The Hunting Act 2004

On 18th November 2004 The Hunting Act 2004 was passed – an Act which controls the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and prohibits hare coursing in England and Wales. The Hunting Act 2004, which came into force three months later on the 18th February 2005, is not an absolute prohibition on the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and permits some types of hunting if an exemption applies. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 pre-dated legislation on hunting in the rest of Britain by two years.

Many people on all sides of the argument regarding hunting regard the act as being badly written and open to interpretation.

What is illegal:

– hunting a wild mammal with dogs… apart from in certain circumstances

– knowingly allowing land belonging to you to be used for illegal hunting

– knowingly allowing a dog belonging to you to be used for illegal hunting

– hare coursing – participating in it, attending a hare coursing event (a competition in which skill is assessed in terms of coursing), facilitating one or allowing your land to be used for it, entering a dog into it or allowing a dog to be entered or handling / controlling a dog involved
(the law is pretty clear in this case)

– using more than 2 dogs to flush / stalk an animal (see “what is legal” below)

– the use of a dog below ground (unless it comes under what we know as ‘gamekeepers’ exemption’ – see separate page)

What is legal:
(all of these scenarios must take place on land belonging to the hunter or on which they have permission to hunt in the specific way and all dogs used must be under sufficient control)

– falconry – dogs can be used to ‘flush out’ a wild mammal from cover to enable a bird of prey to hunt it

– hunting rats or rabbits

– hunting a hare which has been shot

– stalking a wild mammal or ‘flushing out’ (scaring out of an area) a mammal IF certain conditions are satisfied:

(a) that it is done to prevent damage being done by the wild mammal to livestock, crops, game or wild birds, growing timber, fisheries or other property or to protect the biodiversity of an area OR that it is done to obtain meat for human consumption OR as participation in a field trial*
(b) that the stalking / flushing out does not involve the use of more than 2 dogs
(c) that as soon as possible after being found / flushed the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person

*a competition (not hare coursing) in which dogs flush out an animal or retrieve shot animals to be assessed for their usefulness for shooting events

– hunting a wild mammal which has escaped or been released from captivity / confinement as long as it was not released or allowed to escape for the purpose of hunting and is shot dead by a competent person as soon as possible with the authority of a police officer

– if a hunter reasonably believes a wild mammal is or may be injured they can hunt it to relieve its suffering, not using more than 2 dogs or a dog underground, as long as the animal was not harmed in order for hunting to be allowed and with the permission of a police officer

– hunting a wild mammal for the purpose of (or in connection with) the observation of the animal as long as it is not injured by the dogs, no more than 2 dogs are used and none underground

What is a massive grey area:

– it is a defence to show that you ‘reasonably believed’ that what you were doing is exempt hunting

– in one part of the act, ‘flushing’ is allowed in some circumstances but only by a maximum of 2 dogs… the paragraph regarding ‘falconry’ says that dogs can be used to ‘flush’ a wild mammal from cover to be hunted by a bird of prey but does not specify how many dogs can be used to do so. Does this allow an entire pack of hounds to be used?

– the ‘gamekeepers’ exemption’ (see separate page) allows the use of a dog underground in order to flush out a wild mammal to be shot, but does not say anything about the use of spades. Some believe that this means spades are not prohibited, but this section of the legislation is about what is allowed and, as they’re not mentioned, it means they can not be used if a dog is being used. Of course by not being clear, many are still getting away with digging down for foxes while using terriers… (even though this is against the law)

Police powers:

– if a police officer reasonably believes that a person has committed an offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog, they can stop and search a person they believe may have evidence of the offence on them. They can also search a vehicle, animal or ‘other thing’ they believe may have evidence of the offence on or in them

– if the police officer believes that the vehicle / animal / other thing may be used in evidence in criminal proceedings, they can seize and detain them

– for the purpose of the above, a police officer can enter vehicles, land or premises other than ‘dwellings’ without a warrant


– hunts can, in theory, be prosecuted as an entity (a ‘body corporate’)

– ‘wild mammal’ in this act means: a wild mammal which has been bred or tamed for any purpose, which is in captivity or has escaped from captivity or one which is living wild

– the act covers England and Wales only

– the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 no longer has any ‘exceptions for hunting’