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Backwoodsmen and women will ride to the rescue of an increasingly beleaguered prime minister, suspects PETER FROST


David Cameron, a keen hunter before his election, is spearheading an attempt to allow fox hunting with packs of dogs again.

Some blood-thirsty MPs have suggested that the law banning farmers from using more than two dogs to flush out foxes and shoot them should be scrapped, allowing them to use a full pack.

The Prime Minister has jumped on the bandwagon and said that the House of Commons “may wish to consider” a vote on the issue to make hunting with packs of hounds legal again.

Pro-hunting lobby groups have wheeled out some sympathetic farmers who say attacks on lambs have been on the increase, signalling that limited pest control measures allowed under the Act are not working.

Rules already in place allow farmers to flush foxes out of their dens and shoot them in order to protect flocks, but it is a criminal offence to use more than two dogs. This hasn’t stopped Cameron’s own local hunt being prosecuted under the existing legislation.

The changes in the law, which are likely to require a vote in Parliament but not a fresh Bill, would bring the law in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland.

Part of the coalition agreement between master Cameron and his whipper-in Clegg contains a commitment to giving MPs a free vote on repealing the original hunting Act which was introduced by Labour in 2004 after a gruelling stand-off between Commons and Lords.

One of the great myths the hunters peddle is that foxes are a terrible problem for sheep farmers. It is rubbish. However, they don’t let inconvenient facts get in the way of their supposed justification for what they call a field sport.

In fact research has conclusively shown that the fox is primarily a consumer of carrion. Dead animals struck down by disease, malnutrition and hypothermia are all the main food for foxes.

On hill farms raising lambs, mortality – outside natural death of new born – can run as high as 16 per cent. But, in the main, it isn’t foxes that are to blame.

Harsh weather is the biggest killer of new-born lambs, next comes malnutrition because the ewe does not have enough milk to nourish her lambs.

The rural fox is usually simply in the business of removing the already dead lambs. Indeed the fox is often merely a convenient target for the less than fully competent shepherd.

Yes, a fox will eye up a weak and dying lamb, a loose hen or an intensively reared pheasant as a quick and easy meal opportunity, that’s just nature.

But that does not make the farmer any less responsible for the welfare of their livestock. They should be caring for their animals properly rather than taking out their frustration on poor old Reynard.

Fox hunting is first and foremost a bloodsport, not an effective method of pest control.

It is designed primarily to provide prolonged entertainment for riders and followers in the countryside. It is mainly a social event and not an efficient or cost-effective attempt at control of the fox.

Fox hunting is just a highly ritualised form of animal abuse for sport.

The upper-class toffs who partake are – in the eyes of the majority of the population and the law – simply criminal animal abusers.

They hate the fact that their activities are seen as a crime. They are using the so-called loss of lambs as a smoke-screen to change the law. A law, of course, which they regularly break and are desperate to overturn so that they can once more claim to be socially acceptable law-abiding citizens when they dress up and ride across the countryside chasing and killing foxes.

Now it seems that Cameron will do all he can to help them. No doubt he hopes it will win back some traditional Tory countryside voters as he prepares for the next general election.

This article first published in the Morning Star, October 2013

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