Fox hunting opposition hits all-time high, latest poll finds

Despite the public objection, Theresa May is reportedly planning to push ahead with a vote on repealing the Hunting Act in Parliament

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Monday 26 December 2016 01:44 GMT
Some groups are using legal loopholes to stage fox hunts on Boxing Day
Some groups are using legal loopholes to stage fox hunts on Boxing Day

Opposition to fox hunting has risen to historic levels, according to a poll that found an all-time high number of Britons opposed to the activity.

A full 84 per cent of the public now believe fox hunting should not be made legal again, as enthusiasts take to horseback for traditional Boxing Day hunts, where hounds follow a scent rather than a fox.

Campaigners claim that illegal fox hunting continues.

Despite public opposition, it was reported in September that Theresa May is planning to push ahead with a vote to repeal the Hunting Act in Parliament, a pledge included in last year’s Conservative election manifesto.

This would lift the ban on hunting the creatures. The proposal was branded “out of touch” by campaigners, who said that such an overwhelmingly unpopular policy would only be considered in a dictatorship.

Eduardo Gonçalves, the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, which commissioned the poll, said families that went out to watch the apparent “glorious pageant” of a fox hunt on Boxing Day did not necessarily support lifting the ban on hunting foxes.

“The polling and projections highlight just how out of touch any move to repeal the hunting ban would be. Generally only dictators would dream of pushing through a policy against that level of public opposition so we hope our government will respect the will of the people,” he said.

“The Boxing Day hunts are portrayed as a glorious pageant taking place in front of a huge number of people who support them, but the truth is very different. The fact is 84 per cent of the public do not want fox hunting made legal.

“Just because families might venture out on Boxing Day to see the hunt, stroke the dogs or watch the horses, doesn’t mean they support repealing a law to enable the hunt to chase and kill wild animals with their dogs for sport.

“It’s more likely that most don’t realise that despite the ban, many of these hunts are still actively hunting and chasing foxes, and wouldn’t give them their support if they did. Or perhaps they just want to get outside and get some fresh air before cabin fever sets in.”

The poll, which has been conducted annually by Ipsos MORI for a number of years to gauge support on the issue, shows a small increase in support compared to 2015, when 83 per cent of the public said they did not support lifting the ban.

The pollsters also used Office for National Statistics (ONS) data to gauge whether a participant in the poll lived in a rural area – and found that opposition to fox hunting is growing in such places – 82 per cent of people living in rural areas were found to oppose fox hunting, with attitudes having broadly come into line with people living in urban areas in the last few years.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, supports lifting the fox hunting ban

Other bloodsports monitored by the annual poll were also as unpopular as ever, with the ban on deer hunting and hare coursing supported by 88 per cent and 91 per cent of people respectively.

Drag hunting, where hounds are trained to follow an artificial trail, is legal, but anti-hunt campaigners claim illegal hunting of foxes has continued, including at large organised Boxing Day hunts.

The Countryside Alliance, which supports fox hunting, argued that the Hunting Act was not stopping hunts. It released figures showing that 423 people had been prosecuted under the Act since its introduction and that 94 per cent of them had been for on unregistered hunts.

The organisation’s chief executive Tim Bonner said: “Our figures demonstrate unequivocally that the Hunting Act lies in tatters.

“The problem with the Act is that over the past two years all those prosecuted under the Act have had nothing to do with 'hunts'.

“The law that was supposed to have got rid of hunts is now being used as little more than a vehicle to harass them.”

The Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said during her failed campaign for Conservative party leader that she would bring back fox hunting.

“I would absolutely commit to holding a vote to repeal the hunting ban. It has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare whatsoever,” Ms Leadsom said in July of this year.

“I do believe we need a proper licensed regime which works much better and is more focused on animal welfare.”

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