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20th December 2012

We Should All Take Heart

In the case of RSPCA v Barnfield, Sumner and Heythrop, District Judge Pattinson should not have questioned the amount of money these convictions cost.

The amount of work which will have been invested in this result will have exceeded all bounds. You cannot survive the process on fresh air alone.

This was a massive ask. Everyone involved deserves the most generous credit for an awesome job done, and there will be many who came together to make this happen. Thank heavens that they did. Wildlife protection via the Hunting Act is stronger for it.

You cannot put a price on justice. We should all take heart.

Posted by Joe Hashman

Photo Copyright © Colin Varndell

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27th November 2012

Selfless Actions In Defence Of Animals

Hounds Off extends total respect to the Hunt Monitors who were out with the Old Berkshire Hunt on 14 November and stepped in to rescue a fox.

In this act alone they did a most wonderful thing, but to capture the episode on film was just amazing. By showing the reality of hunting they have done wildlife protection a great service.

You should watch the footage here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkY7w8u6uEw

Notice how the gallant little fox tries to defend itself when initially mobbed by hounds. Keep watching. The second camera angle shows the fox rolled onto its back. If it wasn’t for the quick thinking Monitor then an unpleasant death by disembowelment was likely to be next.

The tally-ho brigade frequently gloss over their destruction of foxes. Instead of killing it’s ‘being dealt with’ or ‘accounted for’. Another euphemism is ‘rolled over’ and that, evidently, is closer to the truth than we might have realised.

This sort of thing is a minor miracle but not completely unheard of. There was Copper the fox, rescued by hunt sabs and police (!) in Sussex during the 1990’s.

And last year, just after 4pm on Boxing Day to be precise, a driver abandoned his vehicle at the side of the A30 in Devon to help a hunted fox just as it sank under the mass of biting dogs. He literally threw himself on the fox to protect it with his body like a shield. Sadly, the fox died later, despite the defender (and landowner, who ordered the huntsman to get his hounds off) trying to nurse the fatally wounded wild dog.

As it happens, an anonymous friend organised and paid for a vet to do an autopsy and provide us with a cause of death. It was, quote, “trauma and shock and likely pneumothorax [collapsed lung] following bite wounds.” There were puncture and bite wounds, protruding guts, damaged spleen, severe bruising and blood loss.

If you’re wondering, the Hunt involved claimed they were operating legally and escaped prosecution. If the latest alleged wildlife crime, candidly caught on camera, gets excused it’d provide a vivid example of why the Hunting Act should be amended to include the word “intent” and thus make it a whole lot stronger.

Posted by Joe Hashman

Photo Copyright © Colin Varndell

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17th November 2012

Don’t Be Fooled By Hunters Latest Scam

The latest pro hunting wheeze is to get primary schools to ‘adopt a hound’. Cynically timed to coincide with the Opening Meets of many UK fox hunts, it’s the latest attempt by the tally-ho brigade to normalize their preferred form of animal abuse.

Such a confidence trick is to be expected. The tally-ho brigade know that their cover for hunting wild animals with dogs can only survive if a new generation is continually blooded into the sport.

Engaging school age kids is an obvious tactic. Plus it looks good because, unless you’re a fox, hounds really are lovely.

I followed a Dorset hunt twice last season in my van, openly and without any intention of interfering. The verbal abuse and threatening behaviour which my passengers and I suffered was considerable and anti-social. Of coarse, the police were informed.

It was clear that the hunt in question was not prepared to tolerate being observed by us because they knew we were ‘anti’. Maybe they were shy because, in my opinion, they were hunting live foxes and thus breaking the law?

I wonder if children, unfamiliar with the horrors of foxhunting, will be shown the cruel and illegal practices which have been legislated against? Or will they, more likely, be introduced only to the pomp and ceremony, the pageantry and colour, the glossy façade, being gradually ‘broken in’ until it’s deemed okay to reveal the shocking truths of chasing live foxes with dog packs and baiting them with terriers? Perhaps, like many hunt followers, they’ll rarely if ever witness the end bit.

Although a little over school age now, later this winter I might ‘adopt’ hounds from my local hunt and follow them for a day, or two, again. The question is whether I’ll be made as welcome as those of an impressionable age who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the realities and ripe for absorbing pro-hunting propaganda?

Posted by Joe Hashman

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18th September 2012

Hounds Off Progress Report no. 1

Since September 2011, hundreds of acres of land are known to have been made out of bounds to bloodsports, affecting dozens of Hunts nationwide. In reality the figure could be much higher because we have no system for monitoring Warning Off emails and letters sent by individuals. Hounds Off encourages autonomous action. We deliberately make no demands regarding feedback or membership.

