern for this Committee is the fact that we believe that hares killed by dogs are killed cruelly, and are occasioned unnecessary suffering; so we have focused on that. The wider issue about the need to conserve or control hare populations is a wider issue, but the number of hares killed by dogs is not a significant number in terms, again, of the overall hare population. The basic statement that we have made is that the hare population does not need to be controlled; just the reverse is the case. There are some local areas where we believe hare populations might need more rigorous looking at, but we are not making any statement about the rights or wrongs of hare shooting.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I just follow up on illegal and uncontrolled hare coursing and hunting with dogs? Do you have any evidence of the extent to which this is happening, and any comment on whether a ban on hunting would make this worse or better?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, I think Mike Huskisson may have a word to say on that.

MR HUSKISSON: Good morning, Dr Edwards and Members of the Committee. I think there is not much doubt that illegal hare coursing, which is coursing without permission, is fairly widespread, but the containment of it is probably as much to do with -- doing away with illegal coursing first off would undoubtedly help with that. I think on one of our visits there was, I think on the card, the effect they would be pretty unhappy if people came back to course the hares afterwards. Certainly my experience of being with coursing clubs is that, when you ask to go out with them, they are not thinking first off, "Is this person an anti, an infiltrator?", but they are rather worried that he might be the sort of coursing enthusiast who will come back with his own dog in his own time and catch the hares illegally. As to the sort of containment of it, it ultimately comes down to a matter of law. If it is illegal to course hares, then it is the same as badger baiting, cock fighting, and what have you, all these other activities which should be contained by the law.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Before we move on to mink, very briefly, there has been a suggestion that hares are transported for the purposes of hunting and coursing. Do you have any recent evidence of this, and the extent to which it is happening?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Colin Booty.

MR BOOTY: The monitors may have some more detailed field observations. The most recent report that I have seen in the scientific literature was in relation to a large number of hares, 128, that were moved from East Anglia to Southport in 1988. It is mentioned in one of the scientific publications from the Game Conservancy, that 128 were moved to Southport as a deliberate attempt to increase the stock there. It apparently failed because, in the following two years, the hare numbers on that site continued to decline. There is a table of data in one of the Game Conservancy scientific publications referred to in our submissions.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Kevin Hill also is our man on the ground.

MR HILL: Dr Edwards, yes, in my capacity of my job and what I do, I very often do talk to people on the fringes of hunting and sometimes actually within hunting. I have spoken to a gentleman who has transported a high number of hares in his lifetime. He has told me that he has transported hares to virtually every coursing field in the country, and virtually all beagle hunts within the country. He has told me about hares which have been put down at Waterloo Cup, for example, in the early 90s. As I recall, he mentioned a figure of around about 500. It is my hope that this gentleman can actually speak to the Committee first-hand about his experiences.

THE CHAIRMAN: I think, again, we probably need to have a word about mink. I realise I interrupted the flow earlier, but if we could maybe have a word about mink?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. I will ask Colin Booty to speak on mink.

MR BOOTY: In terms of your two questions about population control and alternatives, there is general acceptance now that feral mink, American mink which are over here, are perhaps in some respects not as bad as was first feared, but there are two perhaps major areas of concern. One is in relation to some situations regarding birds; some colonies of sea birds have been particularly affected up on the west coast of Scotland, it has been reported in a study by Craig, and referred to in our submissions. So that, on those specific green colonies, mink are bad news, and control is necessary there. The other situation that has attracted a lot of attention is in relation to the mink's part in the demise of the water vole. It seems that, in a sense, the mink may be pushing the poor water vole over the edge. The analogy is made to the tightrope hypothesis, and this is a hypothesis advanced by David McDonald. It seems that the water vole was starting to be in trouble before mink became widespread and commonplace in this country, largely due to habitat changes, environmental changes, the way that our rivers, canals, waterways were managed, or one might say mismanaged, leaving just a narrow fringe of vegetation, reed, et cetera, along the sort of rather straightened waterways. In those situations, it seems that, where the water vole was teetering on the brink, the arrival of this new predator has been able to exploit that situation and cause serious damage to the water vole population. But, in those situations, what is being advocated by the consortium of nature conservation organisations who are addressing this issue -- we make reference to the Water Vole Conservation Handbook, which is a delightful read when you have a spare ten minutes when matters are not too pressing on you. They concede a suite of measures is again necessary. You need to get the habitat right but, in those situations, you may also need to be undertaking mink control. What they are advocating there is live catch cage trapping of those mink, which the whole range of authorities recognise is an effective, selective and humane method of achieving that.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. You make some mention of the destruction to otter habitat and otters themselves by mink hunts. Do you have any direct evidence of the number of otters killed, for example, any documented evidence of the type of damage and so forth?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Colin Booty once again.

MR BOOTY: The concern about disruption of habitat and damage to otters is referred to in various publications; for instance, the Ministry of Agriculture's advisory leaflet from their agency, the FRCA, highlight this as a particular problem. The Environment Agency, in their publication, highlight this as a potential problem. The publications on -- the detailed survey work published by the Vincent Wildlife Trust highlight this as an area of concern. There is a case history in there of an otter holt that was abandoned after a hunt went through. I would also draw your attention to the very detailed submission from the Wildlife Trust, which they say gives a flavour. It is not an exhaustive list, but the case histories there give a very detailed and vivid description of the disruption that their observers perceive to be caused by river habitat -- of course one has to bear in mind this is being undertaken during the spring and summer months -- that that disruption was causing to various breeding birds and otters. There was a case in mind, if I remember correctly, in Northumberland, where an otter holt -- because that part of the county was on the periphery of an area that was just being recolonised by otters. There was a site known to be occupied by otters. Apparently against the wishes of people in that area, the mink hunt went through and that site was then abandoned.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if we might stick with disturbance of habitat, and disturbance in general, and wrap it up with the question about the hunt, and the extent to which the hunt can disturb livestock, crops, wildlife habitat; we have mention of the dogs spreading tapeworms. Can you give us some evidence on that type of disturbance?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, we could probably all give you some anecdote on this, but I think initially I will ask David Coulthread to make a short statement. Then others may wish to speak, if you have the time.

MR COULTHREAD: The one bit of evidence that we would certainly point you to are the appendices, where we list, I think, quite extensive examples of the reported destruction from trespass, et cetera, that takes place, we would say, as apart from a normal course of a day's riding through the countryside. In the submissions that have been placed I think by all three of the organisations, we do I think place quite a bit of emphasis on a lot of the research that has been conducted, particularly into tapeworm infection, resulting from hounds crossing fields and, therefore, being passed into the food chain. We would simply state that the wealth of evidence, as reported by incidents where hunts do run across people's land and across countryside, shows that, as I say, this really is part of the day-to-day features of hunting.

THE CHAIRMAN: Many thanks for your helpful evidence; I think we had probably better stop at this point. We have managed to get through most of the agenda. I hope you feel you have had the opportunity to make most of the points that you wanted to make, recognising that these sessions are always under a certain amount of time pressure.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. Yes, that is indeed the case, thank you.

(Short break).  

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Date uploaded to site 13 April 2000