Hunting and the law
Under UK law, ‘hunting’ means using one or more dogs to chase a wild animal with the intention of catching and killing it. Hunting is illegal in the UK, subject to a few exceptions.
The Hunting Act 2004 came into force in early 2005 under the Tony Blair Government. It was seen as a compromise between anti-hunting demonstrators and pro-hunting lobbyists. The Act, however, has come under increasing pressure with the Government due to decide on whether the Act should be repealed in its entirety.
Criticisms of the Act
One of the criticisms of the Act as it stands is that it is overly complicated, slightly confusing and very difficult to prosecute under. There are exceptions under the Act which allow certain types of hunting to take place when the hunting is on the individual hunter’s own land or he has been given express permission to use the land for that purpose. If that is the case then hunting is allowed for animals such as rabbits and rats or for a process known as ‘stalking out’ which is when a wild animal can be hunted if it would otherwise cause serious damage to the livestock on your property or the property which you have been given permission to hunt on.
Punishments for hunting
If you are convicted under the Hunting Act you are liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and can have your hunting equipment (including any dogs) confiscated by the police. Whilst police have the power to stop and search individuals that they believe may be taking part in hunting, a prosecution is unlikely unless there is CCTV footage of the hunt taking place. This is because there are a large number of other activities that involve similar equipment and so unless the actual ‘hunting’ can be shown it is difficult to get a guilty verdict. For this reason, the Act has not been that successful in actually convicting those guilty of hunting.
Another potential loophole in the law which has made enforcing the Act even more complex for the police is the fact that it is not an offence to lay an artificial scent for the dogs to chase and then essentially mimic a hunt in that way. This is known as drag hunting and it is entirely legal. Therefore, it becomes impossible for the police to discover if those involved are merely following an artificial scent or actually hunting.
Given that hunting takes place in areas with no CCTV and the police will have trouble proving a ‘hunt’ over a ‘artificial scent’ even if cameras are present, it is easy to see why there have been calls for the law to be changed.
Following criticism of the Act and claims that banning hunting does not actually safeguard wild animals, Parliament are set to vote on whether the Act should be repealed. For now, however, despite how difficult it may be to prove, hunting is illegal in the UK subject to the above-listed exceptions. If you discover somebody illegally hunting, you should contact the police.