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Archive for June, 2012

One of the headlines in the Guardian this week read, “Stop hounding Britain’s urban foxes”. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/07/stop-hounding-britain-urban-foxes)

According to Stephen Harris, Professor at the School of Biological Sciences at Bristol University, all the accounts of fox attacks over recent years have been “Drummed up by the hunting lobby”, as the sub-heading above his article claims. He no doubt feels that the hunting organisations and biased journalists have concocted a master plan of publishing incorrect stories about the fox, presumably resulting from the view that if repeal of the Hunting Act can’t be achieved at the moment, then the next best thing would be to denigrate the animal. It echoes various statements made by certain individuals and groups after a spate of fox attacks on humans – perhaps real, perhaps exaggerated, perhaps mistaken.

Even the recent Channel 4 programme Foxes Live was part of the problem (despite being clearly pro-fox and not involving anyone from the hunting lobby, as far as I know) when it stated that the number of urban foxes is 40,000. According to Professor Harris the “scientifically based” number is 33,000 – hardly a massive discrepancy given the size of Britain.

Apparently it’s all a big conspiracy of misinformation according to Professor Harris. Yet if we can put aside our prejudices against hunting for a moment, we see that some things in this plot do not add up.

First of all, representatives of the hunting organisations were rarely, if at all, quoted in any of the fox attack stories, so how they influenced them is a little unclear. Secondly, can it really be the case that all the people involved, including mothers and children as well as medical personnel, were fabricating these incidents? Thirdly, even if the urban fox became universally hated, it is a bit too much to imagine urban hunts being formed to control it, so where is the benefit to the hunting lobby?

But the most damning point is the fact that it is the anti-hunting lobby itself that has denigrated the fox in the campaign to ban hunting.

By singling out hunting with dogs for abolition – the only process that is selective and certain of being non-wounding – anti-hunting groups simply ignored what was to follow and played up the alternative methods of control. The problem here is that those alternative methods tend to view the fox as a pest, whereas hunting aims to preserve the fox in acceptable and healthy numbers.

So have foxes’ lives been saved, as anti-hunting campaigners claimed in the run-up to the Hunting Act? Not according to the former MP for Newbury David Rendel, who said after losing his seat, “As one of those who voted for the Act, I made it clear beforehand in many discussions with the pro-hunting lobby that I expected farmers to shoot more foxes (an acknowledged agricultural pest) after the Act was passed.” This, though, shouldn’t worry Professor Harris too much, as he was quoted in 2003 saying, “There simply aren’t any wounded foxes from shooting in the countryside as far as I’m concerned.”

In referring specifically to foxes and the Hunting Act, here’s what well-known anti-hunting campaigner John Bryant said in 2007, “They are being shot by farmers, caught in snares and still hunted, despite the ban. I think it’s had virtually no effect.” He now calls for the law to be strengthened, conveniently ignoring that this would have no effect at all on the shooting or snaring of the fox.

A further example of how those opposed to hunting have scored a massive own goal is what former anti-hunting MP Ann Widdecombe said in the run-up to the ban, “If hunting is not an efficient pesticide, it has no purpose.” In other words, a pest should be exterminated in the most proficient manner and certainly not preserved. Yet this may have nothing to do with being humane – just efficiency. As Dr Nick Fox said in his report, Welfare Aspects of Shooting Foxes, “In pest control, welfare is treated as a secondary priority over efficiency in many cases…it appears, across the board, that ‘pest control’ has been the justification for some of the worst excesses in animal welfare.”

Professor Harris is wrong and, like so many other anti-hunting individuals who think that they are supporting animal welfare by opposing the use of scenting hounds, he is by being blinded by prejudice and a kind of pseudo morality. Their “victory”, in passing the Hunting Act, has seen the fox reduced to pest status, with all the pressures that this brings – ironically, precisely what he accuses the hunting lobby of conspiring to achieve.

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