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ARCHIVE: Impact on the Countryside

Pest Control

How will farmers and land owners be able to prevent damage by pests if hunting is restricted?

Overall, at least 100,000 foxes are deliberately killed each year by man in England and Wales, with the vast majority, by a ratio of 4:1, killed by shooting. Hunting is not a particularly effective means of pest control, and is not the most prevalent method of controlling the population of any type of mammal (although the activities covered by the exemptions to the Act are recognised as reasonably effective ways of dealing with specific pest control issues). Traditional lowland fox hunting makes only a comparatively small contribution to pest control and, overall, hunting with dogs makes only a minor contribution (The Burns Report suggests that hunting with dogs accounts for only 6% of the foxes that die in England and Wales every year, and at paragraph 5.8 his report quotes a study suggesting that in West Norfolk only 3% of foxes culled were killed by methods involving foxhounds).

The best and most humane method will vary according to the particular circumstances of each case. Foxes can be controlled above ground by methods such as shooting, and the most effective means of dealing with mink is trapping. The Act does not affect the hunting of the main wild mammal pests of rats and rabbits, or the stalking and flushing out (subject to conditions) of other wild mammal pests. Other means of pest control remain unaffected.

Defra’s Rural Development Service publishes a series of Technical Advice Notes, which includes ones on managing urban and rural foxes, mink and brown hares. These will be augmented in the near future by a note on managing deer.

What are the current restrictions on methods of pest control?

The actual method of control is at the discretion of those carrying out the work, provided that it does not contravene current legislation, such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. The Rural Development Service’s Technical Notes give details of the legal and prohibited means of pest control in relation to the various species.

Are foxes a significant predator of livestock?

The importance of fox predation on lambs is fiercely debated because it is very difficult to determine whether a lamb was killed by a fox or whether the fox was merely acting as a scavenger on an already dead animal. Paragraph 5.14 of the Burns Report estimates that less than 2% of otherwise viable lambs are killed by foxes in England and Wales. On the basis of current evidence, the Government does not consider foxes to be a significant factor in lamb mortality nationally (see The Burns Report, paragraph 5.12). However, it does recognise that foxes can cause serious local problems to farmers and landowners, and that, as a result, many take measures to control local fox populations, as well as responding to individual incidents of fox predation. Foxes may also cause localised problems to free-range poultry interests. The Act does not prevent farmers and landowners taking action to control foxes. The exemptions will allow this to be done with dogs (subject to strict conditions), and there are numerous other lethal or non-lethal methods which they can use. What the Act does do is prevent the practice of setting one animal on another for sport or entertainment, which many people consider to be cruel.

Do the deaths of people on fox shooting expeditions suggest that shooting is not a good method for controlling foxes?

Such events are tragic and comparatively rare accidents, but do not negate the fact that shooting is by far the most prevalent means of culling foxes or deer, or undermine the value of shooting such animals as a means of pest control (around 4 times as many foxes were killed by shooting as by hunting with dogs prior to the Act). However, they highlight the vital importance of observing basic safety precautions, being absolutely sure of one’s target (for example, being able to see the whole of its body and not just its eyes), and of having sufficient expertise to hunt in this way.

Jobs & housing

Why has the Government passed legislation which could have a negative impact on the rural economy and result in the loss of jobs and businesses?

The Act was passed by a large majority of MPs under a free vote, following extensive debate, over many years, about its possible impact. While the Government is sympathetic to those individuals who might be affected by the ban, the Burns Report (paragraph 3.8) said, “Hunting, as an economic activity, is so small as to be almost invisible in terms of national aggregates.” Evidence was also provided to the Hunting Hearings, held in Portcullis House in 2002, suggesting that the Burns Report may even have overstated the effect on employment. Experience so far suggests that the Act has had relatively little impact on the rural economy, with most hunts continuing to meet and ride within the law and declaring that they intend to continue doing so.

There are also some relevant rural industries – such as the horse industry and tourism – which are buoyant and they could help offset the end of hunting as a recreation by providing alternative business opportunities and employment prospects.

How many jobs do you think will be lost as a result of the Act?

The Government does not expect that significant numbers of people will find themselves out of work as a result of the Act, as many of those directly affected will be diverted into other activities. The proposed delay in commencement to July 2006 (put forward by the Government, supported by the House of Commons but not accepted by the House of Lords) would have also provided an increased opportunity for people whose jobs are affected by the ban to find alternative employment. This delay was specifically rejected twice by the House of Lords.

The Burns Report described hunting employment as “almost invisible” by national standards. The Burns Report (paragraph 3.37, Table 3.5) estimated the following full time equivalents:

Burns Report estimation of number of people affected by a ban on hunting
Role No. affected
Direct employment by the hunts 710
Direct employment by followers 1,497
Indirect employment 1,992
Induced employment 1,525
Total 5,724

Evidence presented to the public hearings in September 2002 by Professor Sean Rickard suggested that the estimates in the Burns Report were too high and that the number of jobs associated with hunting was, in fact, much smaller. Even the higher estimates of up to 8,000 jobs (the Burns Report, paragraph 3.43) directly or indirectly related to hunting is, however, small compared with other rural business sectors such as tourism and the horse industry, which support respectively some 380,000 and 200,000 jobs. In general, the numbers in work in rural areas have gone up at least as much as in urban areas since 1997. Indeed, while unemployment has fallen by 24% in urban areas since then, it has fallen in rural areas by 26%.

