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Thursday, 16 September, 1999, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Deer, hare and mink
fox hounds
Foxes aren't the only animals hunted with hounds
Foxes are not the only animals to be hunted with hounds - established hunts also centre around deer, hare and mink.

That of course means that these other country sports, or bloodsports, depending on one's viewpoint, could be outlawed if a ban on hunting with hounds were made law.

Deer Hunting Hare Hunting Hare Coursing Mink Hunting

deer hunter
Research at Cambridge University concluded that deer hunting was cruel
Deer Hunting is perhaps at least as high profile and controversial as fox hunting.

Research by Professor Patrick Bateson at Cambridge University in 1997 for the National Trust concluded that the activity was cruel and as a result, the National Trust banned deer hunting from its land. The New Forest Buckhounds later disbanded.

However, a report in September 199 by five independent scientists commissioned by the Countryside Alliance came to the opposite conclusion.

They said that Professor Bateson's view of deer physiology was wrong on several points and that hunting deer was no more stressful to them than stalking, the only other legal way of killing them.

Deer hunting is still relatively popular in the south west of England, where red deer are hunted by stalkers with long-range rifles.

The Countryside Alliance says that stalking - where a skilled marksman stalks and shoots the quarry animal - on its own, is not a suitable option in south west England because of the numbers of holiday makers and visitors, and small farms.

Deer hunters are mounted, and the hunt is often followed by enthusiasts on motorbikes and cars.

For the autumn hunt, the harbourer will choose an old stag, or one that has been with the same herd for a few years, to be culled. In the spring, the harbourer will identify younger stags - usually ones which show signs of being weaker than the rest of the herd, to be hunted.

During the hind season, the hunt will pursue the whole herd, and then target the female which breaks away and cannot keep up with the rest of the deer.

The deer uses speed in its attempt to outrun the hounds, and when that fails, it will stand "at bay", preparing to fight off the hounds. The hounds are trained not to attack, but to stand off and bay (bark). At this point, a trained marksman will shoot the deer at close range.

Deer hunters refute professor Bateman's research, and say that hunting is essential to the conservation of the species.

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Hare Hunting attracts approximately 34,500 followers annually in the UK. The brown hare is pursued in its natural habitat by packs of beagles, bassett hounds or harriers - only harriers are followed on horseback.

Harriers and beagles are bred for speed, scent and stamina - basset hounds are said to make up for their relative lack of speed with excellent scenting ability and great "voice".

brown hare
Brown hares can run at up to 40mph
An average hare hunting pack kennel would have 15-20 couple (30-40 dogs), of which half would be used in a day's hunt.

The hare usually keeps to its own territory when hunted, of about two miles square - which means that the hunt can go around in circles. The hunt has a closed season, and is regulated by the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, and the Masters of Basset Hounds Association.

The Countryside Alliance says that the sport contributes 19m to the rural economy, and that hunters contribute to the conservancy of the hare and its habitat. Detractors say the sport is unnecessarily cruel.

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The purpose of Hare Coursing is to test the speed, stamina and ability to turn the hare, of coursing hounds. These are usually greyhounds, but can also be lurchers, whippets, deerhounds, salukis or afghans.

Either, beaters drive the hares one by one onto the running ground, as they might for game shooting - or the participants themselves, with their dogs, "put up" the hares as they walk across the field.

slipper
The slipper lets slip the hounds
The Countryside Alliance says that unlike Park Coursing, which is popular in Ireland, the rules of the National Coursing Club mean that the sport has to take place in open country, allowing the hare a chance of escape.

Once the hare is some 80 yards in front of the dogs, the slipper - a trained official licensed by the NCC - lets slip the dogs.

Only two dogs course at one time, and an average course lasts 35-40 seconds. Hares can run at up to 40mph, so the sport is fast.

The dogs are marked by a judge who usually follows on horseback. They are not given points for killing the hare, although when they do, supporters say death is almost instantaneous.

However, opponents of hare coursing say they have witnessed the animals being torn limb from limb by the hounds, and believe that the sport is barbaric.

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mink hunt
The mink hunt usually takes place during the summer
Mink Hunting normally takes place in the summer months, when feral mink are tracked down by hounds along rivers.

Mink - which were imported from North America in the 1920s for fur farming - look much like ferrets, and are responsible for a large amount of ecological damage.

A report by the Department of the Environment in 1995, for example, said: "Although water voles were previously common in Britain, they have become extinct in many areas since the arrival of mink."

mink
Mink are credited with wreaking ecological mayhem
The Masters of the Mink Hounds Association stipulates the conduct of the sport.

Hounds are taken to a watercourse where mink have been spotted, and the huntsman will encourage them to locate the overnight scent trail of the mink or to discover where the animal is hiding.

If the mink is flushed out, it usually takes to the water. Hounds will attempt to kill the mink in the river, but if it escapes up a tree, the hunt will try to shoot it.

On average, a hunt will kill 70 mink in a season.

No-one disputes that mink are a pest, but animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA say that shooting by a trained marksman is a much more humane way of dealing with any problem caused by the animals.

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Background and analysis of one of the most contentious issues in British politics

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The Scottish ban

Analysis

Background

TALKING POINT
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