The Hunting Act was passed by Parliament in November 2004 and become law throughout England and Wales from 18 February 2005. This is what gamekeepers need to know:
Under the new Act, “ a person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt.” (Details of what is ‘exempt' are given below).
A person is deemed to be hunting if he “ engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal, and one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit (whether or not by him and whether or not under his control or direction) ”.
The Act defines a wild mammal to include any mammal living in the wild and any wild mammal bred or kept in captivity and then released. Rats and rabbits, however, are excluded and a hare may be hunted by any number of dogs if it has been shot.
In addition to the exemptions in the above paragraph, the following will still be allowed:
Up to two dogs may be used to hunt a wild mammal that the hunter reasonably believes may be injured. Such hunting must be done with permission, must not extend below ground and must end with appropriate action being taken to relieve the animal's suffering. The mammal must not be injured for the purpose of allowing such hunting.
A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of a hunting offence.
The Act also specifically bans hare coursing events, defined as “ a competition in which dogs are, by the use of live hares, assessed as to skill in hunting hares. ”
An offence is also committed if a person knowingly facilitates a hare coursing event, or permits land which belongs to him to be used for the purposes of a hare coursing event.
All the offences under the Hunting Act are punishable by a fine of up to £5,000. Dogs, vehicles and equipment used in a hunting offence may be confiscated and, if appropriate, destroyed. Anyone refusing to pay a fine or comply with a confiscation order can ultimately be sent to prison.