BBC Spotlight Hard Hitting or Misleading

BBC Spotlight brought us the programme “Exposed: Hunting with Dogs” on Tuesday 4th October. From the outset the programme clearly did not hide it was driving its own agenda. Whilst making the programme they did not consult Countryside Alliance Ireland nor any other sister organisation, therefore producing an extremely one sided story. 


It was only when CAI were alerted to the programme and our Head of Press Mo Metcalf-Fisher, challenged Conor Spackman and the producers on the show’s balance, conduct and impartiality, they agreed to a statement being provided, which they then clearly brushed over to fit their agenda.


In the statement Gary McCartney, Director of Countryside Alliance Ireland said: “ Properly conducted hunting with hounds is a legitimate and humane form of wildlife management, vital for protecting both livestock, other wildlife and human health. Deliberate cruelty is completely unacceptable and Countryside Alliance Ireland is entirely supportive of legislation that protects the welfare of wild and domestic animals whilst enabling proper wildlife management.”


“Countryside Alliance Ireland worked alongside rural partners to successfully oppose John Blair’s recent attempt to ban hunting. Mr Blair’s Bill was an unjustified attack on Northern Ireland’s rural community, steeped in prejudice. It risked criminalising ordinary dog owners and removing the ability of farmers to carry out the essential control of pest species. Thankfully, MLAs voted against it, understanding the devastating impact it would have on Northern Ireland’s countryside.”


The programme was clearly acting as a hook to call for another Bill or at least some sort of law change.  It’s focus was on ‘baiting’ and that people were using control of foxes as a cover for badger baiting, an already illegal activity, thus questioning the misleading title of the programme. 


As suspected, the programme centred around a small group of individuals using terriers who, no matter what legalisation is in place, have no regard for the law, or relevant codes of practice for wildlife management. The programme referred a number of times to the failed Hunting Bill and was a clear attempt to stir up public emotions around hunting, mislead the public and ignite pressure on MLAs to review the current legislation.


The programme did show an incident were after a fox was dug from its den, the animal’s dispatch was clearly and needlessly prolonged. Such an act is outside the normal course of hunting and falls far short of the of the high standards expected by the Irish Working Terrier Federation, that states “Quarry should at all times be treated with respect and dispatched in a humane and proper manner”.


Later in the programme the Head of the USPCA claimed there were between 3500 and 14,000 incidents per year. That’s a 10,500 margin of error, with the 14,000 simply nothing more than a headline grabbing figure, used by the BBC in their news articles as click bait. This huge margin along with being unable to define clear hotspots stating the whole of Northern Ireland before settling on Co.Antrim and Down only demonstrates the USPCAs clear lack of facts as to the scale of the problem.


The programme said the people involved in such activities were exploiting a loophole in the Law and the Blair’s Bill was a missed opportunity. What Spotlight didn’t say was the loophole only happened when our Assembly passed the Northern Ireland Animal Welfare Act 2011, when a clause was removed after being re worded from the previous Bill. Looking back through our records, in August 2010 CAI wrote to the then Committee requesting this clause was not removed and even now we would welcome its reintroduction.


The programme went on to make a false statement that loopholes, were people can claim they are out fox hunting but are really badger baiting is closed in the rest of the UK, “as there is a blanket ban on hunting with dogs”. This is simply untrue and portraying Blair’s Bill as the answer, but later on it then went on to show individuals across the UK involved in this illegal activity?.


The programme in its claims that last year’s Hunting Bill would have brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, again in truth, is not the case. Terrier work is not banned in any part of the UK but conducted through the National Working Terrier Federation, its Codes of Conduct and Accredited Membership Scheme. Furthermore, the proposed Bill went much further than anything else in the UK and could have criminalised every dog owner in Northern Ireland should their dog run after a wild mammal, whether intentionally or not.


There is a clear need for hunting with dogs such as terrier work which has previously been endorsed by animal welfare groups such as the USPCAs sister organisation the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Commenting on the absence of a closed season on shooting vixens, Scottish Rural Affairs Committee Official Report 21st Nov 2000):

“leaving those cubs to die would be the greatest cruelty” and “we will have to support terriers going underground”. 

 More details on terrier work can be found at or



After the programme Gary McCartney, Director of Countryside Alliance Ireland said: “Dogs are an important part of pest control which is vital for protecting both livestock, other wildlife and human health. Removing the ability of farmers, land managers and conservationists to use dogs in controlling pest species would have catastrophic and irreversible repercussions for Northern Ireland’s countryside. Hunting should be conducted to the highest standards in line with any relevant code of practice, anyone who falls short of this should face the full force of the law. Countryside Alliance Ireland are an active member of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime Northern Ireland and urge the public to report any suspected criminal activity against wildlife to the Police Service of Northern Ireland”.


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