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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7th December 2018
OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
PREVIOUSLY: Hunting Myths Part 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Mr Barrington often repeats the classic claim that hunts only go for weak, diseased or old animals. This is completely untrue and there is no need to find any scientific research to prove it. We simply have to understand what hunting with hounds is and how it differs from shooting, lamping or snaring, which are other methods people use to kill wildlife.
Foxhunts, hare hunts, stag hunts and mink hunts use packs of hounds which locate a prey (“quarry”) and begin chasing it following its scent trail. Then, people on horse, motor vehicles or on foot follow the hounds through the countryside. This is the “fun” of the activity. The longer the chase, the better the hunting day. Weak or ill quarry animals would not run but hide as they don’t have the energy to flee, so there would not really be a chase if the hunts targeted those … and without a chase, there is no hunting.
The truth is that hounds do not “decide” to go for the weakest animals as they just follow a scent and have no idea of the condition of the animal they are chasing. This is why the Hunting Act 2004 – that was meant to ban hunting in England and Wales – outlawed the chase of the wild mammal with dogs, not actually the killing. Indeed, it makes it an offence to “engage or participate in the pursuit of a wild mammal with dogs”.
Incidentally, the hounds have been selectively bred over generations to run slower than their quarry but with superior stamina. This is one way to deliberately prolong the hunt and provide good “sport”.
And as far as the claim of chasing “old” animals is concerned, it is important to realise that in autumn each foxhunt engages in cub hunting to train their hounds to kill foxes. They go to woods, copses, fields of standing crops and other places where they know there is a fox den, they surround them so they cannot escape, and then they send the pack of hounds in to kill them. These are “cubs”, not old foxes, and every year an estimated 10,000 fox cubs are hunted by the UK hunts, even now.
Despite the claim of doing “trail hunting” (actually just a cover for illegal hunting) the hunts still need to train their hounds to chase and kill foxes, and they can only do that with the secretive and clandestine activity of “cub hunting” (which they have re-named “autumn hunting”).
Part 3 of this series will be published here tomorrow.
© Jordi Casamitjana
6th December 2018
OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
Hunting with dogs is an obsolete cruel activity, full stop. Surely everyone knows this, even those who participate in it, promote it, or fight against those opposing it? If some people want to call it a “sport”, then it is a cruel sport that should be banned. If some people want to call it a countryside “pursuit”, then it is a harmful pursuit that should stop. If some they call it a British “tradition”, then it is a primitive tradition that should be abolished.
But one thing is for certain. Hunting with hounds is not a method of wildlife management. It never was when first conceived, it never become when it was popular, and still isn’t one now that is being phased out. We know that simply because foxhunts have always bred and kept foxes later released to be chased, as the “fun” of hunting only occurs by participating in long chases across the countryside, and without “quarry” there is no chase. You can read this in all traditional books about hunting, and still see it today, even when hunts claim that what they do now is “trail hunting”, which is in fact a false alibi to avoid being prosecuted for breaches of the Hunting Act 2004.
Why is it then that the hunting fraternity seems to have given up defending their beloved “sport”, their cherished “pursuit” and their revered “tradition”, and the only thing you hear them now repeating again and again is that they are just “innocent” pest controllers providing a service to farmers? Well, the answer may be that they have run out of arguments, evidence and also “champions”. And the proof of this may be Jim Barrington.
On 11th October 2018, the Horse & Hound magazine, the front publication of the hunting fraternity propaganda machine, has for the first time published an interview with Jim Barrington, titled “Hunting’s most valuable asset?” Barrington is currently an “animal welfare” consultant of the Countryside Alliance and one of few remaining public champions of the hunting cause. In the last few years, you seldom see Hunt Masters, Huntsmen or any other actual hunt expert publicly defending hunting in debates or interviews. You mostly only ever see Jim Barrington, who has never hunted and is not hunting today, and who a few decades ago was a Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, one of the then leading anti-hunting organisations.
