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The League Against Cruel Sports is an animal welfare charity which campaigns to stop blood sports such as fox, hare and deer hunting, game bird shooting and animal fighting.

The charity is recognised as being instrumental in bringing about the Hunting Act 2004, which banned hunting with hounds in England and Wales and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, which did the same in Scotland. Today, the League calls for those pieces of legislation to be strengthened.

Famous supporters include comedian Ricky Gervais, Jo Brand, John Bishop, Sir David Jason, and Gemma Atkinson. The current president is naturalist Bill Oddie OBE.[1]


The League Against Cruel Sports was founded in 1924 by Ernest Bell and Henry Amos.[2]

The League’s motto is: Investigate, Educate, Protect.

  • Investigate: The League has a trained team of investigators, including ex-police officers, who use a range of techniques including filming hunts from a distance to record any illegal activity. Footage taken of hunts proved central in stopping attempted repeal of the Hunting Act in England and Wales and resulted in the Scottish Government announcing hunting laws in the country would be strengthened.
  • Educate: The League educates the public and policy makers through media, campaigns and lobbying in Parliament and the devolved nations in the UK.
  • Protect: The League manages sanctuaries and other land, where the organisation owns the sporting rights, covering around 3,000 acres in the South West of England where nobody is permitted to hunt or shoot wildlife. The charity also seeks to protect animals through campaigning to change the law and corporate policy to ensure animals are no longer used in blood sports.

Key campaigns

Foxes, hare and deer continue to be hunted by packs of hounds in the United Kingdom, despite the passing of the Hunting Act 2004. 268 incidents of suspected illegal fox hunting were reported to the League’s Animal Crimewatch [19] service during the 2018 – 2019 hunting season. This included foxes being chased to exhaustion across the countryside before, on some occasions, being torn apart in the jaws of the hunt’s hounds. Badger setts have also been blocked up near hunt meets to stop foxes taking refuge during the chase and horses and hounds trespassed in pursuit of wild animals. Hunting packs claim to be practicing ‘trail hunting’, which is said to involve hunting hounds chasing an animal-based scent, but the League argues this is just a cover for illegal hunting. The League is campaigning to maintain and strengthen the Hunting Act, by adding a provision for custodial sentences, a ban on use of dogs underground and a provision directed against recklessness. The organisation is also pressing landowners to ban hunts from their land. 532 people have been prosecuted for illegal hunting since the legislation was passed – including in private prosecutions brought by the League.

Over 35 million pheasants and partridges are released into the British countryside each year to be shot for sport – around half of these birds are imported as live chicks or ready-to-hatch eggs from factory-farms in France, Spain and Portugal. In addition, over 750,000 red grouse are shot for sport on moorland in the North of England and Scotland. Wild animals which compete with game birds – including fox, hare, corvids, stoats and weasels – are eradicated on shooting estates across the UK by trap, snare and gun. There is a strong link between bird of prey persecution and land managed for game bird shooting, with hen harrier, buzzards, red kite, peregrine falcon and goshawks illegally disturbed or killed by gamekeepers. Grouse moors are also managed in a way which causes damage to peatland habitat – including by gamekeepers burning heather to increase red grouse populations.The League is lobbying public and corporate landowners to ban game bird shooting on their land. Transport industry is also being pressed to not ship game birds or ready-to-hatch eggs from Continental Europe to the United Kingdom.

Despite being made illegal in Britain in 1835, dog and other animal fighting has been taking place underground in the UK. A survey by the Royal Veterinary College [20] in 2018 showed that 15 per cent of veterinary professionals suspected they had treated at least one dog that was engaged in illegal dog fighting. Dogs used in fighting suffer injuries including puncture wounds, typically to the head, neck, chest and forelimbs; marks around the neck from weighted collars used in fight training; crudely treated wounds; and often death.The League operates an Animal Crimewatch service where people – including veterinary professionals – can anonymously report their suspicions of dog and other animal fighting. The League recently provided intelligence for a two-year long investigation by the BBC into a global network which bred, transported and organised dog fights around the world – including in the UK.


