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Burns Inquiry - Oral Evidence, Day 2 Session 1 (Deadline 2000)



Monday, 10th April 2000

AT: Posthouse Hotel,


Coram Street,

London, WC1N 1HT.

Members of Committee:

LORD BURNS (Chairman)





Monday, 10th April 2000



Representation Panel Chairman: William Swann Veterinary Consultant


Douglas Batchelor LACS Chairman

Colin Booty RSPCA Senior Wildlife Officer

Mike Huskisson LACS monitor

David Coulthread LACS Head of Public Affairs

Kevin Hill IFAW monitor

Peter White IFAW monitor

(10.00 am)

THE CHAIRMAN: Good morning, and welcome back. Today we have a further set of issues. I am a little unsure about how fast we will get through the agenda. But it is possible that we may spend the first session on the first topic, which is the reasons why the quarry species are hunted, and the effectiveness of hunting and of other forms of population management, and then deal with the other three topics in the second session. But if we make faster progress on the first topic, then maybe we will move on to the second.

My starting point is we may have enough material in the first topic for the first session. Victoria will lead on this topic. The agenda suggests that we should look at it species by species. But I would like to ask you, again, whether you have any general comments on these issues, and whether you would like to make an opening statement.

MR SWANN: Good morning, Lord Burns, Members of the Committee. I have a very brief opening statement, and Colin Booty will be our main spokesperson for this first session. A "pest" has been defined as an animal which competes with man for a resource. It is established beyond reasonable doubt that the fox is not an animal which causes significant agricultural loss. Predators have always had a bad press. In more rational times, we would cite McDonald et al: Is the fox a pest? and endorse the MAFF submission to this inquiry.

The fox does not cause significant agricultural loss.

Bad farming, dealing with the rigours of marginal

farming and changing weather do.

There are valid reasons for reclassifying the fox

as a mammal which is not a pest at normal, naturally

controlled population densities. Where the population

may rise in a local area, there are methods of keeping

the population under control. Recent work in Melbourne,

Australia shows that this can sometimes be achieved by

chemical means.

However, for the time being, in Britain we believe

that the predominant method of control will be by

shooting but primarily of individual animals as opposed

to population control.

The majority of Britain's farmers -- and let us

remember that Britain enjoys the highest standards of

animal welfare in Europe -- prefer shooting as a means

of controlling foxes; if asked, they will say because

they believe it to be more humane.

The attack on shooting by the supporters of

hunting is a misrepresentation of the facts in this

respect. Most foxes killed by the hunt are young males,

who play little or no part in breeding in the year they

are killed. Few foxes survive into the wild into old age

and the assertion that hunting kills old animals, I am

afraid, is nonsense.

When necessary, deer are controlled throughout the

United Kingdom by shooting. The factor of one major

Scottish estate has stated that, quite apart from the

welfare considerations, important as they are, the

unselective, time-consuming and costly nature of hunting

with dogs would render it impractical as a means of


In our enlightened part of Britain, hunting with

deer is of course illegal, with dogs. Hare are in need

of conservation in most areas of Britain. Mink may be

trapped or shot.

It is the opinion of our organisations that the

claims made by the Countryside Alliance -- that hunting

plays a vital role in pest control and conservation --

are untrue, spurious and simplistic, and demonstrate a

fundamental lack of understanding of how the countryside

actually works.

Thank you, Chairman.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: As Lord Burns has said, I think we will

go through species by species for clarity. I wonder if

we might start with foxes.

You state that losses to foxes in agriculture are

particularly low. I wonder if you had any evidence of

the proportion of livestock lost in comparison with

other losses, and whether changing farming practices is

likely to change that proportion?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Dr Edwards. I will pass that question

first to Colin Booty, and Douglas Batchelor and myself

may wish to comment as well. Thank you.

MR BOOTY: In relation to agricultural losses, if we take it

species by species within that sector, perhaps, probably

the most contentious area would be lamb losses. Our

view, based on the evidence available, is that this is a

relatively small proportion.

We quoted -- in the RSPCA's submission to the

Committee we chose to review documents which we thought

were a fair summary of the vast amount of literature on

this topic, and one document in particular: the review

carried out by the Forestry Commission's technical


Their conclusion in relation to lamb losses was

that, although this was often argued as being an

important problem, the scientific evidence, and much of

the anecdotes, suggested it was not. At most, we are

probably talking about 1 per cent loss of lambs to

foxes, and that is in context of losses of lambs of the

order of 3-4 million, 3-4 million from a range of other

causes, most of which is stillbirths, starvation,

disease, et cetera, poor condition.

Bill may give you further detail on that if you

require it, but lamb losses were of that order.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, if I can perhaps clarify that point;

that percentage was given of lambs lost, not of total

lambs born.

From my own experiences in hill sheep farming, I

can state from first-hand experience that foxes are a

very minor part of lamb losses. This is a view which is

supported by the Sheep Veterinary Society. In studies

done into lamb mortality, it is quite clear that the

predominant cause of loss is either poor mothering or

poor birth weights of lambs.

This is a particular problem in marginal areas,

where nutrition is likely to be poorer. In areas where

lamb nutrition is better, losses are less. We can talk

about lambing percentages in that the number of lambs

that survive relative to the number of ewes giving

birth, in some hill farms the lambing percentage may be

as low as 70 per cent.

I can cite areas of Britain historically where

foxes have been absent, such as the Isle of Man, where

marginal hill farming has achieved lambing percentages

sometimes not much better than 70 per cent, which equate

to some of the worst hill areas in the mainland of

Britain. Again you have a direct comparison where foxes

are and are not present.

But lambing percentages get much better than that

once you get off the marginal areas, and I do believe

the reason the fox is seen as a pest is because these

are areas where lamb losses are high. So it is a

suitable scapegoat, a suitable reason, but, in point of

fact, the predominant reason is poor nutrition.

I would like to ask Douglas Batchelor, please, if

I may, to comment on the same point.

MR BATCHELOR: My comments come from personal experience of

sheep farming, which is actually my speciality. I

managed over 4,000 sheep on Exmoor, over 8,000 sheep in

Wales, and three other weekly farms that had sheep at

various times.

My experience of managing sheep flocks is

basically this: that the management of the animals

determines the lambing percentage. The fox, where it is

relevant at all, is as a scavenger of animals who fall

prey to management problems, not fox problems. Now, in

essence, what Bill Swann said about mothering and birth

weight, and I would add the weather, are the crucial


In sheep management, what I pioneered in Wales was

in fact lambing indoors, until you had the ewe and the

lamb, or the lambs plural, properly associated with each

other, and then turning them out after lambing, usually

6 to 12 hours after lambing, into the weather


My personal experience was that we would put

something between 15 and 25 per cent on the lambing

percentages of those flocks, either Welsh Hill or

cross-bred ewes, and that had a very significant effect.

