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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 11:23 GMT
Analysis: The real cost of a ban?

By Evan Davis
BBC economics editor

Fox hunting in England and Wales killed about 25,000 foxes a year.

That might seem a lot - but that is forgetting just how many other animals we kill.

Fox hunters
Fox hunting in England and Wales did kill about 25,000 foxes a year

Add up the cows, sheep and pigs and you find that we slaughter approximately 25m a year.

And that is not to mention the 850 million chickens and turkeys that are slaughtered.

My point is not that we might be accused of hypocrisy in focusing so much attention on saving foxes.

The real point is that the countryside and its economy depend on farming far more than they ever did on fox hunting.

You do not only have to look at the slaughter statistics to gauge the relative size of farming and hunting.

You can look at the employment statistics as well.

'Effects swamped'

Approximately 7,000 jobs depended on hunting. More than 7,000 people had hunting-related jobs, but it was 7,000 full-time equivalent.

Yet over 500,000 people work in agriculture.

So a small shift in the fate of our farms swamps any economic effect from a change in the hunting law.

The bulk of jobs in rural areas are not in hunting - they are in services

For example, last year the workforce in agriculture grew by about 16,000.

That modest boost is twice any likely employment loss from a hunting ban.

No wonder that five years ago the Burns Report looked at hunting, and concluded that in the big picture, the economic effects of a ban would not be substantial.

The bulk of jobs in rural areas are not in hunting, not even farms, they are actually in services - just like everywhere else.

Countryside dilemma

On this view, the economic destiny of the countryside is to make itself as attractive as possible as a location for new service industries.

Maybe serving customers in the cities with industries like tourism or serving the so-called city slickers - people working in the cities but living in country villages.

It is quite possible for rural Britain to make money.

But there is a real dilemma if the countryside is to pursue that route.

Cow eating    PA
Around 25m cows, sheep and pigs are slaughtered every year

Can we maintain the character of the countryside if it does develop economically?

At the moment we preserve our rural areas by restricting what planning permission is given there.

Most farmers could make quite a bit of money if they were allowed to sell half their land for development but we don't let them.

Sometimes farmers can barely get permission to turn a barn into a bed-and-breakfast.

Urban politicians might get away with telling the countryside not to engage in countryside pursuits like hunting.

But can they simultaneously tell the countryside it has to preserve its rural charm and develop economically?


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