29th Aug 2016
The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable. This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk
In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide seemed imminent and, naturally, fears about the future of the Hunting Act occupied much of my mind. The challenge was (and remains) to find a way to stop hunting which can be effective regardless of what the law says. What became Hounds Off was an idea. Or rather, a collection of ideas.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘COUNTRY’
The hunting community knows full well that having land to tally-ho over is essential. “Country” (as they call it) is central to everything they do and having access to it is jealously guarded. Despite hunting with hounds truly being a minority pastime, the unspeakable minority operates a well oiled machine which facilitates their animal abuses of choice even though technically they’re outlawed.
Back to the idea.
“Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) used to have a black and white poster with those words on complete with images of deer, fox, hare and otter. It was straight-forward and simple poster but struck a chord the first time I saw it.
“Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. That’s HOWL, the radical, informative, inspirational, ground-breaking, often entertaining voice of the HSA.
Hounds Off Our Wildlife. Hounds Off. This is what we want. Short, sharp, to the point. Does what it says on the tin, kind of thing. Did the HSA object? I asked the Committee. “No,” they said. “Carry on.”
CREATING HUNT-FREE ZONES
After quite a lot of meetings with colleagues and close friends it was decided that a website would be the best vehicle for delivering the Hounds Off message. Our plan was (and remains) to create as many No Hunting nature reserves as possible, including all sorts of land; from whole estates and farms to smallholdings and back yards. We wanted easy, universal access to the information needed to do this effectively, autonomously and with no-strings. The Internet provides an ideal platform and so www.houndsoff.co.uk was born.
The concept of creating hunt-free zones is not new. The League Against Cruel Sports started buying sanctuary land in the West Country in the 1950’s, principally to disrupt staghunting. The counter-concept of preserving hunting rights had earlier seen the formation of companies who sole purpose was to support bloodsports. In reality, Royalty has been dictating over hunting preserves for centuries. Today a whole structure exists to exert the power and control of that influential, criminal minority who like to hunt. Not everybody knows about this ‘system’ but it’s real. Anyone who has crossed their line knows about it, that’s for sure; the bullying, the ostracising, the undermining, the dismissing, the evicting. Rural peer pressure can be intense.
TOOL IN YOUR KITBAG
So where does Hounds Off come in? Well, Hounds Off empowers people. We will stand with anyone affected by hunt trespass (or the threat of it). Our motto is, “You Are Not Alone”. www.houndsoff.co.uk provides the information and tools needed to protect property, livestock and pets. Alongside bringing together a community of related minds to stand united on this issue in real life and via social media, the aims and objectives of Hounds Off today genuinely are as simple as this. Looking to the future, if you believe as we do that “available country” is a major factor in deciding whether or not a Hunt can exist, then squeezing them in that area makes perfect sense.
For Hunt Sabs, Monitors and other front-line campaigners, Hounds Off is another tool in your kitbag which can be used to scupper bloodsports and save lives. You’re meeting the outraged public, disgruntled locals, beleaguered landowners and farmers who have had enough. Please use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource where you can suggest folk go to find support and solutions to the problem of hunt trespass. The Action & Advice pages (Warn Off Your Local Hunt) are especially crucial!
Last autumn I was working in a wood which belongs to a Hounds Off landowner. One of my fellow volunteers told me he was living off-grid in a bender under a hedge on land owned by friends who were new to the area. The local Hunt had run their hounds through his encampment and the new owners could do nothing to prevent it. Turns out that, deep within the conditions of sale, rights to hunt over that land were protected. You can be sure similar arrangements are being made elsewhere. Aside from ongoing efforts to repeal the law, I’ve no doubt that anything and everything which could obstruct hunting in the future is being ‘dealt with’ or neutralised, often quietly and behind the scenes. This includes ensuring access to as much land as possible via sporting rights, deeds and covenants. Remember, without available country any Hunt is knackered.
HOUNDS OFF IN ACTION
The best thing we can tell you is that, since launching in September 2010, Hounds Off has helped folk across the UK and thousands of new acres of hunt-free land has been established. Where hunt-related problems persist so our support remains ongoing. The Hounds Off philosophy is simple and based on people power. Hounds Off is about being strong at our roots, resolute, standing with our friends united and, yes, these tactics are effective!