The fox was a complete irrelevance in terms of

percentage of lambs either born or reared or sold;

purely a rural scavenger and not a management problem.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Would you recognise, however, having

taken that evidence, that to farmers, particularly to

individual farmers who are encountering problems, the

fox is considered a pest?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, I think culturally farmers will

always see the fox as a pest in certain areas, but I

think this is a cultural point rather than a scientific


I think when you are farming in areas where you

are right on the edge, in marginal areas close -- in

upland Britain, where you are close to the edge of

moorland or extensive areas, then these are very

difficult areas to farm in. These are the areas, as you

have heard, where lamb losses are likely to be greatest,

as a result of weather and as a result of poor

nutrition. So the fox is probably seen more because

there is more to scavenge on.

You will have a high percentage of dead sheep

littering the edges of moorland, which cannot be cleared

away at that time of the year. This forms carrion for

foxes to feed on. You will have dead lambs, which also

is carrion.

So it is a cultural point that farmers perceive

the fox as a pest, but the science does not support that

view in reality. I stress the cultural side of this as

an issue. Thank you.

LORD SOULSBY: While agreeing that the numbers of lambs

taken by foxes may vary greatly up and down the country,

there seems to be, at least from the evidence we have

received, parts of the country, such as the Lake

District, where losses are a bit higher than the 1 per

cent that you mentioned, and they would put it at 3 to 5

per cent from foxes.

I think they will admit that the health of the ewe

and the health of the lamb is important in that higher

level. They would absolutely deny the figure which I

think was mentioned somewhere of 25 per cent of losses

of lambs, not due to foxes but as an annual death rate.

But the point I am coming to is that if it is 1

per cent or 2 per cent or 3 per cent, any loss to a

farmer is significant. It just adds to the general loss

of lambs that would eventually end up by profit. So I do

not think that one can necessarily dismiss the fact that

it is only 1 per cent. That is -- certain lambs are not

in part of the farmer's welfare, properly.

MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, I will give you a brief response to

that. I know that Douglas Batchelor will want to speak

on the same point.

I would make the point that, in areas where losses

are possibly higher, and the fox may be implicated, this

can in large part be taken back to looking at the birth

weight of the lamb and mothering capacity of the ewe.

A fairly fit, active, well-fed ewe is a fairly

formidable creature, and is a very good and effective

mother. So if the lamb birth weight is high, and if the

lamb has the necessary amount of body fat to get through

its initial few days of survival, and if the mother is

adequately fed, then I believe that is the greatest

defence against lamb losses, be it from fox predation or

whatever cause.

I believe that where the percentage does creep up

-- and I accept that it does in some upland areas -- I

think it is primarily because we have these predisposing

factors related to nutrition and weather. I do not

think, once again, that the fox is acting as a primary

predator. I think it is acting opportunistically because

you have what are disadvantaged lambs available to be

taken. I do not think it would take fit, healthy lambs,

once they are up on their feet and running around.

I am sorry, if I may just make the point on

this: management practices can play an enormous part in

reducing the losses of all types of lamb loss, but

certainly this is one area where good management

practice can make a big difference.

May I ask Douglas Batchelor, Chairman, to make a

brief comment on the same point.

MR BATCHELOR: Again, this is from my experience in farm

management on sheep farms, but I think a distinction

needs to be drawn between the fox removing the lamb

which is already dead and the fox being the cause of

death. The evidence, in my personal experience, is that

if you take the weather in the last couple of weeks,

when there was driving rain and freezing cold snow

landing on young lambs, that would have had an enormous

effect on casualty rates.

To imply then that when foxes remove those

carcasses that have basically died of hypothermia, that

those losses were caused by the foxes is a complete

nonsense. In management terms, our experience, and all

the people I have worked with, has been that the fox is

not the primary problem; it is either the weather

conditions or the general conditions in which you are

farming which are the primary problem. The fox is simply

an opportunistic feeder on animals that have already


THE CHAIRMAN: There is an interesting issue here, -- and

it is one of the

things we will have to discuss, of course, the

implications of it -- but it may be that all farmers are

wrong in that somehow or other they have not yet caught

up with the science.

But if they actually see it as a problem, does it

not follow that they are actually going to seek to

control the population of foxes by one means or another.

And that really becomes the issue, as far as we are

concerned, that it is unlikely that they are simply

going to change their views about this in the


MR SWANN: I think, Lord Burns, you have put the issue in a

nutshell. I think the fox is overrated as a pest in this

respect. I think there are undoubtedly some

justifications for looking at the fox in some of the

marginal areas, as we have discussed, but I think your

summary is a very fair one.

I think farmers will continue to see the fox as a

pest in some circumstances, whether through culture or

through their own perceptions. But we believe that in

this circumstance we are dealing with, by and large,

individual foxes, and that the method of control is then

specific to the problem as it presents. It is not a

matter of trying to control the population; it is a

matter of trying to control individuals which are seen

as pests at specific times of the year in specific


THE CHAIRMAN: One further question. Of course another point

that is sometimes put is that we are dealing here, of

course, with figures and experiences where there

is an active attempt made to control the


If one was taking a situation where there was no

attempt to control the population, then of course we

could be dealing with figures that looked a good deal

greater than this.

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, may I ask Colin Booty to speak on

that point.

COLIN BOOTY: Yes, Lord Burns. This issue has been

investigated. Lord Soulsby referred to the Lake

District; I can recollect reading the chapter in David

McDonald's book, Running with the Fox, where he

eventually persuaded the shepherd in that area to put a

ceasefire on foxes for a term, over a year, so that

David could study the foxes in that area, on that upland


During that period of time, although foxes were in

and out of the lambing fields, et cetera, that shepherd

suffered no losses to the foxes. In addition, there was

the detailed experiment carried out in Scotland by Ray

Houston, on the Eribol Estate(?), where for a period of

three years no foxes were killed on that estate. There

was no significant changing in lamb losses during that

period of time.

So there is a limited amount of experimental study

which demonstrates that the contention that you put

forward is not necessarily the case.

PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: I wonder if I could broaden the

discussion a little. If I have understood it correctly,

there is an equilibrium population size of foxes, and

that population size will be determined by a number of

factors, one of which will be the total availability of

food stuffs for it.

We have concentrated very much on lambs, but of

course foxes presumably consume other animals as well.

In particular, they consume game. They are said to

interfere with ground-nesting birds. They are also said

to impact on outdoor-reared piglets. I would really like

to hear you say a little more about that, because I

think all those agencies actually do intervene in an

attempt to protect their interests.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Sir John. I am going to ask Colin

Booty to answer your first point on fox diet and

significance to game. With regard to outdoor-reared

piglets, then I think I can say that most of the

evidence that I have seen to date tends to indicate that

foxes are, again, opportunistic scavengers where

outdoor-reared piglets farrow outside. Their strategy

seems to be to take piglets which have perhaps been

crushed by the mother, or which have been disabled by

the mother, particularly if the mother and piglets are


So there may be a small level of piglet predation;

I would accept that. Again, I do not think it is primary

predation, and once again I think it can be managed by

effective husbandry, because I think it is possible to

mitigate against the disturbance that a fox could


On the second point, if I may ask Colin to speak

on the game side.

