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Welfare consequences of a ban on deer hunting

The Editor
The Times
1 Pennington Street
E98 1TA
Published December 26, 2002

Welfare consequences of a ban on deer hunting

Dear Sir
As veterinary surgeons who contributed to a recent Symposium in London on the Welfare of British Wild Mammals, we may have disagreed on the significance and degree of stress suffered by hunted deer but we are in complete agreement that if deer hunting were to be banned the current satisfactory status of the West Country herds of red deer would be severely compromised. Well over half of English red deer reside in that small area of the nation where deer hunting continues to be practised. The hunts manage and maintain a healthy population and control numbers through hunting and stalking at levels far greater than would be tolerated in the absence of hunting.

Management of the red deer on Exmoor and the Quantock Hills has been compromised since 1997 by local bans on hunting imposed by the National Trust and the Forestry Commission. As a result the hunts cannot properly carry out their monitoring and management of the deer. And although overall numbers of deer appear to be holding up there is now concern that the proportion of males to females is becoming distorted due to unrestricted trophy shooting. Furthermore, in areas where hunting is no longer permitted, farmers are fencing off land to prevent excessive damage to crops and trees resulting in a significant loss of available grazing for the deer. Finally, and perhaps the most important consequence of a hunting ban, would be loss of the vital search and dispatch function, uniquely carried out by the hunts, whereby wounded, aged and diseased animals, which have no natural predators, are discovered and humanely dispatched.

We are also amazed that the Minister for Rural Affairs, Alun Michael, in his recent statement to the House (3 December 2002) can regard the welfare evidence against deer hunting as "incontrovertible". The evidence alone, presented on Day 2 of his Hearings in September this year by Professor R.C.Harris and one of us (DRW), cannot possibly justify such an interpretation.

Imposition of any radical change such as a ban on hunting, purely for political reasons, without regard to the impact it may have on the ecology and welfare of a species is unacceptable. The Government should be initiating wild life management schemes not dismantling one of the few and arguably the best, of existing schemes.

Yours faithfully
Dr.Lewis H.Thomas MA, VetMB, PhD, FRCPath, MRCVS
Dr.Archie McDiarmid DSc, PhD, FRCPath, FRSE, MRCVS
Mr.Peter Green BVSc, CertEO, MRCVS
Dr.Douglas R.Wise MA, VetMB, PhD, MRCVS
Mr.David J.Renney BVetMed, MRCVS
Professor W.R.Allen CBE, BVSc, PhD, ScD, DESM, MRCVS



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