NATIONAL WORKING TERRIER FEDERATION (N.W.T.F.)
Burns Inquiry - Oral Evidence, Day 2 Session 1 (Deadline 2000)
COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY INTO HUNTING WITH DOGS
ORAL EVIDENCE: COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE AND DEADLINE 2000
Monday, 10th April 2000
AT: Posthouse Hotel,
London, WC1N 1HT.
Members of Committee:
LORD BURNS (Chairman)
DR VICTORIA EDWARDS
PROFESSOR SIR JOHN MARSH
PROFESSOR MICHAEL WINTER
Monday, 10th April 2000
SESSION ONE – REASONS WHY THE QUARRY SPECIES ARE HUNTED AND THE EFFCETIVENESS OR OTHERWISE OF HUNTING AND OF OTHER FORMS OF POPULATION MANAGEMENT
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).