MR BOOTY: Sir John, of course the main item of the fox diet

you did not mention on your list, which is rabbits; that

is the major component throughout the country. So that

is an important point that has to be borne in mind in

this calculus about whether the fox is good or bad or

whatever, where it is in-between.

From a farming perspective, obviously, rabbits

are, I think everybody would agree, a major, probably

the major agricultural pest. There is evidence, both in

this country and in Australia, that where predators are,

in a sense, ruthlessly controlled rabbits are more

numerous and more widespread. So there is that part of

the fox equation to bear in mind.

But if we look at game -- yes, there is work that

bodies like the Game Conservancy have undertaken, but,

leaving aside the ethical question about whether or not

one takes a particular view about the purpose of that

activity, that control of foxes on those estates can

result in a higher proportion of partridge or pheasant

which is then available to shoot. The work shows that.

But, on those estates, that fox control is by and large

undertaken by shooting.

The Game Conservancy have also been investigating

more subtle, more targeted means. We can perhaps come on

to some of those in due course, but, to go through your

list, that is one side of the game issue.

There is perhaps also an indication in relation to

foxes and red grouse, but perhaps the picture there is

also more complicated, unfortunately, in that there is

some evidence from studies that foxes will selectively

prey on grouse which are affected by a parasite that is

particularly prevalent in grouse.

So a limited amount of fox predation can be a good

thing, as well as competing with that harvestable


In relation to ground-nesting birds, I do not

think there is any evidence that foxes in general -- and

I think there is a danger in making generalised

statements -- are a problem in relation to

ground-nesting birds in some species in some areas. In

our submission, we make reference to some of them, and

the review that was undertaken.

One case in point was a coastal colony of terns on

the north Norfolk coast, Sculpt Head, where fox

predation was jeopardising the productivity and survival

of that colony of protected birds. The solution there

was partly a fence to prevent access but, because of the

nature of that specific site and that specific habitat,

some foxes managed to overcome the defences because they

could walk around the edge of the fence at low water. So

it was only a partial solution for part of the time.

But the rest of that problem is mitigated by

shooting, by and large, with a little bit of snaring.

But it was primarily -- that suite of measures. So on

that specific site there was a problem. But I do not

think there is generally a problem.

Certainly I am aware that, in the submission that

the Director General of the Wildlife Trust made to the

Committee, he made the point that he did not think there

was a need for fox control nationally on nature

conservation grounds.

LORD SOULSBY: Can I just clarify one point that you made.

Mr Swann, you described the fox as purely a rural

scavenger, an opportunistic rural scavenger.

Would you say it is that, also, from all the other

things that Mr Booty has been talking about, like

rabbits? Does it only scavenge on rabbits, or does it

kill rabbits? Does it only scavenge on birds such as

duck, game and things like that?

I rather gathered that with rabbits, for example,

it actually killed rabbits and did not scavenge on the


MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, you are absolutely correct because

the fox has a preferred diet. In respect of its

preferred prey species, it is a predator, but it does

have a range of preferred prey species which, given the

opportunity, it will catch indeed. It will then become

an agricultural scavenger in the event it cannot find

enough of its prey species. I am given to understand

that that is the origin of the term. I can ask Colin

Booty to expand on this, if you so wish.

LORD SOULSBY: It just occurs to me that, as a scavenger with

a defined diet, it might occasionally get a bit hungry

and then go over from its defined diet to undefined

diets such as lambs.

MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, I will ask Colin Booty to give you

a second response on that.

MR BOOTY: Lord Soulsby, the fox is a classic opportunist.

Its diet is enormously varied. It is that variation and

aptitude of the fox which makes it successful from

virtually the Arctic Circle down to the deserts in

Israel. It can cope with a wide variety of situations.

It will, of course, predate/kill things at certain

times. It will also scavenge on things at certain times.

But, within that suite of options available to the

fox, it does seem to have preferred items in its diet.

For preference it will select rabbits and field voles,

above most other things.

The study I mentioned on the Scottish estate at

Eribol(?) which was the subject of the three-year

moratorium on fox killing. The researcher there found

that, for much of the time, although only a small part

of the territory was occupied by a sand dune area in

which rabbits were fairly abundant, foxes spent a

disproportionate amount of their time in that area

preying on rabbits.

Although there was, in a sense, from the

shepherd's point of view, other stock that might have

been available, that was where they chose to go. The

food they preferred was there and they selected that.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if we might move on to other

methods of population control in relation to foxes, and

if you might say something about other methods, such as

the condition taste aversion, fertility, contraceptive

methods, snaring and so forth.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Dr Edwards. That is a very broad

question, and I will attempt to break that down by

speaker as appropriate to your specific points. I am

going to ask Colin Booty to speak, first of all, on

alternative control methods. I will come back and talk

about chemical control methods.

MR BOOTY: Condition taste aversion, or if I can shorten it

to CTA. That is an interesting concept from a number of

perspectives. I think if I take a step slightly sideways

first to come at it, a few years ago the Game

Conservancy, in this instance, were promoting the

concept of controlling predation rather than controlling


We expand on that in our submission. That is a

subtle but important difference. Rather than saying, for

argument's sake, "The fox is a pest; we must seek to

solve that problem by killing every fox", they were

saying, "The fox is competing with our interest in terms

of production of the game that we wish to shoot. How can

we resolve that problem more subtly, more targetly?"

The avenue they have been exploring -- and it is

not unique to the work which the Game Conservancy are

doing in this country -- a lot of work is being

undertaken in the States, and in other parts of the

country. It is not just on foxes; there are a range of

species being considered. But, in essence, that is

trying to, in a sense, say, "How can we make those

foxes, in a sense, wary of, aversive to, potential prey

such as partridge?"

The benefit of that, if it can be achieved, is

that you then have that territory, that fox territory,

where you have foxes that will not prey on partridge,

defending their patch of ground against other foxes who

will not necessarily share that aversion.

So, from that point of view, you deal with the bad

side of the fox, if we can put it that way, but you keep

the fox in place; it is preying on the rabbits, et

cetera, the other agricultural component. So that was an

interesting attempt to try and target.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I just come back on that point? I

understand the theory side of that, but presumably the

fox has to eat something. If you are going to use it,

who decides what the fox eats and what it is made averse


MR SWANN: Colin, carry on, please.

