Trail hunting: A smokescreen for illegal fox hunting with dogs?

Following decades of campaigning from groups such as the League Against Cruel Sports, 2005 saw the Hunting Act passed by Parliament. In line with public opinion, the intention of the Act was to cast the hunting of animals such as foxes, hares and deer into the history books and ban it for good. Yet almost 18 years later illegal hunting with dogs is still happening up and down the country on almost a daily basis.

Trail hunting: The smokescreen

Following the passing of the fox hunting ban, hunts created the notion of ‘trail hunting’. Designed to mimic traditional hunting with dogs, hunts lay an animal-based scent trail for the hounds to follow in areas they would have traditionally hunted and where foxes are likely to live.

Yet the reality of trail hunting is quite different. Whilst hunts purport to be trail hunting, they almost never actually lay a trail. Since the Hunting Act was passed, monitors attending 4,000 hunts reported that a trail was laid at only 3% of them. And where hunts do lay a trail, it is rarely followed, with hounds hunting live quarry instead. Only 0.04% of the reported hunts were deemed to be a genuine trail hunting event, where the laying of an artificial scent was not simply a smokescreen for illegal hunting.

The illusion of laying and following a trail, whether it is laid or not, allows hunts to continue hunting as normal. Incidents where hunts have killed, and have been recorded doing so, are simply dismissed by those involved as accidents.

Old-fashioned fox hunting continues

The reality is that the majority of hunts do not look any different to how they did before the ban. They are generally attended by terrier men who follow the hunt on quadbikes with terrier dogs. Traditional hunting would have seen terriers used underground to find a fox if it had escaped from the hunt underground. Terrier men would place the terrier in the hole to force the fox out so the chase could continue. If trail hunts genuinely don’t try to catch foxes, why are they always accompanied by terrier men?

trail fox hunting with dogs, hunters on horseback in red jackets followed by dogs causing disruption on a busy road

League Against Cruel Sports

Hunt havoc

It is not just foxes who are victims of hunting either. The League Against Cruel sports recently documented the wider havoc caused by hunts over the previous four years. This period saw 135 cases of “road interference” by hunts on public roads, 136 of “trespass and nuisance”, ten incidents of “railway trespass”, 32 of “harm to domestic animals’’ and 42 of “livestock worrying”. Sadly, six of the eight incidents of hunts trespassing on railway lines saw hounds being struck by trains and killed. What is more startling is that these incidents only represent incidents that monitors have attended or have recorded or that had been publicly reported in the press - hundreds of hunts are carried out each month where no monitors are present.

As well as documenting the wider detrimental impact hunts have on the people and areas where they hunt, these incidents of hunt havoc add further proof to trail hunting being a smokescreen for illegal hunting with dogs. If hunts were really laying a trail, why would a trail be laid over dangerous roads and railway lines or through areas where cattle may be harmed and people’s back gardens?


How can we stop this cruelty?

It is clear that the Hunting Act in its current form is not preventing the hunting of wildlife with dogs. Only strengthening the Act, to really ban hunting, can bring this cruel ‘sport’ to an end. Getting involved in the League Against Cruel Sports’ work, writing to your MP about this issue or even reporting hunt havoc if you are affected by it - these are all ways that you can help to put pressure on policymakers to strengthen the Hunting Act and help to create a kinder society.

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