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Hunting bill threatens shooting

SHOOTING AND gamekeeping bodies and pro-shooting MPs warned that their sport was at risk from proposed amendments to the Hunting Bill to be debated next week.

The amendments, brought by Michael Foster, Labour MP for Worcester and sponsor of a previous anti-hunting Bill, would ban the use of terriers below ground by gamekeepers and any use of dogs between March 1 and Nov 30. If passed the amendments would represent a breach of the Government's manifesto commitment to protect shooting and fishing.

Mr Foster is also seeking to bring about a ban on all forms of hunting below 500 metres above sea level - effectively a ban on all lowland and much upland hunting as foxes are often killed lower down than they are found.

Shooting bodies are concerned that Mr Foster's proposed amendments are likely to enjoy some support on the standing committee considering the Bill, which is dominated by Labour back-benchers who will have a free vote.

They are also worried about elements of the Hunting Bill itself, such as the requirement that no more than two dogs may be used to stalk or flush mammals. This could, they say, be used to prevent all organised shooting and beating with dogs.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said it had yet to receive clarification from Alun Michael, the Rural Affairs Minister, on a number of matters - including the number of dogs that could be used in the beating line. Christopher Graffius, of the association, said:

"Our research shows that just under half of Britain's 4,000 gamekeepers use terriers to control foxes.

"They use them in situations where it is difficult to lamp effectively or where snaring would be unsuitable.

"There is a strong welfare reason for using them. In spring there could be a vixen with cubs, the vixen would be shot and the cubs would starve if terriers were not sent in to get them."

Charles Nodder, of the National Gamekeepers' Organisation, said preventing registered gamekeepers from controlling foxes with dogs from March 1 to Nov 30 would cause problems in the breeding season for all ground-nesting birds, and during the summer months in which reared pheasants and partridges were released and most vulnerable.

* Michael Foster’s anti-hunting Bill was initiated as a Private Members Bill soon after Labour took power in 1997, and gained the biggest Yes vote of any Private Members’ Bill to date.

However, the Government refused to give the Bill extra Parliamentary time and it fell in July 1998 when Parliament rose for the summer recess and before it even reached the House of Lords.