Following 26 complaints regarding Hunt trespass during the season 2011/12, Hounds Off offered practical advice and support in warning Hunts off land in twelve different counties, including:

  • 170 acres lost to North Ledbury Hunt after alpacas were attacked by hounds.
  • East Studdal, near Dover, forbidden to West Street Tickham Hunt following a hunt invasion and fox killing in the village.
  • At least seven Dorset properties banned to Portman Hunt in weekend of action, 22/23 October.
  • Securing hunt-free zone status for a Yorkshire property where the family cat was killed in December following trespass by Staintondale Hunt.
  • 15 Kentish acres forbidden to Ashford Valley Hunt including woodland inhabited by foxes.
  • Over 300 acres in Somerset and Dorset confirmed as Hunt-free, affecting at least two foxhunts there.
  • Confirming the hunt-free status a 227 acre woodland Nature Reserve in Dorset following hunt trespass in November.

Hounds Off is supported by individuals and organisations from across the campaigning and political spectrum.

Hounds Off encourages the creation of hunt-free sanctuaries to stop the illegal hunting of wild animals with dogs in Britain via engagement with our website, www.houndsoff.co.uk . By following the simple process explained there, involving Warning Off notices being sent to the hunters, Hounds Off is spearheading a campaign which invites everyone to join in regardless of who you are or where you live.

Please visit our website. Take action. Tell your family and friends to do the same. Support the Hunting Ban. Support Hounds Off. Be part of the people’s campaign against bloodsports.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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17th May 2012

The People’s Campaign Against Hunting

In respect of enforcing the Hunting Act, some recent good news; three members of the Crawley & Horsham Hunt were convicted of illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs at Haywards Heath Magistrates Court earlier this week. This brings the number of successful prosecutions since hunting was banned in 2005 to approaching two hundred and proves yet again that enforcement can work. Well done to everyone in giving justice a chance; from monitors with video cameras to the police and law enforcement agencies.

Official figures show that, seven years on, the Hunting Act (2005) is the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation to be introduced in recent times. It is curtailing the excesses of both registered Hunts and poacher-types across the countryside.

Nothing in life remains the same and this applies to the law as much as anything else. There is always an argument for updating the legal system as society grows and develops. The Hunting Act is no exception in this. Continued enforcement, coupled with future reinforcement, is the only sensible way forward.

In the meantime, Hounds Off is campaigning hard to make as much of the country Hunt-Free as possible by encouraging people like you to ban bloodsports where you live. Have a look at our website for details. Plump for the Hassle Free Option or Belt & Braces Approach, depending on your circumstance, and just follow the simple step-by-step instructions.

Remember that our power lies in our collective strength. Hounds Off is proud to reveal that over 500 English acres have been made Hunt-Free since our launch in September 2011. Much of this is in prime foxhunting country. We want the exclusion zone to increase and spread. Please take action and share our website with your family and friends.

Hounds Off really is the people’s campaign against hunting!

Posted by Joe Hashman

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5th May 2012

Foxes Live: TV Worth Watching

Television pictures from Foxes Live: Wild In The City last week were emotional. This wasn’t a fluffy, rose-tinted account of urban foxes, but a technology-enabled warts-and-all glimpse into the harsh realities of life (and death) of wildlife in our midst. It was gripping stuff.

The mangy vixen who had her cubs under a shed in suburbia moved me the most. Despite her shockingly bald appearance, this darling of the wild world was raising three young ‘uns with true mothers’ commitment and selfless dedication. Then, within the space of 24 hours, things went badly wrong. Her cubs degenerated and died. We were not the only viewers I bet with lumps in our throats as hidden cameras revealed how she tried to coax them back to health and even, touchingly, guided a flagging cub onto her own swollen, milky nipple.

Tragic yes, but brilliant also. A secret world revealed to the nation (well, anyone who was watching at the time). Turns out that our mangy vixen is an auntie. When her babies died she turned her attentions to helping raise another, healthy, litter to which she’s related. According to the experts this is quite normal in fox society. It’s just one of the ways that they’ve evolved to survive in a world where, despite the odds being stacked against them, foxes continue to thrive.