MR BOOTY: Of course the fox has to eat something, otherwise

they all go away and starve to death, and probably the

imperative there to eat something might well overcome

any aversiveness. But the aim was to try and make them

aversive to, in a sense, what was a relatively minor

component in terms of the quantity of their diet, i.e.

the game birds that were the subject of the gamekeeper

and the estate's interest.

But that would only work in relation to, say, the

partridge or the pheasant, whatever it is, but they are

still going to eat rabbits, voles, earthworms, road

kill, scavenging, et cetera. So there is a huge amount

of diet/potential food still available to them.

VICTORIA EDWARDS: Would it not depend on who had control of

the particular chemical used? In the sense that I think

we have already acknowledged that to some people the fox

is a pest, would it not then become a battle of who has

decided that the fox is not going to eat the food that

they are particularly protecting?

MR BOOTY: Yes, this technique would pose a number of

approvals and regulatory hurdles to overcome. But it

depends. I suspect, from a theoretical point of view, if

you were trying to dissuade the fox from eating a major

component of its diet such as rabbits, then I think it

would be an uphill battle.

In a different context, the Central Science

Laboratory have been trying to run some trials trying to

dissuade cormorants from eating certain fish. You can

envisage that that is perhaps a slightly more difficult

task than trying to dissuade the fox from eating a

partridge because of the circumstances.

But I do not see that -- we are not there yet by

any means, but it is an interesting avenue, both in a

practical sense and because it demonstrates this

approach of trying to be targeted and specific about

first identifying the problem; what is the problem, is

there an actual problem, and then trying to be refined

and specific and targeted in trying to deal with it.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, you also asked about alternatives in

terms of chemical control. The state of play with that

at the moment is with respect of a study which was

carried out quite recently in Melbourne, Australia,

where fox populations have been successfully controlled

with a drug called Cabergoline, which in effect disrupts

the reproductive cycle of the fox by causing early

abortion. It is considered that the stage at which

abortion occurs is humane, although similar trials have

not been conducted in this country.

Cabergoline is licensed for use in this country

and is available as a veterinary drug and is used in

humans in this country. The problem in its application

in this country at this point in time is that it is

nonspecific, in that if you were to bait Cabergoline for

foxes, you would have the risk that other species might

take it.

So the study from Melbourne is not directly

applicable to the UK circumstances, but I do believe

there is considerable potential there. I think if ever

we do reach a point -- and I am thinking now perhaps

more of urban foxes than rural foxes -- where there is a

need to control foxes for whatever reason, be it through

disease or through nuisance, this might well be an

avenue that will in due course be the means of

controlling the population. Certainly, the Melbourne

study was very successful in terms of the population

control. Thank you.

THE CHAIRMAN: What about, in a sense, the legal methods of

control, and the alternatives there? Could we just hear

a little more about that, please?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. I think probably a few of

us will want to speak on this topic because,

principally, we all support the view that shooting is

the viable alternative, with certain conditions attached

to that. One of the conditions is that it must be the

appropriate weapon for the circumstances, and the second

is that it must be a competent marksman.

I made the point in my opening address that

competency and marksmanship is not something that should

come as any surprise, because any agricultural tool

requires a certain degree of competency in its use.

The information on shooting foxes -- we are told,

we are asked to believe -- is that a very large number

of them are injured and suffer injuries. That certainly

is not my experience. It is not the experience which is

borne out by people who work with wildlife in carrying

out postmortems, or looking at animals which have been

injured for whatever reason.

There is just no evidence available to indicate

that foxes suffer high rates of injury. This is borne

out by the statements made by the British Association of

Shooting and Conservation, which would also refute the

notion that injury rates are very high. I think it would

also fly in the face of farming opinion, because the

majority of farmers believe that shooting is the most

humane method of control, given the provisions which I

have stated: that we have the appropriate weapon and a

competent marksman.

I would like to pass this on now to my colleagues,

who would wish to comment on the same subject. Colin

Booty, if you would like to start, please.

MR BOOTY: Thank you, Mr Chairman. In relation to shooting,

the RSPCA has submitted data from its wildlife hospitals

to those undertaking the research contracts to try and

assist and inform that part of the work. This data comes

from three of our establishments based in rural areas, a

sample of 1,200 foxes that have been dealt with over a

number of years. Out of those, only one fox is recorded

as being admitted because of a shooting injury.

A couple of other points to follow up on what Bill

said. I was struck -- there was, you may have seen, an

article in The Times last Wednesday. One of the authors

was claiming that 90 per cent of foxes that were shot

were wounded. There has been a response from the British

Association of Shooting and Conservation that this is

complete rubbish and there is no evidence of that at

all. So there, in a sense, you have two extremes of the


On Thursday, the Committee was trying to explore

in a different context what hard data there was, trying

to get a quantitative feel for various aspects, rather

than sort of anecdotal. One thing that struck me in

relation to shooting is that it is often asserted that,

if you shoot, wounding is a major problem. But none of

the submissions I have seen -- and I do not confess to

have read all of them from end to end; I leave that to


THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.

MR BOOTY: But one thing that did strike me was, in a sense,

there is very little anecdote and there is no hard

information to say, well, the wounding rate is 10 per

cent, 15 per cent, 20 per cent, whatever. There is no

hard information in there. There is an assertion that in

essence there is a major problem with wounding, but the

evidence is not there. What evidence we have from our

hospitals is that there is no major problem.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Colin. One point that has been made to

me on a number of occasions with shooting small animals,

and certainly those of the size of a fox or less, is

that you have quite a small target area. If you have a

projectile which has the appropriate energy at the point

of impact with the body and hits the body, then the

amount of disruption that is done is going to lead to a

fatal wound. This is a very valid point because, it

being a small target, if the animal is hit, the

likelihood is that it will die. If it is missed, it is

missed. The chances of hitting extremities such as limbs

is very small because they do present an extremely small

target area.

The crucial point here is the energy of the

projectile when it enters the body. If an animal is

mis-hit, it is usually because the shot, or bullet, or

whatever, does not have sufficient energy at the point

of impact and as such it does not do the extent of

tissue damage required to effect a fatal wound. This

comes down to competency, because this lack of energy at

the point of impact is only likely to occur if people

are using the wrong weapon or using it at the wrong

range. David Coulthread would like to make a brief

general statement on the same subject.

MR COULTHREAD: One of the claims made for an increase in

legal forms of killing is probably based on the

assumption that hunting is an effective form of fox

population control, and, therefore, its loss will be

replaced almost exclusively by currently illegal and

crueller forms of killing.

The fact of the matter is that even the best

estimate of the number of foxes killed by hunting only

puts it at about 4 per cent of those foxes that are

actually killed in any given year. In practice, Deadline

2000 believes that a ban on hunting will have a minimal

impact on the fox population in any case, and in

practice, farmers will continue to shoot foxes in much

the same way as they already do.

