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Hunting - What the act allows

Foxhunting

Hunting a fox in the traditional fashion with a pack of hounds, whether on a horse or on foot, is banned by the Act, but drag hunting and rabbit hunting remain legal and are likely to be taken up by many hunts, either as a way of keeping the hunt going and their members amused, or as a defence against clandestine hunting.

Where a drag hunt or rabbit hunt ‘inadvertently’ kills a fox or a hare, it will not have acted illegally, according to advice issued by the ‘testing’ of the law at some point.

Drag hunting, however, is unlikely to satisfy the majority of hunting people who hunt on foot, nor is it likely to be tolerated by farmers on their land, as it fulfils no pest control function.

Some fox control with dogs will still be allowed. The Act allows the stalking or flushing out of a mammal, using no more than two dogs, with the intention of preventing serious damage to property, food crops, timber, fisheries or biological diversity.

The Act says the people doing the hunting must have the permission of the landowner and that reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that the mammal is shot dead expeditiously by a "competent person". If the mammal escapes, the chase may technically be seen as illegal hunting.

James Legge, a legal adviser to the Countryside Alliance, said: "This is going to encourage more people to apply to use firearms in the countryside."

If a fox is killed by the dogs, and the death is witnessed, a prosecution could be brought on the grounds that the dogs were not kept under close control, as required by the Act.

Gun packs which flush foxes on foot to be shot by guns will still be able to operate, provided they use only two dogs.

Terrier work

One dog may be used below ground to prevent damage to game birds - but not to protect lambs, piglets or poultry - as long as the fox is shot at the end of the process. If the fox escapes, that could be construed as illegal hunting. There is no licensing of any activity under this Act: a chase is either banned or exempted. Ultimately it is for the courts to decide what is legal.

Deer hunting

This is still possible if a hunter uses only two dogs, does not unnecessarily prolong the chase and shoot the stag as before. Dogs may be used under the Act, without a gun, to recapture or rescue a wild mammal, or for research and observation.

Hare coursing

Organised events, such as the 72 fixtures run each year by the National Coursing Club, will be illegal. However, "private" coursing, in which two greyhounds are run after hares, would be legal, provided that the people doing the coursing shoot the hare afterwards. Since most courses last for around 40 seconds, it is hard to see that the hare will have been hunted for an "unreasonable" period.

Hare hunting

Hare hunting could be conducted with two dogs and a gun under the same restrictions as foxhunting. Hares that are wounded by guns may be hunted with dogs.

Rabbit and Rat hunting

Rabbits are not covered by the Act, so beagles and even fox hounds could hunt rabbits, even though they are not trained to do so. The disadvantages are that rabbits are not quick, there are a lot of them so the scent can easily get confused and, without a comprehensive campaign of stopping their burrows, they tend to drop down a hole rapidly.

Susanne Huband, the secretary of the Masters of Basset Hounds Association, which has seven packs, said: "Rabbits are an option. Jackrabbits and cottontails are what basset hounds hunt in the United States because there are few hares."

Hunting rabbits is one of the principle defences likely to be used by fox and hare hunts, which continue hunting. Indeed, the constitution of many hunts may be rewritten to make rabbits their principal quarry.