What unfolds remains unknown. I switch off nature programmes where kit and presenters become too high profile but anticipate that the foxes will remain centre stage. Good. We need an antidote to the cynical lies and propaganda which pass as science from the hunting brigade. As an aid to opening eyes, hearts and minds, Foxes Live: Wild In The City has got genuine potential. To catch the action tune in to Channel 4 this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 8pm or log in to the fully interactive website, http://foxes.channel4.com/foxes

Posted by Joe Hashman

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16th April 2012

This Is Not A Class Issue

Hare hunting with beagles is a bloodsport which is difficult to defend. Traditionally, ‘beagling’ involved using dogs to flush then chase and  kill hares.

Hares are creatures of the open field. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and, as we all know, an incredible turn of speed. Hares naturally avoid predators with a short sharp sprint. Beagling exploits the exact opposite of this. The small hounds work under human guidance as a pack. They’re quick but no match for a fit and fresh hare. Beagles rely instead on a very sensitive nose to track their quarry and an inherited ability to run relentlessly. The upshot is that hares are frequently subjected to multiple extended chases and eventually, when worn down enough for the dogs to catch up, swamped and bitten to death.

Since beagling was made illegal by the Hunting Act many packs now claim to be following an artificial scent. My observations of contemporary beagling lead me to believe that, sadly, hunting live hares remains widespread.

‘Sporting’ literature of old extolled the virtues of a 90-minute hunt, by which time this most athletic of athletic creatures would be defeated, rendered exhausted and beaten by the dogged skill and determination of the huntsman and his hounds. Language is carefully used these days so beagling rarely even gets a mention. Easier to put the focus on foxhunting, especially if you can confuse the opposition and demonise the fox.

I’ll leave aside recent foxy-phobia in the press for another time and concentrate on the propaganda of confusion, for this is a classic smokescreen used to divide and rule.

If you support the hunting ban you’re labelled as a “bunny hugger” or “anti” and anti’s, so their argument goes, are prejudiced against hunting because they regard the people who do it as “toffs”. Actually, what the average person in the street who I speak to hates about bloodsports is the sheer arrogance which the participants exhibit; arrogance in thinking that animal protection laws don’t apply to them; arrogance in behaving like the countryside is their own private playground to toy with exactly as they like; arrogance in thinking that it’s okay to inflict dangerous chaos and obstruction on the rest of us as we go about our daily business; the arrogance of deliberately causing suffering to animals just for the sake of entertainment.

It’s the pro-bloodsports brigade which loves to stir class issues into the mix because it gives them something to make a noise about which distracts from the shocking truth behind hunting’s glossy façade. Foxhunting, beagling et al are minority pastimes but an unfortunate truth is that animal abuse excites people from all walks of life and ends of the social spectrum.

For me, it is not who the individual is or where they come from that I object to. It’s bullying and cruelty which I think are unacceptable. These reasons, and these alone, are why I support the Hunting Act.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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19th March 2012

The Reality Of Repeal

Before the ban on hunting with hounds, abuse of wildlife in the name of sport was widespread and serious. Nowadays, although the abuse sadly still continues, I’ve detected a scaling down of the worst excesses when the hunting fraternity think they’re being watched.

For instance, reports from a Hunt in the south-east are typical; a pack of foxhounds is taken for a glorified dog walk on Saturdays but it’s in the week that hunting live quarry occurs. According to sources, they’ve even resorted to the formerly common practice of ‘bagging’ foxes. This means that a fox is captured beforehand and tipped out of a sack for the dogs to chase. Such an unfortunate fox was referred to as a Bagman. Often a Bagman would have his paws cut first. It made the scent stronger and easier for hounds to follow. A kill was assured, thus keeping the pack ‘in blood’ (meaning, familiar with and keen for the taste of fox).

I believe that the ban on hunting with hounds is a good thing even though the law is definitely not perfect. Some Hunts pack up and go home as soon as anyone they don’t trust pulls out a camera. Others move off to remote land which is difficult for outsiders to access. There are Hunts that carry on regardless but I promise you that what I see nowadays is far less free & easy compared with the couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude of the tally-ho brigade when hunting was still legal pre-February 2005. The Hunting Act is a radical step in the right direction which needs enforcing and reinforcing.

However, as long as the bloodsports community remains “ready for repeal” no one should be complacent.

News of a horrific incident filtered back to me recently on the rural grapevine;

A hunted fox had taken shelter in a hollow between some big tree roots. The hounds were unable to scratch him out and the hunters couldn’t dig him out either. So a noose was fashioned out of barbed wire, hooked around the terrified animal and used to drag him into the open. To save on bullets the live fox was thrown into the air and landed amid the scrum of hungry dogs. A landworker, not actually following the hunt, witnessed this. He’s too afraid to speak out in public for fear of losing his job.