LORD SOULSBY: Can I come back to the shooting. You say that

the injury rates are very low, which is good news. What

sort of guidelines would you like to see put in place

which would ensure that to everyone who went out to

shoot a fox? Would you give guidelines for the type of

gun, shotgun, rifle, cartridge, load and things like


MR SWANN: Lord Soulsby, I think that this would be

valuable, but it is available. Quite a few of the

shooting associations do give guidance on appropriate

weights, calibres. It is not my specialist subject, and

I will not attempt to answer the question in specific

terms, but there are guidelines available. I think this

would be an excellent way forward; that people should be

given precise guidelines as to what is reasonable, what

is going to achieve the highest kill rate. Colin Booty

may wish to make a brief comment on this as well.

MR BOOTY: Yes, Lord Soulsby, really only to reinforce some

of the points that Bill has just made. There are

detailed recommendations in the submissions, for

example, from the British Association of Shooting and

Conservation. They also have a number of detailed Codes

of Practice in relation to shooting, in relation to

night shooting. So I think that information is out

there, being promulgated by those bodies associated with


THE CHAIRMAN: Can I press you further on that. If there

were to be a hunting ban, would you like to see

legislation in terms of how shooting should take place

for foxes?

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, at this point in time I do not think

we have any proposals to recommend the legislative

route, but we do look towards what are reputable

associations to produce effective guidelines and Codes

of Practice.

THE CHAIRMAN: Do you think there is anything in the

argument that says that some parts of the country and

some types of the countryside are less appropriate for

shooting, such as upland areas, mountainous areas,

whether it be the Lake District, Wales or whatever?

MR SWANN: My Lord, I can only speak from personal

experience on this because my farming experiences are

from upland areas of this type. On the very few

occasions where I have seen foxes shot, there has been

no difficulty in doing this.

I was actually 7 years old the first time I ever

saw a fox, and was so surprised; I was expecting

something much larger and much more substantial. But in

years following that, where we did see foxes around the

farm, then I have never perceived it was a problem of

being able to shoot them; they were always visible.

The attitude always was that at lambing time --

which is when we thought we might have a problem with

them -- you would see them, because they were actually

around the lambing fields, or they were visible in such

a way that it had not occurred to me that this might be

a problem trying to shoot them because they have always

been visible. Sorry, my Lord, Douglas Batchelor has

indicated if he may just briefly speak on the same


MR BATCHELOR: I think the parallel is worth making with the

90 per cent of deer that are culled by rifle in a wide

variety of rural landscapes, be that hill to woodland,

to mixed hill and woodland, safely, with, as far as I am

aware, no record of a single human injury or fatality

due to people using rifles under those sort of


THE CHAIRMAN: Could I come back to the issue that we

discussed briefly last week, which is about the Welsh

gun packs, and just explore it again, the reason why you

were against this form of shooting. On the basis

I think of what the Committee saw, basically, the hounds

were not being used to actually chase the foxes, so

much as to disturb them and make them wander off in the

other direction, which then gave the marksman the

opportunity to kill them.

I just wanted to press again the question that you

are in principle opposed to this as well?

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, Douglas Batchelor will speak first,

and I may make a comment following that with your


MR BATCHELOR: I think the main problem we have is right

back where we started. We do not accept that, other than

in very rare circumstances, the fox is actually a pest.

We simply see it as part of the ecological balance of

the countryside. Therefore, our principal objection to

that activity is simply that it is fundamentally

unnecessary. I think the earlier comments that have been

made about if there is a genuine belief that a fox must

be killed, then it should be done in a humane manner, by

a person qualified enough and experienced enough to do


MR SWANN: Thank you, Douglas. Lord Burns, I would make the

point that flushing, in my experience, is carried out

with a small number of dogs, which are under very tight

control and which are not of the species or type that

would chase. We are away from the pack to a small number

of controlled animals.

Now, in that sort of circumstance, flushing can be

carried out very successfully. I have no experience of

this with foxes, so I will not attempt to speak about

foxes in this respect, but I do have with other

specious. My concerns are for large packs and the

control of the pack. I would prefer to see any arguments

on this side being brought forward making a case for

smaller numbers and well-controlled dogs.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER: Can we just pursue this gun pack

issue a little bit further because earlier you conceded

that farmers, for whatever reason, were likely to

continue to regard fox control as important and that

shooting would be acceptable.

Given that, are you proposing that it would be

right and proper to make that task much more difficult

for them; that they would continue to be allowed to

stand around forestry plantations and shoot but have to

wait for the fox to come out by chance rather than flush

it out with hounds?

MR SWANN: Thank you, Professor Winter. Once again, I

believe that we are down to the argument which we have

put forward this morning, which is control of

individuals where they are seen to be a pest. If you are

not seeing them, they are not a pest, basically. But, in

circumstances where there is a need, if it could be

demonstrated that there was a need to control foxes in a

local area, to try and reduce numbers for whatever

reason, then I believe that that would have to be looked

at in its own merits.

But I am not convinced that the case has been made

that there is a need to try and control the population,

because this is one of the fundamental points we have

tried to drive home: that you cannot effectively control

the population of a fox in a small area because other

foxes will move in from outside, and the breeding rate

of foxes is sufficient that the population will rapidly


So in terms of trying to -- I want to get away

from this idea that you are controlling the population

of foxes, because this is not practical, this is not

what is being done, apart from cases such as the

Melbourne case, where you are using breeding inhibitors.

But in terms of control of individual foxes, then

this is a different matter altogether. I am not

convinced that the gun pack is an essential means of

controlling an individual. It is non-selective. It is

not picking up individuals, and it is not contributing

towards population control.

THE CHAIRMAN: I think we probably should move on to deer

now. We have spent enough time on foxes.

Could I raise again the same two questions really.

One is of the need for population management, and,

secondly, the question of alternative methods of doing

it if you do accept it.

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, I would like to ask Colin Booty to

open this one. Thank you.

MR BOOTY: In a sense, the same principles apply, the same

hierarchical set of questions: what problem are you

trying to address, et cetera? That is fundamental.

With deer, there is, I think, greater evidence,

and a greater acceptance, particularly in relation to

deer in fact on woodland, that there is a problem that

can be resolved in part by measures to reduce the

numbers of deer.

The focus is on trying to prevent the problem. In

some situations the problem may be prevented by using

deer fencing. For example, if you are trying to coppice

woodland, and you want a short period of protection to

allow that coppice to get away, then a temporary fence

can be effective. But it may be a question of, if your

goal is to protect some element of woodland, then

control of numbers in relation to other measures may

perform a role.

In relation to other aspects of potential damage,

there is surprisingly little hard evidence at the moment

about agricultural impact of deer. One of the points

that we picked up in our submission, there was some work

being done by the Ministry of Agriculture, which showed

that there was no clear relationship at that stage of

the research between numbers of deer and the damage that

was being recorded on various fields, but they were

doing further work to try and quantify that, and relate

the damage earlier in the season to see what effect that

had on yield.

