23rd Sep 2017
Banners & good manners greeted attendees of the Kent Wildlife Trust AGM in Chatham on Saturday 23 September 2017, supporting Tom Fitton's 156k signature petition questioning the suitability of having a hunt supporter as Chairman of the KWT.
At the Kent Wildlife Trust AGM held in Chatham on September 23rd 2016, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman spoke on behalf of 156,000 people who signed a petition calling for the Chairman to stand down. Watch and listen here or read, below;
“We are here to ask serious questions about the current Chairman of Kent Wildlife Trust and his suitability for the role. This is not an attack on Kent Wildlife Trust or its employees, volunteers or members. We recognise and support what Kent Wildlife Trust does in terms of its worthy work to restore, save and enhance our natural heritage. But we are seeking clarity on ethical matters which have arisen, and disputed information, principally in relation to past and present links which Kent Wildlife Trust’s Chairman has with the bloodsport of hunting hares with a pack of beagles, known as ‘beagling’.
“Beagles are specially bred to run slower than a fleet-footed hare but with an enhanced ability to follow the scent that a hunted hare leaves behind her as she tries to escape. By working as a pack under the guidance of a Huntsman, his staff and hunt supporters who keep watch from hilltops, field corners and through binoculars, the aim of the beagling game is to gradually tire the hare enough for the pack of dogs to pull her down and bite her to death.
“Beagles are famously independent hounds with great stamina. Some individuals in the pack will be especially good at following scent across plough, or through woodland, or deciphering the sweet smell of hare amid the fumes of traffic which linger around country lanes. Beagling combines human and canine teamwork to find, hunt and catch hares.
“At the end of a hunt, when the beagles are tearing at their reward, it’s traditional for the Huntsman to step amongst his charges with a knife to cut off hares ears, feet, tail and sometimes the head as trophies, to be mounted on plaques or stuffed in the pocket of the first person at the scene, to be smeared on the face of a child at his or her first kill, or given to the landowner as thanks for permitting the beagles to hunt hares across their land for sport (1). I know to the majority of decent, right-minded people such things seem repulsive and bizarre, but this is beagling.
“Beagling is one of the most deliberately cruel bloodsports in terms of animal suffering. Don’t be fooled by the fancy dress and friendly little dogs. In favourable conditions and the right mood to chase and catch a hare, beagles are relentless. For the Huntsman and followers, 90-minutes from find to kill is considered ideal (2); whilst they will have been marvellously entertained, their quarry will be reduced to a stiff-legged, hunched, shattered shadow of its former self and the beagles will relish their hard-earned prize at the bloody end. Hare’s have evolved to survive with short sharp sprints, not endurance running. Beagling is the opposite of natural selection.
“We know that the current Kent Wildlife Trust Chairman was Huntsman for the Blean Beagles Hunt for many years from 1971 (3) and in 1991 he became a Joint Master. As Huntsman, his aim would be to help his dogs seek and destroy hares for the amusement of those who pay money to watch. As Joint Master, his responsibilities would have included the day-to-day running of the Hunt (4).
“Beagling seriously compromises the welfare of hares (5). Our democratically elected representatives have recognised this fact. In November 2004 MPs voted to pass the Hunting Act and abolish beagling. During the season before the ban the Blean Beagles killed 22 hares and, very unusually, boasted in the sporting press of “producing some fine sport”. This included “accounting for a tired hare” after a “very fast” half-hour, and catching another after a continuous chase over two and a half miles (6).
“When hunting with hounds was banned beagling didn’t stop. Many hare hunts said they were chasing a scent laid by a human runner and called this activity ‘trail hunting’. Trail hunting didn’t exist until February 18th 2005, the day the Hunting Act came in to force. Many people believe, as I do, that trail hunting is no more than a false alibi designed to create confusion and provide a cover for illegal hunting (7).
“This is where the activities of Kent Wildlife Trust become disputed. They say that their Chairman Mike Bax ceased to be involved with the Blean Beagles in 2005. I have a copy of Baily’s Hunting Directory dated 2006-2007. Baily’s has been the official go-to place for who’s-who in the hunting world since 1897. The 2006-07 edition clearly lists M W S Bax as a Joint Master. Soon after that Baily’s ceased publishing hard copy and became available only by online subscription. In its electronic version, as recently as 2016, Michael W S Bax remained listed as a Master of the Blean Beagles. His business partner is listed as being the Blean Beagles Huntsman since 2006. Additionally, the well-known weekly magazine Horse & Hound named M Bax as Joint Master in their 2013/14 Hunting Directory. They have subsequently removed all names and details.
“So why is Kent Wildlife Trust insisting otherwise? Could it be that admitting their man has a panchant for hare hunting sits uncomfortably with their mission and values? Certainly, pushing the limits of animal welfare legislation, possibly even being party to cynically subverting it, would be at odds with the role and responsibilities of a former High Sherriff of Kent and person sitting as Chairman of Kent’s Crime Rural Advisory Group (8).
“Of course, while the majority of people might not understand how anyone could enjoy partaking in bloodsports, before the Hunting Act was passed hunting hares was not a criminal activity. If the Blean Beagles are now hunting lawfully, in terms of Mike Bax’s involvement, nobody could reasonably object. But this is the problem. Beagling has long been a closed shop to outsiders, an activity which requires you to have references and referees to vouch on your behalf before you’re allowed to join in. Beagling takes place mostly on remote or private land which means that it’s virtually impossible to monitor. To the misinformed or uninitiated it’s easy to be misled or unaware about what is really going on, especially on those rare public relation exercises when outsiders or the press are present.
“For me there are two big queries. First, why is the Kent Wildlife Trust insisting that their Chairman has had no links with the Blean Beagles since 2005 in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary and, second, are the Blean Beagles currently operating within the law? Until answers which stand up to proper scrutiny are provided on both counts, and any consequences dealt with, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask their Chairman to step aside.”
© Joe Hashman
(1) Beagling (1954), J. Ivester-Lloyd, page 90
(2) Horse and Hound. November 7, 1980
(3) Baily’ Hunting Directory (1981)
(4) http://www.amhb.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=173&Itemid=61 Sourced 22.09.17
(5) Report of Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England & Wales (2000), Lord Burns & others, point 6.67
(6) Hounds Magazine, Summer 2004
(8) http://www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/who-we-are/our-trustees Sourced 22.09.17