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Fox hunting has taken many different guises for hundreds of years.   The practice of using dogs with a keen sense of smell to track quarry can be followed back to ancient Egypt, as well as Greek and Roman countries.   Foxes are widley regarded as pests by farmers and other land owners, who have hunted them as a form of pest control.   By the eighteenth century fox hunting had become a sport in it’s own right, due to the drop in deer population.

Fox hunting has been occurring in different guises for hundreds of years. Indeed, the practice of using dogs with a keen sense of smell to track prey can be traced back to ancient Egypt and many Greek and Roman influenced countries. However, it is believed that the custom for a fox to be tracked, chased and often killed by trained hunting hounds (generally known as ‘scent hounds’) and followed by the Master of the Foxhounds and his team on foot and horseback, originated from a Norfolk farmer’s attempt to catch a fox using farm dogs in 1534.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fox hunting continued to grow in popularity.   In 1753 an 18year old Hugo Meynell began hunting to a system.  Breeding hounds for their speed, stamina and expert sense of smell.   Hunting was to increase in popularity through the nineteenth century, facilitated by the inroads and railways that allowed rural access.

Fox hunting was banned through large parts of Europe from 1934, but remained popular in Britain.   So popular that they were hunted almost to extinction, and were actually imported from Germany, Holland and Sweden.

Fox hunting in the Uk is best known for the controversy surrounding it.   Heated debate between hunt supporters and opposers eventually lead to the Government enquiry in 1999, named the Burns Enquiry, after lord Burns who chaired it.

Whilst the Burns Inquiry report noted that hunting with dogs “seriously compromises” the welfare of the foxes, it did not categorically state whether or not hunting should be permanently banned in the UK. As a result, the Government introduced an ‘options bill’, so that each House of Parliament could decide on whether hunting with hounds should be banned or subject to license or self-regulation.

The Hunting Act 2004 was passed in November 2004, outlawing hunting with dogs in England and Wales from 18 February 2005. The Scottish Parliament had already banned fox hunting in Scotland in 2002, and in Northern Ireland it is still legal

The controversy surrounding hunting doesn’t, however, end there. Conversely, despite the ban, hunts claim to have seen an increase in membership and the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) currently represents 176 active foxhound packs in England and Wales and 10 in Scotland. Many anti-hunting campaigners have complained that countless hunts have flouted the ban and continue to hunt with hounds illegally, a claim supported by over 340 successful prosecutions under the Hunting Law to date.

Whatever you feel about hunting with hounds, there is no doubt that this emotive subject has had a substantial effect on popular culture. The ban has now been in place for 10 years, has stood the test of time and, whilst not perfect, is a foundation for a more comprehensive act. It has not had an adverse effect on the rural economy and many hunts have successfully converted to drag hunting. The ban has not seen an increase in foxes thus showing wildlife management has not been affected.

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