But, generally, there is an acceptance, I think,

that deer numbers can cause problems, and that control

is appropriate in some situations, and there are

mechanisms in place, being put in place, to achieve


DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Could I ask you to comment on two

particular aspects of hunting with hounds in terms of

deer, and that is the arguments that the dispersal is

useful, and the argument that the selectivity of it is


MR SWANN: Thank you, Dr Edwards. I am going to pass that

over to Colin once again. Thank you.

MR BOOTY: If I can start on dispersal, it may be that one

of our monitors has some practical observations to

reinforce that with, but the dispersal issue was one of

those dealt with by Yokan Langbine and Rory Putnam in

their 1992 report to the National Trust. They

specifically addressed the question that was being put

forward by the hunt; we are providing a valuable

service, going through an area, dispersing

concentrations of deer so that they do not cause too

much damage.

The evidence that Langbine and Putnam came up with

was that was not in fact the case. That evidence took

two strands. It was evidence from the behaviour of deer

observed in deer parks, where, for example, when there

was a disturbance, the deer aggregated together. They

did not disperse away from whatever that harassment was.

They clumped together.

Likewise, in relation to the Exmoor Park, the

observations of Langbine and Putnam there was that when

hunts went through the Honeycut Estate, the deer

aggregated themselves shortly after the hunt. You could

see clusters of deer, herds of deer together. It did not

serve to disperse. They came up with the contrary

conclusion that, in a sense, hunting served to

aggregate/bunch up the deer rather than disperse them.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, could I also ask Kevin Hill to speak

on the same topic.

KEVIN HILL: Yes, Dr Edwards. My experience of monitoring

deer hunts for the best part of ten years now is that,

in fact, when it comes to hinds, they may disperse one

deer, and that is the deer that they may chase away from

that area. The rest of that particular group of deer in

that area, initially they will herd together. They will

disperse for a short time. My experience is that, if you

go there the next day, you will see exactly the same

number of deer in that position, so I do not actually

agree that they disperse the deer through hunting.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards also asked about selectivity, and I

will just briefly introduce that topic, and with your

permission will pass this back to the hunt monitors as

well, that it is my understanding that the selectivity

is in terms of stags primarily on appearance, that

wherever possible it is the selection of a handsome

stag, if that is the right word, to make it worthwhile

chasing. And the second point is that hinds are

selected just purely at random. It just happens to be

the first one that will jump out and run when the hounds

are put into appropriate cover. Those statements will be

supported by the hunt monitors, and I would like to ask

Kevin to speak, please, on that.

MR HILL: Yes. Regarding the selection of hinds which are

being hunted, it is in fact the first hind that runs

away from the group of hinds in any given area, and that

hind may be a good hind, it may be an inferior hind, but

there is absolutely no selectivity at all.

Often that hind will also have a calf with her,

and there is some feeling that if the hind is eventually

killed, then that calf will become somewhat lower down

the social group; it may actually struggle; it may

actually die.

Regarding stags, again, with the best part of ten

years' experience, I can say that it is my experience

that the most beautiful, most magnificent stag is

selected for hunting. The hunting fraternity will push

the idea that is frequently put in their reports; an old

stag going back. In my experience, that is not the case.

They will certainly hunt the largest stag in the

area. If there is only two stags in the area -- I can

recall a case last season when the Quantock stag hounds

were hunting in an area in which they do not usually

hunt. There were two stags there. There was a younger

spring stag and a larger autumn stag. They actually

chased the larger stag. Now, in terms of conserving the

herd, what is the point in killing the only large stag

in the area?

THE CHAIRMAN: The point is made -- and it has been put to

us -- that the deer herd in the areas where there is

hunting is, in terms of quality, very good, and it may

even be better than it is in some other parts of the


To what extent do you think this is a regional

issue? Is it about environment? Is there any truth in

it? Or is it due to hunting, which is what is suggested?

MR SWANN: Lord Burns, I will ask Colin Booty to speak on

that point.

MR BOOTY: Yes. Most of the comparisons in terms of body

condition are made in relation to where red deer have

been studied most intensively; and that, not

surprisingly, tends to be upland areas. Upland areas are

poorer habitats for the deer. So, if you are comparing

parts of the Lake District or Scotland, it is poorer

quality habitat, from the deer's point of view, and,

therefore, poorer body weight, poorer survival,

et cetera, poorer productivity. So Exmoor, in a sense,

is a much richer habitat.

I think it is an environmental factor at large. To

support that argument, I would say that you only have to

look a bit further south of the Exmoor Park, where red

deer are present in the countryside, and they have an

even larger body weight condition than deer on Exmoor.

So, again, they have an even lusher countryside, as

reflected in their body weight and performance.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. I wonder if we might move on

to the role of the hunt in terms of casualty deer. Could

you comment on the usefulness of the hunt in those

cases, and, if it is not used, who might pick up the

casualty deer?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, I would like to ask Kevin Hill to

speak on that, please.

MR HILL: Dr Edwards, this subject may well come under the

heading of the welfare of deer. In my experience of

seeing hunts actually chase injured deer, I myself find

it quite appalling that you should chase an animal for

sometimes up to an hour to put it down.

I believe in the other method, which is to have a

trained dog which will carefully, quietly go into a

cover. It will trap that injured deer. As soon as it

knows that injured deer is within the range quite

possibly of the stalker, it will stop. Then it is

actually down to the stalker to shoot that deer.

The other method -- and I have seen this occur on

many occasions -- I have been with a stalker who has

been putting down injured deer. He takes local knowledge

from the people in the area. He will gather the

knowledge where that injured deer particularly comes out

late afternoon/early evening to feed. He will find a

position in that area. He will wait for that deer to

come out. Then he will efficiently put that deer down.

I have known that on five occasions with the

stalker I have been with. So I actually do not believe

that the hunt method is efficient at all. I do think

there is a serious welfare problem.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, if I could also just ask Colin Booty

to speak on the same subject from the RSPCA's


MR BOOTY: Dr Edwards, this is again an issue on which the

RSPCA has made detailed data available to the various

people engaged in the research contracts. So some of

this information in more detail will feed in through the

seminars, I hope, and the research reports.

To give you, however, some flavour: deer are being

injured, whether that be through road accident,

whatever, throughout the country. There is nothing

unique about Exmoor, that they only get injured in that

part of the country, obviously.

There are systems in place throughout the country.

I asked one of my colleagues to examine one of our

databases. For example, over the last three months of

last year, the RSPCA received over 800 calls regarding

basically casualty deer, and dealt with those primarily

by our own staff, our animal collection officers, our

inspectors; sometimes by referral to vets, sometimes by

referral to other agencies, stalkers, whatever.

