The fox hunting ban in Britain - End of an era?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. History of Fox Hunting in the UK
2.1 The Enclosure Acts
2.2 Fox Hunting today

3. Ongoing Controversity since 1940
3.1 Arguments against Fox Hunting
3.2 Arguments in Favor of Fox Hunting
3.2.1 The Countryside Alliance

4. Hunting Bans in the UK
4.1 England and Wales: The Hunting Act 2004
4.2 Scotland
4.3 Ireland

5. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Whether at local, regional or national level, sport is, after war, probably the principal means of collective identification in modern life. It provides one of the few occasions when large, complex, impersonal and functionally bonded units can unite as a whole. Sport has historically as well as in contemporary society played a varied and important role. It is a form of national popular culture, a forum for the creation, expression or maintenance of senses and ideals of identity, a form of business, and central point of focus for groups within and outside of any given society or nation.[1] Max Horkheimer has even suggested that `as modern civilization [is] threatened on all has become a kind of world in itself [that[ we should stake our hopes on´.[2]

The kind of sport which, for centuries, a small but influential part of Britons has been staking their hopes on, is fox-hunting. Like all forms of hunting, fox hunting is a blood sport, i.e. the killing of wild animals as a form of sport. As such it is controversial. Many animal welfare activists claim fox hunting to be an elitist and barbaric sport that should be banned, while pro-hunters argue that it is an effective and humane method of controlling the fox population. Yet after all hunting is a part of British history and tradition – an intrinsic part of living in the countryside. A resolution between fox supporters and fox hunters seems to be obstructed by unbridgeable divisions between social classes as well as town and country lifestyles. While hunters are portrayed as members of the wealthy, privileged and/or landowning upper class, fox supporters are depicted as lower class 'townies' with no understanding of country life.

In this paper I am going to point out the history of fox hunting in Britain and the Pro and Cons towards this centuries-old British sport. Is the whole conflict really dominated by class distinctions? And is it actually a battle between rural dwellers and “townies”? Or are these only stereotypes used by animal welfare activists to strengthen their opinions? Furthermore I will dedicate one chapter to the effects of the 2004 ban on fox hunting. Does the ban really mark the end of this traditional British sport ?

2. History of Fox Hunting in the UK

Using scenthounds to track prey dates back to Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian times. In England, hunting with hounds was already popular before the Romans arrived. The elk and wild oxen had already been hunted into extinction; brown bears were killed off in the 10th century, beavers were gone by the 13th century; the last English wolf was seen in the 15th century, wild boars in the 17th century. After so many species had been wiped out, hunters were forced to import a range of wildlife species to be used as quarry: The Romans brought their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds, along with importing the brown hare and additional species of deer as “game animals”. The Norman hunting traditions were added when William the Conqueror arrived, along with the Gascon and Talbot hounds. In the 20th century Fox hunting (besides deer stalking, deer hunting and badger baiting) became one of the four major blood sports - solely because these animals were the largest left in the country after hunters had killed all of their predators.[3]

The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as pest control. By the end of the seventeenth century many organized packs were hunting both hare and fox, and during the eighteenth century packs specifically for fox hunting were appearing. Shortly afterwards the distintion between the rural and urban population became obvious: Hunting was seen as a noble, healthy activity that was only possible in country areas. The upper classes then distanced themselves from the urban way of life and adopted more and more extravagant lifestyles: Massive country estates and palaces were built. The privilege to hunt, previously the sole preserve of the aristocracy, was later on extended to all landowners.

By the late 1700s, the hunting of foxes for pleasure had become the favourite sport among the nouveaux riches. The sport was an ideal means to show wealth as well as the celebration of an obvious social hierarchy. It became the sport of an elite of aristocrats, nobles and the bourgeoisie who owned large tracts of farm land, were wealthy enough to maintain horses, hounds and their keepers and their subservient tenants and labourers who could be called upon to do the fetching and carrying.[4]

2.1 The Enclosure Acts

The passing of the Enclosure Acts from 1750 to 1860 had made hunting much more difficult in many areas of the country, as that required great areas of open land. The Acts were a number of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed common land in the country.The rights that people once held, to graze animals on these areas when not planted by crops, were now being denied. This had also side effects on fox hunters who faced now the problem of land loss.

Although enclosure acts for small areas had been passed sporadically since the 12th century, the vast majority of them were passed between 1750 and 1860. Much larger areas were also enclosed during this time and in 1801 the Enclosure Consolidation Act was passed to tidy up previous acts. In 1845 another General Enclosure Act then allowed Commissoners to take land for that purpose without submitting a request to parliament. Under this process there were over 5000 individual acts and 21% of land in England was enclosed, this amounts to nearly 7 million acres (28,000 km²).[5]

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people began to move out of the country and into towns and cities to find work. Roads, rail and canals split the hunting country, but also made hunting accessible to more people.

2.2 Fox Hunting today

Despite all the obstacles like Enclosure Acts and Anti-hunt campaigns the love for the traditional British sport of fox hunting has still survived among a small but important minority, as the following table illustrates. According to the British government and the Lord Burns Report (to which I will come again later on), the fox hunt employs more than 8,000 people and attracts more than 1.3 million hunters and fans who are either onlookers or follow the hunt on horses, by foot or by car.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Yet despite all their efforts like demonstrations, withdrawn bills and pro-hunt – campaigns the struggle for a hunting ban in the UK has – at least officially – ended:

In February 2002 the Scottish Parliament voted by 83 to 36 to ban hunting with dogs. England and Wales followed in February 2005 when the Hunting Act 2004 took effect and outlawed fox hunting with dogs by Act of Parliament. It is the result of years of campaigning by those who regard fox hunting - a part of English country life for centuries - as cruel and inhumane.


[1] Cronin, Mike (1999): Sport and Nationalism in Ireland. MPG Books: Cornwall.p.51.

[2] Horkheimer quoted in W.J.Morgan: Toward a Critical Theory of Sport in Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 1983, 7, 1, p.32.

[3] Cf.:

[4] Cf.:

[5] Cf.: http://


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The fox hunting ban in Britain - End of an era?
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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M.A. Nicole Gast (Author), 2005, The fox hunting ban in Britain - End of an era?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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