Hunting red herrings

I don't know how skilful a trout- fisherman Geoffrey Wheatcroft is, but his essay, "Great hatred, little room" (3 April), contained an impressive number of red herrings. In presenting hunting with dogs as a political issue, he ignores the fact that opinion polls have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of the electorate is in favour of a ban. The 411 MPs who voted in favour of Michael Foster's 1997 bill were reflecting the wishes of their constituents. The bill was blocked by a handful of filibustering pro-hunt MPs with little regard for the process of democracy.

To correct some of the many inaccuracies in this essay, foxes do not "need to be culled"; their numbers are regulated by the year-round availability of food, and hunting is not a controlling factor. Although the killing of otters was outlawed in 1978, mink hunting is a serious threat to their survival. Brown hare numbers are now so low that the species is under threat, and to describe coursing as merely "alarming" for the hare (some of which are literally torn in two by the dogs) demonstrates, at the very least, a lack of imagination.

Many people find both fishing and shooting distasteful, however neither involve a long-drawn out chase, or the inequality of 20 riders and 40 hounds pursuing a single fox - to say nothing of the activities of the terrier-men who are called in when a fox has gone to ground.

"The object of fox-hunting is less to kill foxes than to see hounds working and to follow a chase," states Wheatcroft. If this is so, can he explain why drag-hunting should not prove every bit as enjoyable as chasing a wild animal to the point of exhaustion before letting it be ripped to pieces by dogs?

Rachel Chapman
Cranbrook, Kent

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The long war against democracy