Hunting will restart in FMD free areas of England and Wales on 17 December

Hunting can resume in FMD free areas of England and Wales from next month, the Government has announced.

The much-anticipated decision signals the end of the ban enforced on hunts when foot-and-mouth broke out in February. However, the worst hit areas such as Devon, Cumbria, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and the Welsh borders remain subject to restrictions.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has set 17 December as a preliminary date for the resumption of all forms of hunting, except stag hunting. A special permit will be required for hunts wanting to restart their activities.

The announcement followed the long-awaited publication of the Veterinary Risk Assessment Report yesterday (15 November), which outlined the implications of hunting for the foot-and-mouth virus.

Director of the Master of Foxhounds Association Alistair Jackson welcomed DEFRA’s verdict: “We are delighted with the decision to allow hunting again, but it is only the first stage in a full resumption of the sport.”

He added: “We still have our own restrictions in place and will be talking with farmers to make sure we are again welcome in their fields.”

However, there were concerns about certain conditions included in the announcement, which led to it being described as a ‘hunt saboteurs charter’. These include the fact that a permit can be refused if organisers are unable to control people following on foot.

Chairman for the Campaign for Hunting Sam Butler said: “Our concerns centre on, but are not confined to, some of the bureaucratic conditions laid down in the proposed licensing system. We are especially worried about reports that DEFRA is to hold hunts responsible for the activities of those dedicated to disrupting them.

“Hunting people take their responsibilities to rural communities very seriously,” he explained. “It was the hunting bodies which voluntarily suspended all forms of hunting in the UK following the outbreak of FMD, before the Government had reached any decision.”