Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles

Chairman: Admiral Sir James Eberle GCB MH

18th February, 2000


The Hunting of the Hare with Hounds

Joint submission to the Burns Inquiry by the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB) and the Masters of Basset Hounds Association(MBHA).



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Introduction (p.2)

Section 1 (p.3 - Structure and Governance) and Section 2 (p.6 - Hunting the Hare) are written in direct response to the Inquiry Question 1.

Other matters in relation to hare hunting, which are raised by the Inquiry’s detailed questions, are addressed briefly as follows:-

Section 3 (p.12 ) deals in general terms with the Rural Economy and the Social and Cultural Life of the Countryside.

Section 4 (p.15) relates to the issues of Agriculture and Pest Control and of Animal Welfare, as they pertain to the hare.

Section 5 (p.21 ) addresses issues related to the Implementation of a ban.

A summary is provided at page 23.

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The fundamental principle which underpins all hunting is that it is the pursuit of the quarry in its "… wild and natural state with a pack of hounds." (1).

  1. The practice of hunting the hare on foot with hounds is among the oldest and best recorded form of hunting, which is known to date back more than 2000 years. Today, the hare is hunted on foot with packs of beagles or bassets; and from horses with packs of harriers. The harrier, being considerably larger in size than the beagle or basset, is also used by some packs for hunting the fox.

  2. As a result of a rapid expansion in the number of harrier packs during the latter part of the 19th century, the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB) was formed in 1891. Its original purpose was to help maintain and improve the quality of both harriers and beagles by the establishment of a recognised studbook - a formal record of hound breeding. An annual hound show for harriers and beagles at Peterborough was also established.

  3. This first AMHB stud book of 1891 lists 57 packs of harriers and 12 packs of beagles. There were undoubtedly many others at that time. A subsequent reduction in the number of private harrier packs and an increase in the beagle packs took place principally in the first part of the twentieth century. There are now 102 recognised packs of hare hounds in England and Wales, 72 packs of Beagles (including 7 attached to schools or colleges); 20 packs of harriers, about half of whom also hunt the fox; and 10 packs of bassets.

  4. The Masters of Basset Hounds Association (MBHA) was formed in 1911 for similar reasons. The ten packs of bassets, which are administered through their own Association, is the highest number for some years.

  5. There are over two hundred packs of hounds hunting the hare in some eight other countries. The approximate principal numbers are: France - l15: USA - 40: New Zealand - 30: Ireland - 25. A few of these packs are incorporated in the membership of the British Foxhunting, Beagle & Harrier and Basset Associations.


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(Structure and Governance)

  1. Since its inception, the role of the AMHB has expanded to the position that it is recognised throughout the Field Sports community as the ‘Governing Body’ for all aspects of hare hunting by ‘scent’ hounds (as opposed to ‘sight’ hounds, such as the greyhound or lurcher, which uses its eyes rather than its nose). The authority of the AMHB is fully recognised by all participating beagle and harrier packs. There are some unregistered packs of beagles, who do not recognise the authority of any Association. Most of these tend to be used to drive foxes towards guns. Endeavour is made to bring them under the authority of an appropriate Association, so making them accountable. The rules of hunting of the AHMB (Enclosure A) and those of the MBHA (Enclosure B) are fully compatible
  2. All Masters are required to be Members of the AMHB (or MBHA), and are responsible to their Association for all the activities of their hunt. Membership of the Associations is also open to former Masters and to those others who have a proper interest in the hunting of the hare. The members of the AMHB, who currently number a little under 700, and who pay an annual subscription, elect at the AGM a Joint Harrier and Beagle Committee to run the affairs of the Association. The Committee elect a Chairman who normally serves for three years. The AGM also elects annually an Association President. The MBHA has a similar structure with around 100 members.
  3. The AMHB lays down the rules for the administration and conduct of hare hunting. A formal inquiry and disciplinary procedure is included. There has, been one disciplinary inquiry related to hare hunting during the last five years. The Association’s objectives (2) are to:-
    1. encourage the maintenance of a healthy and balanced population of hares
    2. maintain standards of conduct and performance among its members
    3. preserve good relations between members, with outside organisations and with the general public.


  4. The Association’s rules for the conduct of hunting provide, for instance, that hounds should be prevented from hunting in ‘built up’ areas; that all hounds should be uniquely ‘ear-marked’ so as to provide identification; and forbids the season’s hare hunting to continue after the 1st April. Many packs however finish before this date, the date being variable and dependent on such local factors as the progress with lambing or the prospects for the early appearance of leverets.. The Association also issues a "Code of Conduct" (Enclosure C) for all who participate in hare hunting. A harrier pack when hunting foxes has to abide by the rules of the Master of Foxhounds Association (MFHA).
  5. The AMHB is served by a part time Director, elected at the AGM, who is responsible to the Committee for the proper administration of the Association’s affairs. This includes assistance to all hunts in such administrative matters as Mastership Agreements, conditions of employment, insurance, and health and safety. A day long annual conference for members is held during the summer. The Honorary Secretary of the MBHA performs a similar task for the basset packs, closely liaising with the Director AMHB.

    Hunt organisation.

