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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
How do hunters plan to get round the ban?
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Hunting Handbook
Contents includes 'How to hunt legally with foxhounds'
The hunting season is under way and, despite the new ban, foxes will not be resting easy. How so?

Activists fighting the anti-hunt legislation are urging horseback hunters to saddle up and give the government a run for its money as the new hunting season gets underway.

Despite the highly controversial ban on fox hunting with hounds, which came into force in England and Wales in February, the law still allows hunting of certain other creatures.

And "loopholes" mean that even foxes could be legally killed in a hunt, if it is unintentional and by accident.

Hunters have run a fine-tooth comb through the wording of the Hunting Act, looking for the slightest bit of wriggle room.

The latest edition of the Hunting Handbook, issued by the Countryside Alliance and the Council of Hunting Associations is subtitled How to Keep Hunting.

Over 44 pages the booklet sets out how those who used to be involved in hunting with hounds can continue to hunt legally, and how they should handle difficult scenarios where the law is unclear.

Dead fox
Foxes retrieved from undergrowth can be shot, legally
In effect, it helps hunters sail as close to the wind as possible, while staying within the rules of the ban. In doing so, the Countryside Alliance believes it can expose the new law as unworkable and so overturn it.

The handbook highlights the importance of intention, which is central to the new law. Although fox hunting with a pack of hounds is now banned, legal hunting activity still includes, among other things:

  • Trail hunting (following a man-laid scent)
  • Exercising hounds
  • Rabbit and rat hunting
  • Using no more than two dogs to flush out a fox from cover to be shot

    Intent in humans is not easy to prove, in a pack of hounds, it could be nigh on impossible.

    So, if a hunt sets out with the intent of hunting a rabbit, but the hounds veer off course when they smell a fox, and subsequently kill it, this could be seen as inadvertent and unintentional, and therefore not illegal.

    The flushing out example also raises questions. If hounds are sent into woods or undergrowth to retrieve a fox, for shooting, there's no guarantee they will not kill it first.

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    Such scenarios only allow two dogs to pursue the fox - far fewer than would be found in a traditional hunting pack. But, the handbook explains, there is no limit to how many "separate groups of people, each... with two dogs" can go out.

    "These separate small groups can take place in close proximity provided that the two hounds do not join with other hounds nearby in pursuit of a single fox".

    While the Act forbids hunting of hares, it allows hunting of hares which have been shot. Here, again, the handbook senses ambiguity.

    "There is no limit on the number of dogs or guidance on either how shot the hare has to be or what it has been shot with."

    Police access

    The booklet also highlights that hunt organisers are not obliged to allow police on to private land "for a general 'fishing expedition' in the hope of getting evidence of an illegal act". They must have reasonable suspicion of a crime having been, or about to be committed.

    However, anti-hunt protesters see less ambiguity in the new rules. "The Hunting Act is really very simple," says advice from the League Against Cruel Sports. "If you search for, chase or kill a wild mammal with dogs you are in breach of the law. Hunting, unless of an exempt form, is illegal."

    A spokeswoman for the Department for Rural Affairs, which issued the ban, said the new law is "perfectly clear and perfectly enforceable".

    "Ultimately it will be for the courts to interpret the law and decide if there's been an offence. We don't believe that courts will have any difficulty in establishing intention. They may see an accident as just that, but a series of 'accidents' will look more suspicious."


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