The Hunting Ban – 19 years on…

sab holds sign saying it's over

19 years ago today the press assembled, sabs popped champagne corks and hunters spoke of outright defiance as a new law was enacted aimed at stopping the cruelty of hunting with hounds.

sab holds sign saying it's over

The result of years of campaigning, a Government inquiry and many hours of debate in Parliament, the Hunting Act 2004 was passed in November 2004 and was brought into force on 18th February 2005.

In the run up to the Hunting Act becoming law there was a sharp uptick in violence from hunt supporters directed against sabs. And for once, hunt chaos wasn’t confined to the countryside, with mass disorder outside Parliament, trespass on railway lines and dead horses dumped on the streets of towns and cities. 3000 hunt staff signed a pledge saying they would break the law and continue hunting animals, despite the ban.

Despite this mass pledge to break the law, the ‘powers that be’ in the hunting world agreed that ‘trail hunting’ should be pushed as the way hunts could continue, while keeping hounds fit, infrastructure in place and supporters paying their dues until the ban was repealed.

pro hunt demonstration

As the Countryside Alliance said in their ‘2005 Hunting Handbook – How to keep hunting’: “Any form of trail, simulated, or mock hunting should be promoted and seen as a measure to provide activity for hounds and their followers during the ‘temporary’ ban.”

But as the realisation dawned that the ban would not be repealed any time soon, they doubled down on the ‘trail hunt’ lie and attempted to reinvent hunting’s public image as a squeaky clean, legal activity. More on this to follow…

Many hunt sabs can be forgiven for the initial celebrations and optimism. The new law SHOULD have ended the hunting of wild animals with hounds. But it didn’t.

In reality the gaping holes and ambiguity in the new legislation, and a lack of police enforcement, meant that away from the prying eyes of the public and hunt sabs hunts were free to continue much as they did before the ban, with wildlife continuing to pay the price.

horse with no ban shaved into its side

Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that hunt sabs are still the main line of defence for hunted animals, as we were before the ban. While there have been a number of successful prosecutions under the Act, the measly sentencing powers available provide little deterrence to those who routinely flout it.

But it’s without doubt that hunting is significantly weaker than it was then. While the numbers, profile and ingenuity of hunt saboteurs has blossomed, hunts have seen diminishing support, with more succumbing to sab campaigns and financial and logistical pressures, forcing dozens of hunts to disband or amalgamate.

And in the last few years, some of the biggest blows have been dealt against hunting.

The leak of online webinars attended by hunt masters from across the country in 2020, in which leaders of hunting’s governing body – the Hunting Office – laid out ways that hunts could protect themselves while breaking the law. In particular, ‘trail hunting’ was put in the spotlight after it was described as a ‘smokescreen’ – cover for illegal hunting. This resulted in some of the UK’s biggest landowners banning hunts from using their land, and more recently the Hunting Office being reinvented as the equally ineffective ‘British Hound Sports Association.’

Some of the most damning footage has been recorded and released post-ban, including exclusive footage on Channel 4 News only last month, and most of it filmed by the hunters themselves. An uptick in media attention has resulted in the truth behind the ‘trail hunt’ lie being broadcast to the front rooms of the nation, and police chiefs being (at least) more vocal about the issue and the shortcomings of the law.

sab holds a dead fox

With an election due and a change in Government almost inevitable this year, it’s time for the Hunting Act to be revisited and made fit for purpose. The Hunt Saboteurs Association is campaigning for the loopholes to be closed and the law strengthened, to finally protect British wildlife from the cruelty of hunting with hounds as originally intended. Please click the link below for more information, and to see how you can help.

Find out how you can get involved with our campaign to strengthen the Hunting Ban here.

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Find out how you can be part of our campaign to strengthen the Hunting Act

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