  7. Each individual hunt is encouraged to have a formal constitution. There is no set pattern; but in the majority of cases, the hunt is run by a Committee elected by its members under an elected Chairman. Each hunt should set out clearly the position with regard to the ownership of the hounds and any other assets, such as kennels or vehicles, that are used by the hunt. The Committee also appoint one or more Masters, who are responsible to the Committee for the discipline and proper administration of all the activities of the hunt. The names of the Masters and other officials of the hunt, including the Huntsman who controls the hounds when hunting, are published annually, in the case of the AMHB, together with the rules of the Association.
  8. The "membership" of a hunt is variously defined and may well include as members all those supporters on whose land they hunt. The overall membership may thus number several hundred.
  9. Each hunt finances its own operations. The overall budget for a hunt will vary widely, depending on the amount of work that is done by volunteers, particularly in respect of the care of the hounds. A typical budget for a beagle or basset pack will be in the range of £12,000 to £25,000 per annum. Each hunt subscriber will normally make an annual donation of between about £30 - £200, and will expect to pay a small ‘cap’ or ‘field money’ (typically about £3 for a foot pack) on each occasion that he has a day’s hunting. Those who do not subscribe, together with outside visitors, are asked to pay a daily cap of around £5. The annual budget for a Harrier pack would be in the order of £40,000 to £80,000, with a cap of £10-£15. More complete and specific data will be available from the various ‘Hunt Surveys’.
  10. Fund raising events of a social nature are also widely arranged and provide a significant proportion of total funds required to run the hunt. For harrier packs, the profit from a Point to Point race meeting make a substantial contribution.
  11. Each hunt has a ‘country’ within which it is exclusively entitled to arrange its meets (Map - Enclosure D). Most beagle and harrier packs meet and hunt twice a week. The boundaries of that Country are registered with the AMHB, to whom the MBHA refer. Within these boundaries, AMHB rules require that meets should, as far as it is possible, be fairly distributed geographically throughout the country. The boundaries cannot be changed without the Association’s approval. Proposals for the initial registration of a hare hunting country have to be agreed by those fox hound Masters within whose fox hunting country the proposal falls. Where disputes occur between hare hunting packs, the AMHB acts as an arbitrator whose decision is final.
  12. Each hunt country is different in its topography, the type of land, the character of its agricultural practices and the resulting distribution of the hare population. These differences have a considerable impact on the hare, the type of hound best suited to the local conditions, and the way that hunting is conducted.
  13. The registered countries of all the AMHB’s hare hunting packs cover 90% of the total rural area of England and Wales. There are no registered hare hunting countries in Scotland. However, about sixteen beagle or basset packs in England have private arrangements to pay hare hunting visits in Scotland. These visits are principally arranged in the early autumn, but some from the northern packs continue throughout the season.

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(Hunting the Hare)

The Beagle Pack

  1. There are two types of beagle, that recognised by the Kennel Club of Great Britain with an approved breed standard, and bred as a pet or for show. This is commonly know as the ‘show beagle’. It has a remote relationship in its breeding with that of the other type, the ‘working beagle’, which is bred only for hunting. Under AMHB rules, no hunt may sell hounds, except abroad, and they may only be ‘drafted’ to other registered packs. The two are therefore almost sub species - with, in the opinion of many, the show beagle now having little of the athleticism, the balance, the nose, the voice, the stamina, the speed, and the brain that contains ‘hare sense’, that are the basic qualities required of a hunting hound.
  2. A pack of beagles in kennels will usually number between forty to fifty hounds. Each pack will normally breed from its own bitches, perhaps using a stallion hound from another pack. One, two or three litters are normally whelped in the spring or early summer. At two to three months old, the puppies leave the kennels to be ‘walked’ by hunt supporters, preferably on a farm. They will be returned to kennels some six to nine months later, hopefully knowing their name and having learnt that chickens, cats and sheep are not for chasing! Once in kennels, the young hounds will soon learn by the example from the older hounds how to behave on daily exercise around the kennels. They will be ‘entered’ to hunting the hare in the following autumn at the age of about fifteen months, a process which is natural; but again learning from the older hounds. Some of the puppies will ‘enter’ more quickly than others. It is rare that a young hound, bred from hunting stock, will not hunt at all.
  3. The kennels will typically consist of one or two main closed lodges with internal ‘benches’ covered with straw or other bedding material, each with an open concrete yard. The bitch and dog hounds will normally be kenneled separately. There will be a number of smaller kennels/lodges for bitches in season, for whelping, and for hounds which may be sick. There will usually he a larger grass exercise yard, a small concrete yard for feeding, a feed and bedding store, and space to house the various paraphernalia appropriate to the good care of the pack.
  4. The good care of the hounds requires knowledge and experience, high standards of cleanliness, and close knowledge of each individual hound. It is normally within the hands of one ‘kennel person’, responsible to the hunt Masters The AMHB aims to inspect each kennels once every three years to check the welfare of the hounds, the state and administration of the kennels, and to offer advice with regard to changes in relevant Government regulations, which are pervasive and legion. Good hunting has its origin in good kennel management.
  5. The ‘kennelman’ will sometimes be a full time paid professional who, as Huntsman, may also hunt the hounds in the field; and sometimes an experienced hound person working part time. If hounds are fed on flesh, the collection of fallen stock will be a demanding task. Accommodation at, or very nearby, to the kennels will normally be provided. Some beagle packs are ‘lodged’ at a foxhound kennels.
  6. The hounds will be fed either from flesh provided by the collection of fallen stock from local farms, from special hound meal bought direct from the milling agents, or from other local sources.
  7. During the summer months in particular, hounds will be ‘walked out’ (exercised) regularly, thus contributing to the health and discipline of the pack. It also allows the new entry puppies to be introduced to pack discipline. Each hound must know its name and be obedient. A huntsman or good kennelman should be able to walk out his/her pack of some forty or fifty hounds on their own with the pack under full control. On public roads or other property, an accompanying ‘whipper in’ will usually be present. The whipper-in will carry a hunting crop. This is not for the use of whipping a hound - but as a help to keep hounds together as a pack and to re-enforce the word commands of the huntsman. It is the latter, which is the essence of good hound control.
  8. The working life of any hound is a measure of its quality - but the average beagle will begin to slow up after some seven or eight seasons, and unable to keep up with the younger and fitter hounds, eventually will begin to ‘lie’ (hunt a non existent ‘scent’ on its own). Having lived a full and extremely active ‘pack life’, neither working beagles, bassets nor harriers adjust easily to being ‘re-homed’ - they are not, of course, house trained. In a very recent case, a beagle (Mischief by name) that was sent to a good home had to be returned to kennels after a few weeks because she would not settle. By comparison with most pet dogs suffering from old age, there is no final trip to the vet’s surgery, no stress of being handled by strangers in a strange environment. Old hounds that have been retired are normally put down by humane killer at the kennels, their own home
  9. The Harrier Pack.

