19 May 2000

ITS A LANDSLIDE AS 93% SAY YES TO FOXHUNTING

FARMERS WEEKLY asked readers

what they thought about foxhunting.

The response was an overwhelming

93% for it. Just 7% of readers

felt it should be banned and only

11% felt it an inhumane

method of fox control

OUR survey set out to find the true feelings of our readership on foxhunting.

With such an emotive issue it is easy for figures to be manipulated by vociferous pro or anti groups and the less strident opinions can get overlooked.

To avoid this farmers weekly did not publicise the survey, not even on our own cover, to ensure only our readers opinions were counted. We did not accept photocopied or faxed responses and the survey questions were devised by a non-hunting person without an axe to grind about the result.

Despite this, we still had letters claiming that the questionnaire must have been written by a) "someone obviously pro-hunting" and b) "by someone who wants to see it banned". Closed minds exist in both camps, it seems.

&#42 Chance to air views

Other readers however were more complimentary. A Hamp-shire reader wrote: Thanks for the chance to air our views. We have 6ft wide headlands on all our arable fields to provide access for the hunt. They are also used by other local riders and benefit wildlife but would be ploughed up if hunting were banned.

Another, from Yorkshire wrote: We dont like foxhunting but we dont think it should be banned. It is a legitimate country sport. This reader – like many others – felt that class rather than the lives of foxes was the issue behind the anti-hunting movement.

Other moderate views included: Fox control should be the decision of the landowner not a matter for politicians.

Respondents ranged across the age groups from 16 to 60+ with 10% of the 16 to 20-year-olds age group wanting fox hunting banned, followed by 9% of 51 to 60-year-olds. Other ages teetered on 7 to 8.5% against. A farming couple (in the 51-60 age group) from Dorset wrote: Fox hunters are a group of social elitists who like to feel they can roam at will across the countryside.

Other respondents comments included: Barbaric and inhumane!

And: Foxes can be shot so what is the point of chasing and killing them with 20 dogs. Is it sport?

&#42 Upsets livestock

Some anti-hunting readers are convinced that hunts breed foxes and let them loose for hunting. Others resent the hunt riding across their land and claim it upsets their livestock. Time and again respondents comments seemed to show that it is the hunt members rather than the killing that people are against.

The pro hunting replies gave many reasons from tradition, to control, conservation of stock, wildlife and rural jobs, and freedom of choice. Some felt it to be completely natural: The fox hunts and kills – so do dogs. Others made the point that a fox will kill for pleasure not just for food. A lady from Berkshire said: Its quick and efficient. There is a live fox or a dead fox. A man from the same county suggested: If the hounds hunt the fox to ground, it should be left there. Many, many comments were concerned that a ban on foxhunting would just be the start and that many more country pursuits and sports would come under threat.

Our survey wont end the debate, but it does show the strength of our readers feelings on the matter.

BURNS INQUIRY

THE Burns Inquiry, under the chairmanship of Lord Burns, has been set up to investigate the use of dogs to hunt deer, foxes, mink and hares. It is expected to publish its findings by the end of May.

In recent months Lord Burns and his

committee have attended a variety of hunts throughout the UK and have taken

recommendations from many major

organisations with direct links with the rural economy and the countryside.

Some recommendations to the inquiry have been surrounded in controversy such as the Ministry of Agricultures recommendation that shooting provided the most effective method of controlling foxes.

Among the latest information to be presented to the inquiry has been a 26-page survey from the Union of Country Sports Workers. It has stated that many country sport workers are involved in lifetime employment which would be directly affected by a hunting ban.

The union also states that many country sports employees live in tied housing but do not benefit from the same housing rights as agricultural workers. A ban would leave them homeless.

A recent official survey estimated that £243m a year was spent on fox hunting in the UK and supported 16,000 jobs.

Which age group are you?

16-20 (3%) 21-30 (8%) 31-40 (15%) 41-50 (22%)

51-60 (24%) 60+ (28%)

What job do you do?

Farmer (70%) Agricultural worker (7%) Other (23%)

Where do you live?

Rural area (95%) Urban area (5%)

Are you a regular reader of farmers weekly?

Yes (96%) No (4%)

Are you a hunt member?

Yes (54%) No (46%)

Have you ever taken part in fox hunting?

Yes (73%) No (27%)

Do you approve of fox hunting?

Yes (93%) No (4%) Indifferent (3%)

Does a hunt have permission to cross your land?

Yes (69%) No (31%)

Do you believe fox numbers need to be controlled?

Yes (70%) No (30%)

Is hunting an effective method of fox control?

Yes (84%) No (16%)

Is hunting a humane method of fox control?

Yes (89%) No (11%)

Is hunting preferable to other control methods

ie shooting?

Yes (83%) No (17%)

Should fox hunting be banned?

Yes (7%) No (93%)

Do you take part in other country sports?

Yes (64%) No (36%)