The Hunting Act 2004 is the legislation which criminalised the chasing of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales unless the hunting is exempt

The Hunting Act 2004 first came into force on 18 February 2005 and is an integral piece of the legislative framework, providing protection to wildlife in England and Wales. Whilst most will immediately associate the Act with fox hunting, it also criminalises other activities, such as hare coursing and the hunting of deer and mink.

According to www.huntingact.org, between the Act coming into force in 2005 and 2018 there have been 497 successful prosecutions under the Act and a further 47 cautions (an alternative to a prosecution).

The Act creates 5 offences:

  • Hunting a wild mammal with a dog
  • Permitting land to be used for hunting a wild mammal with a dog
  • Permitting a dog to be used for hunting a wild mammal with a dog
  • Participating in, attending, facilitating or permitting land to be used for the purposes of a hare-coursing event
  • Entering, permitting, handling a dog in a hare-coursing event

Hunting a wild mammal with a dog

It is a criminal offence to hunt a mammal with a dog. The offence includes not only the person directing or in control of the dog but can include others involved with the hunting, as they are also engaging and participating in the pursuit. This could include supporters who indicate the location of the prey animal to the hunter.

Permitting land to be used for hunting a wild mammal with a dog

If a person knowingly permits land which belongs to them to be entered or used for banned hunting purposes, they will be guilty of the offence.

Permitting a dog to be used for hunting a wild mammal with a dog

A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits a dog which belongs to him to be used for banned hunting purposes. A dog belongs to someone if he owns it, is in charge of it or has control over it.

Participating in, attending, facilitating or permitting land to be used for the purposes of a hare-coursing event

A hare coursing event is defined as a competition in which dogs are used to hunt live hares in an effort to determine which dog is the most effective hunter. It is illegal to take part, attend, knowingly facilitate or permit your land to be used for a hare coursing event.

In practice, many prosecutions for hare coursing are brought under the Game Act 1831 where trespass to land is an element of the offence. This is generally seen as easier.

Entering, permitting, handling a dog in a hare-coursing event

It is important to note that the issue of ownership of the dog does not arise in the definition of this offence. A person commits an offence if they permit a dog to be entered or who controls or handles the dog in course of or the purposes of the event.

Under the Poaching Prevention Act 1862, a police officer can stop and search any person or vehicle on any highway, street or public place, if they have reasonable cause to suspect poaching. The police will often make an operational decision to seize dogs believed to have been used for hunting or hare coursing and may decide to retain them in kennels pending the outcome of criminal proceedings.

Exempt Hunting

There are a number of exemptions under the Hunting Act 2004. These include:

  • Up to two dogs may be used to stalk or flush a wild mammal from cover so that it can be shot for defined purposes;
  • One dog at a time only, may be used below ground to stalk or flush a wild mammal for the sole purpose of preventing or reducing serious damage to game birds or wild birds being kept or preserved for shooting;
  • Flushing a wild mammal from cover in connection with falconry; and
  • Recapture of an accidentally escaped wild mammal.

Defined purposes include:

  • The protection of game birds, wild birds, fisheries, crops and livestock.
  • Obtaining meat.
  • Field trials

To qualify as exempt, the above activities must be done with permission of the landowner and reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being found, the wild mammal is shot dead.

Hunters can also lawfully hunt rabbits and rats.

Trail hunting

The law does allow what is known as trail ‘hunting’ to continue. This activity involves people on foot or horses following a pre-laid, artificial scent along a route with hounds or beagles. It effectively replicates a traditional hunt but without a fox being chased, injured or killed. Trail hunting did not exist before the Hunting Act came into force and, although it has been criticised by many groups, it is legal.

Many people are now moving to artificial scents to minimise the risk of foxes or any wild animal being accidentally chased during a trail hunt.

We have had many cases where our clients were trial hunting all day and their dog had a temporary lapse where they chased a mammal and they couldn’t stop them.

Hunting law offences and sentencing

The maximum sentence the court can impose if convicted of a Hunting Act offence is an unlimited fine. Additionally, the courts can impose a forfeiture order and any dog, vehicle or equipment used in the commission of the offence may be confiscated and if deemed appropriate destroyed.

If you are facing hunting-law charges of any kind then you should seek legal advice immediately. At Wheldon Law, we have years of experience of representing clients in such cases. We can provide specialist advice and explore any potential defences that may be available to you.

If you are under investigation for, or have been charged with a Hunting Act offence, please call us on 01442 242999 for some free initial advice, or email us at enquiry@wheldonlaw.co.uk.

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