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The Hare Hunting Associations

This submission is made jointly by the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, the Masters of Basset Hounds Association, the National Coursing Club and the Association of Lurcher Clubs.

. The submission centres on the hare, because we believe that it is the welfare of the hare both individually and as a species that is the principal source of public concern about hare hunting. Also, the hare is the common factor bringing together hunting with scent hounds (harriers, beagles and bassets) and coursing with sight hounds (greyhounds and lurchers).

The submission also deals with those other issues concerning hare hunting and coursing that have been raised in the recent phase of the inquiry

Newly available evidence is highlighted.

The Hare.

07 May 2000

Population Management.

1. It is widely accepted that at the turn of the last century the overall hare population of Britain was around four million. This population, via a series of peaks and troughs, has subsequently declined. By the mid 1960’s, post WW II changes in agricultural practice, brought about largely by the call for cheap food, and the spread of urbanisation, had reduced the pre-breeding hare population (1) to a regionally unevenly distributed total of about 800,000 (2) – a similar population to that of the magpie and three to four times the pre-breeding population of foxes. Although the population is now considered to be broadly stable, it is against this long term background, and because the hare is the only one of the four quarry species which has natural predators (3), that the need for local hare populations to be managed has becoming increasingly accepted, with the hare being included in many regional Biodiversity Action Plans.

2. Management in this context includes ‘control’, which involves the reduction of a naturally sustainable population level. In areas where hare numbers are sufficiently large to constitute an agricultural pest, such control is principally conducted by shooting in organised hare drives.

Notes (1) The hare population, as with the fox, varies cyclically through the year. It is at its largest in the spring, following the principal breeding season.

(2) Harris and Hutchings 1996 Mammal Review,14: 57-70.

(3) Confirmation that predators include foxes, badgers, stoats, buzzards, crows and magpies is provided by:

(a) Reynolds and Tapper – 1995 –Wildlife Biology 1: 145/48

      (b) See an article in the latest (April 2000) Edition of ‘BBC Wildlife’ by Tony Holley who is noted for his field observations of the hare.

3. In areas where hare populations are significantly smaller, the practice of hare management is aimed at sustaining a healthy population of hares in balance with its natural environment and with other wildlife populations. Such hare management requires extensive knowledge of the hare and its local populations. The principal, reliable and widespread source of this knowledge comes from those who hunt and course the hare. There is no other comparable source. (4)

4. Hare management may also involve actions to control predators and to deter poaching. Hunt Masters, and those that manage the coursing grounds, are from time to time involved in both these processes.

5. Those that hunt the hare do get pleasure from their sport. It is the pleasure of learning and of experiencing the natural ways of the countryside. It is also a pleasure with a purpose – that of working with hounds and other sporting dogs and thus playing a significant and unique role in the process of hare management and conservation.

Conservation

6. Hunt Masters are charged by the rules of their Association with assisting in "the maintenance of a healthy and balanced population of hares throughout the appropriate areas of the UK". They do this by: -

7. The Master of the Forest and District Beagles in Cheshire in the second and penultimate paragraphs of his latest letter submitted to the inquiry (6) has illustrated well the extent to which this local co-operation between hunts and local wildlife interest groups in respect of the hare also extends over a range of conservation issues relating to other species.

(4) Game Conservency Trust Submission – Section C1 para.1.5. h.

(5) The habitat most suited to hares is also important for the conservation of ground nesting birds and some small mammals.

(6) Letter to Lord Burns from Mr Richard May dated 12th April 2000.

 

8. Initial examination of the reports of hare numbers seen when hunting during the recently completed season indicates a good population density in all hunted areas. The reports generally confirm the Game Conservancy’s 1998 analysis that the national hare population is broadly stable, with a tendency towards an increase. In some areas, the increase has been substantial. These preliminary results await full analysis.

9. In his evidence before the Inquiry on the 19th April, Professor Harris is understood to have stated that the hare population was decreasing at 2% a year. The basis of this statement is not clear. The latest hare population survey by Bristol University (7) taken in the winters 1997/8 and 1998/9 reports an estimated pre-breeding season adult population of 752,608 (+/- 37,697). This number comes well within the 10% confidence limits of the similar study conducted in 1991-93 which estimated a population of 817,520 (+/- 137,251). The analysis of this latest report concludes (p.8) "There is no evidence to suggest that there has been a significant decline in hare numbers since the first survey in 1991-1993; although our results suggest that hare numbers may have declined in arable areas in the South and North East of England. Despite this decline, hares still remain at higher densities in arable than pastural areas".

10. There is also new verbal evidence from the Taw Vale and West Somerset Beagles that the re-introduction of hares on Exmoor, which was carried out by hunts some five or six years ago, has been successful in restoring and sustaining healthy and balanced hare populations in this area. This success is at least in part due to being able to draw on the considerable experience of re-stocking, which took place following WWI. (8) The statement in the Submission of the Exmoor National Park (Para. 5.8) that hunts are presently planning further such measures is not correct. Any future reintroduction in Devon will take place under the Devon Hare Biodiversity Action Plan under the control of the Devon Wild Life Trust; and, as elsewhere, should be in accordance with the principles laid down in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines for Re-introduction, 1998.

