The Hunting Act 2004, which came into force on 18 February 2005, prohibits all hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales, except where it is carried out in accordance with the conditions of one of the exemptions set out in the Act. It also bans all hare coursing.
This summary is not a definitive statement of the law, but has been prepared in order to assist people wishing to understand the basic provisions of the legislation.
The Act makes it an offence for a person to hunt a wild mammal with a dog unless the hunting is exempt. For the purposes of the Act, the word ‘hunting’ has its ordinary English meaning, which includes searching for wild mammals, chasing them, or pursuing them for the purpose of catching or killing them. The Act makes clear that a person is hunting a wild mammal with a dog if he engages alone or participates with others in the pursuit of a wild mammal and a dog is employed in that pursuit, whether or not under his direct control. As hunting requires the intention to search for, chase or pursue the quarry, it is not possible to hunt by accident.
The Act also makes it an offence for a person knowingly to permit land which belongs to him to be entered or used, or to permit a dog which belongs to him to be used, in the commission of an offence of unlawful hunting.
In addition, the Act also prohibits hare coursing. It makes it an offence for a person to participate in, attend or knowingly facilitate a hare coursing event or to permit land which belongs to him to be used for a hare coursing event. An offence may also be committed by any person who enters a dog for a hare coursing event, who permits the dog to be entered for the event, or who controls or handles the dog in respect of that event.
A person convicted in a magistrates’ court of an offence under the Act will be liable to a maximum fine of £5,000. The court also has power to make an order against a convicted person for the forfeiture of any relevant dog, vehicle or hunting article.
The Act sets out several classes of exempt hunting under which dogs may be used to hunt wild mammals, subject to strict conditions. Exempt hunting must always take place either on land which belongs to the hunter or which he has been given permission to use for that purpose by the occupier or, in the case of unoccupied land, by a person to whom it belongs. Permission may also be given by a constable in respect of the recapture or rescue of a wild mammal.
Rats, rabbits, retrieval of hares and falconry
Dogs may be used to hunt rats or rabbits, to retrieve a hare which has been shot, or to flush a wild mammal from cover to enable a bird of prey to hunt it.
Stalking and flushing out
Up to 2 dogs may be used to stalk or flush out a wild mammal if:
the stalking or flushing out is carried out for one of the following purposes:
preventing or reducing serious damage which the wild mammal would otherwise cause to livestock; to birds or other property; or to the biological diversity of an area;
participation in a field trial in which dogs are assessed for their likely usefulness in connection with shooting;
the stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of a dog below ground (unless the requirements of the ‘gamekeepers’ exemption’ are complied with); and
reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person.
The ‘gamekeepers’ exemption’
A single dog may be used below ground to stalk or flush out a wild mammal if:
the stalking or flushing out is undertaken for the purpose of preventing or reducing serious damage to game birds or wild birds which are being kept or preserved for shooting;
the person doing the stalking or flushing out carries written evidence of land ownership or the permission of the owner or occupier. This evidence must be shown to a police constable immediately on request;
the following conditions are complied with:
reasonable steps are taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being flushed out from below ground the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person;
the dog used is brought under sufficiently close control to ensure that it does not prevent or obstruct the shooting of the wild mammal;
reasonable steps are taken to prevent injury to the dog; and
the dog is used in compliance with any code of practice which is issued or approved by the Secretary of State for the purpose of this exemption.
Recapture of a wild mammal
Dogs may be used to recapture a wild mammal which has escaped or been released from captivity or confinement if:
reasonable steps are taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being found the wild mammal is recaptured or shot dead by a competent person;
the wild mammal was not released or permitted to escape for the purpose of being hunted.
Rescue of a wild mammal
Up to 2 dogs may be used to rescue a wild mammal if:
the hunter reasonably believes that the wild mammal is or may be injured;
the hunting is undertaken for the purpose of relieving the wild mammal’s suffering;
the hunting does not involve the use of a dog below ground;
reasonable steps are taken to ensure that as soon as possible after being found appropriate action is taken to relieve the wild mammal’s suffering;
the wild mammal was not harmed so that it could be hunted under this exemption.
Research and observation
Up to 2 dogs may be used to track a wild mammal if:
the hunting is undertaken for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of the wild mammal;
the hunting does not involve the use of a dog below ground; and
each dog is kept under sufficiently close control to ensure that it does not injure the wild mammal.