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Study says hunt ban will not
cause fox population boom

New evidence that a permanent ban on hunting would not lead to an explosion in the fox population has emerged from a nationwide survey, which will be considered during this week’s public consultation on foxhunting.

The study found that the ban on foxhunting during the foot and mouth outbreak had no effect on the number of foxes in Britain.

The new data lends support to Lord Burns, chairman of the committee of inquiry into hunting with dogs in England and Wales, who concluded that a permanent ban on hunting was unlikely to result in an increase in foxes.

In the study, published in the journal Nature, Prof Stephen Harris of the University of Bristol and colleagues at the Mammal Society monitored foxes at 160 British sites in 1999, 2000 and 2002. They estimated numbers by counting faeces.

This year's count followed a year-long ban on hunting during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. With 240,000 adult foxes and 425,000 cubs born each year, the researchers reasoned that the ban would lead to a detectable population increase if hunting had a significant impact. But, despite the ban and restrictions on other rural activities, overall there was a small, although statistically insignificant, decline in fox numbers.

Prof Harris, chairman of the Mammal Society, said: "The society's study is the first scientific study into the impact of hunting on fox numbers, and it shows quite clearly that hunting plays no role in regulating fox numbers. In fact these results add weight to the argument that foxes regulate their own numbers and that all forms of fox culling are less important than hitherto believed."

This study provides the only quantified data on the impact of the ban on hunting on fox numbers and, he said, "refutes claims from a number of lobby groups that fox numbers increased significantly during foot and mouth".

During the study, 160 randomly selected one-kilometre squares throughout Britain were surveyed between February 1 and March 17 in the two winters immediately preceding the outbreak.

The outbreak started in February 2001 and hunting was banned for 10 months and severely curtailed for another two months. Each square was re-surveyed between February 1 and March 17, 2002, when the foot and mouth outbreak was over.

In seven regions there was no change in fox numbers; in eastern England numbers increased; in southern England they declined. Overall, the density of faeces declined by 4.7 per cent, though this was not statistically significant.

Tests were carried out to quantify the impact of hunts on fox numbers. There was no difference in fox population changes between those kilometre squares in areas where fox hunts operated and those away from hunts.

The results will be presented to Alun Michael, Minister for Rural Affairs, who is holding a series of public hearings on hunting with dogs this week in London.