English flout hunting ban in foxy style
Fox hunting in the English countryside remains a hotly contested issue, partially because the 2005 ban has had little impact on the widely-practiced tradition.
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From a tangled scrum of foxhounds, rolling around in the damp grass as they wait for the hunt to begin, an alert brown and white dog looks up at him, mounted on a large brown horse and dressed in scarlet.
“That bitch is from an unbroken female line of dogs going back to 1883,” says Mr. Collins, who has earned his living working with hunts since he was 15. “This [sniffing out and chasing and killing a fox] is what she’s been bred to do. Stopping her is not easy."
As the Quorn – one of the world’s oldest hunts, established in 1696 – gathered on Dec. 26 for its annual Boxing Day Hunt at Prestwold Hall, an 18th-century estate in Leicestershire, the invincibility of the 400-year-old tradition of fox hunting, despite a ban, was never far from conversation.
Six years after the Labour government passed a ban that sought to abolish killing foxes with hounds, one of the most contentious laws in recent British history, Britain's 300-plus hunts appear to be flourishing. More than 1,000 locals turned up at Prestwold to wave off the Quorn – a scene that was repeated at other fox hunts throughout the countryside.
The Hunting Act of 2005 has failed to curb hunting because loopholes in the legislation allow hunts to continue killing foxes, either accidentally with hounds or by using hounds to flush out foxes who are then killed by other means.
“We were worried it would all collapse when the ban came in in 2005,” says Mary Clark, a grandmother who has watched the Quorn ride out to hunt on Dec. 26 since she was a child.
“We’re so happy that all this continues,” she added, standing in a crowd that watched as smartly dressed men and women mounted on glossy horses were handed drinks.
Britain's hunts continue to thrive largely because of loopholes in the law that allow hunts to still kill foxes. The Hunting Act allows hunts to exercise packs of hounds and to follow scented trails that mimic the odor of the fox. If the dogs pick up the scent of a real fox, the hunt must try to call off the hounds – but if the fox is killed accidentally the hunt has not broken the law. This is the scenario Mr. Collins described when he mentioned the difficulty stopping one of his hounds.
The law also allows hunts to use two dogs to flush out a fox if it is then shot with a bullet or killed by a bird of prey.
Although there are no figures on the number of foxes that have been killed by hounds since the law was passed in 2005, anecdotal evidence suggests that the hunts routinely kill foxes, sometimes illegally.