Despite the continuing insistence of those who have historically sought to justify killing them for sport or, in the case of old fashioned ‘pest controllers’, for profit, foxes are not and have never been legally classified as ‘vermin’.
The British Trust for Ornithology, which constantly monitors the status of key UK mammal species as well as our birds, announced this year that its latest count has found the fox population has fallen by a staggering 41% between 1995 and 2017.
So, as is the situation with so many native British species, the Red Fox is in serious decline and that suggests we should be doing whatever we can to avoid reducing the population even further and, indeed, to increase its legal protection.
This is just one of many reasons we support humane deterrence rather than the cruelty of lethal ‘pest control’ – a term that actually means nothing, as fox numbers have never, by any means, been ‘controlled’ by man.
So what laws currently protect the fox and what are the penalties for breaking those laws?
Penalties vary from fines, in some cases up to £50,000, to imprisonment for multiple or serious infringements.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 primarily covers domestic animals which were originally protected under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. A problem with the original Act was that an animal had to be shown to have ‘suffered unnecessarily’ for a case to go to court.
In many cases animals were being kept in conditions which would eventually result in ‘unnecessary suffering’ but had not reached the level of cruelty required for a prosecution. The 2006 Act changed this situation by adding a clause that required the owners of animals to ensure the ‘needs’ of their animals, such as correct feeding, relevant company, a proper environment and protection of the animals from injury and disease. This enabled RSPCA Inspectors to insist on proper standards for animals before the conditions resulted in ‘unnecessary suffering’.
The 2006 Act extended these protections to include wild animals and covers situations whereby, for instance, a ‘pest controller’ uses a cage trap to capture foxes and fails to protect the animal, which is now technically in his custody, from severe weather, the lack of available water failure to check the trap every day – thus exposing the fox to ‘unnecessary suffering.’
The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, was the first Act designed to protect any and all wild mammals. Section 1 of the Act states that if ‘any person mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drags or asphyxiates any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering, he shall be guilty of an offence’.
The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 prohibited the use of most types of snare which, in a civilised society, was long overdue. Even with the loopholes that allow the continued use of certain types of snare these indiscriminate devices are as likely to catch non-target species – most commonly domestic cats and dogs – for which the culprit may be prosecuted both by the police and pet owners. Failure to monitor these devices, resulting in increased suffering, is a criminal offence.
Pesticides Act 1998 – although superseded and legislation now included under a variety of acts, pesticides and poisons must, by law, be used strictly in accordance with the instructions on the product. No poison may legally be used on foxes and anyone found to be in contravention – deliberately or by neglect – will certainly be prosecuted.
The reason creosote is now only available to professional fencing and woodwork companies is because people used it to deter animals from their gardens with lethal results to both domestic and wild animals. Other inappropriate chemicals commonly – and ineffectively – utilised in the past to deter animals include products such as Jeyes Fluid, household disinfectants and bleach. Use of these products for anything other than their licensed purposes – as stated on the packaging – is now a criminal offence and failure to comply with the government’s Health and Safety Executive’s directions on product use is a serious issue and liable to prosecution.
Hunting Act 2004 – under this act, deliberately of negligently setting dogs on wildlife may be subject to an unlimited fine and, in multiple cases, imprisonment.
You can also report wildlife crime anonymously to Crimestoppers, by calling calling 0800 555 111.
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Chris Packham, Patron