15th March 2019
On 23.02.19 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were forced to call their hounds off a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard by Monitors who were at the scene. Responsibility for disturbing and hunting the fox rests completely with the hunters. © Somerset Wildlife Crime/Hounds Off
Regarding the recent incident involving the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard, a member of the public contacted the Hunt and asked them to explain why they were hunting a fox when foxhunting is illegal. She received the email we reproduce, below:
From: B&SV Secretary <bsvsecretary@XXXXXXXXX>
Sent: Fri, 8 Mar 2019 19:10
Subject: Re: Recent footage of vixen being chased in graveyard
Dear Mrs XXXXXXXX,
Thank you for your email. The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale is committed to hunting within the law and does so through laying trails by people on horseback, on foot and on quad bikes. Occasionally as we progress through the countryside foxes and deer jump out in front of the hounds and if they deviate from the laid trail then we stop them at the earliest moment. We also have to contend with a number of anti-hunting activists watching us and trying to intimidate. Their tactics employed include spraying other scent on the ground, blowing horns and shouting to distract our hounds, which in turn confuses our hounds and renders our ability to control them that much more challenging. We believe that the film taken is not genuine and is deliberately constructed to discredit us, however clearly we would not normally be hunting anywhere near a graveyard and regret that the actions by the anti-hunting activists caused some hounds to go through the church grounds.
Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) was one of the Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime team who witnessed and filmed the Charlton Horethorn incident. Kevin is one of the most experienced Hunt Monitors in the country with nearly 40 years under his belt. We asked him to comment on the excuses made by the Hunt:
- As demonstrated in the video from the Charleton Horethorne churchyard, Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt staff seem to exercise selective control over their hounds. They can control hounds very effectively when it suits them.
- Monitors present witnessed the hounds being hunted on to a fox under the supervision of hunt staff. There were no attempts to draw them out of the cemetery or away from the fox which was clearly visible and holloa’d by several hunters and supporters.
- Hunt staff only exercised adequate control over their hounds when asked by one of the Monitors present to call them off the hunted vixen. When faced with two video cameras the Whipper-In (second in command to the Huntsman) was left with little choice but to comply. This proved to be the vital moment that saved the vixens life.
- We do not accept that the presence of any anti hunt Monitors would prevent hounds from being controlled efficiently. This is especially true when hounds are in close proximity to the Huntsman or Whipper-In, as was the case in this incident.
- No hunt saboteurs were present in the cemetery or immediate area on the 23rd February, when this incident happened.
- Footage is available that shows the Monitors present made no attempt to disrupt hounds with any calls, voice or horn and no scent dulling sprays were utilised. Claims to the contrary are merely an attempt by the hunt to dilute the validity of any allegations against them.
- We invite the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale to comment in detail as to exactly what the allegations laid against the Monitors who were present are. We would be most interested to see any footage to support any claims that hounds were called into the cemetery.
- As Monitors we maintain a passive presence with the hunt throughout the day and film proceedings. This can be useful on an evidential basis of any trespass or illegal hunting. As proven on the 23rd February in Charlton Horethorne, filming can often serve to save life when the hounds would otherwise be permitted to continue hunting unhindered. Our footage is available to be viewed here. It is worth noting that a member of hunt staff in a red coat is seen observing the hounds in the cemetery from the road side and makes no efforts to call them out.
Read our original Press Release here.
Footage of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a fox at Folke Church in Dorset on 22.12.18 can be viewed here.
Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime, without prejudice
13th March 2019
The Weston and Banwell Harriers are a furtive bunch of hunters operating southwest of Bristol. The way they carry on is suspicious to say the least. For instance, why would a legal hunt be involved with blocking badger setts? Consequently, local residents have been trying to persuade the National Trust to withdraw their permission for so-called trailhunting on land which by definition should provide a sanctuary for wildlife.
Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers met with National Trust staff on Friday March 1st. Afterwards, we asked them to let us know their thoughts;
“We attended with Maria Burt who started a petition against so-called trailhunting on National Trust land and set up the meeting, and Jac Freeman from the League Against Cruel Sports. We knew going into the meeting that there was a big likelihood that the licence wouldn’t be revoked but we wanted to give our best shot anyway for the wildlife that calls Wavering Down its home.
“With all our evidence in hand we explained to Nick Droy (National Trust Trailhunting Manager) and the National Trust Wavering Down Team that we didn’t believe the Weston & Banwell Harriers would stay in the rules of the trail hunting licence as they had already sett blocked once this year.
“But sadly and frustratingly this went over their heads and they used the usual excuse that a lot of money had been invested into trail hunt monitoring on their land.
