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updated 19/10/01
Hunting 'best for fox welfare' says vets

MOST VETS oppose a ban on hunting on welfare grounds, according to a recent survey. In the largest and most detailed poll of its kind, two-thirds of rural vets questioned were in favour of statutory regulation of hunting, in stark opposition to the Government's plans for a total ban, writes Nick Mays.

The poll, which was conducted for a national newspaper by NOP from a survey of 1,000 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, will add weight to the arguments of the pro-hunting countryside lobby against Labour's planned Bill to ban hunting with hounds - although this legislation is likely to he delayed due to urgent anti-terrorist legislation being brought forward.

Anti-hunting campaigners have always claimed that pursuing foxes with hounds is cruel, causing pain and distress, which could be avoided if other methods of culling were used. The shock results of the NOP poll cast serious doubts on this view, with many vets believing that other methods of fox control would cause increased suffering to the foxes.

The vets, who included those running rural practices (52 per cent) and those in urban areas (38 per cent), were asked whether they would support, or oppose, a range of options for the future of hunting.

Apparently ten per cent of vets polled were unsure whether their practices were rural or urban.

The poll placed the same choices before the vets as those placed before MPs by the last Government hunting Bill, to retain the status quo, with hunts being self-regulatory, to allow hunting by regulatory licence, or to impose a total ban.

Support

On the option of a total ban, 55 per cent of those polled opposed the idea, with the figure rising to 63 per cent amongst vets with predominantly rural practices. There was, however, widespread support for a continuation of hunting under statutory regulations, with 66 per cent of respondents favouring this option.

When the vets were asked about the hunts being self-regulated, 54 per cent voiced their support.

In all, 79 per cent of rural vets agreed there was a need for fox control. When a smaller sample of 778 vets was asked if foxes would suffer more should hunting be banned and alternative methods of culling used, 38 per cent said they would, while 32 per cent disagreed and 31 per cent remained unsure.

Asked what they felt would happen if there was a ban on hunting and alternative methods of control were used, 38 per cent said the suffering of foxes would increase, whilst 32 per cent said it would diminish.

The number of rural vets who felt that a total ban on hunting would increase the suffering of foxes greatly stood at 43 per cent, whilst 28 per cent disagreed. With urban vets however, only 30 per cent felt that foxes' suffering would increase, whilst 37 per cent felt that it would decrease.