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March 25, 2013

British Animal Welfare Group To Use Drones To Spot Illegal Foxhunting

The League Against Cruel Sports, a British organization devoted to preventing cruelty against animals in the name of sport, intends to use unmanned aerial systems to catch groups using hounds to hunt live foxes as well as those who engage in hare coursing or badger baiting.

Since 2005, it has been illegal to hunt foxes in England and Wales. Scotland outlawed foxhunting in 2002. Instead, hunts must lay a drag of artificial scent for hounds to follow. However, hounds may still pick up on a live fox’s scent.

In legal cases against foxhunters, the prosecution must prove that the huntsman and staff intended to hunt the fox. Because intention is difficult to prove, the LACS is exploring advanced technology to provide additional evidence.

Video has been used in the prosecution of illegal foxhunters in the past. In December 2012, Richard Sumner, Julian Barnfield and Heythrop Hunt Ltd. pleaded guilty to charges of illegal foxhunting after the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed video footage from the group’s hunting activities.

“We would only use this equipment if we believed illegal activity was taking place; we wouldn’t just go out and monitor anybody,” an LACS representative told BBC.

A representative from the Police Federation told BBC that the value of the video in court would depend on the quality of the footage and would be treated the same as other surveillance videos.

The LACS said the air space above private property is available for public use, but that doesn’t dispel privacy concerns. The LACS plans to partner with ShadowView, a non-profit company that uses remote-controlled aircraft for surveillance. ShadowView maintains, in relation to their partnership with LACS, that they act within the confines of U.K. law under the Civil Aviation Authority.

“If you’re not acting illegally, you have nothing to worry about,” said ShadowView founder Steve Roest.

Tim Bonner of the pro-hunting group Countryside Alliance, said the LACS was becoming “increasingly desperate” in their practices.

"There are some really quite profound arguments going on about whether a non-governmental organization should be able to carry out these sort of activities without proper scrutiny," he said.

“If there is any serious attempt to deploy these aircraft, rather than just using them for a PR stunt, there are potential dangers,” wrote Countryside Alliance Executive Chairman Barney White-Spunner. “The Association of Chief Police Officers has advised police forces not to use helicopters to monitor hunts because of the risk to people on horses and the effect on livestock, and we will never forget the horrific incident when Trevor Morse was killed by a hunt saboteur in a gyrocopter. In the aftermath of Trevor’s death the League Against Cruel Sports said it did not support the use of gyrocopters or any other form of airborne monitoring. A pledge it seems to have forgotten.”