05 November 2005

A West hunt's attempts to get around the hunting ban by using a falcon have ended after police intervened, it emerged last night.

The news came on the day hunts throughout the West - many employing birds of prey - will ride out for their traditional opening meet of the season. But the Western Daily Press can reveal the police officer charged with enforcing the ban in one county told a hunt its attempts to get around the new law with a falcon would not work.

Dorset police's wildlife crime officer - himself an expert falconer - told the Cattistock Hunt its falcon was not large enough to realistically take a fox and therefore using it was not a legitimate way to skirt the hunting ban.

But PC John Snelling did make a distinction between hunts carrying a "token" bird and ones actively using larger birds of prey in a bid to hunt foxes.

Under an exemption in the Act, hunts can continue to use full packs of hounds to search for and flush foxes - provided they are doing so "for the purposes of allowing" a bird of prey to take the animal.

Cattistock Hunt master Lucy Pinney said the falcon's presence was "merely to ensure we remain within the law on all sides . . . it's just a back-up".

The controversial tactic has enraged both antihunt protesters and falconers' organisations. Falconry leaders are considering legal challenges to close the loophole.

But PC Snelling said a quiet word with the hunts was the best tactic. "They did have a falconer out with them, but the bird he had was totally unsuitable for taking foxes.

"Several hunts that I know of are using birds of prey, but it's not a realistic option. A golden eagle would be able take a fox, but it requires years of training, " he said.

The only other bird that experts say is big enough to take a fox is an eagle owl, but PC Snelling said he had doubts. "I would seriously question whether having an eagle owl would be a legitimate defence. An eagle owl would be able to take a fox, but they only hunt when they are hungry and unless they are starving couldn't be made to take a fox .

"Some hunts are basically just carrying them around and they stay two fields away in their cage. Having a token bird like that shows a blatant disregard for the spirit of the Hunting Act."

PC Snelling said he spoke to the Cattistock Hunt.

"I gave them friendly advice that basically they would be better to dispense with the whole idea. "Hunts do not want to leave themselves open to prosecution and a lot of work being a hunt liaison officer is keeping communications going. The falconer has never been seen since."

Yesterday, anti-hunt monitors pledged to target hunts using birds of prey at today's opening meets and for the rest of the season.

An organisation called 'Hunt Watch' said in a statement: "We have had reports of two birds of prey being killed already this season. This is why hunts who are using a bird of prey take the bird out for show and fail to deploy it every time our monitors have been in attendance."

Away from the falconry issue, the arguments around the effectiveness of the Hunting Act continued to rage.

A new poll showed yesterday support for the ban on hunting was at an all-time low. THE survey, commissioned by the prohunt Countryside Alliance, asked how strongly people supported or opposed the ban, with fewer than half - 45 per cent - saying they either strongly supported or just supported.

But opposition to the ban still hovers around the 30 per cent mark. The alliance said hunts were determined to keep going until the legislation is repealed or replaced.


Hunt Watch
PO Box 3089

Tel: 07952 550 054

It's not the police we've got to watch, it's the antis with their  video cameras." - Graham Bridgeman the Chairman of Eggesford Hunt.