30th July 2016
Foxhunting & the Hunting Act 2004 were debated at The Game Fair by Hounds Off, League Against Cruel Sports, Countryside Alliance, Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management & the assembled audience.
Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman reports from The Game Fair at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.
It’s good to talk. Receiving an invite to debate Hunting Act rights and wrongs at the biggest fieldsports show of the year was not what we expected, but the opportunity came and was seized. We figured that appealing to the better nature of hunting folk could only be productive, especially if misinformation and negative stereotypes were exploded at the same time.
In favour of bloodsports were the Countryside Alliance and Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. Shining a light for compassion, progressive and civilised behaviour were Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) and myself. Before taking questions we were each given ten minutes to hold the floor. On behalf of Hounds Off, this is what I said;
I’ve known enough of you over the years to realise that many of you are decent human beings. I know you love your families, your animals, your countryside. So someone like me, who feels profoundly upset by the suffering inflicted on wild animals when being hunted by hounds, simply doesn’t understand how you can’t feel it too. Because I know, apart from a handful of phsycopaths who sadly do love the blood and power, that most of you are not bad people.
Hunting literature tells us that fallow deer, chased by the New Forest Buckhounds until 1997, were never attacked by dogs at the conclusion of a hunt. I found it hard to believe but at the time had no evidence to the contrary. So, with others, I attended most Buckhound meets in the Forest for five years from 1992.
Repeatedly, we filmed deliberately protracted chases lasting for many hours. We got footage of deer being savaged by hounds, wrestled to the ground by hunt supporters, held underwater and half drowned. We proved that the public face of this centuries old tradition and its private reality were indeed two different things. Thankfully, the Buckhounds disbanded 19 years ago.
Even today, foxhunting literature claims that foxes were hunted “in their wild and natural state.” It sounds fair, reasonable even. But that was not the case on Boxing Day 1982 when, for the first time in my life, I attended a hunt. It was the Old Berkshire at Wantage in my home county. Towards the end of day, in a field corner near Denchworth, a couple of blokes with terrier and spades stuck their dog down a hole and, as if by magic, bolted a fox. There was no chase beforehand, hounds did not mark to ground. It just happened that the pack and mounted field were waiting patiently close by while the terriermen did their work. When their fox was running in the open and in full view, the Huntsman let his hounds go.
I revisited that field corner and found an artificial earth. It conformed with what I’d read about in a book on foxhunting by the 10th Duke of Beaufort. I still can’t get my head around why decent people would think that it could ever be okay to capture, imprison and then make a fox run for its life in front of a pack of dogs. Even if you think you know the answer, ask yourself; what is that really about?
In November 1996, The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald reported a meet of the Ullswater Foxhounds at Dockray. One fox was marked to ground, bolted with terriers then chased by hounds on four occasions before being dug out and killed the fifth time it sought sanctuary underground. The fifth time. If that’s not animal cruelty for sport, then what is it?
Anyone who’s been hare coursing knows that hares in pain cry like a human infant. You too may have witnessed greyhounds with their teeth clamped around the bodies and limbs of live hares whilst pulling them in opposite directions like a living tug o war rope. It frequently took minutes before lumbering humans prized the hare out of their dogs mouths and delivered a neck-snapping coupe de gras. In hare coursing the fabled “quick nip to the back of the neck” was a deliberate untruth promoted to defend the indefensible.
Why would anyone want do this, especially to a hare, and for amusement? No wonder that the National Coursing Club issued guidance for spectators not to identify with the hare. Thank goodness that the Hunting Act 2004 genuinely has ended the abomination of organised club coursing, and successive court cases have made it crystal clear that using live hares as a competitive lure for running dogs is an offence.
And what about the Hunting Act? In some areas, and with certain offences like hare coursing, it is employed well. But, as many of us know, for hunting with scent hounds, enforcement is proving much more difficult. In many ways, I have to salute the organised, determined, campaign of resistance waged by the hunting community.
However, I’m with Judge Pert. In the 2011 case of Hopkins and Allen, he perceptively described two convicted members of the Fernie Hunt of using the cover of trail hunting as a cynical subterfuge to create a false alibi for illegal, live animal hunting.
I’d suggest that Hunts circumvent the Law in other ways too.
On Saturday 17 February 2007 I followed a joint meet of the Croome & West Warwickshire and the Radnor & West Herefordshire Hunts. That day they were nudging and winking at the Falconry exemption under Schedule 1 of the Hunting Act 2004. In reality, aside from minor cosmetic changes, I observed them to be foxhunting in the same way as it existed pre ban.
At ten-to-three, Huntsman and hounds were at a place near Upton Snodsbury known locally as Ken’s Orchard. I was chatty with the man in charge of a golden eagle that day. “It doesn’t hold as well as it used to because Ken died and he doesn’t feed them anymore,” the birdman said.
We were parked on the verge amongst hunt followers, watching. Presently a terrierman went on foot into a bit of rough just off the road. He had a poke around, warned us not to make too much noise, then got on a walkie-talkie and said, “Come up the track, turn left, put them in to the brambles on the right.”
Huntsman and hounds appeared from Ken’s Orchard and did as instructed. Within seconds a fox shot out and took the main body of the pack south-west. Simultaneously another fox ran out on the north side and, with hounds almost on top of him from the start, was devastated at the first fence which he couldn’t get through in time.
The car followers around me loved all this and there was much excitement and laughter about “another accident.” The birdman, who witnessed everything, had made no attempt to even get the golden eagle out of its box. In shared post-kill pleasure, which obviously I was faking, we joked about his inaction while the tattered-rag-of-a-fox was stuffed in a bin bag and taken away on the back of a quad bike.
Most people do not support bloodsports. This applies in rural areas as much as in towns and cities. To be honest, rural opposition to hunting doesn’t surprise me because it’s here, in the countryside, where ordinary people are personally affected by hunt trespass, the chaos that goes with it, and the fear of sometimes serious repercussions if they make their true feelings known by simply saying “No Hunting”.
I set up Hounds Off six years ago to support those people. Today we support hundreds of folks who are fed up with the antisocial behaviour of Hunts that stick two fingers up at the compassionate majority; Hunts that continue to ride roughshod over their wishes, properties and the law of the land; Hunts that continue to chase and kill wildlife accidentally-on-purpose.
I am not an anti because I’m jealous; I would not want to be you. I’m anti hunting because I know that it is wrong to compromise the welfare of animals and, especially, it’s wrong to compromise their welfare for fun. And d’you know what, thankfully I’m not alone.
People who I talk to say that what they hate about bloodsports is the arrogance and sense of entitlement which many participants exhibit; in thinking that animal protection laws do not apply to them; in behaving like the countryside is their own private playground; in thinking that it is okay to inflict dangerous chaos and obstruction on others as they go about their daily business; and most of all, the arrogance of deliberately making hunted wildlife suffer for the sake of entertainment.
I’m really grateful to the organisers for inviting me to The Game Fair and thank them for giving me an opportunity to say this to you. I’d like to appeal to anyone here who has an open mind to open your heart as well and consider change. To you I’d say drop the cynical subterfuge, discard the false alibis, trail hunt lies and embrace country sports which don’t involve cruelty to animals. Drag Hunts and Bloodhound packs have been doing this for donkeys years. There are many ways to preserve the pomp, ceremony, employment, rural infrastructure and the thrill of the chase without forcing a wild animal to run for its life at the sharp end. This is the future and this, surely, has to be the way of a civilised, progressive society.
© Joe Hashman