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The Daily Mail reports plans to repeal the fox-hunting ban.

At present it is legal to hunt with two hounds to flush a fox to a gun. If the proposed change went ahead, the exemption would cover using as many hounds as were necessary for wildlife management. This would help farmers, especially in upland areas, who have struggled to protect livestock from foxes since the ban.

This implies that more than two dogs are needed to flush foxes (as the hounds killing the fox will still be banned).

Is there any evidence to support that allowing more than two hounds will help farmers? For example, evidence showing in a dramatic rise in fox numbers since the ban was enforced or a comparison of ways that foxes can be controlled.

  • Would like to use hunting or pest-control as tags. 'pesticide' is a synonym of pest control apparently. – Jeremy French Jul 9 '15 at 14:59
  • I see no claim that it's an efficient way – Sklivvz Jul 9 '15 at 15:04
  • I have tried to tone it down a bit and narrow what is actually being claimed. – Jeremy French Jul 9 '15 at 15:22
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    @Sklivvz, to suggest it will alleviate the problem is pretty close to claiming effiency. However I see no mention of horses, just an amendment to allow "using as many hounds as were necessary for wildlife management", so somebody would have to look up what the proposal actually entails. – Eike Pierstorff Jul 9 '15 at 15:22
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    @JeremyFrench much better – Sklivvz Jul 9 '15 at 17:22
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Short version

I cannot find any published research that specifically considers using 2 dogs vs. more than 2 dogs to hunt foxes. However, there is a substantial literature on the effect of fox hunting on fox populations in general. All the studies I found indicate that fox hunting with hounds generally has little to no effect on fox populations.

Long Version

The reasons for the ineffectiveness of hunting with dogs are well summarized by this study, which models the breeding and dispersion of fox populations, when subjected to different population control mechanisms. Among the study's (theoretical) conclusions is "We conclude that effective control of populations at landscape scales (e.g., 1,600 km2 ) is not feasible or practical unless immigration from outside populations is low or can be controlled. These results can be used to inform policy on the management of United Kingdom (UK) fox populations and contribute to the ongoing debate on hunting with hounds as practiced in the UK". Reading the rest of the study, we find that hunting with hounds is ineffective because:

  • Hunting generally takes place after the fox breeding season, when foxes are most numerous (and, presumably, most annoying to farmers and the like).

  • Foxes breed extremely efficiently. A large fraction (about 40%; presumably mostly juveniles) must leave their home environment soon after the breeding season because of a lack of carrying capacity (food for all the foxes). Most of these fail to establish themselves elsewhere, and die of natural causes.

  • Hunting with dogs typically only kills foxes that would have died anyway. The more foxes that are killed, the easier it is for the remainder to find food.

  • Winter hunting (which does not use dogs), is apparently somewhat more reliable, since it kills foxes before they can breed.

Although the findings of the first study are based on a theoretical model, they appear to be well supported by the available empirical evidence. This 2002 paper (apparently originally published in Nature) claims that during the fox hunting ban produced by an outbreak of Foot-In-Mouth disease, fox populations did not increase overall. The study's authors state "Our results argue against suggestions that fox populations would increase markedly in the event of a permanent ban on hunting."

Another paper, published in Science, interviewed a random sample of several hundred farmers, gamekeepers, foresters, and related professions, from across Britain. A large majority of this group (~2/3) believed that a ban on hunting with hounds would have no impact on their ability to control the fox population with lethal methods.

  • Unless the 1/3 of the farmers that believed it would affect it were 'upland farmers' this is a great answer. – Jeremy French Jul 10 '15 at 15:58
  • @JeremyFrench That's a great point. Unfortunately the study doesn't provide much of a breakdown. The sample seems to be geographically uniform, but they don't show whether responses are correlated with location. I didn't find anything in the literature that specifically addressed the impressions of that group however. – John Doucette Jul 10 '15 at 17:00

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