“Giving a hunt notice that they will be monitored just means that they will behave when being monitored by the National Trust.
“How a conservation organisation can support hunting that can and will damage our ecosystem baffles us.
“But our determination to make Wavering Down and Somerset a safe haven for wildlife will continue.
“Hunting is a cruel out of date past time that has no place and is not welcomed. And neither are the Weston and Banwell Harriers, who have been terrorising our wildlife for years unchallenged. Our main aim is to bring an end to this and show them some resistance. We will do all we can to stop them needlessly killing wildlife for sport and fun!
“A big thank you again to everyone that came Friday your support was amazing! And a big thank you to the National Dis-Trust for all the advice and guidance!
“For our wildlife always.”
Hotline number: 07946663765
© Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers
3rd March 2019
March 1st is when Spring Staghunting starts on the Quantock Hills and Exmoor. ‘Spring’ stags are the young adults, the stags with most energy and va-va-voom. These are a staghunters favourite quarry because they run hard, fast and long. For those who delight in chasing then killing fit and healthy Red deer then March and April are the most exciting months of the year.
Two years ago Teresa, a Quantock Hills resident, contacted Hounds Off and told us her story.
Teresa was in her kitchen. It was just after lunchtime. She could hear the Quantock Stag Hounds hunting really close and then saw out the window a hound by her garden pond. She grabbed her iPad to and went outside to take some film. The noise was suddenly deafening. There was a stag in her garden, up by the summerhouse. Other hounds were in the garden too and the stag moved towards the compost heap.
A huntsman was just beyond the garden fence. He asked Teresa for permission to shoot the stag and she said, “No”. She asked the man his name and what he was doing. He said that she didn’t need to know. More hounds came in to the garden. Teresa reckoned there were about seven but they were hard to count because of so much movement.
By now the stag had climbed on top of the compost heap. There were riders looking down from the hill up above and conversations could be heard between unseen hunters on walkie-talkies. Numerous vehicles were parked on her private entrance drive with people standing and watching.
Suddenly there were four burly men at close quarters. The man who wanted to shoot the stag warned Teresa not to interfere in case the dogs attacked her. She was frightened because, as she told us afterwards, “I was outnumbered and could see that their blood was up.”
The dogs had chased the stag off the compost heap but he returned and was again at bay.
Teresa said, “The stag was surrounded by hounds and huntsmen and was clearly exhausted and petrified. I felt I needed to protect it. I felt strongly that it was not just right that I protect it, but it was my right to protect it. Not just because I don’t agree with hunting with dogs, but because it was in my garden and I should have been able to save it. My garden was its sanctuary.”
Again, she told the hunters to call their hounds off. One young, thick-set individual threatened to call the police because he said she was “harbouring a deer.” He also threatened to call the RSPCA, shouting that the stag was injured and had to be killed. But they did manhandle their dogs over the fence and remove themselves as well.
Another man who Teresa didn’t know or recognise appeared. He also refused to identify himself and joined the other hunters. They huddled together and then, right in front of Teresa, stormed into her garden, ran towards the stag and physically pushed it off the compost heap, over the fence and away towards private farmland. The men and their dogs, the riders and the people in cars all followed in different directions as fast as they could.
Teresa was totally shocked and shaken. She immediately called the police to report the incident.
A couple of hours later two huntspeople called at the house. Only one of them would give his name. He said that they were “trailhunting” with eleven hounds when unfortunately this young, injured stag jumped up in front and caused a distraction. They decided to kill it because, apparently, it was injured. Their excuses were not believed and apologies not accepted.
“A day later the Huntsman left a message to tell me the stag had been previously shot by a .22 rifle. I learnt later from the police it was in the chest,” Teresa recalled, “But this exposed them as liars. I was stood ten feet away from the stag for some time. There was no injury to the chest, old or new, but it was exhausted. I didn’t realize it then, but subsequently I found out that they have used this excuse before to exploit a loophole in the Hunting Act. I thought at the time that it was a really odd thing to say that they would call the police because ‘I was harbouring a sick deer’, but I later realized that they worked out which angle they were going to use to get out of this, hence why they didn’t care about me filming.”
Avon & Somerset Constabulary completely failed to take Teresa’s allegation of illegal hunting seriously and it appears that there was a deliberate block put on conducting even a cursory investigation. The Quantock Stag Hounds got away with it. But we helped call the police failures to account. Crucially, over a year later their own Professional Standards Department upheld six out of nine points of complaint.
