Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Fox Hunting

OK - fox hunting.

Despite living in the middle of Beaufort Hunt country and an area with the greatest number of hunts, on a moral level I'm against it. It's making the killing animals an entertainment, and not even with a view to eating them. Inexplicably, many supporters profess to be animal lovers, but that love seems limited to horses and dogs (but obviously not all members of the canidae family).

Taking a pragmatic view; despite foxes keeping crop damaging rodents under control, as apex predators they are undoubtedly a pest in some parts of the countryside, they will take lambs in lambing season (although numbers are very low) and wreak havoc in poultry farms (large and small scale) and therefore have to  be controlled in such areas. A fox won't just take one hen - it engages in surplus killing, destroying far more than it will actually eat. Hay's family stopped keeping chickens due to the number of foxes around here.

What are the forms of control available? Shooting - a bit hit and miss, unless you're a marksman (which few farmers are). Poisoning - rather unethical and can leave the fox dying in agony. Trapping - a bit like poisoning. Hunting...

Hunting doesn't take place all year round, but only once fox cubs have left the den, so there's little danger of young starving if the vixen is killed. Very few are actually caught - I'm not sure of the numbers, but it isn't high as it's a very inefficient method of killing - more are killed by cars on the roads. There is, therefore, a quasi-valid argument from this perspective for using hunting as a form of control as it's debatable as to whether it's any worse than the alternative methods, albeit less efficient. However, if foxes need controlling, they need controlling all year round - and effectively.

What I do object to is landowners encouraging foxes by putting out carcasses during the close season, specifically to increase their numbers and the chances of killing one during the hunting season. It makes a total mockery of the control argument and is hypocrisy of the highest order.

I don't buy the countryside employment argument either - we once employed people for cock fighting, dog fighting and bear baiting. The only employment affected is the people who look after the hounds, as the horses can still be used for drag hunting and general countryside jaunts. It's not as if morality has to be tempered by pragmatism on the scale of the numbers employed in the UK arms industry, for example.

I also don't buy the 'natural method' argument, well, not since we eliminated wolves. We don't exactly see packs of wild dogs chasing foxes either.

The jury is out - but as I say, from a moralistic point I'm still against it, although from a pragmatic view there has to be a form of control in certain areas of the countryside. Perhaps a form of licensing is the answer, restricting it to areas where sheep and poultry are raised and there are verified cases of predation by foxes. Backing that up with a fox tax on each fox killed could be good too, although that may turn into a bounty and a free-for-all, but farmers may not be too upset about that (hunts themselves might). There is, of course, the attendant chance of hunt landowners purposely starting to stock poultry and leaving them open to fox predation as a means of justifying a licence, but the law can't cater for all eventualities.

I would also posit that fox control is the last thing on the minds of the people who engage in fox hunting - they're engaged in a ritualised form of entertainment (I'd hesitate to call it a sport - unless you include competitive jumping of hedges and the competition amongst the hounds) and it's run as a business costing anything from £30 to £150 a day. Enter the moral imperative again.

To sum up; killing animals for pure enjoyment is indisputably bad, yet in some areas (and I emphasis some) foxes need to be controlled. I have friends on both sides of the argument who would vociferously defend their positions. Your opinion?


  1. Probably the only thing in Gloucestershire more contentious than Brexit! Whenever I’ve debated mates from Devon and other “rural” places about this I find their 1st line of defence is usually “none of your business”, when that doesn’t fly they trot out the tried and tested “you townies don’t understand our country ways”, when it’s obvious you know more about it than them you get “it’s cultural” which is the same trick the religious types use, i.e. make the whole thing unfalsifiable, put it out of range of reason and logic.

    I say that if your “culture” involves torturing and killing sentient animals for entertainment, then your “culture” stinks. Culling (via shooting) would seem to be the most sensible way of dispatching excess animals if needs be, although there’s a lot of junk science around this topic. I would imagine that numbers of rural foxes are much more likely correlated to prey species like rabbits, birds and voles than anything humans do, urban foxes on the other hand…

  2. I'm anti the sport of chasing and killing. Let them 'drag' hunt. Control of foxes in the wrong areas - shoot to kill if you have to. Used to live in a very rural hunting area of the UK so not a Townie...