  10. The harrier is not a breed recognised by the Kennel club. It is thus unique to hunting. There are now two types of harrier recognised by the AHMB - the ‘Stud Book harrier’ and the ‘West Country harrier’. The latter are larger than the former and are usually white in colour.
  11. The typical harrier kennel establishment, with horses also to be accommodated and cared for, is naturally larger and more complex than a beagle establishment and requires the employment of at least one full time professional. It may be directly compared with a smaller foxhound establishment. It is thus not described further here.
  12. The Basset Pack.

  13. Basset hounds are distinguished by their long, heavy bodies and short legs. The original imports into this country from France of bassets for hunting can be reliably dated to the 1860s. Since then, many additional imports have taken place of various basset types, such as the Artois Normand, Bleu de Gascogne, and Griffon Vendeen. During this century, a type now known as the English basset has evolved. Of the ten registered basset packs in this country, there are four hunting with one of the French basset breeds; the remainder use English bassets.
  14. The basset is known for its deep and full voice. It is much slower than the beagle - and so hunting is conducted at a more leisurely pace. Basset packs are generally somewhat smaller in numbers than a beagle pack and they will hunt with less hounds. Eight couple (hounds are traditionally counted in two’s) would not be unusual, compared with double that number of beagles. The management and care of bassets in kennels is in every respect similar to that for beagles. Two of the registered packs have full time employees in kennels; five are kept at ‘livery’ with foxhound or beagle packs; three are cared for on an amateur basis by the Masters who keep them at their homes.

    A day’s Hunting with beagles.

