‘It’s time our British wildlife are properly protected from hunting this Christmas’ – Luke Pollard MP


Former Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard writes exclusively for the Mirror

There is no time of year more synonymous with tradition than Christmas, but at what point do traditions become simply old fashioned and out-of-date pastimes?

Take the spectacle of the Boxing Day hunt.

Red-coated riders sat astride immaculately groomed horses, chasing and killing foxes, stags, hares and other wildlife purely for the fun of it.

Time moves on and hunting wild animals for so-called sport was made illegal with the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2005.

But was it really? Following the Act’s introduction the hunts invented trail hunting, which they describe as using fox-based scent trails for the hounds to follow.

They have kept their “traditions”, and carry on meeting and hunting, because killed animals are written-off as accidental deaths.

That’s if a trail has even been laid in the first place.

For years Labour and animal welfare campaigners like the League Against Cruel Sports have said trail laying is a smokescreen designed to disguise the hunts’ true activity.

And we were all proven right in October of this year when a senior huntsman was found guilty under the Serious Crimes Act of 2007 of encouraging or assisting others to break the Hunting Act.

He’d been talking on Zoom webinars, with around a hundred other senior huntsmen, about how to use trail hunting and other exemptions under the act to get away with what the judge described as “old fashioned illegal hunting”.

Not traditional. Not part of a rural way of life.

Old fashioned. Outdated. Illegal.

I have long urged the Government to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004, and promoted Labour’s 50-point Animal Welfare policy that pledged to do the same.

But in the wake of this verdict – the confirmation of what we have long known to be true – it is more important than ever that the Government strengthens the act.

It must close loopholes which allow trail hunting and exempt hunting to be used as covers for illegal hunting.

And according to the most recent polling carried out by IpsosMori, more than eight out of 10 people in the UK agree with us – regardless of whether they live in an urban (86%) or rural area (81%).

Those landowners who give hunts access to their land – including Forestry England and the Ministry of Defence – need to pay attention to the fact that many huntsmen have been advised on how to get away with illegal hunting.

Many have already taken action.

The National Trust, Natural Resources Wales, the Malvern Hills Trust and Cheshire West and Chester Council have been among those to see through the hunts’ smokescreen and permanently ban them from their land.

It’s time government and all other major landowners do the same – and do it now.

Because with 2022 on the horizon, this is also a time of new beginnings, a chance to create new traditions.

This Christmas, it’s time our British wildlife was given proper protection from persecution.

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