11. On land where coursing takes place, it is very widely accepted that a large and healthy hare population is ensured. (9). Evidence from Altcar, already presented by the National Coursing Club, and that also now available from Ladock in Cornwall and elsewhere, has demonstrated that, providing suitable hare habitat is available and other measures to sustain and manage the population are well supported, the importation of hares can be a powerful and successful means of restoring hare populations that have declined as a result of a lack of hare management.

12. The Game Conservancy Trust’s research at Loddington has also conclusively shown that suitable habitat management, combined with predator control, can produce a large and rapid increase in hare numbers.

(7) " The National Hare Survey" 1997-99 Temple, Clark and Harris

(8) See Lovell Hewitt’s "Hare Hunting" published 1975. Chapter 2.

    (9) "Where coursing is undertaken, hares are strictly preserved" Stephen Harris and Mike Hutchings, BBC Wildlife April 1993

Animal Welfare

13. The hare, because it has natural predators and lives above ground has evolved by accentuating four defence mechanisms - its ability to conceal itself, its acute sight and hearing, its speed and agility, and its cunning. It regularly uses all four when hunted. These being natural, frequently used and predetermined actions, there is no reason that they create mental stress. Indeed, all the experience from the hunting field indicates that a hare does not show signs of distress during the normal course of a hunt.

14. The hare has a further natural defence mechanism in that it loses its scent as it tires. It also loses its scent when startled by, for instance, by an unexpected encounter.

15. No substantiated evidence can be found that hares ‘scream’ whilst being hunted. Evidence from the field is that the so called "scream" of a hare is not a response to pain, but is a reaction to being ‘held’ and a warning signal to others. A hare will utter a high-pitched call (a "scream") if it should be caught in a net or even when held gently in the hand. A hare will, however, sometimes scream at the moment when it is caught by hounds – but that this scream lasts for no more than a very few seconds is a strong indication that it is killed almost instantaneously.

16. As Lord Burns will have observed during his day’s beagling, the normal hunt with hounds is not a prolonged chase to exhaustion, but is a series of relatively short chases interspersed by ‘checks’ when the hounds lose the scent. However if, over a longer period, the hare is unable to evade the following hounds, it will in the end become tired and despite the quarry’s fading scent, the perseverance and superior stamina of the hounds may enable them to catch it. Whether in this final phase at the end of an extended hunt, the hare suffers distress, and in what form, cannot be known with any certainty. If it does so, it is only for a brief time, a period likely to be considerably less than suffered by a hare dying in other ways. It is relevant however that on average some 95 out of every 100 hares seen in the hunting field escape entirely untouched. Hares that have been recently coursed may often be seen soon after to resume their normal activities.

 

The Conduct of ‘Hunting’

Hunting with hounds

17. The conduct of hare hunting with Harriers and Beagles and Bassets is closely governed by the rules of the two associations, The Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB) and the Masters of Basset Hounds Association (MBHA), and the Code of Hunting Practice, aimed primarily at followers, issued on behalf of the Associations by the Campaign for Hunting. These two Associations are planning to merge shortly to form the Masters of Hare Hounds Association (MHHA).

18. We believe that these rules are effective and effected in all registered packs because breaches of these rules inevitably brings hunting into bad repute with the general public. Masters and followers know that the Association has formal disciplinary procedures, which enable effective sanctions to be enforced. Such self-regulation is now being re-enforced, and given an independent arbiter, by the creation of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting (ISAH), to whom complaints by the general public can be made. The formation of ISAH has been given the full support of the AMHB and the MBHA.

19. An ultimate limitation of the powers of the Hunting Associations is that a hunt may resign from the Association and therefore avoid being constrained by its rules and thus also by the authority of ISAH. However, peer pressure and the unwillingness of many farmers and landowners to permit hunting on their land by unregistered packs is likely in most cases to be effective in discouraging this extreme step.

20. The disciplines required by the Associations cannot however be applied to those packs which are not members. Many but not all of these are ‘gun packs’ that use beagles to ‘flush foxes over guns’. Nevertheless, they will also hunt a hare if they find one. Whilst some of these do conform to published codes of hunting practice, there are others whose conduct would not be acceptable to the Hunting Associations.

21. In the event of a ban on hunting the four quarry species, a particular problem would be caused by the existence of unregistered packs of small hounds used to catch rabbits. A well known such private pack already exists. Although not welcomed by registered hunts, it has attracted some support. The hounds catch a significant number of rabbits ‘above ground’. (9) However, by the very nature of this activity in which the hounds tend to rush about largely independently, such a pack will also hunt anything else that it comes across, be it fox, hare, mink or muntjac deer. The effective monitoring of the activities of such hunts in the event of a ban would be almost totally impracticable.

Hunting with harriers.

22. It might well be thought that a creature such as a hare would be ‘overmatched’ in being hunting with harriers, a hound considerably bigger than the beagle, and with the hunt staff and followers mounted on horses. Harriers should be a lot faster than beagles. However, they cannot hunt faster than their noses will allow. Even so, together with the mounted field, they do tend to cover rather more ground than a pack of beagles, and thus more frequently put up fresh hares. The result is that they change quarry rather more often. Most packs of harriers therefore do not catch more hares than most packs of beagles.

    (7)A significant amount of rabbit hunting also takes place with lurchers and has been well described in the first submission of the Association of Lurcher Clubs.

 

Hunting with bassets.

23. The basset, being a shorter legged and heavier looking hound than a beagle, inevitably hunts more slowly. Thus, the slower general pattern of the hunt allows the huntsman and hunt staff generally to keep in closer touch with the pack as the hunt progresses. The average pack of bassets will also catch fewer hares than the average beagle pack.

Coursing

24. The National Coursing Club’s rules also provide an effective structure for the provision of qualified officials, for procedures for enquiries, for imposing penalties and for appropriate appeals. It is proud of its long record of self-regulation, a purpose which was at the heart of the reasons for the founding of the Club in 1858. Nevertheless, the NCC supports the establishment of ISAH as a means of helping to provide public re-assurance as to the proper conduct of coursing meetings.

25. Greyhounds are bred to run as fast as possible, and not to prolong a chase. In coursing, the average ‘course’ lasts less than a minute. Seven out of eight hares escape unharmed; but it should be noted that in the longer courses the hare almost invariably escapes. When a hare is caught, the course would normally last from 10-20 seconds.

26.The instinct of a greyhound is to kill the hare as quickly as possible and to possess it. It does not release the hare when it is dead. If the dogs, by their very nature, contest for possession of the hare, it should be remembered that it is nearly always already dead.

Lurchers

27. The Association of Lurcher Clubs, formed less than five years ago, has not only been successful in establishing a universal code of conduct and regulatory rules, but has also introduced the administrative system and disciplinary procedure through which they can be enforced. The willingness of lurcher clubs to accept and adhere to these rules is evidenced by the annually increasing membership. The ALC have also supported the formation of ISAH..

28. Clubs which currently operate outside the jurisdiction of the ALC and ISAH have similar rules operated under a system of self regulation.

29. The operation of small groups of individuals, very often urban based, who poach using lurchers at night on land without the permission of the owner or tenant are a matter of concern to the Associations in relation to the welfare of the hare and the proper management of hare populations. However, claims as to the very large numbers of hares killed annually in this way are unsubstantiated and probably exaggerated. Nevertheless, such uninvited and unregulated coursing recognises no rules and is not bound by any constraints as to a ‘closed season’. Such a closed season is enforced by the Hare Hunting Associations and by the coursing authorities, although the dates for these vary slightly.

 

Other Matters

Hounds.

30. The following broad estimates are in response to Mr Brian Caffarey’s letter dated 28th April.

 

    (10) LACS Submission p. 18

 

Poaching.

31. Whatever legislation might be applied to the taking of hares, there will always be those that are ready to disregard it. As has already been stated to the enquiry, ‘illegal poaching’, and particularly that which is linked to large scale betting activities, already poses a threat to the hare, and to farmers on whose land they lie. In many areas, the limited available police resources have been unable to cope effectively with such breaches of the existing law. More recently, links have become evident between hare poaching and other rural crime. (11) This is causing some police forces to take hare poaching more seriously. A meeting of the Joint Eastern Counties Illegal Coursing Working Party (12) reported that, following the success of two recent operations, there was some optimism that the situation could be contained.

(11) The three burglars involved in the case of the Norfolk farmer, Mr Tony Martin, all had either convictions or cautions for hare poaching.

    (12) A group set up by the police and the Country Landowners’ Association,

 

Conclusions.

32. In the AMHB submission dated 18th February 2000, it was concluded that "Those that advocate a ban on hunting have a clear duty to show that the regime that will result following a legislated ban, will bring beneficial results for both the countryside and its way of life, and for the balance and welfare of the wild life that it supports. We have seen, and can find no such convincing case in relation to the hare." None of the evidence that we have seen or heard during the course of the inquiry has caused us to alter that view.

33. Hare hunting and coursing are part of a long established tradition that is deeply interwoven into the social and economic pattern of life in the countryside. They now contribute to maintaining a sustainable and healthy population of hares, whose numbers are in balance with its natural wild life predators, and in harmony with its habitat.

Chairman AMHB

 

Chairman MBHA

 

Secretary NCC

 

Chairman ALC

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Date uploaded to website 9 May 2000