  16. Any day’s hare hunting can only take place through the co-operation and good will of a wide variety of differing interests. The meet will often be by the specific invitation of a particular farmer or landowner. The venue for the day’s hare hunting will have been arranged well in advance, with the permission of the host farmer or landowner having been obtained, the adjacent and nearby farms having also been informed and having no objections, and the meet being co-ordinated with any shooting commitments, with the movements of the local fox hounds, and with any other lawful users of the countryside.
  17. The hunt staff, consisting of the Huntsman and one or more ‘whippers in’, each dressed in hunt uniform so as to be easily identified, will have brought some twelve to fifteen couple of hounds to the meet which might be at a private house, a farm, a local inn or at some well known gathering place. The Master, who is in charge and who may also be the huntsman, will thank the host, who may well have provided refreshments, welcome any visitors, and brief the assembled followers on any particular local sensibilities that he wishes to be observed - for instance crops that the host wishes not to be walked over. The Huntsman will give instructions to his whipper in, or other designated followers, to position themselves so that, as far as is possible, hounds can be kept away from roads and do not create disturbance amongst stock, such as milking cows, pregnant ewes or ewes with young lambs. For a beagle meet, the followers (the ‘field’) might number less than a dozen on a mid week day, to fifty or more on a Saturday. For a harrier meet there will be the mounted ‘field’, car followers and foot followers. The total numbers may be somewhat larger than for beagles.
  18. The Huntsman will then move off with his hounds to ‘draw’ for (i.e. - to find) their first hare. He will have at the forefront of his mind the likely scenting conditions, which will vary with the weather conditions and the nature of the ground. On a poor scent, hounds may find it difficult to ‘hold a line’ for more than a few fields, and will hunt only slowly before running out of scent. On a good scenting day, hounds are able to run fast, holding the scent over several miles. The the ‘field’ will follow at a discreet distance so as not to interfere with the hounds.
  19. A considerable part of the skill of hunting is finding the quarry - and with large expanses of ground, some grassland, some arable, some woodland, which may only hold one or two hares, this may seem to the uninitiated rather like looking for a needle in a haystack. The ‘find’ may therefore take time, particularly when scenting conditions are poor. Hares seem to sense such conditions and tend to sit very ‘tight’ and will be more than usually reluctant to leave their ‘seat’. It is not unknown for the huntsman to step over a hare without it moving. Each hound will be seen trying to pick up any small trace of scent where a hare might have been feeding.- known as a ‘drag’.
  20. When a hare is ‘found’, it will spring from her seat and take flight. The whole pack will begin the hunt following by sight as long as they can, and then quickly bringing their noses to the ground and hunting only by the scent which the hare leaves. That scent will not only vary greatly depending on the weather conditions and the type of ground, but also on the condition of the quarry. The hare greatly outpaces the hounds and will use her considerable cunning to confuse the pursuing pack. After a while, the pack will be most likely to lose the scent, and will stop and cast themselves around to recover the line. This is known as a ‘check’, for which there are numerous reasons. The hare may have turned sharply, in which case the hounds may have over-run the line. The scent may have failed because the hare has run over freshly manured ground, or ground that has been foiled by sheep. The hare may have been ‘headed’ ( made to ‘alter course’) by, for instance, running into straying hunt followers or unexpectedly into a herd of cattle. Under such conditions, a hare will lose much of its scent, making it difficult to continue the hunt. If the hounds do not by themselves recover the line, the huntsman will try to assist by ‘casting’ the pack in the direction which his experience tells him that the hare may have taken. It also often happens that the hare has stopped and hidden itself ("clapped") and must be re-found. During a cast, which may last five or ten minutes - or even longer if the hare has clapped - it is not unusual that a different hare will get up and hounds will ‘change’. Under these conditions, hounds will be unlikely to catch their original hunted hare. Thus the afternoon’s hunting continues. The normal hunt will involve a number of such ‘checks’. It is only on the few occasions when there is a good scent on clean ground and there is no outside interference, will there be a continuous and unbroken pursuit by hounds, unaided by their huntsman, from ‘find’ to ‘kill’.
  21. If the pack is able to stick to a single quarry, then as the hunt progresses, so the scent of the hunted hare decreases, making the pursuit more and more difficult for the hounds. In the majority of hunts, the hare will escape unharmed, quite often seeming to ‘vanish into thin air’. But when the scenting conditions are good or if the hare is weak or has previously been injured or makes a serious mistake, then hounds may come up to catch their hare. The pack together will seize the hare, and death will come in a matter of seconds.
  22. Whilst hunt staff and followers take legitimate satisfaction in hounds having earned the reward for which they have worked very hard, a task for which many years of selective breeding has properly and uniquely fitted them, the pleasure of hare hunting lies in the quality of the hound work and not in the kill. One can, and often does, have an excellent hunt that does not result in a kill, the hare being ‘given best’, and the hounds being called off. For the quarry, there is always respect. This sentiment is illustrated very clearly in a large number of the many, traditional hunting songs.
  23. Because hares tend to stick to their own territory, hare hunting normally takes place in a limited area of country, of not more than one or two miles square. Some long straight runs are recorded – but these are the exception rather than the rule. Sometimes runs are fast and with almost no checks; in which case a hunt may last no more than thirty minutes or so. More typically, a single hunt, whether ending with a kill or not, will last for about an hour or hour and a half. This may involve a number of checks, such that the hare can be considered to be ‘under pressure’ for only a fraction of this time. A hunted hare who has got well ahead of hounds can often be seen stopping, sitting up and listening, before going leisurely on her way.
  24. At the end of a day’s hunting, in which some of the more active members of the field may have covered some ten miles or so, and the Huntsman and hounds will have run much further, it is traditional to retire to the host’s kitchen, or a local hostelry, for ‘the great beagling tea’, where people of widely differing backgrounds and circumstances cluster round the warmth of a fire to exchange views on the day’s sport.

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    (The rural economy and social issues)

    What hare hunting brings to the Countryside.