Why him? Because the hunts now claim to be something they never were, a pest control service, and therefore they don’t really need an expert in hunting anymore, just an expert on deception. The problem is that they have not chosen an expert on pest control or wildlife management either. They have not chosen an ecologist, zoologist or qualified animal welfare expert. So, it is not surprising that Jim Barrington’s arguments, repeated again and again every time the hunting debate surfaces, are so easy to debunk. So once again I will debunk them here, as I have done in the past, and I undoubtedly will be doing in the future as it seems these days the hunting fraternity only has this broken record to play.
But first let me make a general comment about Mr. Barrington’s current role. An “animal welfare” expert of the Countryside Alliance is like a “conservation” expert of British Association of Shooting & Conservation, or a “science” expert of Japanese whalers, or a health consultant of a tabacco company, or an environment consultant of an oil company. These lobbyists are hired to distract people from reality when a wrongdoing has already been exposed and the general public begin to move away from the companies and fraternities they represent. Their job is to confuse any debate, present falsities as facts, and ultimately to con naïve people into believing that “they do nothing wrong”, despite the compelling evidence. They will twist reality to convince you that extracting and burning petrol is good for the environment, that smoking is good for your health, that killing whales is good for science, that releasing millions of exotic pheasants in the wild and shooting them is good for conservation, and, of course, that hunting a terrified mammal until ripped apart by a pack of dogs is good for animal welfare.
So, on this basis, it is not Mr. Barrington’s fault if he has to exaggerate, mislead and deceive to try to get his points across, as this is his job, and he would not be hired if he stuck to the truth. But he should not complain when others tell it how it is. I remember how succinctly, directly and satisfyingly Dr. Brian May did this in the Newsnight’s interview when he famously stopped Mr. Barrington on his tracks.
In my next Blog, to be published here tomorrow, I will begin debunking Mr. Barrington’s arguments expressed in the Horse & Hound article mentioned above.
© Jordi Casamitjana
18th October 2018
GOVERNMENT DEFENDS WILDLIFE CRIME IN PUBLICLY OWNED FORESTS
Yesterday, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs responded to a petition calling for an end to the licensing of so-called ‘trail hunts’ on the Public Forest Estate, which is owned & managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the public. The response is pretty much a paraphrased Countryside Alliance press release and there are a couple of things they’ve either overlooked, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not:
– The petition specifically doesn’t call for an end to licences given to hunts which have agreements formed under a general agreement with the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association (MDBA), as drag hunting & clean boot hunting are not covers for wildlife crime.
– DEFRA’s response omits that licences are also granted to hunts under a general agreement with the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles (AMHB), such as the New Forest Beagles.
Most importantly, though, they’ve regurgitated one of the most worn out lies in the country and they’ve done so without scrutiny. This is, of course, that fox & hare hunts have stopped hunting live quarry and started to ‘trail hunt’.
‘Trail hunting is a legitimate activity … Many hunts have since turned to trail hunting as an alternative to live quarry hunting…’ – DEFRA, 17th October 2018.
Here’s a couple of brief reasons why this is rubbish:
– In 2014, a review of RSPCA prosecuting activity was published by Stephen Wooler CB, a former Chief Inspector for the Crown Prosecution Service. On P109/s9.1 it stated that: ‘The evidence reviewed leaves no room for doubt that, despite the 2004 legislation, traditional fox hunting remains “business as usual” in many parts of the country.’
– Both before & after the Wooler Review, hunts that have been licensed to use public land by the Forestry Commission have been convicted; the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 based on footage from Derby Hunt Saboteurs and the Cottesmore Hunt were convicted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 based on footage from the League Against Cruel Sports.
DEFRA have rejected the requests of the petition on a completely false premise. It remains open & ongoing to gain signatures, and needs 100,000 signatures before 18th March 2019. If you haven’t signed this already, please do so here!
© Jack Riggall
13th October 2018
HOUNDS OFF OPINION
The National Trust has started issuing licences for foxhunt packs to carry out so-called trailhunting on their land. But this season the business-as-usual status quo has changed slightly. Licences will now be open to public scrutiny and a small team has been appointed to oversee this activity. For many this is not enough, for others it’ll be too much.
