End the war on wildlife

Fox cubs
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Hunting in Britain has come under renewed scrutiny. This is an opportunity to further protect our wildlife.

The National Trust vote and Hankinson verdict represent the greatest pressure on fox hunts since the Hunting Act came into force.

We have a rare opportunity to advance the protection of wildlife in the wake of the National Trust's vote to ban trail hunting on its properties and the conviction of a well known fox hunter.

We must push for further change to oppose cruelty and also to protect biodiversity and the health of nature in the UK. 

Members of the National Trust  voted to ban trail hunting on its properties with an overwhelming majority last week, as reported in The Ecologist.

Verdict

The practice involves following a scent which has been laid down by a person to simulate the chase involved with traditional hunting. In theory this prevents the killing of foxes, as now banned by the Hunting Act 2004.

The result of this vote comes shortly after Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Associations Mark Hankinson was found guilty of promoting the illegal killing of foxes under the guise of trail hunting.  

During a webinar attended by members of the Countryside Alliance and others, Hankinson openly encouraged banned hunting with dogs under the 'smokescreen' of legal practice.

Judge Tan Ikram stated in the verdict that: "It was clearly advice and encouragement to commit the offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog. I am sure he intended to encourage the commission of that offence."

Together, the National Trust vote and the Hankinson verdict represent the greatest pressure that fox hunts have been under since the Hunting Act came into force. 

Devastating

Major landowners such as Forestry England and United Utilities have suspended hunting in the wake of Hankinson's trial. It is now likely that they will follow suit and ban it outright. 

The National Trust vote and Hankinson verdict represent the greatest pressure on fox hunts since the Hunting Act came into force.

For anti-hunt groups, such as the League Against Cruel Sports, the combined impact of the National Trust vote and the Hankinson verdict is of huge significance. 

Both opponents of hunting and hunt members themselves are now viewing the practice as being in its end game.

Wildlife defenders however must not stop there. As well as the brutally cruel spectacle of ripping foxes apart with dogs, our countryside is blighted by other forms of wildlife persecution in the name of sport. 

Driven grouse shooting has been widely criticised for its devastating environmental impacts.

Shooting

Large upland areas are burnt to encourage new heather growth for grouse to eat, which not only releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere but impacts biodiversity and reduces the ability of uplands to retain water, increasing flood risks for towns and villages in the areas below them.

As we tackle the fundamentally linked climate and ecological crises, we must examine the often cruel and ecologically devastating practices that exist in our countryside.

It’s clear that public opinion is firmly against the persecution of foxes for sport. It’s now essential to keep up the momentum and push for trail hunting, which has long existed as a cover for the killing of foxes to be banned outright.

In the wake of the National Trust vote and the Hankinson verdict, defenders of wildlife must seize the moment and make links between public concern about wildlife persecution and other linked threats to our biodiversity.

In the run up to the COP26 climate talks, large areas of British grouse moor were on fire. Rewilding must be part of our efforts to tackle climate change and these areas, which are scoured and kept artificially barren for the sake of shooting, would be a great place to start.

Protection

If we return grouse moors to their natural state, we will bring back areas of forest and peat bog, creating diverse, rich habitats and helping restore our carbon sinks.

It’s also worth mentioning that raptor persecution is part of the picture too. While it is only a small proportion of game keepers, the impact of those that do kill birds of prey is devastating, particularly on species such as the hen harrier.

As greater pressure is inevitably applied to those engaging in illegal hunting, lets link up the debate with that about grouse moors. It’s not just cruelty that we need to oppose in our countryside, but the unsustainable practices that go with some forms of shooting.

Opposing the wanton cruelty of fox hunting, the illegal persecution of raptors and the myriad of unsustainable practices on grouse moors are part of creating a more compassionate and sustainable approach to wildlife protection in the UK.

This Author

Andrew Taylor-Dawson has been involved with the social justice and environmental movements for over a decade. He works in the NGO sector as well as writing about civil society, campaigning and progressive causes. He tweets at @Andrew_J_Taylor.

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The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate here