The Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC) will produce an independent evidence-based Statement on the impact on animal welfare of hunting wild mammals with dogs, to inform the ongoing debate on the issue.
The remit of the WAWC includes consideration of the direct anthropogenic effects on wild animal welfare of various forms of wildlife management, aiming to reduce harm to animals and prevent suffering caused by human activity. The Committee takes an evidence-based approach for evaluating, monitoring, assessing and improving decisions affecting the welfare of free-living wild animals in the UK.
The WAWC is aware of considerable public concern that the protection afforded to the welfare of foxes and other wild mammals might be reduced by amendments to the current legislation for England and Wales (Hunting Act 2004); and that there are calls for amendments to strengthen the current Scottish legislation (Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002).
The WAWC is not currently aware of any new specific evidence on the welfare aspects of hunting foxes with dogs, since the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales (the Burns Inquiry) in June 2000, which concluded that hunting with dogs ‘seriously compromises the welfare’ of foxes, deer, hares and mink. There is not thought to be any new reliable evidence either on the effectiveness of hunting with dogs, especially different numbers of dogs, in controlling fox populations.
The WAWC Statement will discuss animal welfare rather than any justification for, or effectiveness of, hunting with dogs. The Committee is aware that, in terms of fox impacts and fox control, there has been some more recent evidence that fox predation can have a negative impact on the productivity (i.e. young produced and successfully reared) of some species of ground-nesting birds. In some of these situations, productivity of bird populations can be greater where fox control is carried out. Evidence relating to the beneficial effects of fox control on overall population levels is less consistent. Moreover, in those cases, foxes are controlled by shooting rather than hunting with dogs.
In producing its Statement, the Committee will take into account the fact that any amendments to the legislation to increase the number of dogs permitted would probably increase the number of foxes being killed directly by dogs, which would result in a decline in welfare for the fox.
The WAWC review will reflect the Committee’s aim of promoting the importance and value of wild animals in general, and the welfare of the individual (in this case hunted) animal in particular.
Notes to editors
At the time of this news release a Statutory Instrument – the draft Hunting Act 2004 (Exempt Hunting) (Amendment) Order 2015 – scheduled for debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday 15 July 2015 had recently been withdrawn.
The Hunting Act 2004 prohibits the pursuit and killing of a wild animal by dogs outside of listed exemptions. The proposed amendments would have removed the limit of two dogs that applies to several of the exemptions under the Act (stalking and flushing out, rescue of wild mammals, research and observation).
Further consideration of the legislation in Scotland, England and Wales is anticipated.
The Members of WAWC are: Ms Sarah Dolman, Mr Chris Draper, Dr Pete Goddard (Chair), Mrs Carol McKenna, Dr Liz Mullineaux, Dr Angus Nurse and Professor Piran White. All members serve in an individual capacity. A secretariat service is provided by the animal protection charity OneKind.