Teresa said, “When I reflect back with the knowledge I have gained over the last two years, I know that the Hunting Act has to change. Any reasonable person looking at the facts knows exactly what these hunts are up to. But the legal system is choosing to ignore the test of the reasonable person. As it stands today it is almost impossible to prove illegal hunting and get a conviction.”
Her immediate neighbours are the National Trust and she feels let down by them, too. Despite receiving all the evidence and her witness statement, and despite the fact that they themselves banned deer hunting with dogs on their land in 1997, the Quantock Stag Hounds frequently hunt across forbidden land. As recently as January 28th this year they held a fundraising meet and then hunted on National Trust land. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are in dialogue with the Trust to work out how to prevent future arrogant flouting.
Rural residents have turned to us in desperation and we answered their call. Our tactics are simple; in partnership with Somerset Wildlife Crime and individuals, groups and organisations who want to work with us, we’re shining a light on modern day staghunting. Please see the following links for more details:
- Your Membership (of the National Trust) And Voice Matters
- Staghunting On The Quantock Hills 08.10.18
- Press Release: Staghunting In Somerset, October 2018
- Nowhere To Hide
- Another Wretched day With The Quantock Stag Hounds
- Quantock Stag Hounds Meet Fundraise Hunt On National Trust Land 28.01.09
- How To Report Hunt Incidents To The National Trust
- Stag Hunters Break Convention To Ensure Valentines Day Sport
- Quantock Stag Hounds After Another One
Please consider making a donation to our campaign. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
© Joe Hashman. Founder; Hounds Off
25th February 2019
Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt hounds hot on the trail of a nursing vixen in St Peter & St Paul's Churchyard, Charlton Horethorne, Somerset on 23.02.19 Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime
HOUNDS OFF PRESS RELEASE MON 25 FEBRUARY 2019
- Hunters in Somerset were forced to call their hounds off a female fox because anti hunt monitors recorded the whole incident on film.
- At about 2pm on Saturday 23 February 2019 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chased the vixen through private gardens and the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul’s in Charlton Horethorne, just a stones throw from the hunt kennels. But Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors, equipped with video cameras, were at the scene and recorded it.
- Wildlife rescue expert Penny Little (tel: 07702 565598) reviewed their footage. She said, “I am confident this hunted fox is a vixen that has recently given birth to cubs as her teats are visible and show clear evidence of lactation.”
- WATCH SOMERSET WILDLIFE CRIME / HOUNDS OFF FILM HERE
- Footage shows a fox being hunted through gravestones and into bushes where by some miracle it gives chasing dogs the slip. Campaigners film also documents the moment when the nursing vixen tries to steal away unseen and is “hollered” by a member of the hunt (a loud, high-pitched yell to inform the Huntsman and his hounds that the fox has been spotted).
- Bobbie Armstrong (tel: 07572 495309) from Somerset Wildlife Crime said, “When the fox crossed in front of us we told a red-coated hunter to call hounds off. At this point they were right on her and it looked grim but the red-coat knew we had it all on film. He had little choice but to call hounds back and let the fox get away. It was all a bit tense for a while but we were pleased to be in the right place at the right time.”
- Foxhunting has been illegal in England and Wales since 2005 but hunts continue, claiming to chase a trail which they lay in advance. The “accidental” hunting and killing of foxes during so-called ‘trail hunts’ is commonplace and the law remains powerless to prevent this.
- Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) said, “It seems pretty obvious that the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were cheerfully and deliberately chasing foxes on Saturday and if we had not been there then they’d have got away with it. Think about it for a second. Who in their right mind would lay a trail through private gardens and a churchyard?”
- Bobbie Armstrong said she had spoken to the Reverend Sarah Godfrey, the Vicar at Charlton Horethorne. According to Ms Armstrong, “She wasn’t aware of the events of yesterday and was keen to see our evidence. The Vicar was grateful to be informed.”
- Hounds Off specialises in giving help, support and advice to farmers, landowners and rural residents affected by hunt trespass. Joe Hashman, Founder, said, “We can help the Reverend Godfrey if she wants to make the churchyard into a hunt-free wildlife sanctuary. All she needs to do is visit the Action & Advice pages of our website or ask us. The same goes for anyone else, anywhere in the country.”
- Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors did not see anyone laying trails, or even pretending to lay trails, at any time throughout the day.
In recent weeks the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt;
- was supposedly ‘trailhunting’ beside and across the busy A352 until after dark on February 19 2019.
- killed a fox ‘accidentally’ on February 9 2019.
- carried on hunting with horses and hounds two days after equine flu was confirmed at a local riding stables.
