David MacDonald is the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University, and Oxford’s first Professor of Wildlife Conservation.
In his book, Running With the Fox, MacDonald notes that no human action has been as beneficial to the red fox as the mounted hunt. The reason for this is simple: fox hunting has bestowed on fox an economic and cultural value, and mounted hunts are so terribly inefficient that they do not do much to suppress fox populations. Not only did the mounted hunts import red fox to North America and Australia -- where they have thrived in spectacular numbers -- but they also led the charge to ban efficient traps and poisons in the U.K. Indeed, the highly pejorative term "vulpicide" specifically means the killing of fox by means other than with hounds and terriers. As mounted hunts gained in popularity, fox coverts were planted and maintained on U.K. farms and estates, artificial breeding earths were constructed, and fox were live-trapped and moved into areas where they had been depleted. The result is that across the U.K. -- and across the world -- there are now far more red fox running about than there were just 150 years ago.
MacDonald is not fundamentally opposed to fox hunting. In fact, he note there is very little moral distinction between fox hunting and eating fish or owning a cat. He notes that "people's gastronomic enjoyment outweighs their concern for the consequences of harvesting billions of fish annually, as their enjoyment of their cat's companionship outweighs regret at the deaths of millions of hedgerow birds annually."
So is the hound in the field worse that the cat in the hedge? Not according to the word's preeminent fox biologist.
In fact, the hound in the field has done quite a bit of good for fox and dogs (the distemper vaccine was created by fox hunters).
The feral cat? Maybe not so much, except for the coyotes that enjoy dining out on them.