An ex-plumber friend of mine became so incensed when he learnt the shocking truth behind hunting’s glossy façade that he infiltrated Westcountry stag hunts to document and film this so-called sport. Being hunted with hounds is horribly demanding for the deer.

This was the end of one stag hunt which the ex-plumber told me about; “An exhausted stag ran into a private garden. I was on foot and could see flashes of the huntsman’s red coat through a hedge. He had a gun and was looking for the stag to shoot it. All of a sudden, crashing through the hedge, came this stag. He ran for about 25 feet and stood in a clump of overgrown brambles. He was very tired at this stage and couldn’t really move much more. Half a dozen people suddenly appeared and somebody was shouting for the gun. Eventually the man with the gun turned up and the stag was shot. The stag dropped to the ground right in front of me.

“Then, after a second, it stood up again. Very, very slowly. Almost like a cat which has been in a deep sleep and is waking up, it arched its back and stretched its legs deliberately. I thought they’d have to shoot it again but they didn’t. Instead, the stag was led by hands on its antlers and body up a slope. Somebody actually said, ’Let it walk.’ And do you know why they did this?

“The reason they let it walk up and out was so they didn’t have to carry the body up the slope. When they got close to the road they crushed it to the ground again and shot it a second time.

“One of the men turned to me and said, ’That wasn’t right.’ I thought he had also been shocked by this incident, but that wasn’t what he meant. You see, there were anti-hunt monitors out that day with cameras who were nothing to do with me. The man said that he meant this sort of thing should be done carefully and out of sight.”

Legalising this kind of depraved cruelty would be the reality of repealing the Hunting Act. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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8th March 2012

Why The Hunting Ban Is So Important To Our Society

I’ve a friend in her fifties and she once told me about her first experience of fox hunting.

The local Hunt was gathering in the farmyard opposite her home. The spectacle was one to see; all those dressed up riders, the sounds and smells of horses, hounds and gathered assembly. She was a girl and naturally curious.

My friend told me that after a long afternoon running around the countryside and getting plastered with mud, she found herself in a place close to home where the woods opened out into fields. An exhausted fox was afoot in broad daylight, struggling to climb the steep hill where, halfway up, she stood. My friend said she also saw the dozens of hounds which were in full cry right behind.

She witnessed this sinking fox being crushed, bitten to the ground and torn apart. My friend has been quietly but firmly anti-hunting ever since.

My introduction to bloodsports was different. My parents brought me up to care about the feelings of animals and, to cut a long story short, on Boxing Day 1982 I found myself in the middle of the countryside with a group of Hunt Saboteurs. We were challenging two blokes who, with spades and terriers, were about to flush a fox from a drain towards expectant riders and hounds from the waiting hunt.

Actually there were two foxes underground. In the scuffle which took place one popped out the other end and made a dash for freedom unseen by the terriermen. The other did break cover in full sight of the hounds. I was with about ten ‘sabs’ who physically put themselves inbetween the hunters and their quarry. We caused chaos and, amazingly, the fox did escape.

How we relate to animals is important to how we develop as a society in relation to our treatment of them. Once, I watched a mother at the end of a stag hunt in Somerset. She stood her toddler atop the neck of the fallen beast and clasped her child’s hands to the magnificent antlers, one on each like riding a motorbike. I thought that was an appalling lesson in disrespect for animals.

As parents we’re at pains to teach our children the importance of honesty. Yet arguments put forward by lovers of bloodsports are, I believe, fundamentally dishonest. Much pro-hunting propaganda is downright contradiction. It has always been so. I remember the days when foxhunters claimed to be controlling a dangerous pest (“The fox ate my chickens”) whilst simultaneously preserving their numbers (“England has the highest fox population in Europe”).

Nowadays, seven years after this cruel bloodsport was banned, the country sports lobby continue their cynical subterfuge. On the one hand they say the Hunting Act (2004) – which prohibits hunting with hounds – is rubbish and doesn’t work. On the other they claim that foxhunters and their like are, apparently, not arrogant criminals because up and down the country Hunts are operating within this Law.

I know what I think.

When hunting with hounds was prohibited seven years ago, what this political outcome represented was simply society recognising in itself that these forms of ritualised animal sacrifice for pleasure and entertainment are unacceptable.

This view is shared by most decent people. Despite the erection of obstacles which have been hard to fathom and overcome, in terms of prosecutions the Hunting Act (2004) has been far and away the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation in recent decades. Where loopholes do exist there are compelling reasons to close them and reinforce the Act.

I believe that this is what we, as a civilised society, both need and want.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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