  • 1924 – The League was founded by Henry Amos to oppose rabbit coursing – he was successful in achieving a ban. This resulted in the organisation expanding its remit to include other blood sports – such as fox, hare and deer hunting.
  • 1975 – A bill seeking to ban hare coursing, supported by the League, was passed through the House of Commons, but did not receive approval in the House of Lords.
  • 1978 – The League secured legal protection for otters, including a ban on hunting them. The aquatic mammal was up until that point hunted with packs of hounds, one of the reasons for their numbers declining.
  • 1992 – The League helped secure the Protection of Badgers Act, which expanded the protection of the mammals themselves to their setts. The homes of badgers are illegally targeted for several reasons, including being blocked by fox hunts to stop animals being pursued by hounds fleeing underground.
  • 2002 – Fox, hare and deer hunting and hare coursing was banned in Scotland under the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, which was introduced by MSPs following campaigning by the League and other animal protection organisations.
  • 2004 – Fox, hare and deer hunting and hare coursing was banned in England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004. The legislation was introduced by MPs following campaigning by the League and other animal protection organisations.
  • 2005 – The Hunting Act 2004 came into force – making fox, hare and deer hunting and coursing illegal across England and Wales.
  • 2005 – The Waterloo Cup hare coursing competition held its final meeting at Great Altcar in Lancashire, closing after 169 years following passage of the Hunting Act.
  • 2006 – A huntsman with the Exmoor Foxhounds was found ‘guilty’ of illegally hunting foxes with dogs in a private prosecution brought by the League.
  • 2007 – Two members of the Quantock Staghounds were successfully prosecuted by the League following chasing a deer across Exmoor.
  • 2008 – Two members of the Minehead Harriers pleaded guilty to chasing a fox with a pack of hounds following a prosecution headed by the League.
  • 2009 – The League announced a new campaign against dog fighting, amidst news reports that there is an increase in dog fighting in London.
  • 2010 – The League re-brands and launches a new image and new logo "to better equip [it] for the campaigning challenges ahead."
  • 2014 - The League celebrates 90 years of campaigning against cruelty to animals in the name of sport. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that there have been 341 convictions under the Hunting Act 2004.[3]
  • 2015 – Prime Minister David Cameron offered a free-vote on repealing the Hunting Act, backing down shortly afterwards following pressure form the League, MPs and other animal protection organisations.
  • 2015 – Cross-channel ferry companies stop shipping pheasants and partridges from French factory-farms to British shooting estates, following an investigation and lobbying by the League.
  • 2018 – Conservative Party drops its manifesto commitment to offer a free-vote on repealing the Hunting Act following pressure from the League, meaning no Westminster party any longer supports repealing the hunting ban.
  • 2018 – Scottish Government announces intention to strengthen the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, which bans hunting with hounds in Scotland, following pressure from the League and other animal protection organisations.
  • 2018 – Welsh Government bans pheasant and partridge shooting on public land following campaigning and pressure from the League and Animal Aid.
  • 2018 – The Labour Party backs calls made by the League to strengthen the Hunting Act – including prison sentences for those who chase and kill wild mammals.
  • 2019 – University of Wales suspends pheasant shooting on its countryside campus at Gregynog Hall following campaigning by the League.


The League has owned land and sporting rights since 1959, purchased to provide a safe haven for hunted animals. Concentrated around Exmoor and the Quantock Hills in South West England, the 3,000 acres of sanctuary land include Baronsdown, near Dulverton and Alfoxton in Holford, where stags have escaped when chased by hunts. Wildlfie sanctuaries managed by the charity are home to a diverse range of species, a number of which are threatened – such as red deer, badgers, foxes, buzzards, peregrine falcon, pied flycatcher and wood warbler. The River Exe, which passed through the Baronsdown sanctuary, also hosts otters. Visitors to the League’s sanctuaries are encouraged to engage in wildlife conservation and learn about the animals which make the land their homes.

Recent activities

The League supported the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, passed in 2002 by the Scottish Parliament, and the Hunting Act 2004. Both laws make it illegal to chase a mammal with more than two dogs, but allow the use of two dogs (England) or a pack of dogs (Scotland) to flush an animal out of its lair to be shot.[4] Both laws allow the use of one terrier at a time below ground to flush a fox to be shot, if the owner of the terrier has written permission from the land owner or occupier to reduce fox populations in order to prevent or reducing serious damage to game birds or wild birds being kept on the land. The Hunting Act requires that the terrier is fitted with an electronic locator collar.[5]

The league is currently campaigning against commercial breeding of non-native game birds for shooting, and against hunts that it believes are continuing to hunt wild mammals contrary to the 2004 ban.

It also campaigns to extend hunting legislation from Scotland, England and Wales to Northern Ireland. Between 2006 and 2008, it successfully undertook private prosecutions against four hunt officials under the Hunting Act, because the police would not take action, and argued that this showed that the Hunting Act was clear in its meaning.[6][7][8] The first prosecution led to a conviction, but this was overturned on appeal,[9] and the second conviction was upheld in the Crown Court.[10]


In the late 1980s, the league's executive director, Richard Course, was fired from the league after he expressed views divergent from the league's mission. He had begun to spend some time with the mounted fox hunts as an outgrowth of his work. After a period of time talking with professional wildlife managers and hunt supporters, he concluded that: "I find it repugnant that some people will kill another living creature for recreational purposes" but said that the dogs easily outpace the fox within a minute or two and kill it within a second or two and that how the fox is located is "totally irrelevant" to animal welfare considerations. Richard Course has since denied that he supported hunting as a humane method of culling foxes. James Barrington, an ex-hunt saboteur, then assumed Course's position within the league. Barrington later resigned, stating that he concluded that an absolute ban on hunting was not in the best interests of animal welfare; he later joined the Countryside Alliance as an animal welfare consultant.[11] Barrington admits that he did not fully understand hunting and therefore could not fully condemn it.

Political links

The League as a charity is politically neutral. Complaints from opponents attacking the league's neutrality have all been dismissed by the Charity Commission. Several League staff have previously had political links. Former Chief Executive Joe Duckworth is a former trade union leader. Former CEO Douglas Batchelor was at one time a Liberal. Labour member and ex hunt saboteur Chris Williamson was a member of the board of trustees League Against Cruel Sports (2013) Board of Trustees [21] , whilst several other board members are Labour Party members. Lorraine Platt, organizer of 'Conservatives Against Fox Hunting', is a member of the Conservative Party. Vice-Presidents include Labour politicians Robert Evans and Kerry McCarthy. Former President Professor John Cooper QC, once stood as a Labour party candidate.

See also

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