So there are systems in place. Those systems vary

a little bit from area to area. Sometimes if the police

are contacted, they have the Forestry Commission Ranger

on their books, et cetera, so that person is called out.

So there are mechanisms in place throughout the country.

So I do not think this, in a sense, is a unique service

they are providing.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. I wonder if I might move on

quite briefly to the consequences of a ban. If you would

like to comment on -- you mention, for example, that you

would expect things like the British Deer Society to set

up local management groups. Can you comment on the

extent of work that needs to be done before a ban were

implemented: licensing stalkers, setting up deer

management groups and so forth?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Douglas Batchelor has indicated he

would like to speak first on this.

MR BATCHELOR: The Deer Initiative is actually a national

grouping that has been set up to address exactly the

issue you are talking about. It has a policy that has

been accepted by all the members. I can provide you with

a list of the members.

The policy includes the fact that deer can be

controlled by humane means, but that specifically

excludes hunting as a method of control. It does talk

about the educational qualifications in terms of

stalking and deer management and, where necessary,

humane despatch of deer; so that is a national

initiative which has the backing of the Forestry

Commission, as a national approach to cover the whole of

England and Wales in terms of deer management.

The majority, but not all, of the deer management

groups belong to that national initiative. The ones who

do not belong are the ones who believe that hunting with

hounds is an ethical way of disposing of deer.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, could I also ask Colin Booty to make

a comment on the same subject? Thank you.

MR BOOTY: Yes. Dr Edwards, to reinforce that point, I have

been the RSPCA's representative on the Deer Initiative

for some three or four years now. The Deer Initiative's

prime function -- I cannot profess to speak on behalf of

the Deer Initiative because it is a partnership -- is to

encourage the establishment of deer management groups,

and to provide a support service for deer management

groups. It is, in effect, the Government's preferred

method of delivering what they call "sustainable deer

management". Various Government statements have been

issued to that effect.

There are also grants available from the Forestry

Commission to support and assist with the formation of

deer management groups. There is not a complete network

by any means, but there is a network of deer management

groups throughout many parts of the country. Some deer

management groups already exist down in the South-West.

There is a group in the Quantocks, for example.

So, in a sense, the structures are essentially

there, support is potentially there. The Deer Initiative

itself is in the process of a transition; as from the

beginning of this month it now has a paid Director. It

will be engaging paid staff to, in a sense, act as Deer

Liaison Officers, to take this issue forward, and not

just specifically in relation to the small part of the

country where hunting with dogs exists but to address

deer management issues across the country.

PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH: Could I follow that up because you

told us a lot about methods and organisation, but the

fundamental question about management is: how do you

determine what is the opportune size? Can you tell us a

little more about your thoughts on that?

MR BOOTY: I am tempted to say no. Why I am tempted to do

that is that, when I was rereading Yokan Langbine's

Report, he would not give an answer to that question


Yokan Langbine's Report is a very interesting

study which the organisations this end of the table

contributed to funding, as well as in a sense

organisations such as the British Field Sports Society,

as they were then called, the Exmoor National Park

Authority, et cetera.

So a very broad suite of organisations funded that

research project, which was trying to take the early

work on to see, well, what information is there to

address some of these management-related issues; are the

deer causing a problem in terms of overgrazing of the

heather moorland, or in terms of woodland regeneration

in some of the areas of Exmoor?

One has to try and tease apart the effect that

large numbers of sheep in the areas are also having, but

it seemed that, in some woodland areas, the numbers of

deer were such that they may have been affecting

regeneration. And Langbine suggested that that was an

issue that may need to be addressed by the appropriate


But he felt unwilling or unable to say what an

optimum figure was in terms of the number that should be

supported in any area. If Langbine were unable to or

unwilling to say what the optimum figure is, then you

are not going to tempt me.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We have about ten

minutes left, I think. I would like to use that time to

deal with hare and mink. Could I ask you to address them

both in terms of population control and in terms of

alternative methods of population control, if it is

thought to be necessary.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. Once again, I am going to

rely on Colin's scientific knowledge in this field to

open the subject. Colin, would you like to speak on

this, please?

MR BOOTY: Perhaps if we deal with hare, first, in terms of

those two questions. In terms of population control, in

a sense, the question -- if I may be so bold -- hardly

applies, because what is trying to be achieved is not

control of the population but an increase in the


The brown hare, it is reckoned, has declined by

something in the order of 80 per cent during the course

of this century, down to somewhere now, give or take a

few, 800,000. It is the subject of one of the

Government's Bio-diversity Action Plan targets, which is

trying to double the number and increase the

distribution of hare.

So, in a sense, to the broad question, "Does the

hare population need to be controlled?", the answer is,

"No, it needs to be protected and increased."

But there does seem to be some evidence that the

hare population is not evenly distributed. It is clumped

and very abundant in some areas, so that in some of

those areas there may be some damage caused. Again, it

is surprising that relatively little scientific work has

been done to try and evaluate the extent of that damage,

but the reviews that I have examined say that, by and

large, there is no significant agricultural damage.

There may be some damage to cereals in some situations.

Although, again, the picture is complicated, because

cereal crops can, in a sense, recover, and can

compensate for losses early on in the growing cycle.

But some root crops, such as beet, may be

affected. There is some evidence that specialist crops,

such as vines and peas, may be affected in some

situations. Now, in those situations, control, it is

conceded, is necessary; there is an identified problem,

and control is necessary in those situations. Control is

by and large achieved through shooting.

MR SWANN: Sorry, Lord Burns, do you want him to proceed

straight on to mink, or would you prefer to question on

that area first?

THE CHAIRMAN: Could I just have a couple of minutes on

hares. Some people have put to us that they cannot quite

understand, in a sense, why there is so much concern

about the small number of hares which are killed by

dogs, whereas there is nothing that is said about the

very large number of hares killed in hare shoots.

Indeed, if anything, by the nature of much of your other

evidence, where you suggest you prefer shooting over

hunting, it is as if it was condoning the very large

numbers of hares that are shot.

MR SWANN: If I could just briefly answer that, Lord Burns,

by saying that our primary concern for this Committee is

the fact that we believe that hares killed by dogs are

killed cruelly, and are occasioned unnecessary

suffering; so we have focused on that.

The wider issue about the need to conserve or

control hare populations is a wider issue, but the

number of hares killed by dogs is not a significant

number in terms, again, of the overall hare population.

The basic statement that we have made is that the

hare population does not need to be controlled; just the

reverse is the case. There are some local areas where we

believe hare populations might need more rigorous

looking at, but we are not making any statement about

the rights or wrongs of hare shooting.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Can I just follow up on illegal and

uncontrolled hare coursing and hunting with dogs. Do you

have any evidence of the extent to which this is

happening, and any comment on whether a ban on hunting

would make this worse or better?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, I think Mike Huskisson may have a

word to say on that.

