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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 17:42 GMT
The Burns Inquiry: Key points
In 1997, the Labour Party devoted just 13 words to fox hunting in its general election manifesto, declaring that there would be "a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned". By 1999, that vote had yet to appear.
To some criticism from its own side, the government set up an inquiry into hunting under Lord Burns, the former civil service head of the Treasury, in an attempt to establish the facts amid the froth.
A similar but separate inquiry was established in Scotland (see below).
Lord Burns reported in June 2000. This is a summary of his inquiry's conclusions.
Basic facts about hunting
Burns found that there were approximately 200 active packs of hounds in England and Wales.
Almost all of these involved hunting on horseback, the most notable exception being the Fells packs which hunt on foot in the Lake District.
However, outside of the packs, many more foxes are dug out and shot every year by farmers, landowners and gamekeepers.
In Devon and Somerset there are three staghound packs which kill approximately 160 red deer a year.
There are a further 100 packs which hunt hares, killing 1,650 a year. This, Burns concluded, was a small proportion of the total number of hares killed annually.
There are a further 24 registered hare coursing clubs, a smaller number of unregistered groups and some 20 minkhound packs.
Hunting and the rural economy
Burns concluded that the relationships between hunting and the rural economy were complex with some economy activity merely serving it and others dependent upon it.
It estimated that there are between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs dependent on hunting. Some 700 jobs are tied specifically to hunting.
Up to a further 3,000 jobs were hunting-related while the rest included all manner of businesses and jobs which have any kind of economic relationship with hunts.
Burns stressed that the inquiry had not been able to provide a precise figure of how many jobs would be lost by imposing a ban.
The team predicted that the first job losses would be of those employed by hunts followed over the coming years by related-businesses affected by, for instance, the reduction in the use of horses.
However, the inquiry also predicted most if not all of the effects of a ban would be offset within a decade if money transferred into other rural activities.
"In terms of national resource use, the economic effects of a ban on hunting would be unlikely to be substational," said the inquiry. "However, at least in the short and medium term, the individual and local effects would be more serious."
Social and cultural issues
Burns examined the assertion by the hunting lobby that they play a critical role in the social and cultural life of rural communities.
The inquiry found that there were higher levels of support for hunting within rural communities than expected.
While the hunt had a significant social role, this was not as important as that performed by a village pub or church and there were some in rural communities who regarded the hunt as "divisive, intrusive and disruptive".
However, the report added: "It is clear that, especially for participants in more isolated rural communities, hunting acts as a significant cohesive force, encouraging a system of mutual support."
The inquiry also warned that some pony clubs and point-to-point meetings could be adversely affected by a ban as they rely on voluntary work by hunt followers and supporters.
Population management and control
Burns reported that there were an estimated 217,000 foxes in England and Wales prior to annual breeding and that most landowners or farmers believe that the population needs to be controlled to protect livestock.
Hunting itself, the report found, was responsible for only a small number of the foxes killed every year.
Controlling the fox population in upland areas appears to be more dependent on using dogs, the report said.
Hunts kill approximately 15% of the 1,000 deer culled every year in Devon and Somerset in order to "maintain a stable population", reported Burns.
The inquiry predicted that deer numbers could drop if hunting was banned without an adequate management plan being put in place.
Hare hunting and coursing, the report found, "are essentially carried out for recreational purposes" and have little effect on population.
The most contentious issue for both sides is the issue of whether or not hunting with hounds can be classed as cruel. The inquiry found that if hunting were banned, farmers would use other methods more frequently to kill foxes.
The inquiry found that "death is not always affected by a single bite to the neck or shoulders by the leading hound".
While there is a lack of scientific evidence on the effect of the hunt, the inquiry said that it was satisfied that "this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the fox".
None of the legal methods of fox killing were "without difficulty" but lamping, the use of torches and rifles at night, "has fewer adverse welfare implications".
Using shotguns during the day or snaring were arguably worse than hunting.
Practical concerns over hunting
Burns reported that there are "too many cases of trespass, disruption and disturbance".
If hunting were to remain legal, the inquiry recommended that hunting should be conducted on a more open basis to provide reassurance to those who have concerns over how hunts are carried out.
This could be carried out through an independent monitor.
Other proposals mooted by the inquiry included creating defined hunting seasons or only permitting activity where there is a clear need to control fox numbers.
While Lord Burns conducted his report in England and Wales, a separate report was prepared for Scotland.
Published in June 2000, it reported that the banning of Scotland's 10 hunts would cost businesses approximately £260,000 and up to 300 jobs.
Scotland's mounted hunts kill an estimated 543 foxes every year. Up to 20 people were directly employed by hunts and some 633 people who took part owned more than 1,600 horses.
A third of these people told the inquiry that they would give up riding if hunting was banned.
The report concluded: "The main employment effect of a ban is on those most directly connected with the hunts or the follower households. Impacts beyond these in the Scottish economy would be small.
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