The study, commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) before the ban on hunting, is the first of its kind and puts an end to the myths and misinformation that have dominated previous debates on the issue.
Scientists from the University of Bristol recorded fox numbers in forests owned by the Forestry Commission Wales. The Commission allowed gun-packs to operate at the request of their farming neighbours who believed they reduced fox numbers. Welsh farming organisations have said they believe fox numbers will be ‘spiralling out of control’* since the ban.
The aim of the research was to examine claims that gun-packs deserved a special exemption from the Hunting Act, on the grounds that they were concerned purely with pest control and were far more effective than traditional methods of fox hunting. Lord Burns, chair of the Government Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs (2000), thought that gun-packs may deserve special consideration on the grounds that there was a ‘greater perceived need for control’ in upland areas and ‘fewer alternatives available to the use of dogs’. Burns’ observations have been used ever since by the pro-hunt lobby in its bid to overturn the ban in Wales.
However, the study reveals conclusively that Welsh gun-packs had absolutely no impact on fox numbers. Not only did the researchers fail to find any reduction in fox numbers, they found that numbers actually increased slightly in areas where gun-packs operated. The increase was most likely due to more foxes moving in to contest the vacant spaces in that area.
“This study shows that there is no basis whatsoever to argue that the restrictions imposed by the Hunting Act on the use of dogs to control foxes will have any impact on the number of foxes living in these forests.” said Professor Harris, one of the study authors.
Josey Sharrad, campaigner for IFAW, one of the leading organisations that campaigned for a ban on hunting with dogs, said: “Gun-packs had absolutely no effect on keeping fox numbers down so there can be no justification for decriminalising them.”
Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda, said: “Hunting with dogs was banned because it was a cruel and unnecessary sport. This study confirms once and for all that gun-packs deserve no special exemption and should not be legalised. ”
For more information and copies of the full paper please contact Gill Sanders in the IFAW press office on 0207 587 6714.
*NFU Cymru president Peredur Hughes July 2005
Notes to editors:
1. The authors of the study ‘Does culling reduce fox density in commercial forests in Wales?’ are Professor Stephen Harris and Phillip J Baker, University of Bristol.
2. The study is to be published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research later this summer but is now available online from the journal.
3. Welsh gun-packs hunted foxes on foot, mainly in upland areas, using dogs to ‘flush’ foxes from woods to waiting guns. The ban on hunting means that they are now restricted to using only two dogs, which they claim prevents them from carrying out a vital pest control service for farmers.
4. Researchers conducted fox faecal density counts in woodland managed by the Forestry Commission Wales in autumn 2003 and spring 2004. 44 Forestry Commission sites were surveyed throughout Wales. The Forestry Commission Wales manages 1260km2 of woodland, which comprises 44% of Welsh woodlands and 6% of the land area in Wales.
5. At the time of the study, approximately 100 gun-packs operated throughout Wales, killing approximately 10,000-15,000 foxes annually.
6. 63 fox control societies and 11 mounted hunts operated in Forestry Commission woodlands, although not all hunts operated in these forests each year.
7. Previous research into the impact of hunting on fox numbers has yielded similar results. When hunting was stopped during the foot and mouth crisis there was no significant change in fox numbers (Baker PJ et al. Nature 419, 34,2002).
8. The Hunting Act 2004 came into effect on 18th February 2005.