The future for foxes in post-ban Britain

  • So what is the fox’s fate after the hunting ban? Charlie, named after the 18th century Whig politician Charles James Fox, is still the centre of fierce controversy in our countryside.

    While the Blair government is unconcerned by the effect of its hunting ban — achieved by the use of the Parliament Act with no plans to monitor fox welfare or populations — it seems Charlie could be the sorest loser.

    This is the fear of the pro-hunting lobby, airing concerns that the fox will suffer far more this summer via an increase in other, less humane forms of control. The antis insist the ban is beneficial, but have nevertheless launched a new campaign against snaring as “cruel, unnecessary and indiscriminate”.

    Lord Burns’s inquiry puts an estimate on 217,000 foxes in Britain just before the breeding season (late February), a figure that trebles by early March.

    In the following 12 months, 400,000 foxes are destroyed by various means, from snaring to shooting, lamping (night shooting with spot-lights) and even digging to destroy litters with spades or clubs. Included in the total are foxes, healthy or otherwise, that end up as road kill.

    Meanwhile, traditional foxhunting, Burns found, culled roughly 16,000 animals — less than 5% of total foxes destroyed.

    Yet, amid the clamour of animal rights groups hailing the ban as a triumph for wildlife welfare, most of the British public is blissfully unaware of the bigger picture of fox culling, together with suffering caused by incidents of wounding instead of outright kill.

    How many are aware of the huge levels of fox killing to protect sheep, using hired gun packs (using hounds or dogs to flush out foxes) in forestry areas in Wales and Scotland?

    Here, pro-hunters stress traditional hunting with hounds is more humane. Hounds, at least, kill the fox outright or let it escape unscathed.

    Fox control options in England and Wales

  • Traditionally hunted and caught by hounds, now illegal: “The natural and most humane way of controlling the quarry species” — Dr Lewis Thomas and Prof Twink Allen on behalf of 400 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons members
  • Shooting with shotguns or rifles: “Can cause high levels of wounding and suffering, if used incorrectly” — Peter Luff MP, co-chairman of Middle Way Group
  • Snaring (all snaring now condemned by League Against Cruel Sports and RSPCA): “Half of captures made by snares are of non-target species, but these are generally released alive” — Burns Report
  • Cage trapping. Used by some local authorities to catch town foxes alive, before shooting in cages or dumping in rural areas: “May appear humane, but represents protracted and distressing incarceration for a wild animal with a serious risk of self-mutilation” — RCVS veterinary group
  • Leg-hold trapping. Illegal in the UK and causes long, painful restraint
  • Poisoning or gassing. Both methods illegal, although foxes may suffer when special government permission is given for gassing in setts of badgers spreading TB in cattle
  • Read this feature in full in Horse & Hound (9 June, ’05). To purchase a back issue (tel: 020 8532 3628)

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