Have a look at the accompanying diagram called “How To Make Friends & Influence People”. It’s not theory – it comes from real-life experiences of how Hounds Off is working on the ground and shows how cultivating relationships between Sabs, Monitors and the public can benefit us all, including (most importantly) abused wildlife. See what you think and how you could make it relevant for your situation. Most importantly, personalise it. Make Hounds Off your own and www.houndsoff.co.uk an asset which you use.
© Joe Hashman
Feel free to reproduce appropriately and, please, always with a link to www.houndsoff.co.uk
11th Aug 2016
We are told that it’s common practice for foxhounds belonging to registered Hunts to be killed off after a working life of six or seven years. Indeed, the Countryside Alliance estimated that 3000 foxhounds are destroyed in this way every year (1). That’s a lot of dead dogs but we suggest this figure is a gross underestimate of the true numbers of hounds which are bred by Hunts but become surplus to requirements.
For starters, the Countryside Alliance estimate only accounted for retiring foxhounds. No mention is made of the hundreds-if-not-thousands of puppies produced by Hunts in their annual quest to improve the performance of foxhounds by selective breeding. We don’t have any statistics on how many bitches are used, on average, as breeding stock per Hunt each year, but we do know that a bitch may produce ten or more puppies. Apparently seven is considered enough for one bitch so from the start excess puppies may be put down at birth (2).
LOOKING THE PART
Conformation is crucial too. The Foxhound Kennel Stud Book stipulates the desirable shape and structure of a hound from aesthetic and performance perspectives. Many aesthetic features are condemned; including curly tails, upper or lower jaws which protrude noticeably, elbows which stick out or a narrow back (3).
ABILITY TO HUNT
For a foxhound, performance means having a sharp sense of smell, stamina, a good bark and the right temperament for working in a pack. This is all observed and finely tuned during late summer and autumn hound exercise (formerly called, more honestly, Cub Hunting). By the time of the Opening Meets and the full season proper, only the best hounds will have made the grade. For example, ‘babblers’ (hounds which bark when they smell an animal other than fox and so mislead the others) and ‘skirters’ (hounds that cut corners instead of sticking precisely to a scent) are disruptive and seldom tolerated. As former Horse & Hound editor Michael Clayton writes in his 1989 Modern Guide to Foxhunting, “It may well be necessary to eliminate from the pack hounds notably guilty of these misdemeanours.”
Now consider that the 2015/16 season Hunting Special edition of Horse & Hound detailed 293 registered Hunts in England, Wales and Scotland which are breeding, drafting and retiring hounds to maintain their ‘sport’ year in year out – 186 registered packs of foxhounds, 17 harrier packs (chasing foxes and/or hares), 60 beagle packs (hare), 8 basset packs (hare), 19 mink hunts and 3 stag hunts.
The Countryside Alliance estimate of 3000 hounds killed at the end of their working lives was only based on about 200 Hunts registered with the Masters of Fox Hounds Association. It took no account of the other hare, mink and deer hunts which have their own separate Associations. Neither did it account for those young hounds which look wrong or are not deemed good enough to make the cut. That’s why we believe that the Countryside Alliance figure was way below the real tally.
FROM THE HORSES MOUTH
As a late Twentieth Century foxhunting and hound breeding legend, the 10th Duke of Beaufort, is quoted by Clayton in his Modern Guide:
“Lord Henry Bentinck … said that the secret of his success was to breed a great many hounds, and then to put down a great many.
“If you can follow his example so much the better for the future of your pack…”
A major claim made by those who lobbied against the Hunting Act was that up to 20 000 hounds would have to be destroyed if hunting was banned (4). We know that this threatened mass execution didn’t happen because Hunts tweaked their mode of operation to circumvent the law then carried on regardless.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
However, in the eleven years since the Hunting Act came into force, based on that Countryside Alliance estimate, 33 000 foxhounds will have been killed for being too old. Even if you don’t count those overlooked foxhound puppies, the beagles, bassets, minkhounds and the staghounds, so-called ‘country sports’ are still responsible for one heck of a pile of dead dogs.
(1) & (4) Report of Committee of Enquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England & Wales (Lord Burns & Others), The Stationary Office, 2000. Point 6.79.
(2) The Chase – A Modern Guide to Foxhunting (Clayton), Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd, 1989. Page 50.
(3) The Chase – A Modern Guide to Foxhunting (Clayton), Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd, 1989. Page 45/46.
Read The Daily Mirror expose (14 July 2015); Thousands of healthy foxhounds – including pups – are clubbed to death or shot if they’re ‘unsuitable’, here.
© Joe Hashman