Labour’s hunting ban ruins rural communities and does nothing for foxes.
Hunting with hounds was banned in the UK by the Labour government in 2004. Most of their Members of Parliament represented urban, metropolitan constituencies with little experience of field sports, the rural way of life and the realities of pest control. This collective ignorance resulted in countless exceptions being provided for within the Bill, resulting in convoluted and unworkable legislation. More importantly, those behind the Bill did not understand the economic and environmental utility that hunting serves for rural communities.
Since the turn of the Sixteenth Century, when the indigenous wolf population of England and Wales was wiped out, the fox has had almost no natural predators, and the population has been sustainably controlled by hunting with hounds. After the ban, the need for population control has not disappeared, so farmers have had to resort to other methods – which in most cases means poison or snares.
Ask yourself: what is more ‘natural’ for a fox: a slow death by poison, or a quick death by hounds (not much different from a wolf, from the fox’s perspective)? Contrary to popular belief, foxes are not ripped to shreds while still alive; in those heart-breaking images the fox is long dead.
Quite obviously any argument against the environmental utility of hunting fails. Another even more ludicrous example of this is the shooting of geese in the Netherlands, which was banned by a left-wing government in 1999. The consequences were highly predictable. The population exploded and crops were destroyed, resulting in massive liabilities for the government now compensating farmers to the tune of 11 million euros per year for their losses.
The situation was out of control; the government had to act, and a legal alternative means of population control had to be found. Proving that the ban has had the opposite of the desired effect on animal welfare, one government contractor now rounds up the goslings (who can’t fly) and gases them with exhaust fumes. Hunting is a tried and tested solution to an unavoidable problem, and one which serves animal welfare better than the alternatives.
Perhaps the suffering caused to animals is not justified by the good it brings about. Perhaps the utilitarian calculation does not warrant controlling the fox population through the mechanism of hunting – or, to put it simply, the ends don’t justify the means.
But this is a miscalculation, based on ignorance of ecology. Hunting bans have not been shown to improve animal welfare (though an exception can be made for endangered species). Even if we allow the population to explode (as it would with no natural predators), eventually population growth will ease naturally through starvation and disease, with great harm done to the biodiversity of foxes’ prey in the meantime.
The second possibility is that opponents of hunting disregard the utility argument all together, because their true motivation is not animal welfare, but class warfare. But class warriors are picking the wrong fight here.
When one thinks of hunting one usually pictures a huntsman in a fine red coat, atop and even finer horse. The perfect target for some fist-pumping Social Justice.
The real hunting community is in fact one of the most open and egalitarian pursuits there is, uniting everyone in the local community in a common practice. Beyond the masters, whips and followers themselves (which can be drawn from all backgrounds), we have the kennel huntsmen, grooms, and stable-boys, all of whose livelihoods depend on the sport’s survival. Hunting encourages and even requires the mixing of social classes in a local community in a way that progressive city-slickers cannot fathom. Hunts draw hundreds of thousands of annual spectators from across the country, from across class boundaries, coming together to enjoy a spectacle they see as ancient and noble – and making a significant contribution to the rural economy in the process.
So where do we stand now? One would have thought with the Conservatives back in power common sense would prevail and the Hunting Act could be repealed. Sadly, once again proggery runs the show and ruins the day. While the Tories command a majority in the Commons, there are too many in their own ranks to betray their constituents for the sake of impressing those they live among in London. Over a decade after the ban, with no improvement for animal welfare, our rural communities are still living under its whip.
Editor’s note: this article was originally published on the 9th February 2017. Since then, Conservative Party leader Theresa May has pledged to hold a free vote on fox hunting if the Conservatives win the General Election to be held in June. We doubt that the ban will be ended even with an increased Conservative majority. At an abstract level, the 2010, 2015 and projected 2017 intakes of Conservative MPs reflect the cultural prejudices adopted by the Party when it sought to emulate New Labour – the candidate selection process generates a significant lag between parties’ latest postures and those of their candidates. At a more concrete level, a projection of the intentions of the 2015 intake is available here, so that you can hassle your representative whatever your view.
Michael Anderson studies Economics at the University of Bristol.
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