Will the ban on hunting affect fox numbers?
Before the Hunting Act 2004 banned hunting with hounds in England and Wales, each year registered hunts killed between 21,000 and 25,000 foxes i.e. they account for about 5% of the overall fox mortality in a year. About half of these foxes were cubs killed before the main hunting season began and therefore, highly likely to die anyway as cub mortality is very high.
According to the results of a questionnaire sent to farmers, gamekeepers and hunts in East Anglia, east Midlands and central Wales, only in Wales was the number of foxes killed by hunting with dogs a significant proportion (about 50%) of the total number of foxes killed annually. The authors of this study concluded that a ban on hunting with dogs would affect fox numbers in at least some regions. However, there are two problems with this study. The first is that the fox density estimates used are lower than any other published estimates. Moreover, the authors acknowledge that farmers substantially overestimate the number of foxes killed by hunts because they do not receive the information directly from the hunts and gamekeepers but second- or third-hand, and double counting occurred frequently. The results of this study are therefore highly questionable.
Another study based on questionnaires sent to 220 farmers and interviews with 13 Masters of packs of foxhounds in the county of Wiltshire (UK) found that hunting with hounds made an insignificant contribution (5%) to the total fox mortality. Similarly to the study mentioned above, farmers tended to overestimate both the number of foxes on their farm and the number of foxes killed by a hunt. Furthermore, two thirds of all farmers that responded to the questionnaire did not think that foxes were a pest at all, confirming the findings of previous work.
Two different studies, one across Britain and one in Wales, looked at the effects of control on fox numbers by hunting with dogs. The first study assessed fox numbers using counts of fox droppings in 1-km squares distributed across Britain in 1999-2000. Following a nationwide temporary ban on hunting with hounds during an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain, the survey of 1-km squares was repeated. There was no difference in fox density before and after the temporary ban in eight out of nine lowland regions. In eastern England fox numbers had increased after the ban but the authors attributed this increase to the general recovery of fox populations in the region following widespread persecution during the 19th century.
A second study was carried out in commercial forests in Wales in 2003-2004. Counts of fox droppings were used to assess the impact of gun-packs on fox numbers. More foxes were killed where more foxes were present or vice versa and the intensity of culling over winter did not appear to affect the number of foxes the following spring. Therefore the authors concluded that a ban on the use of dogs was unlikely to lead to changes in fox density.
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- Webbon, C.C., Baker, P.J. & Harris, S. (2004) Faecal density counts for monitoring changes in red fox (Vulpes vulpes) numbers in rural Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 41, 768-779.