Fox hunting: facts, history and the law

With the possibility of fox hunting returning to the British countryside, we look at 15 facts you may not have known about this controversial rural pursuit.



It’s 12 years since the Hunting Act came into force, which banned hunting of foxes and other mammals with dogs. Now, the Prime Minister has pledged to allow MPs a free vote on whether to repeal the Hunting Act.

Red fox cub running (Vulpes vulpes), Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England/Credit: Getty

Here are 15 lesser known facts about fox hunting:

1. The use of scenthounds to track prey dates back 2000-3000BC and originated in Assyria and ancient Egypt.

2. The first use of packs specifically bred to hunt foxes was in the late 1600s in England. It developed into its more recognisable modern form during the late 18th century.

3. The foxhunting season traditionally runs from 1 November to March.

4. In 2004, MPs voted by a majority of 356 to 166 to ban the hunting of mammals with dogs (the Hunting Act) in England and Wales. The Act came into effect in 2005. Foxhunting was banned in Scotland in 2002. Shooting foxes as pests remains lawful.

5. Countries that permit the hunting of foxes using packs of dogs include the US, Australia, Ireland and Canada.

6. Traditionally, you could identify members of a hunting party by the number of buttons on their coat – 5 buttons for a huntsman, 4 buttons for a master and 3 buttons for a hunt member. 

7. Since the Hunting Act in England and Wales, only ‘Masters’ and ‘Hunt Servants’ tend to wear red coats or the hunt livery while out hunting. ‘Gentleman subscribers’ may wear black coats.

8. Drag hunting has replaced foxhunting in some areas. It involves hunting down a person with a scented rag who has left a trail for the hounds to follow.

The riders and hounds of the Cheshire Forest Hunt set off on a drag hunt through the Cheshire countryside/Credit: Getty

9. The Burns Inquiry, set up in 1999 to assess the impact of foxhunting and the consequences of a ban, identified that between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time jobs depend on hunting in the UK.

10. The Mammal Society published a study in 2004 that estimated the total rural fox population to be 225,000 adult foxes before the breeding season.

11. It is estimated that 400,000 foxes die each year in Britain – on roads, shot or through natural causes (Burns Report).

12. Before the Hunting Act, registered hunting packs were estimated to kill between 21,000 and 25,000 foxes a year (Burns Report).

13. The Master of Foxhounds Association lists c180 active hunts.

14. The pursuit of animals across the countryside by hunters on horseback was instrumental in the development of sports such as steeplechasing and point-to-point racing.

15. Research by David McDonald at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit suggests that the average duration of a hunt – from when a fox is spotted to when it is killed by the hunters – is 17 minutes.


Main image: Getty