The League Against Cruel Sports has gathered 284 reports of illegal hunting activity and 43 reports of fox kills by hunts, from November when the season opened, to now, at its close.
Hunting an animal welfare remain key political issues in Westminster, with the focus now on the need to strengthen the Hunting Act.
Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “These figures sadly show the scale of the killing still taking place in the British countryside by fox hunts.
Turning the tide
“We know these reports are just the tip of the iceberg, with fox hunts killing indiscriminately across the UK and lying about their bloodthirsty activities to cover up their crimes.
“However, I believe the tide is turning, and political parties are now recognising the need to take animal welfare much more seriously and put in place stronger legislation to protect British wildlife.”
Separately, 129 cases of fox cub hunting were received by the League between the beginning of August and the end of October, which is when they are typically targeted. This is a practice where the hunts’ hounds are trained to kill in the run-up to the fox hunting season – by being let loose in woodland to target fox cubs and literally tear them to pieces.
The figures were compiled from the League’s Animal Crimewatch service, which consists of reports from members of the public and from the League’s professional investigators, as well as from evidence gathered from photos and videos shared on social media.
Concerns over the fact that fox hunting is still taking place are getting a lot more exposure in Parliment.
A parliamentary debate on wildlife crime in mid-March led to calls by cross-party MPs for the Hunting Act to be strengthened.
It followed a recent review of the policing of illegal fox hunting arranged by Cheshire’s Police and Crime commissioner David Keane, late last year, which highlighted the challenges posed by the current legislation, and proposed strengthening it.
Elsewhere, the Scottish Government announced plans in 2018 to strengthen hunting laws in Scotland, reducing the number of hounds in a pack to two, and introducing measures that would prevent hunts using the ‘trail’ hunting deception used in England and Wales.
The National Trust has also come under pressure recently to stop issuing licences allowing the hunts to access its land.
The number of hunts issued licenses in the 2018/19 hunting season was down to 24 compared with 67 in 2016/17, due to pressure from the League. This fell to 20 after four hunts had their licences withdrawn this season following allegations of illegal hunting.
Chris Luffingham said: “The issue of animal welfare has never been such an important issue for the public and political parties and it is becoming vital to electoral success.
“We are calling for the hunting ban to be strengthened with the introduction of prison sentences for those caught illegally hunting.
"We need a proper deterrent to stop the barbaric activities of the hunts and we also need to close down the loop holes that allow hunts to get around the law.”
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the League Against Cruel Sports. Any suspected illegal hunting activity can be reported to the League’s Animal Crimewatch service. Alternatively, phone in confidence on 01483 361 108 or email LACS Crimewatch.