  1. The Masters of every hare hunting pack are required by the rules of the Associations (3) to "maintain a basic knowledge of the hare population throughout their registered country and to encourage that population at an appropriate level". In this way, hunts provide a unique and comprehensive source throughout England and Wales of practical knowledge and expertise about the hare in its natural habitat. They also provide a knowledgeable manpower resource for hare conservation work, that is not available from anywhere else.
  2. Following the 1992 Rio Environmental Conference, the Government established a National Bio-diversity Plan, which called for maintaining and expanding existing hare populations, doubling spring numbers in Britain by 2010 . It is administered by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), who have delegated its implementation to the regions. In the establishment and implementation of Regional Bio-diversity Action Plans, hunts in every region are in touch with local conservation groups, such as Wild Life Trusts, Environmental Groups and Farm Wildlife Advisory Groups (FWAG) to provide support. There are often few people in these organisations who have knowledge and field experience of the hare. It is in this context that hare hunters, many of whom have very long field experience of the hare, are increasingly being recognised as ‘guardians’ of the hare population; and a vital resource for contributing to the achievement of a healthy, balanced and appropriately distributed population of hares.
  3. The direct contribution to the rural economy of hunting with beagles and bassets may not be as large as that of the harrier and fox hunting community, since horses are not involved and much of their kennel work is done on an amateur basis. Nevertheless, the sums of money involved are not insignificant to a small rural community, particularly in respect of the value to so many farmers of the collection of fallen stock, the high costs of this service being provided by hunt members. All hunts also contribute to the ‘social economy’ of their area through ‘hunt breakfasts’ and ‘meets’ held at local pubs or on village greens, the use of local hotels for hunt functions, and the annual Hunt Ball. Just as importantly, there is an indirect spin off in the social cohesion of rural communities that reflects the passionate loyalty that hunts engender. This leads to increased support for small local enterprises, the village shop and post office, the farm that sells hay and straw, and the local garage that ‘plates’ the hound lorry. The extent of these contributions is indicated in the Hunt Surveys.
  4. Hunting on foot, being in most respects a less demanding and less expensive form of activity than hunting on a horse, affords opportunities for people of all ages and physical capabilities. Hares, being territorial by nature, like to stick by their own territory and tend to run in circles. It is perfectly possible to see as much of ‘the action’ in a days beagling from a position standing on top of a hill, as it might for the young enthusiast who prefers to try to follow hounds across country. Following hounds closely, however, is not easy. Even among very fit people, there will be many who will readily admit that they have never been ‘up’ to see a hare killed. As the detailed survey of a sample of hunt followers is expected to show, a significant proportion of the followers on a typical hunting day will come from an urban or sub-urban background, from all social classes and from an extraordinarily wide range of jobs and professions. All will have access to a rural scene in a way and over land that would not otherwise be available to them.
  5. The social impact of hunting extends way beyond the hunting field itself. The annual puppy show and other hunt functions allow followers and farmers to mix in a relaxed environment under the banner of common interests in hounds, wildlife and hunting. The AMHB also recognises six regional hound shows, which are popular attractions in the local agricultural scene, as are the many hound classes and parades at smaller local shows.
  6. Any meet of the hounds can only be arranged with the full support of the farmers, landowners and shooting tenants over whose land the hounds hunt. As a the days hunting do not run over ground on which they are not welcome, the Master or Hunt Secretary may have to be in direct touch with up to as many as ten farms close to the meet. Furthermore, up to 30 ‘advice cards’ may be sent to other nearby farmers. The courtesy of access for hunting is never seen by the hunting community as a "right" but as a "privilege". Thus, with each of the 102 hare hunting packs meeting some 60 times in each season with up to ten farms or more actively engaged, some 60,000 farmers families throughout England and Wales are actively involved with hare hunting. Many more are supportive. This indicates the breadth and depth of support for hare hunting within the farming community.
  7. Those people from all walks of life who hunt on foot, share a community of interests in their enjoyment of hunting, their love of the countryside and concern for its way of life, and a common understanding of the full meaning of recreation in a rural environment. It is not a recreation that is centered around the killing of a hare; but one that comes from a sense of well-being from the physical effort involved, from the opportunities to observe wild life of all sorts and the instinctive wiles of the hare, from being able to watch the special qualities of individual hounds, and the skill of the Huntsman in handling their particular capabilities, that ‘invisible thread’ that lies between him and his pack of hounds. These are experiences that all can share; and are shared by the thousands of people who follow hounds each year. They enable ‘bridges’ to be built between town and country, bridges that are important for social cohesion.
  8. Following the 1997 Foster Private Member’s Bill to ban hunting, the Wildlife Network commissioned a study of hare hunting by an independent author. In the resulting booklet by Charlie Pye-Smith, titled "Hare Hunting - The forgotten field sport" (Enclosure E), which covers every aspect of beagling, the author concluded (p.41) that "A ban on hare hunting would be neither sensible, from the hare’s point of view, nor just, from the humans". We believe that this work merits attention.
  9. Recent and prospective developments.

  10. The 1997 Phelps report, to which the Associations contributed, recommended the setting up of an Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting (ISAH) to act as a body for the supervision of all forms of hunting with hounds. This recommendation has been fully supported by the AHMB and the MBHA as a means of establishing public confidence that the rules and codes of conduct under which hunting is administered and conducted, are properly drawn and enforced. These rules are designed to prevent unnecessary suffering to the quarry, to restrict the invasion of people’s personal privacy and to minimise the creation of any public inconvenience. Where rules have been broken, ISAH has a responsibility to ensure that appropriate penalties are applied. Both Associations look forward to co-operating fully with Sir Ronald Waterhouse and the ISAH Commissioners.
  11. The AMHB’s Committee have initiated a full review of its existing rules. Some historical anomalies, such as harrier packs that now only hunt the fox, and therefore more properly belong to the MFHA, need to be eliminated. The MBHA will implement any rule changes appropriate to bassets originating from this review.

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    (Agriculture, pest control and animal welfare)

    The Hare.

  1. The Brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is classified as a ‘game’ animal. It is described in the Government’s report (4) as a "common and conspicuous farmland species". It is not, as some would have it, classified as an endangered species - nor is it rare. The hare has been given in the Bio-diversity planning a status requiring special attention, because there is some evidence that the population of hares in Britain has declined from a rough estimate of some four million at the end of the 19th century to about one million now. Surveys indicate that in the last two decades the population has been broadly stable. The Blue, or mountain, hare (Lepus timidus) is present in Scotland and some upland areas of England and Wales. Its population is estimated to be about 350,000 (5). It is not , however, widely hunted.
  2. Much of the decline in the brown hare population is believed to have taken place during the 1960s as a result of changing farming patterns (6) together with the increased use of pesticides. A 1988 Game Conservancy Trust report concluded that hunting with hounds had a negligible adverse impact on the hare population (7).

    Predation and other threats.