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16th February 2019
Hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Valentines Day 2019. With no female deer (hinds) in the area, hunters told us this animal was selected because it had a "displaced hip". We question the honesty of their claim because this stag ran for miles across open country and escaped to see another day. Read more, below. Photo: © Kevin Hill/Hounds Off
Hunters claims that a Red deer stag chased by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Valentines Day was suffering from hip displacement have been seriously questioned by observers. The creature was chased for over two miles as the crow flies, many more as they ran, between 1.30pm and 3.30pm. In the moments before the hunt ended, huntsman and hounds were seen to be fruitlessly trying to find the stag in field hedges near the West Somerset village of Clatworthy.
Experienced Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill, who was part of a team of volunteers from Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off, filmed the allegedly injured stag in the old slate quarry woods below Brompton Ralph. He said, “The stag looked in good shape to me. He travelled through the woods jumping felled trees!”
The claim that the stag was injured was made to Mr Hill by hunt followers when he asked them why a male Red deer was being pursued at a time of year when females are the traditional target.
Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors believe that this was just an excuse because the hunt couldn’t find any females to chase. They only saw stags, roe deer and a fox roused into flight by hounds. That hinds are quarry from November through February is just hunting convention and, on this occasion, in order to get some ‘sport’ it had to be broken.
© Joe Hashman
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10th February 2019
About 70 riders followed the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt from their meet at Marsh Court in Dorset on 09.02.19, contrary to biosecurity advice from The Hunting Office with equine flu at large. Photo © Hounds Off
Horse racing was suspended last week after an outbreak of equine flu at a Cheshire stables. Equine flu is a highly contagious and unpleasant viral infection which affects the respiratory system in horses. Explaining its decisive action, the British Horseracing Authority said (7 Feb), “The health and welfare of our horses must be a priority.”
It is unfortunate that some of the hunting world has chosen to carry on regardless.
Despite Horse & Hound reporting (8 Feb) advice from The Hunting Office*, “Where there are training yards in the area it may be sensible not to hunt this weekend,” it was actually business as usual for many mounted foxhound packs across the British Isles (9 Feb).
One such hunt was the Somerset-based Blackmore & Sparkford Vale, where about seventy riders turned out on horseback to gallop behind dogs chasing the scent of foxes. Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt country is known for having some big stables, including Paul Nicholls Racing at Ditcheat, Colin Tizzard Venn Farm Racing Ltd at Milborne Port and Millfield School at Street where equine flu was confirmed on 8 Feb.
Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman said, “If the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt genuinely cared about the health and wellbeing of horses they’d have suspended all mounted hunting immediately. The fact that they have chosen to carry on hunting demonstrates how prepared they are to put horses at risk rather than lose a days play.”
© Joe Hashman; Founder, Hounds Off
* The Hunting Office is the administrative hub for the Council of Hunting Associations. The Hunting Office exists to help and advise Masters and its member Hunts. It represents and supports packs of hounds from fourteen hunting associations in England, Scotland and Wales, providing advice on all matters regarding hunting activities, hunt management and hound health & welfare.
1st February 2019
Report illegal, thuggish, dangerous and disrespectful hunt behaviour to the National Trust in a consistent way that makes it harder for them to ignore:
Report illegal, thuggish, dangerous or disrespectful actions or behaviour regardless of whether it happens on National Trust land because they should take this in to account when deciding to issue a licence, or not.
Report hunts licenced by the National Trust.
Report unlicensed hunts that are trespassing on National Trust land.
- If you need to find out which hunts are currently licensed by the National Trust, all dates & maps can be seen on our Facebook page here.
- The individual ‘photo albums’ for each hunt licence also contain the contact details for the local National Trust staff who manage the area being hunted.
- If you need to confirm if the National Trust own a particular bit of land, their property boundaries can all be seen here (NOTE: please use the ‘explore’ function to open a map).
What To Report
- Brief/concise accounts of what happened, where & when.
- Presence of terriermen.
- Blocked or damaged badger setts (if any have been discovered).
- Aggression, intimidation, abuse or violent behaviour from hunt staff or supporters.
- Any police incident numbers or crime reference numbers you have been given (always make sure to ask for these when reporting illegal hunting to the police).
- If you are able to film what’s happening please do because footage can help. If you weren’t able film or photograph then please still provide a written account of what you saw to the National Trust and don’t let them dismiss you for not having footage.
Who To Report It To
- Contact details for the most relevant point of contact within the National Trust for each hunt licence can be found here.