What support is available to people who lose their jobs or businesses?

The Rural Strategy 2004 demonstrates that the rural economy is generally buoyant, and that unemployment in rural areas is comparatively low overall, though there are undoubtedly some areas of weakness. The Government believes that the best help it can give is by building on the economic success of the majority of rural areas and targeting the structural economic weaknesses and accompanying poor social conditions that exist in the minority. This will provide for a strong overall rural economy and encourage business development and diversification. Specific help already provided includes:

  • The network of Business Link operators, which is contracted by the Government’s Small Business Service, and will help any business faced by a major change in market circumstances, providing advice and support including, if appropriate, access to training;
  • Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme, which provides grant aid on a competitive basis and could help horse-based enterprises currently reliant upon hunting to evolve into tourism-focused businesses;
  • The Employment Service, which can help anyone who is made redundant to take up their statutory entitlements to benefits and to find alternative employment;
  • The Citizens Advice Bureaux, which can provide advice and guidance to people across a wide range of issues; and
  • · The Rural Stress Information Network, which exists to provide advice and support to farmers, small businesses, their workers or anyone else in rural areas who need help dealing with stress or its causes.

In addition, Defra is reviewing its funding streams as part of its Modernising Rural Delivery Programme, with a view to streamlining and clarifying them within a simplified funding framework, and it is also working with the Horse Industry to develop a joint strategy to facilitate its further development as an economic force. The Government expects that this will provide further opportunities for people and businesses affected by a hunting ban to refocus and diversify, for example into tourism-related activities.

No-one can be completely sheltered from change, but countryside people are resourceful and have a wide range of skills to offer in the employment market-place.

What help is available to those who lose their tied cottages as a result of the Act?

It is possible that a very small number of people may find themselves evicted from tied accommodation, although the Government is not aware of any specific cases where this has yet happened. This would be a decision for their landlords, but anyone affected would have the normal contractual protection of the law. Support and advice would be available from the local authority Housing Department.

Fallen Stock

Will hunt kennels be permitted to collect fallen stock under the Animal By-Products Regulation?

Yes. However, the Regulation requires kennels to be approved as a "collection centre" (effectively knackers' yard standards) if they wish to collect fallen stock for the purposes of feeding to hounds. To meet these standards many hunts have undertaken building works or have upgraded or replaced their on-site incinerators, although others have decided that they do not wish to do so.

Those which do not meet the standards or choose not to collect fallen stock can still be approved as a 'final user' under the Regulation and they can obtain 'meat' from fallen stock for feeding to the hounds from a suitably approved animal by-product premises such as a collection centre.

The National Fallen Stock Scheme was launched on the 22 November 2004. Some 25 hunts which have met the required collection centre standards have chosen to register with the Scheme, and they, like other contractors, can benefit from the increased business opportunities it generates. Others which have met the collection centre standards have chosen to continue to collect fallen stock outside the Scheme. More information on the National Fallen Stock Scheme can be obtained from

Effect of the Ban

Foxhunting only kills the old and infirm foxes leaving the healthy ones. Isn't that a good thing?

This depends on one’s view of hunting. To those who believe that hunting is cruel, it must be as wrong to cause unnecessary suffering to an old and infirm fox as it is to cause unnecessary suffering to a young and healthy one. As a justification in support of hunting, this argument would seem to run counter to the claim that hunting is an effective means of pest control as healthier foxes are likely to be the more successful pests.

Isn't it true that this ban will neither save a single fox nor reduce the suffering of animals in any way?

The Act may or may not save the lives of individual foxes. Where foxes are a pest, farmers may choose to use alternative, legal means of pest control to deal with them. The question as to whether these alternative methods are more or less cruel than hunting depends greatly on one’s view of hunting. The purpose of the Act, which the House of Commons passed by an overwhelming majority, is to end a practice which a clear majority of people across the country do not support on the grounds that they believe it causes unnecessary suffering. The Government hopes and expects that people who have a legitimate interest in controlling pests will be responsible and humane in doing so using other available and legally acceptable means.

Will the number of foxes increase as a result of the ban on hunting?

There is no reason to suppose so. Hunting only accounts for only a small proportion (6%) of the total number of foxes killed in England and Wales every year. Indeed, one of the other claims made forcefully by pro-hunt campaigners is that a ban on hunting will lead to a decrease in the fox population, as farmers who tolerate some foxes so that they can be hunted choose to shoot them all instead.

What about the Middle Way Group's research into the wounding rates of shooting?

The Middle Way Group has recently published a research paper on the wounding rates of the various methods of shooting foxes. This has been seized upon by those who argue that hunting with dogs is a more humane method of killing foxes than shooting because it either results in a quick death or the fox escapes. The research puts shooting and hunting in perspective by stating that at least 80,000 foxes are killed each year by shooting (compared to the 20-25,000 killed by hunts according to Lord Burns, of which a third were killed by shooting). Its findings on the comparative effectiveness of different shooting scenarios are based on the results of single shots and are not particularly surprising – it finds that lower wounding rates are achieved by more skilled marksmen using rifles and penetrative ammunition, and that inexperienced shooters with less accurate weapons run a greater risk of wounding the fox rather than killing it outright. It also reinforces Lord Burns’ conclusion that lamping is the most effective method of shooting. The report cites apparently high wounding rates for shooting but it states that in practice they would probably be halved because of the use of follow up shots and dogs to track down wounded foxes.

Page last modified: 21 February, 2011
Page published: 28 September, 2004

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