MR HUSKISSON: Good morning, Dr Edwards and Members of the

Committee. I think there is not much doubt that illegal

hare coursing, which is coursing without permission, is

fairly widespread, but the containment of it is probably

as much to do with -- doing away with illegal coursing

first off would undoubtedly help with that.

I think on one of our visits there was, I think on

the card, the effect they would be pretty unhappy if

people came back to course the hares afterwards.

Certainly my experience of being with coursing clubs is

that, when you ask to go out with them, they are not

thinking first off, "Is this person an anti, an

infiltrator?", but they are rather worried that he might

be the sort of coursing enthusiast who will come back

with his own dog in his own time and catch the hares


As to the sort of containment of it, it ultimately

comes down to a matter of law. If it is illegal to

course hares, then it is the same as badger baiting,

cock fighting, and what have you, all these other

activities which should be contained by the law.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Before we move on to mink, very

briefly, there has been a suggestion that hares are

transported for the purposes of hunting and coursing. Do

you have any recent evidence of this, and the extent to

which it is happening?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Colin Booty.

MR BOOTY: The monitors may have some more detailed field

observations. The most recent report that I have seen in

the scientific literature was in relation to a large

number of hares, 128, that were moved from East Anglia

to Southport in 1988. It is mentioned in one of the

scientific publications from the Game Conservancy, that

128 were moved to Southport as a deliberate attempt to

increase the stock there. It apparently failed because,

in the following two years, the hare numbers on that

site continued to decline. There is a table of data in

one of the Game Conservancy scientific publications

referred to in our submissions.

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Kevin Hill also is our man on the


MR HILL: Dr Edwards, yes, in my capacity of my job and what

I do, I very often do talk to people on the fringes of

hunting and sometimes actually within hunting. I have

spoken to a gentleman who has transported a high number

of hares in his lifetime. He has told me that he has

transported hares to virtually every coursing field in

the country, and virtually all beagle hunts within the


He has told me about hares which have been put

down at Waterloo Cup, for example, in the early 90s. As

I recall, he mentioned a figure of around about 500. It

is my hope that this gentleman can actually speak to the

Committee first-hand about his experiences.

THE CHAIRMAN: I think, again, we probably need to have a

word about mink. I realise I interrupted the flow

earlier, but if we could maybe have a word about mink.

MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. I will ask Colin Booty to

speak on mink.

MR BOOTY: In terms of your two questions about population

control and alternatives, there is general acceptance

now that feral mink, American mink which are over here,

are perhaps in some respects not as bad as was first

feared, but there are two perhaps major areas of

concern. One is in relation to some situations

regarding birds; some colonies of sea birds have been

particularly affected up on the west coast of Scotland,

it has been reported in a study by Craig, and referred

to in our submissions. So that, on those specific green

colonies, mink are bad news, and control is necessary


The other situation that has attracted a lot of

attention is in relation to the mink's part in the

demise of the water vole. It seems that, in a sense, the

mink may be pushing the poor water vole over the edge.

The analogy is made to the tightrope hypothesis, and

this is a hypothesis advanced by David McDonald. It

seems that the water vole was starting to be in trouble

before mink became widespread and commonplace in this

country, largely due to habitat changes, environmental

changes, the way that our rivers, canals, waterways were

managed, or one might say mismanaged, leaving just a

narrow fringe of vegetation, reed, et cetera, along the

sort of rather straightened waterways.

In those situations, it seems that, where the

water vole was teetering on the brink, the arrival of

this new predator has been able to exploit that

situation and cause serious damage to the water vole

population. But, in those situations, what is being

advocated by the consortium of nature conservation

organisations who are addressing this issue -- we make

reference to the Water Vole Conservation Handbook, which

is a delightful read when you have a spare ten minutes

when matters are not too pressing on you. They concede a

suite of measures is again necessary. You need to get

the habitat right but, in those situations, you may also

need to be undertaking mink control. What they are

advocating there is live catch cage trapping of those

mink, which the whole range of authorities recognise is

an effective, selective and humane method of achieving


DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: Thank you. You make some mention of the

destruction to otter habitat and otters themselves by

mink hunts. Do you have any direct evidence of the

number of otters killed, for example, any documented

evidence of the type of damage and so forth?

MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, Colin Booty once again.

MR BOOTY: The concern about disruption of habitat and

damage to otters is referred to in various publications;

for instance, the Ministry of Agriculture's advisory

leaflet from their agency, the FRCA, highlight this as a

particular problem. The Environment Agency, in their

publication, highlight this as a potential problem. The

publications on -- the detailed survey work published by

the Vincent Wildlife Trust highlight this as an area of

concern. There is a case history in there of an otter

holt that was abandoned after a hunt went through.

I would also draw your attention to the very

detailed submission from the Wildlife Trust, which they

say gives a flavour. It is not an exhaustive list, but

the case histories there give a very detailed and vivid

description of the disruption that their observers

perceive to be caused by river habitat -- of course one

has to bear in mind this is being undertaken during the

spring and summer months -- that that disruption was

causing to various breeding birds and otters.

There was a case in mind, if I remember correctly,

in Northumberland, where an otter holt -- because that

part of the county was on the periphery of an area that

was just being recolonised by otters. There was a site

known to be occupied by otters. Apparently against the

wishes of people in that area, the mink hunt went

through and that site was then abandoned.

DR VICTORIA EDWARDS: I wonder if we might stick with

disturbance of habitat, and disturbance in general, and

wrap it up with the question about the hunt, and the

extent to which the hunt can disturb livestock, crops,

wildlife habitat; we have mention of the dogs spreading


Can you give us some evidence on that type of


MR SWANN: Dr Edwards, we could probably all give you some

anecdote on this, but I think initially I will ask David

Coulthread to make a short statement. Then others may

wish to speak, if you have the time.

MR COULTHREAD: The one bit of evidence that we would

certainly point you to are the appendices, where we

list, I think, quite extensive examples of the reported

destruction from trespass, et cetera, that takes place,

we would say, as apart from a normal course of a day's

riding through the countryside.

In the submissions that have been placed I think

by all three of the organisations, we do I think place

quite a bit of emphasis on a lot of the research that

has been conducted, particularly into tapeworm

infection, resulting from hounds crossing fields and,

therefore, being passed into the food chain.

We would simply state that the wealth of evidence,

as reported by incidents where hunts do run across

people's land and across countryside, shows that, as I

say, this really is part of the day-to-day features of


THE CHAIRMAN: Many thanks for your helpful evidence; I

think we had probably better stop at this point. We have

managed to get through most of the agenda. I hope you

feel you have had the opportunity to make most of the

points that you wanted to make, recognising that these

sessions are always under a certain amount of time


MR SWANN: Thank you, Lord Burns. Yes, that is indeed the

case, thank you. (Short break).