COUNTY councillors representing the Forest supported a motion to ban hunting activity on all council-owned land last week.
A motion to oppose the use of council land for trail hunting, exempt hunting, hound exercise and hound meets has been referred to Gloucestershire County Council's Corporate and Overview Scrutiny Committee for further investigation, with a debate on the issue having been cut short at a full council meeting on Wednesday, September 13.
At the meeting, councillors were “alarmed” to learn that Gloucestershire has been identified as the worst county in England and Wales for suspected illegal fox hunting.
It comes amid reports that illegal hunting with dogs by organised hunts is common in the county, while there are few prosecutions.
And as a result, Councillors Wendy Thomas (L, Dursley) and Steve Robinson (L, Nailsworth) brought forward a motion for the council to reiterate its commitment from 1993 to prohibit access to any council land or property over which it has legal control by persons and/or organisations engaged in using hounds for the purpose of hunting animals.
Hunting of foxes, deer and hares with dogs has been made illegal under the terms of the Hunting Act 2004, except where an exemption applies.
But they said most registered hunts claim to be ‘trail’ hunting, which has proven to be a loophole in the Hunting Act 2002, growing after the ban, which has allowed hunts to claim that any chase of a wild animal is an accident rather than intentional.
Cllr Thomas told the council meeting on September 13 that support for prohibition of hunting remains high across the UK and a clear majority support strengthening the act. “Blatantly illegal hunting still happens,” she said.
“From November 2022 to April of this year there were 361 incidents of hunts being involved in suspected illegal hunting. 315 of these involved hunts being seen chasing a fox.
“If you add in the figures for the particularly barbaric practice of cub hunting there were 526 cases of suspected illegal hunting from August to October last year with 400 foxes being chased by hunts.”
The councillors’ proposals included introducing a clause into any new farm tenancy that trail hunting, exempt hunting, hound exercise and hunt meets will not take place on land rented from Gloucestershire County Council.
They also wanted to seek a voluntary agreement with existing tenants that trail hunting, exempt hunting, hound exercise and hunt meets will not take place on land rented from Gloucestershire County Council. And to support calls for the Hunting Act 2004 to be strengthened.
Liberal Democrat group leader Ben Evans (LD, Churchdown) said he supported the motion and is grateful that fox hunting is banned. “Anything we can do to beef up the law that is already there as local councillors we should certainly do that,” he said.
Green leader Cate Cody (G, Tewkesbury) said her group cares for the planet and its people and animals. She said: “Of course we would like to see hunting with dogs and indeed factory farming outlawed.”
However she acknowledged that there were different views in the chamber and called on councillors to leave aside preconceptions and not rage at each other. “Should we not be protectors of our planet and not destroyers of life within it?”
She called on councillors to imagine and consider a different perspective.
However, the debate was cut short after Conservative council leader Mark Hawthorne (C, Quedgeley) moved that the motion should be considered by the council’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee.
“To my mind and to my reading of this motion, the crux of this motion isn’t actually about hunting.
“The crux of this motion is whether or not we as a chamber, a group of councillors, have the right to impose our will on our tenants.
“That is effectively what this vote is about. When we talk about council land, apart from the grass verges and the odd roundabout, this is about the tenants on our farms.”
The council voted for the issue to be considered by the corporate overview and scrutiny committee by 25 to 23.
Figures issued by animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports regularly shows Gloucestershire as a particular hotspot for the worst hunting crimes, and 17 hunts are still active within the county.
The League is urging councillors to look at the data and “ban the so-called sport” from its land outright.
Local councillors (pictured) including Chris McFarling (Green, Sedbury) and Graham Morgan (Labour, Cinderford) joined members of the League on the steps of Shire Hall to show their support for the charity’s cause.
Emily Lawrence, regional campaign manager for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Despite the hunting ban in England and Wales, Gloucestershire remains a fox hunting hotspot and fox hunts have been killing with impunity.
“While we applaud councillors for taking steps towards ending hunting on council land, only a comprehensive outright ban will prevent public land being used for illegal hunting and the anti-social behaviour associated with hunts.”