The Hunting Ban 15 years on: did it change anything?

The Hunting Act 2004 was supposed to put an end to hunting. When it came into force - 18 February 2005 - it outlawed the killing of wild animals with packs of dogs.

Depending on your point of view, it was a sad end to an ancient tradition, or a long-overdue protection for wild animals. But perhaps, it was neither.

Foxes are still dying in the jaws of foxhounds. The Act allows trail hunting: following a fake scent with a pack of hounds. But hounds can get confused and follow the scent of a live fox by mistake.

We have had accidents. Hounds have been bred for 300 years to hunt foxes, and if a fox crosses the line of a trail, 300 years of breeding will sometimes make the hounds change onto that.

Beaufort Hunt member
The Beaufort Hunt has hundreds of members, of all ages. Credit: ITV West Country

But how do you tell an accident from a crime? The Bath Hunt Sabateurs accuse local hunts - including the Beaufort, the largest and most famous of the West Country's fox hunts - of deliberately chasing and killing foxes, and sometimes not even laying a fake trail.

[The Beaufort] is hunting foxes. I've seen it. We saw a fox last week just cross in front of us, and then the hounds are on it.

Bath Hunt Sabateurs member

I've seen [the Beaufort] hunting foxes over and over again. Over and over again.

Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch member

Since the Hunting Act came into force, 378 people have been prosecuted under it, though none were from the Beaufort.

Many anti-hunt campaigners, including the League Against Cruel Sports, want the ban strengthened. They say hunts are using trail hunting as a smokescreen for real hunting, a claim strongly denied by the Beaufort:

The Beaufort Hunt operates within the law at all times to comply with the Hunting Act and other legislation. Hunts, including the Beaufort, are regularly subjected to spurious allegations made by anti-hunting extremists. If there is any real evidence to suggest that illegal activity has taken place, we suggest the activists take it to the police.

Beaufort Hunt spokesperson
Prince Charles was a keen member of the Beaufort before the ban. Credit: PA

Hunt saboteur groups go out every weekend to try and disrupt local hunts. Both sides accuse the other of intimidation, violence and criminal damage.

The Hunting Act 2004 was supposed to find a compromise between animal welfare and rural tradition, to put an end to the hunting war. 15 years on, it has done nothing of the sort.