The 1980s saw rapid changes in the British countryside. Large numbers of city people began to buy mini-estates in areas which had once been dominated by working farms, and these mini-estate owners sometimes clashed with fox hunters who trespassed onto their property.
During this same period, increasing numbers of farmers began to adopt the massive machines needed to make a go of it in the world of modern agriculture. Large combines, harvesters, and loaders required large fields and wide entrances. Ancient hedges were often leveled to accommodate the new machines, and even more destruction occurred when road widening was done to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of people and cars.
During a single 10-year period (1984-1993), more than one-third of all of the hedgerows in the United Kingdom were lost — a whopping 121,875 miles of destruction. Another 96,000 miles of hedgerow had been lost in England in the previous 40 years (1945-1984).
Ironically, the hedges of the Enclosure Movement were now falling under the onslaught of population growth. It was not quite as Malthus had predicted, but people were indeed having an impact on the land.
In 1997 the final push to ban fox hunting in Great Britain was launched when the Labour Party won the general election with a promise that it would advocate "new measures to promote animal welfare, including a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned."
In fact several "free votes" were had in Parliament, but though the House of Commons passed a fox hunting ban several times, the ban was routinely defeated in the House of Lords.
A "free vote in Parliament," it turned out, would not result in a ban on fox hunting in the U.K. A non-free vote would have to be gerrymandered.
In September of 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair grew tired of the inconvenience of a two-house parliamentary system and decided to use the little-used Parliament Act to overrule the House of Lords. The "ban" on fox hunting thus became law in October of 2004.
"The Ban" took effect in February of 2005, but so far has been somewhat less successful than its supporters had hoped. During the first month mounted hunts in the U.K. killed about 800 fox, most of them legally shot as they bolted for cover.
The fact that fox could still be legally killed by the hunts came as a surprise to many poorly-informed anti-hunt proponents. In fact, under the "ban" terrier work is still allowed, but only two dogs can be employed at a dig, and the fox must be shot after it bolts. The fox cannot be allowed to bolt free and unharmed, nor can it be terminated with a straight shot to the brainpan while it is still in the earth.
In short, the ban did nothing but mandate death, replacing the safest and most humane form of fox control with one that is less safe and less humane. Such is progress when the ignorant craft laws.
Meanwhile, the biggest threat to wildlife in the U.K. -- habitat loss -- remains unaddressed by the animal rights movement. Wild bird populations are in decline as habitat is degraded and eliminated. Fox once humanely dispatched by hunters are now "saved" to be struck by cars and die broken and starving in ditches. Still others succumb to long-term debilitating diseases, such as mange and distemper.
It comes as news to most animal rights proponents that in the wild animals do not expire in hospital beds with morphine drips. Nature is violent, and natural death is almost always an extended misery and not a short one.
In the wild it is a lucky animal that makes it to adulthood to meet a competent and humane hunter on its last day. It is a truth that nonhunters never seem to consider.
The question then is not whether an animal will die, but how it will die and what can be done to make sure a species is maintained in optimum balance with the environment.
In this regard, mounted hunts and terrier work are ideal, as they are the most humane form of fox control and also the least efficient.
What this means is that extirpation of fox over a wide area is quite impossible with horse and hound, terrier and spade, while elimination of the occasional "problem fox" is still possible without having to resort to poisoning, traps and shooting over bait,
In his masterful book, Running With the Fox [Guild Publishing, 1987], fox biologist David MacDonald notes that "fox hunting is of minor significance to foxes" in terms of reducing their numbers.
Of greater importance, argues MacDonald, is that fact that fox hunters routinely stand up for the kind of habitat protection essential to healthy fox populations.
When a history of irony is written, surely a few paragraphs will be devoted to this: that noting has benefited fox more than fox hunting, while nothing has harmed working dogs more than admiration by the Kennel Club.
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