The Telegraph rang me today. Asking what I thought of the ‘rumour’ that the Conservatives would drop their manifesto promise to hold a ‘free vote’ on reversing the ban on hunting with dogs. I said I did not know whether this was true, and it didn’t make much actual difference. As someone who would vote for repeal, I don’t think there is a majority in the House of Commons in favour of that. So it’s all a bit academic, and nothing to get excited about.
I have never been opposed to hunting with dogs, though never felt any inclination to join in myself. Bit surprising perhaps in that I cannot understand why anyone would want to kill a wild animal. (Feel same about fish.) But I disagree with those who would ban these activities. If I thought it’s impact on wildlife or animal welfare was negative overall, I would be not be a supporter. I just don’t think it is negative.
I have a bit of personal history on this. About 50yrs ago I stopped killing any animals or birds or fish for ‘sport’. At that time I vociferously argued for a ban on otter hunting. I assumed, wrongly, that hunting was leading to a catastrophic collapse in the otter population. It wasn’t. Poisons were doing that. Same as it was leading to collapse in birds of prey numbers. Today the otter population is recovering. It’s the mink that needs controlling. And when I took over the farm after my father died young, I ended all shooting and hunting on any of the land I farmed. Mistakenly thinking it would benefit wildlife. Of course it didn’t. Just meant a loss of interest in maintaining pockets of ‘cover’ on the farm. As well as being blamed by neighbours for every attack by foxes on lambs for miles around. After a few years, I saw sense. The local hunt now has access to the land I own, though I only allow occasional shooting by one responsible man and his dog.
I can understand why someone would oppose culling foxes at all. They are stunningly beautiful creatures. I’m always thrilled when I see a fox or hear one bark, especially on a still winter’s night. But I am a sheep farmer, and accept numbers of foxes should be controlled. And hunting with dogs is as good a way of controlling as any other. I do not think it more cruel than any other form of control. Particularly shooting. The fox is a wily creature, and not easy to shoot. It would unlikely be more than a wounding shot, especially with a 12 bore, the usual countryman’s gun. The fox does not offer itself as an easy target. The only fox I ever became friendly with was a cub which my late mother-in-law fed in her garden. One day, when this cute fox was a few months old, she mentioned to me that it was lame. Became gradually worse, and died a few days later. It had been shot, probably b a high powered rifle and would have suffered the most agonising death. I was required to bury the fox in her Little Fffridd garden!
Generally, there are two forms of fox control. Footpacks, which are traditional in the Welsh uplands. Here a local group, often including farmers enter a wood and flush out foxes to guns circulating it. My impression is that these footpacks kill a great number of foxes. The other method is hunting on horseback with a pack of hounds. This practice was in my view not particularly successful, and since 2004 has been banned. It was usual for those riding to hounds to wear hunting pink, and it was a great spectacle. It still is. Hunts still meet but the hounds now follow a trail laid out beforehand. Every Boxing Day many thousands of people turn out to show support for the campaign to reverse the ban. And many others fulminate about this, demanding that it should stop. Amazingly, increasing numbers of people are joining the hunt supporters. Today there were thousands of us in Welshpool to see the Tanatside Hunt ride off. I was one of them.