The Full English Exposé teaches you more about the English speaking world, so you can be confident you know what you are doing, and you don’t do or say the wrong thing, and don’t get egg on your face.
This edition of the podcast we’re helping make sure you don’t get egg on your face, with the Full English Exposé, all about Fox Hunting.
The British Fox Hunting Ban
Although it is reasonably widely practised, the British tradition of fox hunting with hounds, horns, horses and huntsmen sporting their distinctive red coats is facing a threat.
Now, there are laws in place that restrict fox hunting, written to reflect a growing belief that the practice is barbaric. Plenty of people, especially in the countryside, still feel they ought to have the right to hunt foxes as we have done historically, and as they do in many other countries, such as France and the United States. Respect for animal rights has only recently held sway.
The custom is for people who owned the horses and hounds (generally richer folk as the animals are expensive to keep), to dress up in their livery, get together and ride around the countryside with a pack of dogs, finding foxes for their hounds to chase and, if all goes well, rip to shreds. People come to watch, and it is especially popular on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
It is easy to see why it is called a blood sport, and why many think it is cruel to the foxes. The proponents of fox hunting argue that they are continuing a long-held tradition. You can’t avoid finding references to fox hunting in our culture, history and literature. You’ll find pictures of the hunt in countryside pubs. You’ll hear about it in folk songs like ‘The Noble Fox-Hunting’, or referenced in pop songs like ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush. You’ll find it in books, like ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’ by Siegfried Sassoon and a scene in ‘Brideshead Revisited’, by Evelyn Waugh. It’s often depicted in films and TV programs trying to invoke a traditional countryside feel, like Downton Abbey. Fox Terriers are now popular family dogs, but, were originally bred to flush foxes out of holes as part of the hunt.
Fox hunting also contributes to the economy and provides jobs. Some argue they are also carrying out a pest-control service, as foxes are blamed for killing farm animals, but studies have shown that shooting foxes would be a better way of managing fox populations than traditional fox-hunting .
For the time being, the huntsmen are losing the argument, but, despite fox-hunting with packs of dogs being illegal, the hunt does still regularly meet up, but the aim now is different. Sometimes the dogs follow a trail left by a person. Someone sets off early in the morning over the countryside, and the dogs follow their scent trail. Sometimes the pack is used to flush a fox out, to be hunted with birds of prey.
If the hounds find a fox, though, it is hard to stop the dogs from killing it, much to the delight of the hunting party. Some people suggest this is done on purpose, but due to several loopholes it is hard to prove this and there are few convictions. It happens often enough that self-styled ‘hunt saboteurs’, usually belonging to animal rights groups, will watch hunts and record if they break laws, disrupt and sometimes, as the name suggests, sabotage the hunt. This can lead to argument and scenes of hostility.
The laws are generally considered problematic. They go too far for the hunt supporters, and don’t go far enough for others. Even Tony Blair, the Prime Minister who brought in the laws, claims it is “banned and not quite banned at the same time”.
Fox-hunting is very much a politically charged issue, and many proponents still cling to the hope that the laws will be changed back so they can again have their dogs tear foxes apart with impunity. This seems strange if you’re ever in the English countryside, thinking how quaint it is, and how friendly everyone is, and it’s certainly something you should bear in mind if you are, indeed, a fox.