Hunts in Northumberland ‘stronger than ever’ 10 years on from ban

The Percy Hunt sets off from The Barbican at Alnwick Castle. Picture by Toni McCarthy
The Percy Hunt sets off from The Barbican at Alnwick Castle. Picture by Toni McCarthy

Calls to repeal a law which changed the face of hunting in the UK are as loud as ever, 10 years after it came into force.

The Hunting Act of 2004 was made law on February 18, 2005, and the hunting community is still just as keen to see the ban consigned to history.

In 2015, practically every one of the 300-plus hunts that were operating when the ban was passed is still going strong, but they claim continuing like this is not an option.

Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, said: “The law has proved just as unworkable, pointless and wasteful as we predicted. A law which was passed because of MPs’ obsession with fox hunting has been used almost exclusively to prosecute poachers – 97 per cent of cases brought under the Act do not involve registered hunts.”

Despite this, in October last year, three members of the College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt were found guilty of illegally hunting a fox during a meet at West Kyloe Farm, near Lowick, on February 27, 2014.

The hunting ban saw a massive overhaul in the way people carried out a tradition which has been a way of life in Northumberland since the latter parts of the 18th century. See a video of the crowds lining the streets of Alnwick to watch the Percy Hunt set off in 1938.

But Charles Bucknall, Master of the Percy Hunt, said the spirit of the hunt had never been stronger.

“We have more hunting today than 10 years ago when the bill begin. It’s a broader spectrum than when it was introduced.

“It would be true to say we’re still hunting within the terms of the law but we would prefer to see the ban lifted as it doesn’t appear to be achieving the aim animal welfare groups wanted.

“This is not an elitist sport, it brings people together. For the opponents of hunting today to say that they don’t want hunting to continue, it has nothing to do with animal welfare at all.”

Campaigners say farmers are at risk as the bill limits the number of dogs that can be used to flush out a fox.

The Hunting Act permits a maximum of two dogs to flush a fox or other quarry towards someone who can then shoot it.

But local farmers told the Gazette they have ‘no issue’ with the bill at present.

One said: “We have people here who can dispose of the foxes legally and they go out at evenings. We don’t have a major issue with that.”

Another said: “With lambing time coming up, we have vulnerable lambs. We can control foxes ourselves but there’s a much bigger problem with badgers. You’re not allowed to shoot badgers as they’re protected.”

On the other side of the fence are a number of anti-hunting groups who say the bill is a very important piece of legislation.

The League Against Cruel Sports said the Act is ‘the most successful piece of wild animal welfare legislation in England and Wales’ and the group wants to strengthen it.

The League is proposing three improvements: Prohibiting the use of dogs below ground, inserting a provision to ensure the killing of wild mammals during a trail hunt cannot be passed off as an ‘unfortunate accident’ and increasing the punishments available to the courts.

Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “This important and popular legislation has both the highest number of convictions and highest conviction rate above all other wild mammal legislation. Many more people have been deterred from chasing and killing animals for pleasure – something worth celebrating.

“On average, one person every week is prosecuted under the Hunting Act’s provisions. Of these, over two-thirds are found guilty, rending any argument that the ban is not enforceable redundant. The problem is not with the law. It’s with those that flout it.”

In recent months there has been increased speculation of a free vote to have the bill repealed as it was part of the Coalition’s agreement on a free vote by the end of the current parliament. There is speculation that it will be part of the 2015 Tory manifesto.