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Why have a Middle Way?
The hunting debate has been flawed from the very start in that it focussed on just one method within a range of activities involving wildlife management. The prohibition of one particular method is justified only when there is evidence of excessive suffering. Further, the removal of one method inevitably impacts on the other methods that remain legal and this, too, must also be considered. One strong criticism of simplistic anti-hunting Bills in the past has been that there has been no consideration of such repercussions.
The Hunting Act 2004 is no different in this regard. The Act addresses only certain forms of hunting with dogs, does not address any of these other methods of control and does not provide any specific protection for wild mammals.
The Middle Way Group Position
The Middle Way solution to the issue of hunting with dogs is not a cosy compromise between warring factions. Rather it is a no-nonsense, science-based route to improve welfare standards for all wild mammals.
The main policy calls for the general protection of all wild mammals from undue suffering. Such a law would make it an offence to intentionally cause undue suffering to any wild mammal. Its scope would apply not just to foxes, hares, deer and mink, but to all species of wild mammal and it would not just cover hunting with dogs, but all activities, including shooting, trapping and snaring, which involve wild mammals. Accusations of cruelty within any activity would be decided in court, just as cases of domestic animal cruelty are heard.
Such measures avoid legislation based on prejudice and uninformed opinion and provide the means for alleged acts of cruelty to be properly tested in a court of law. Further, just such a law already exists in Northern Ireland, where all animals, wild included, are protected from unnecessary suffering.
Middle Way Group Research
- The Middle Way Group funded research into shooting foxes, regarded by many as a humane alternative to hunting with dogs. Wounding rates had previously been claimed to be very low, thereby justifying a ban. However, this research showed much higher wounding rates in a number of legal shooting regimes and exposed severe technical flaws in previous surveys that had shown low wounding rates.
- A counter study commissioned by IFAW finding low wounding rates has failed to be peer-reviewed or published. The Middle Way Group study, Wounding Rates in Shooting Foxes, N.Fox et al (2005) was peer-reviewed and published by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in its journal Animal Welfare.
- In 2007, the Middle Way Group and the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management published The use, misuse and abuse of science in support of the Hunting Act 2004, which scrutinises the scientific research that was claimed to support a ban on hunting with dogs. It concludes that no research exists that justifies the hunting ban.
- In 2008, the Middle Way Group and the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management published The Natural Chase by vet Katie Colvile, which shows how wolves hunting prey for food has evolved into dogs hunting as an essential component of wildlife management; how natural predators can shape their environment; how such predation affects the behaviour of prey species and retains the fitness of a prey population and why hunting with hounds can be considered a natural phenomenon.
Support for a Middle Way Approach
- The Burns Report states, “In the absence of a ban, one possible legislative approach would be to remove the present exemptions for hunting in the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. This would be an important signal and give opponents of hunting a clearer opportunity to test their views about cruelty in the courts.” (Paragraph 9.39)
- The Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill is supported by the Country Land and Business Association, the National Farmers Union and the Countryside Alliance, but is opposed by the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports.
- The Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill, which would protect all wild mammals from all undue suffering in all circumstances, was introduced into the House Lords by Lord Donoughue and a similar Bill introduced into the House of Commons by Lembit Öpik MP in 2004. However, such a law would have made a hunting bill unnecessary and consequently the measure was ‘talked out’ in the Commons by anti-hunting MPs, obsessed with a ban.
- On 12th October 2004, support for the Middle Way Group’s proposals was significantly strengthened by the comments made by Lord Burns in the House of Lords. Lord Burns said, “...there may still be a way forward, through a combination of licensed hunting and further reform of animal welfare legislation. I hope that it is not too late for a determined attempt to find a way forward on the issue that is evidence based; gives the courts a clearer role; reflects the realities of farming; has a chance of commanding support on both sides of the debate; and, above all, will stand the test of time.”