  4. Unlike the fox, the hare is vulnerable to a range of natural predators, including the fox, badger and buzzard. It is particularly vulnerable when very small. Being too young to use ‘flight’ as its measure of protection, it has to rely on its natural ‘camouflage’. The leveret is also at high risk from farm machinery when silage is being cut in the late spring and early summer. Many hares, both young and mature, are killed by road traffic.
  5. A very substantial factor threatening the hare population in many areas comes from poaching., The ‘old fashioned’ poacher who was poor and ‘poached for the pot’ for himself and his family has almost disappeared. He has been replaced by highly organised small groups, usually of youngsters from urban areas. They come out in two or more vans. They use radios to help avoid detection, ‘run’ lurcher dogs to catch their quarry, and are aided by strong lamps at night. They poach for sport and for the cash value of any hare that they can sell, rather than for their family pot. They take anything and everything that they can catch. They pay no attention to any aspects of the welfare of the hare, such as the breeding season or how the hare is killed. If intercepted and challenged they respond with threats, such as the burning down of the landowners hay barn. The police do not have the resources to cope with them. And if they do succeed in making an arrest and achieve a successful prosecution, the penalties able to be imposed by magistrates are no deterrent.
  6. The ‘poaching field’ is also increasingly, both in the North and South, being taken over by the unregulated hare coursing activities of urban based ‘professional’ betting gangs, who descend uninvited on privately owned farmland in considerable numbers. Large sums of money are involved in wagers on the outcome of ‘courses’, typically by greyhounds. Such gangs use violence against landowners and farmers alike, to an extent that even the police find it very difficult to respond effectively

    Measuring the hare population.

  8. Accuracy in the estimation of the brown hare population is difficult to achieve. The hare is mainly nocturnal, and during the day is very difficult to see or to find, even though it always lives above ground. Hares may lie in woodland, in hedgerows, on pasture, on arable ground, where they conceal themselves by digging out a small hollow (a "seat", "scrape", or "form"), and on open moorland.. Even farmers are themselves often unaware of the extent of the hare population on their own land. Thus the continuing, reliable and accurate assessment of the number of hares in a given area is not easy to establish. Hare counting over a period of time is complicated because hares tend to move from one location to another at different times of the year.
  9. Local hare counts can be done at night using a powerful light. This is known as lamping. This is a time consuming task which requires considerable local knowledge, skill, and experience of the ways of hares, if it is to be done thoroughly and reliably.
  10. The counting of hares seen during a day’s hunting makes a very valuable contribution to the assessment of local hare populations. Much care is taken to avoid double counting. But even a pack of thirty or more hounds when ‘drawing’ for a hare can easily pass over one or more hares in a field without disturbing them, especially if the scenting conditions are poor. Any bias is therefore likely to be low rather than high. Very recent evidence of a count in the Somerset area where there were a known number of hares fitted with radio tracking devices has provided some practical confirmation of this.
  11. These difficulties of hare surveys are compounded because the population of hares across the various regions of Britain, and indeed within hunting countries and different habitats, is extremely uneven. In East Anglia and on the south Downs, hares exist in some localities in such numbers as to be regarded as a pest, causing significant damage to seedling crops, and particularly also in the horticultural field. Supporting evidence that such damage does take place on a commercial scale is readily available from farmers and commercial growers. In other areas, principally in certain parts of the West Country, but also in South East England, hare numbers, which were once substantial, have reduced to lower yet stable levels.
  12. Three principal sources of information are used to estimate the overall level of the hare population and to detect national and local trends. With the establishment in 1961 of the annual Game Bag Census, the Game Conservancy Trust (GCT) is provided with data from a wide variety of large sporting estates which includes the numbers of hares shot. The relationship between the number of hares shot to the total population is subject to a number of uncertainties - such as the number ‘missed’ and what subsequently happens to wounded hares.
  13. An important and unique contribution to the knowledge of hare populations throughout Britain is provided by the analysis of annual reports, required by the AMHB from all hare hunts, listing the number of hares seen during each day’s hunting and, most recently, recording the numbers caught. This analysis provides a valuable picture of the state of the hare population throughout England and Wales in any one year.
  14. An analysis by the GCT of the hare reports submitted by hunts for the period (1983-1996) concluded that "there appears to have been very little change overall in hare abundance over the last 13 years" (8 ). This analysis was also used to disprove the suggestion that hunts tended to ‘clear out’ the hare population from one area and then move on to another, so providing an illusion of a stable hare population. In 1998, the Trust reported that recent evidence continued to indicate a hare population that was broadly stable (9). The latest reports from hunts indicate that numbers are now rising in most areas. Such an increase would be consistent with previously observed cycles.
  15. More specific numerical data on hare numbers, and on the hare as a quarry species and as a pest, is contained in an independent submission being made by Dr Stephen Tapper of the Game Conservancy Trust.
  16. Statistical procedures, involving walking the boundaries of randomly selected 1Km squares (The ‘Line Transect’ Method), have also been used by a research team at Bristol University to estimate the total UK hare population. The data collected during the winters of 1991/1992 and 1992/1993 were extensively analysed (10). A similar repeat study is now under way. In the case of the hare, the value of this method for assessing whether the overall population is increasing or decreasing is limited, because of the wide resulting confidence limits. This is due to the many uncontrolled variables, and practical difficulties in data collection.

    Conservation and the impact of field sports.