- In addition to this, please also CC in Nick Droy and his ‘trail hunting’ management team at email@example.com as well as ourselves at firstname.lastname@example.org
- National Dis-Trust volunteers will always be on hand if you are unsure about how to go ahead with any of the above (especially hunt trespass) as relevant National Trust contact details may not be readily available.
- Contact us on Facebook, Twitter or via email@example.com
Jack Riggall, National Dis-Trust.
29th January 2019
Members of the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on National Trust land at Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset on Monday 28 January 2019. The National Trust banned all deer hunting with dogs from their properties in 1997. Photo © Hounds Off
The Quantock Stag Hounds know that they’re banned from hunting on National Trust land. So imagine our surprise when yesterday, Monday 28th January 2019, they gathered at 11am with all their dogs, horseriders, motorbikes, quads, four-wheel drives and hangers-on in Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset. Beacon Hill is owned by the National Trust!
Not only did the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on forbidden land but they held a whisky raffle as well, to raise money for hunt funds.
Shortly after 11.30am they set off over the hills to hunt female Red deer in the remote wooded valleys around Holford and then, at around 2.30pm, they were back on National Trust land between Beacon Hill and Weacombe Hill. I watched and filmed as the Huntsman and Whipper-In (the Huntsmans assistant) used two hounds to search for deer in Weacombe Combe.
At this time of year female Red deer, known as ‘hinds’, are the quarry.
Hind Hunting isn’t what is used to be. Since technically being outlawed in 2005, hunters have changed their modus operandi. These days they only use two hounds to track deer and in realty, hinds are hunted as much by humans as dogs. Everyone is linked by mobile phones and radios to co-ordinate their movements. There’s very little chasing. When deer are roused from cover they have to dodge pot-shots from strategically positioned assasins armed with short-barrelled shotguns.
It does seem crazy that in an area of outstanding natural beauty, frequented by dozens of people enjoying recreation which has nothing to do with bloodsports, the Quantock Stag Hounds can send their supporters out into the thick of it wielding live firearms.
I was part of a team of Hunt Monitors from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime. We’ve been keeping an eye on the Quantock Stag Hounds every week since September last year. On 28.01.19 we had a foot team deployed near Holford and around midday they reported hearing gunshot. We believe that a calf was separated from its mother and wounded with a botched shot, because, after the gunshot, frantic voices were heard from deep down in a valley near a place called Lady’s Edge.
Kevin Hill is one of our most experienced Monitors. He’s been monitoring staghunting in the West Country for over 35 years. After hearing gunshot in the Lady’s Edge area Kevin reported, “A short while later a lone hind was observed that appeared to be searching for her calf. She was alert and displayed a nervous attitude, moving and stopping and looking in all directions.”
Monitoring deer hunting is really difficult. In the woods, often you can hear but not see.
We have informed the National Trust of unlicensed deer hunting with dogs on their land and are currently helping them with their enquiries.
We are all volunteers and give our time freely. If you support what we do and would like to help cover our fuel and equipment costs please consider buying us a ‘coffee’:
Learn more about the campaign to ban all live animal hunting with dogs on National Trust land, here.
© Joe Hashman
25th January 2019
A beautiful Hounds Off ‘Sleeping Fox’ stained-glass window can be hand-crafted specially for you by our wonderful, talented supporter Paul Snell. Each one measures 20.5cm square and will arrive securely packaged to your home four to six weeks after placing your order, complete with a small length of chain for hanging purposes (if you don’t live in an actual church).
Hounds Off ‘Sleeping Fox’ stained-glass windows by Paul Snell cost £70 each plus £6.50 postage & packing.
£10 from each sale to helps fund our work offering help, support and advice to farmers, landowners and rural residents affected by hunt trespass.
If you would like to own one of these bespoke creations then we would all be delighted. Our preferred methods of payment are either bank transfer or cheque, to avoid charges.
Send cheques payable to ‘Hounds Off’ for £76.50 to Hounds Off, PO Box 162, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 7AZ. Don’t forget to include your address.
Bank transfer £76.50 to us: Sort Code 09-01-27, Account Number 90028160. Ref: ‘Glass Fox’.
But of course we accept PayPal too. If this is how you’d like to do the money thing then please pay £80 (to cover the extra charges) into our account; firstname.lastname@example.org (ref: ‘Glass Fox’ please).
When a friend tagged us in to a Facebook post which Paul had uploaded, showing the first Sleeping Fox stained-glass window in process, we were genuinely moved by the effort and care being taken over representing our much-loved logo in this way. And it feels appropriate to give a respectful nod towards the man who brought our vision to life in the first place, Boo & Stu artist Stu Jones.
Joe Hashman, Founder; Hounds Off