ROD & GUN: Hunting Act may eventually end up consigned to the failure dustbin

An Annual Boxing Day fox hunt took place at Moy, County Tyrone. The Traditional Rural community gathering was attended by over 500 Riders and spectators. The Hunt itself did not track any prey and the riders tracked through the Tyrone countryside.
An Annual Boxing Day fox hunt took place at Moy, County Tyrone. The Traditional Rural community gathering was attended by over 500 Riders and spectators. The Hunt itself did not track any prey and the riders tracked through the Tyrone countryside.

There is a chance that the ban on hunting with hounds in England and Wales may be repealed after the May General Election. And not a minute too soon, you may think.

The unworkable ban was imposed 10 years ago at the behest of people who wanted to get a dig at the toffs and others who mistakenly thought that the ban would help to save foxes which still manage to do so much harm to lambs, poultry and indigenous wildlife. The Hunting Act, which was passed in 2004, did not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland and the thousands who enjoyed watching hunts in England and Wales on Boxing Day showed just how ridiculous it was from the start.

Whether the ban is repealed in England and Wales depends on two things – the outcome of the May election and whether Scottish MPs retain the right to meddle in issues on the other side of their border.

As of now it looks as though there may be very few Scottish MPs left in Westminster after the election with the Labour antis possibly licking their wounds after the votes are counted.

Lt General Sir Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, writing in the Daily Telegraph (December 26) said: “We’ve much hope that the 2015 Conservative manifesto will include a commitment to repeal the ill-conceived Hunting Act; if it does it will properly be consigned to the dustbin of failed attempts at social engineering. Hunting is of enormous importance to those who understand it, among whom are the 500,000 supporters of the Countryside Alliance.

“We care passionately about the countryside and conservation. We want hunting to be acknowledged as in its proper place as part of the overall management of our wildlife. That is the challenge to the next parliament and to those drafting future wildlife legislation.’’

In a letter in the same issue of the DT, Professor Nick Sotherton of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, wrote: “Our research shows that some vulnerable bird populations benefit from reduced predation pressure during crucial times such as the breeding season

“Most conservationists agree that the breeding success of curlew, golden plover, and lapwing, for example, is improved as much as three times when predators such as foxes and crows are controlled during the breeding season.

“The number of declining songbirds such as spotted flycatcher, yellowhammer and chaffinch doubled during periods of predator control in the nesting season on our research farm in Leicestershire, but declined once the control was stopped.”

I doubt if foxes can be wholly to blame for the drastic decline in woodcock numbers in some places like the Glens of Antrim this winter. So bad is the situation there that men who loved their woodcock hunting have decided not to shoot this winter.

Some experts that I have talked to, blame overshooting in previous years, predation by raptors and the absence of worms in the fields and meadows where once they were plentiful and greatly enjoyed by woodcock.

I have never hunted on horseback but I would imagine that those who do, get enormous pleasure from watching their hounds work even in the most difficult conditions.

I know some lads could have done with a few horses as they tried to keep in touch with one of my son Daniel’s hounds a couple of Saturdays ago. Rocket, a three years old foxhound stayed on her fox for 23.9 miles before it was run to ground.

Luckily, Rocket was wearing a GPS collar and Daniel was able to track her as she put up one of three foxes in Ballypatrick forest near Loughareema.

One large dog fox went to ground fairly quickly and was despatched by Ballyclare expert Brian McCullagh. The second headed down along the Carey river and was marked to ground by two young hounds, Bramble, a Lunesdale bitch, and Tilly, from the Blencathra line. Torr farmer Paddy McQuaid looked after that one.

But Rocket has a mind of her own. She put her fox across the Cushendall-Ballycastle road and away through the forest to somewhere near Brian McCaughan’s moor in Glenshesk.

I had seen and heard the start of the hunt but, as usual, had to leave early as someone needed my car.

After some considerable time, Dan went back to where hounds had disembarked in the morning and could not believe his eyes as he saw Rocket, still full of running, hunting fox back towards Cushendun along the old mountain road above Loughareema.

He next made contact with her above the Green Hill away beyond Culraney chapel. Other hounds joined in the hunt at that stage and fox turned back and went to ground in a concrete drain at the Tops, above Cushendun.