  18. Hunting of the hare takes place in every rural county in England and Wales with the aim of managing the hare population so that it is maintained in balance with other forms of wild life and at a level that is in harmony with its habitat. It is not easy to catch a fit hare with a pack of hounds. Thus the number of hares that are caught by hunts during a season is very small in relation to the extent of the hare population. There is much experience to indicate that many of the hares caught are, for one reason or another, not in prime condition. By thus conserving the fittest, the breed itself benefits.
  19. Hare hunting makes its most important and vital contributions to conservation by the encouragement and incentive that the hunt gives to the farmer and landowner to take an interest in the state of their hare population, and in keeping track of local hare populations.
  20. There was a very recent example in Devon . The hare population on one ‘hunting’ farm was noted to be in decline. The hunt Master was informed that a dying hare had been picked up by the resident farmer. Two other hares were subsequently seen to be dying similarly. One corpse was sent to the local veterinary laboratory for post mortem examination. This revealed the cause of death as a form of tuberculosis . This disease in hares is normally associated with over-population. However, this seemed an unlikely cause in these particular circumstances. Thus the situation raised two questions. Could the disease have been spread by badgers, as is believed the case with bovine TB in cattle? Was the disease likely to spread to adjacent farms? Appropriate beagle meets were arranged to ‘draw’ these adjacent farms, from which it was clear that the expected number were there and were healthy and fit - none were caught. The possible cause of the outbreak of this form of TB is still being sought. The hare situation in this area will continue to be monitored appropriately by the hunt.
  21. The number of hares caught by individual hunts during a season varies widely, being directly dependent on the type of country, the size of the hare population, the hunting ability of the pack, the skill and experience of the Huntsman in handling his hounds, the number of days hunted, and the local weather pattern which has a major impact on the scenting conditions. Throughout the country taken over an average of recent hunt hare returns, only some 5% of hares seen during a day’s hunting are caught. Some packs catch significantly less than this, and last year, ten packs did not reach double figures for the whole season. It is rare for more than 1 in 6 to be caught. Overall, in a typical season (1998/99), the hare reports rendered by beagle and harrier packs record a total of approximately 30.000 hares seen during hunting of which some 1650 were caught. On average, in two of every three days hunting, no kill resulted.
  22. In some local areas where hares are prolific and a pest, hunting is not practicable since the hares would greatly outnumber the hounds. The prime characteristic of conservation is therefore ‘control’; and hare shoots are arranged to keep the population within tolerable limits. It has been estimated (11) that some 40% - 60% of the hare population on large keepered estates is culled annually by shooting. (shooting a hare cleanly also requires skill and experience). Such culling results in regular annual ‘bags’ on individual estates of up to several hundreds of hares. The total number of hares shot, as reported in game bags to the GCT in the last season (98/99) was some 20,000, If this figure is extrapolated to include the estates that do not report their game bags, it is estimated that the total figure of hares shot each year would rise by a factor of about ten to some 200,000.
  23. There are those who would wish to ban hare hunting by the back door by making the hare a protected species under schedule 5 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1981). The Joint National Conservation Council (JNCC) have refused to recommend this, on the grounds that evidence of the state of the hare population does not justify it.
  24. Hare research.

  25. In the long past, there was a great deal of ‘folk lore’ and ‘mystery’ about the hare. Even today, our knowledge of the hare is still limited. The principal scientific research effort in recent years has been undertaken by the Game Conservancy Trust under the guidance of Dr Stephen Tapper. The hunting community, principally through an annual levy on every hunt, has provided some £120,000 over the last ten years for the support of such research projects related to the welfare of the hare and the maintenance of our hare population. Work is also been undertaken at the University of Bristol under Professor Stephen Harris and by Dr Nancy Vaughan, the latter engaged on a MAFF project entitled "Integrating farm management practices with Brown Hare conservation in pastural landscapes".
  26. An important area of research was undertaken by the Game Conservancy Trust (GCT) at its 800 acre research farm at Loddington in Leicestershire, in investigating the impact of habitat on the population of wild life and ground nesting birds. By the development of habitat-friendly patterns of farm management and the strict control of predators, particularly foxes, the population of brown hares there has been increased more than tenfold from a hare density of 2.5 per Sq Km to 29 per Sq Km in a five year period (12). From this work, English Nature are sponsoring a booklet which will provide information on ‘best practices’ for producing a hare-friendly environment, and thus increasing hare numbers. It has yet to be shown, however, to what extent such techniques can be effective on working farms in other areas.

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(The implementation of a ban)

    The Future - What if?

