ARCHIVE: Brief guide to the Hunting Act 2004
This leaflet is intended to provide a brief guide to the Hunting Act 2004. It is not a definitive statement of law, but a commonsense summary. Details of how to obtain further information about the Act itself, and the guidance and support material mentioned, are given at the end of the leaflet.
- download the leaflet in 'print-friendly' (Adobe Acrobat/PDF) format (46KB)
- view the full text of the Hunting Act 2004 on the HMSO website
- view the summary of the Hunting Act 2004
What is the Hunting Act?
The Hunting Act 2004 bans the hunting with dogs of all wild mammals, and all hare coursing. Its intention is to end a practice that many people feel causes unnecessary suffering to animals. There are some tightly drawn exemptions to the Act, which allow hunting activities to take place in limited circumstances and with the consent of the occupier or owner of the land, such as:
- ratting and rabbiting;
- stalking and flushing out with up to two dogs; and
- using a single dog under ground to flush out wild mammals, such as foxes, in order to protect birds kept for shooting.
A person found guilty of an offence under the Act faces a fine of up to £5,000, and could have their dogs, vehicles or articles used in hunting confiscated. Although this legislation has been contentious while it was being debated, and the Parliament Acts applied to bring the Act into law against the wishes of the House of Lords, the Government is satisfied that it meets human rights requirements, and that it is valid and enforceable.
What is Hunting?
The Act makes clear that hunting with dogs includes engaging alone or participating with others in the pursuit of a wild mammal where a dog is used in that pursuit. Hunting should be understood in its ordinary English meaning, which includes searching for wild mammals, chasing them, or pursuing them with the intention of catching or killing them. Hunting is an intentional activity and there can be no such thing as unintentional hunting. Thus, if a dog runs off after a squirrel in the park, the person accompanying the dog would not be guilty of unlawful hunting (unless he or she then used the dog to hunt the squirrel). Equally, if dogs being used in drag-hunting were to run off after a fox, the drag-hunters would not be guilty of unlawful hunting (unless they then used the dogs to hunt the fox). This is unlikely to be a problem for genuine drag hunters, while pretence would be easy to detect. Suggestions that anyone is obliged to shoot any wild mammal that their dog accidentally flushes out are also entirely untrue.
What effect will it have on the countryside?
People and Jobs: Although the Government does not expect that large numbers of people will find themselves out of work as a result of the Act, it does appreciate that the Act could have a significant effect on the employment of some individuals, and it is important that they know about the help that is available. Some hunts will be able to divert into other activities, such as drag hunting and other forms of riding, or engage in fallen stock collection. There are other opportunities for those who currently provide services to hunts such as farriers, saddlers and hoteliers. For example, the horse industry is generally buoyant, and Defra is working with it on a strategy for its further development.
Specific help already available includes:
- The network of Business Links, which provide advice and support including access to training.
- Defra's Rural Enterprise Scheme, which can provide grants to farm–based enterprises and tourism projects.
- The Employment Service, which helps anyone made redundant to claim their statutory benefit entitlements and find alternative employment.
Defra has asked these organisations to consider how they can best help those affected by the Act, and more detailed information about the help available will be published shortly.
Housing: It is possible that a very small number of people may find themselves evicted from tied accommodation. This would be a decision for their landlords, but anyone affected would have the normal contractual protection of the law. Support and advice would be available from the local authority Housing Department.
Animal Welfare: The Government is committed to animal welfare, and does not believe that it is necessary to destroy horses or dogs as result of the Act. The RSPCA has already offered to help with the re-homing of dogs, based on its considerable experience over many years with a very wide range of different breeds of dog, and Defra is working with the RSPCA and other animal welfare bodies on this issue.
Pest Control: The Government recognises that farmers and landowners need to be able to prevent serious damage to livestock and crops caused by certain animals. The Act does not prevent anyone from using dogs to control rats and rabbits or from engaging in other legal and humane pest control activities. Defra’s Rural Development Service is in the process of publishing a range of leaflets covering the recommended ways of preventing serious damage which can be caused by foxes, mink and hares.
Where can I get further information?
The full text of the Act can be obtained from The Stationery Office (Tel: 0870 600 5522) or from the HMSO website. In addition, a short summary has been prepared by Defra and is available from the Defra publication centre (Tel: 0845 9556000)
Advice for businesses wishing to diversify can be obtained from:
- Business Link (Tel: 0845 6009006). www.businesslink.gov.uk
- Rural Enterprise Scheme (Tel: 0845 9335577)
Individuals threatened with unemployment should contact their local Jobcentre.
Individuals threatened with eviction should contact their local authority Housing Department.
There are a number of advisory leaflets which can offer guidance on controlling many of these. However, if you have a problem that is not covered you should contact the Natural England Wildlife Licensing Unit on 0845 6014523 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
General enquiries about animal welfare issues may be directed to:
- RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex, RH13 9RS www.rspca.org.uk
Page last modified:
21 February, 2011
Page published: 13 January, 2005