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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Hunt ban left foxes 'unaffected'
Supporters say hunting keeps foxes under control

The hunting ban during last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak had little impact on the numbers of British foxes, according to scientists.

Numbers are down only a little this year, compared with previous years, says a Bristol University team.


I would be more inclined to believe the farmers than a group of volunteers counting fox faeces

Darren Hughes, Countryside Alliance
It suggests a permanent ban on fox hunting would not lead to a dramatic increase in foxes, they say.

Some have argued that hunting with hounds is needed to limit the number of foxes.

Many farmers regard them as pests as they have been known to kill lambs and birds.

The foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 led to a temporary ban on foxhunting.

Political indecision

In Scotland, a bill to ban hunting with dogs was passed earlier this year.

In England and Wales, a six-month consultation period is under way while the government introduces legislation to resolve a dispute between MPs and the House of Lords over whether to impose a permanent ban.

Stephen Harris and his colleagues at Bristol University took advantage of the temporary ban to see what happened to fox numbers.

Hunt (PA)
Moves to ban hunting in England and Wales are in progress
They looked at 160 sites around the UK in 2002, 2000 and 1999. Fox numbers were estimated by counting droppings.

There was a small, although statistically insignificant, decline in fox numbers this year.

"We conclude that there was no significant change in fox numbers during the one-year hunting ban, and that in most regions the average faecal density had declined," the Bristol team reports in the scientific journal Nature.

"Our results therefore support the view taken by the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs that a permanent ban on hunting is unlikely to result in a dramatic increase in fox numbers."

'At odds'

The study is disputed by the pressure group Countryside Alliance.

Darren Hughes of the Campaign for Hunting told BBC News Online: "It's totally at odds with what we've been seeing and what the National Farmers' Union and farmers have actually been seeing on the ground."


We're not going to be knee deep in foxes if we don't go out and kill tens of thousands of them

Stephen Harris, biologist
He says two-thirds of 600 livestock farmers questioned on behalf of the Countryside Alliance reported an increase in foxes this year.

"I would be more inclined to believe the farmers than a group of volunteers counting fox faeces," he adds.

But Dr Harris says his data are far more accurate and have been peer-reviewed in the top scientific journal in the world.

The work was carried out by 150 trained people, he says, many of whom were farmers themselves.

"The number of droppings is a pretty good guide to the number of foxes there are," he told BBC News Online.

"We're not going to be knee deep in foxes if we don't go out and kill tens of thousands of them."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"The hunting debate has little to do with statistics"
IFAW's Phyllis Cambell-McRay
"Hunting has no impact on fox populations whatsoever in Britain"
Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT
See also:

21 Mar 02 | Politics
19 Mar 02 | Politics
19 Mar 02 | Politics
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