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Is the Hunting Act a failure? - the Boxing Day meet may suggest so

PUBLISHED: 22:18 13 December 2012 | UPDATED: 12:15 28 February 2013

Is the Hunting Act a failure? - the Boxing Day meet may suggest so

Is the Hunting Act a failure? - the Boxing Day meet may suggest so

Graham Downing looks forward to the most high profile date in hunting's calendar and discusses the effectiveness of the controversial ban

In market squares and outside country pubs around Britain, this coming Boxing Day will see gathered up to a quarter of a million people. They will represent a complete cross section of rural society, from fleeces to flat hats, from those elegantly attired in black jackets astride chestnut hunters to youngsters in outsize crash hats on skewbald ponies, all awaiting the flash of a scarlet jacket and the sound of the hunting horn as the foxhounds arrive to take centre stage.

Nearly eight years after hunting with dogs was banned, some 280 packs of hounds are still going strong. Boxing Day may be huntings most high profile meet, but it is only one day in a fixture list which continues week in, week out from November to March. Indeed, there are probably more people going hunting today than before the Hunting Act.

Whilst in every other respect there are none so law-abiding as the occupants of Middle England, in the case of foxhunting the law is cheerfully ignored, or at least comprehensively circumvented.

The majority of foxhounds use a mixture of trail-hunting and exempt hunting, explains Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance. Trail-hunting provides the equestrian activity, while the exemptions to the Act enable hunts to carry out their role in managing the fox population. So, as Tony Blair himself admitted, its banned, but at the same time its not banned.

In fact, as is widely admitted on both sides of the argument, the Hunting Act is an almost total failure. More than 700 hours of agonised Parliamentary debate has resulted in just eight successful prosecutions of registered hunts. The police have more important things to do with their time and most people simply are not bothered. Politics has moved on.

Even so, to the hunts, repeal of the discredited law is an article of faith. Hunting continues, but its extraordinarily difficult for those who run the hunts to arrange meets and get consent from farmers whilst working within a complicated and difficult piece of legislation, says Bonner.

The Countryside Alliance is therefore campaigning to have the Act overturned. It has support within the Government, and it is confident that the issue will be addressed before the next election. Of course, huntings grass roots supporters want the Act repealed, but ban or no ban, theyre going to carry on hunting anyway. The Boxing Day meet of foxhounds is likely to remain one of the countrysides favourite traditions for many years to come.

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