DEFRA has denied that it intends to tighten the “gamekeepers’ exemption” in the Hunting Act, which allows the use of terriers below ground to protect game birds.
A member of DEFRA’s hunting policy unit wrote last month to an anti-hunt campaigner: “Persons relying on this exemption [under schedule 1, clause 2 of the Hunting Act, ‘Use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting’] will be trained gamekeepers and it is unlikely that anyone else would be able to make legal use of it.”
The Western Daily Press, which obtained a copy of the letter, reported last Friday that DEFRA officials would draw up new guidelines on the exemption to “close one of the biggest loopholes” in the Act.
But a DEFRA spokesman told Horse & Hound: “The government does not currently have any intention of restricting the application of this exemption to any class or type of person, and has no plan to tighten it up in terms of its application.
“But we plan to review the code [of conduct, which relates to the clause], in conjunction with the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, later this year.
“It is not for DEFRA to formulate plans of its own in relation to hunting or the application of the Act — we put into effect the will of the government of the day. In the case of the Hunting Act, that was to implement the Bill for which the House of Commons voted. But we could equally be asked by a new administration to implement a new Bill to repeal the Hunting Act.”
A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “A DEFRA pen-pusher who doesn’t understand the law has told an anti-hunt campaigner what she wants to hear.”
Barrie Wade, chairman of the National Working Terrier Federation, commented: “Many gamekeepers, who may be specialist bird-rearers, contract out terrier work to many of our members — who may be hunt terriermen or various other individuals.
“If DEFRA restricts the clause, not only does it show how out of touch it is, but also illustrates that it’s biased towards shooting and see other terrier workers as too close to the ‘H-word’.”
A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation said: “What’s important is the purpose, procedure and manner in which terrier work is carried out, not the perpetrator. The exemption applies in a gamekeeping situation, but it may not necessarily be done by a gamekeeper.”