  1. The impact of a ban on hare hunting would be to abandon a self regulated regime of hare management, under the independent supervision of ISAH and without call on the public purse. This regime makes not only a unique, vital and irreplaceable contribution to our knowledge of the local hare populations across the country, but also provides and enforces the varied levels of management and control that now permit a stable hare population to be sustained. Except on keepered estates, there is no one to be seen who would or could effectively take on from the hunting community the ‘guardianship’ of the hare population. Without such guardianship, and without a very considerable tightening of the laws on poaching, and their enforcement, the resulting ‘free-for-all’ could only mean that hares would be increasingly at risk from natural and human predators alike.
  2. In areas where foxes were left to breed without control, following a ban on fox hunting, the increase of fox predation (13) would put at risk the continued existence of hares where a proper balance now exists; and to a considerable extent frustrate the achievement of plans for an increasing hare population, now being forged under the Bio-diversity Action Plan Programme. In the absence of hare hunting, any such decline might well go unnoticed for some years. Re-stocking of hares would not be sensible until effective fox control measures were re-introduced, so that the hare population could again be sustained.
  3. Where foxes would no longer be tolerated, and were effectively eliminated by other methods (because there is no longer an interest in keeping them), hare populations might increase. But, as has recently been shown on the south Downs, such growth in hare numbers only serves to attract the increased attention of poaching gangs, and of illegal coursing and betting gangs. In turn, this encourages the farmer to eradicate hares on his property, so as to be rid of the dangerous nature of these gangs. Indeed such action has already been publicly supported by the police.
  4. Many small private shoots whose land carries a small but healthy population of hares forbid the shooting of hares because they welcome and enjoy the meets of their local bassets, beagles or harriers. If hunting was banned, this restraint would in most cases be removed. It is highly likely that more hares, rather than less, would then be killed, many of them shot by inexperienced ‘guns’.
  5. There would undoubtedly be efforts made to preserve the best of the unique working qualities of the beagle, which have already been largely lost in the show beagle. But it is difficult to see how this might be done, particularly in the longer term. A few ‘champion’ hounds might be sent to hunts abroad - but as our hunts disband, some 5000 Beagles, Bassets and Harriers would have to be put down. Hunt horses from the harrier kennels would have to be disposed of. The harrier, having no kennel club status, might effectively die out as a breed in Britain in a few years time.
  6. There has never to our knowledge been drag hunting on foot with beagles because the followers would not be able to keep up; particularly as many beaglers are elderly. No future demand can be foreseen, not least because the danger of putting up a hare, and thus creating an offence, would be too great. A very few foot followers might be attracted to hunting the human quarry with bloodhounds.
  7. The wording of any legislation to ban hunting would need to encompass the situation pertaining to the landowner, taking his dogs for a walk on his own property, puts up a hare and cannot stop them from hunting it. Would this constitute an offence?
  8. If all hunting with hounds were to be banned, we believe that there would be serious social, let alone economic, consequences. The effect on many people who have lived and worked all their lives in rural areas would be strongly to enhance a feeling of the alienation and social exclusion of country people. Many of these will be the backbone of the local community, whether it be arranging flowers in the church, running the village shop and post office, being a local magistrate, or just playing a part in keeping village life going. Not all of them will have a direct connection with hunting, although they will probably have many friends and acquaintances who hunt. They may well attend the meet of their local pack of hounds, having grown up with hunting as part of the pattern of country life, and the tried and tested way of conserving and controlling foxes and hares in the balance of wild life. For local communities the impact would be deep seated and all embracing. For many individuals for whom hunting has been an integral part of their way of life, the effect of hunting becoming a criminal activity would be devastating, and seen as unjust to the many who have given their time and energy generously to the support of local rural communities. The most likely, and perhaps the most serious, result of all this would be a lowering of respect for the law and for law making within our political process.


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    Summary and Conclusion.

  1. Hunting the hare with hounds is a traditional country sport, which by its unique role in providing reliable information about the state of the hare population in Great Britain, and in encouraging conservation of the hare, is a powerful force for helping to preserve a healthy balance of wildlife in our countryside.
  2. The tradition of hare hunting is deeply interwoven into the social and economic pattern of life in the countryside, to which it makes a significant contribution.
  3. The typical hare hunt is not one of relentless pursuit to exhaustion - it is one in which the natural sense of survival of a fit hare outwits the skill of hounds and huntsman in the majority of cases. Where the hare is caught, its death comes almost instantaneously.
  4. The hare population in Britain is now stable - but that population is very unevenly distributed. In the majority of areas of England and Wales, the hare population needs ‘managing’ so as to maintain a healthy balance with other wild life and with its environment. In some other areas they are in such large numbers as to constitute a pest which needs ‘controlling’, because of the damage they do to young cereal crops, root crops and trees.
  5. Hunts play a unique and increasing part in the processes of hare management and conservation.
  6. A ban on hare hunting would bring no benefit, and probably the reverse, to the welfare of the hare.
  7. More hares rather than less are likely to be killed. The resulting reduction of the hare population in many areas would put at risk the achievement of the principle of bio-diversity accepted by the Government at the 1992 Rio Conference on the Environment.
  8. Those that advocate a ban on hunting have a clear duty to show that the regime that will result following a legislated ban, will bring about beneficial results for both the countryside and its way of life, and for the balance and welfare of the wild life that it supports. We have seen, and can find, no such convincing case in relation to the hare.


Jim Eberle. Richard Schuster.
Chairman AMHB Chairman MBHA


(A) AMHB Rule (‘Green’) Book
  (B) MBHA Rule Book
  (C) Code of Hunting Conduct
  (D) Map of Hare Hunting Countries.
  (E) "Hare Hunting - The forgotten field sport" by Charlie Pye-Smith. ISBN 0 9531955 1 1 . NB. A copy of this text is available in digital form.


Notes: AMHB Rule 36
  AMHB ‘Green Book’ p.5
  AMHB Rule 35
  DoE(1955) Biodiversity. The UK Steering Group Report.
  JNCC "A Review of British Mammals 1995
  Mammal Society Website 10.2.99
  GCT(1988) A Report on Hare Studies
  GCT Hare Research update 1996
  A Question of Balance GCT 1999 p.96
  JNCC "The current status of the Brown hare in Britain"
Michael Hutchings and Stephen Harris.
  "Surveys Galore"(1992) Tapper, S and Stoate C
  Ibid (8)
  Predation of foxes on Brown Hares.1995 Reynolds, J and Tapper, S.


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Date uploaded to site 8 March 2000