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banner Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 18:33 GMT 19:33 UK
Call for hunting to be regulated
Fox hunting should be regulated rather than banned outright, a fringe meeting organised by the Liberal Democrat Forum for the Countryside was told.

Professor Stuart Harrap, chair of wildlife law at the university of Kent and an advisor to the Burns inquiry into hunting, set out three areas which he believed were at the centre of the row over fox hunting.

"I am personally not interested in hunting in hounds. In fact when I was young I used to offer foxes a bolt hole from the hunt in my garden. But I have looked at the issue from an academic point of view.

"First and foremost I am not talking about cruelty - I am not qualified to do so."

He said he believed moves to conserve the environment had to be rooted in selfishness.

Studies had shown, for example, that where hares were hunted the farmers tended to want them around to hunt, so preserved them.

"You might think that is unethical but I am not going to answer that question."

Based on selfishness

He added that a survey of 800 farmers had also showed that those who supported fox hunting removed fewer hedgerows and small woods because they wanted to give the foxes a habitat.

That had the knock-on effect of preserving an entire ecosystem by offering habitats for birds and other animals, he said.

"So, I believe a conservation ethic has to be based on selfishness."

Secondly, he said he had studied international law and, under treaties signed by virtually every country accept the US, there was a requirement to protect the traditional practices of indigenous and local people.

"So, if hunting is a local practice and helps biodiversity we might be in breach of that treaty."

Lastly, he said he had looked at hunting practices across the world and found some sort of hunting with dogs took place in most of them.

No compromise

Often it was to chase the quarry so it could later be shot and killed - sometimes so it could be tagged or studied.

"So I do not know what it is that is sought to be banned," he said.

Earlier, Brian Friend, secretary of the Forum for the Countyside, said he had offered the Middle Way group a platform because he had been told their proposals were not a compromise but a genuine attempt to tackle the issues.

He said the whole issue of hunting with hounds was an ethical and civil liberties one and the different elements had to be balanced.

He started the meeting asking for a moment of reflection in the wake of the US terror attacks and said, like that this was an area where "ignorance and bigotry is prevalent on both sides."

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