Brian, with a little helpful advice from Paddy, extracted the fox from the drain. The GPS indicated that Rocket had covered 23.9 miles during the hunt. No wonder she slept late next day.

The theory was that this was a Cushendun fox that had strayed far from its usual domain, possibly in search of a mate, and did not know where to take refuge when it was being hunted.

In Dublin the Oireachtas Joint Committee Agriculture, Food and the Marine has called for the new Investigations Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to draw up a charter outlining the rights of anyone under investigation and present this charter at the onset of any investigation.

The committee deems the legal rights of individuals under investigation to be of utmost importance, and is concerned that they are not being routinely informed of their right to legal counsel.

The committee agreed to a series of recommendations in recent days, which were sent to Minister Simon Coveney TD for his consideration.

The committee stressed the importance of the principle of ‘innocent until proven otherwise’ and has serious concerns about the alleged heavy-handed approach previously adopted during some Special Investigations Unit (SIU) cases. The committee believes that an independent inquiry should be conducted into the operations of the 
old SIU and, in particular, 
into the court cases dismissed.

The committee is also concerned that department staff who participated in investigations in the old Special Investigations Unit (SIU) will be involved in the new Investigations Division irrespective of the outcomes of any inquiries.

Committee chairman Andrew Doyle TD said: “With food and drink exports topping €10 billion in 2013, it is vital that strong controls are in place to protect and enhance the reputation of our agri-food sector. It is also vitally important is that farm families can have confidence that the infrastructure in place safeguarding these standards is robust, impartial and proportionate. At an earlier meeting committee members expressed grave concern about the activities of the old SIU, and were keen that trust is secured as the new division finds its feet. The committee has written to Mr Coveney to impress on him the importance that individuals be informed of their legal rights at the onset of any investigation.”

Meanwhile, a new joint initiative urging voluntary restraint on large scale culls of mountain hares has been launched in Scotland. The move by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) should, along with several other measures, help ensure that future management is sustainable.

Ron Macdonald, SNH’s director of policy and advice, said: “We are asking estates for restraint on large-scale culls of mountain hares which could jeopardise their conservation status.

“We recognise that some culling is occasionally needed to ensure healthy grouse stocks, but available evidence shows that large-scale culls of mountain hares are only effective when other tick-carrying animals are removed, or there is an absence of them in the area. “Where such animals are not removed we urge that hare culls should not be undertaken. We do not support large-scale culls and we will work with estates to put in place effective but sustainable management of mountain hares.”

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Culling is legal in Scotland and is necessary in some circumstances, such as to protect young trees or to support management for red grouse and we support that. We believe such management should be done sustainably and be supported by a sound management plan as part of an overall management approach.

“While culling will be an ongoing requirement in certain areas and situations, we support the call for voluntary restraint where large-scale culls could jeopardise the conservation status of mountain hares.”

At Craigmore, Clare tells me that most of those who ventured out before the holidays where rewarded with a stack of big fish. Pawal Sinicia had 35 to 3lb on bloodworm. James Harper had 12 to 7lb and Tommy Wharry had 18 to 6lb on buzzers and lures.

Other catches were: Jim Magill, 15 to 4lb 10 oz; Steven Alison, 40 to 5lb; Gordon Wilson, 15; Sandy Dorian, good bag to 5lb 10 oz; Joe ONeill,13 to 4lb 10 oz; Davy Couples, 10 to 6lb; Alan Temple, nine; Alex Brown, eight; Dessie Dogherty, 5lb; Billy Hazlett, 4lb; Adrian Tweed, 6lb; Tommy McGrath, 4lb; Ruth Arrell, 5lb.

Craigmore will be open today and tomorrow.

At Cashel trout fishery, Andrew Logan, Dungiven, caught and released five nice trout which took olives. Chris McDaid and his mates from Derry, released three trout. Jim Russell and Danny Walker, Monkstown and Newtownabbey, each bagged two for home which weighed 11lb and released two more.

Martin Bradley and John Hasson released four and two respectively which took the Kate McLaren wet fly and natural zonker.