Myself, I’m a realist. I know the National Trust is a huge chuntering juggernaut of a conservation charity which must cater for a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I know how frustratingly slow it can be to effect positive change but I also recognise that the National Trust has a history of being led by its Members and it is always worth using your voice and your vote.
So it was that on Friday 12 October I travelled to Birmingham and, with Jack Riggall from National Dis-Trust, met with Nick Droy and Rob Rhodes from the National Trust. Nick is five weeks into his role of Trailhunting Manager and Rob (who attended via telephone) is the Head of Countryside Management & Rangers.
Trailhunting Manager is a new post, created by the National Trust in response to concern from Members and the public that trailhunting is nothing more than a false alibi used to provide a cover for illegally chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs.
Nick told us that his professional background is in practical countryside management at both regional and national levels and it started eighteen years ago when he was himself a National Trust volunteer. He explained that he has no hunting in his background and is approaching this complex issue with a fresh eye and open mind.
Nick will lead a team of three; an office-based co-ordinator and a worker who will assist in carrying out face to face engagements, checks in the field and monitoring of so-called trailhunting on National Trust land.
This season, the Trailhunting Team will be conducting one pre-arranged inspection of each Hunt which is granted a licence by the National Trust. My problem with this is that it provides an easy way for #TrailHuntLies to avoid detection because when Nick is about Hunts will temporarily change the way they behave.
I told Nick and Rob this and referred them to a 2015 report called Trail Of Lies. It is a fantastically complete and in-depth exposé of how Hunts have used trailhunting to circumvent the law, to carry on abusing and killing. The only problem with Trail Of Lies is that it was complied and produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and so hunters consider it to be propaganda.
What happened was the RSPCA had grasped the nettle in terms of taking private Hunting Act prosecutions and landed seminal convictions against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt in 2012. The Countryside Alliance went ballistic and set out to destroy their opponents.
Their criticism reached a crescendo in January 2013 when former Countryside Alliance head honcho Simon Hart MP initiated a debate in the House of Commons about prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and in response Her Majesty’s Attourney General suggested that an independent review could be advantageous. The RSPCA Council took heed and appointed Stephen Wooler CB to do this. Wooler is a Barrister and former Chief Inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service.
During our meeting I read a passage from the Wooler Review and asked Nick to think of his Trailhunting Team as being the police officers to which Wooler refers;
“Securing the evidence neccasary to mount effective prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 in respect of mainstream foxhunting therefore requires far more than sending a team of police officers to take the names and addresses of those at a hunt gathering. The evidence required is such that it is unlikely to be achieved through police presence and observations alone since behaviours would then be likely to change.” (1)
In fact, Wooler goes on to describe a “cat and mouse game between hunting participants and supporters and those endeavouring to gather evidence through observations and recordings.” (2)
I concur with Wooler (2014) and Trail Of Lies (2015): giving hunters a heads-up when they’ll be monitored on National Trust land is rather like the police telling a burglar when they’ll be round to look for stolen goods.
As Trailhunting Manager, it is part of Nick Droy’s job description (and background research) to meet with the likes of Jack and myself. I found him to be friendly, open and likeable. That’s a good start, but I do believe that there are fundamental flaws in how the National Trust have instructed him to carry out his duties. We agreed to keep lines of communication open and meet again next summer. Doubtless much will happen between now and then.
© Joe Hashman
(1) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 5.
(2) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 6.
Hounds Off is run by volunteers. We rely on public support to fund our work. If you would like to contribute please do so here.
Costs incurred on 12 October 2018;
Return travel by road from Dorset to Oxford (179 miles at 44 pence per mile) = £78.76; Oxford to Birmingham New Street return, by train (Adult Standard Class) = £79.20; Total = £157.96
6th October 2018
You could be forgiven for wondering why the Ilminster Beagles are not getting done for illegal hunting because film of them finding and chasing hares on 29 September 2018 is quite clear. The problem is that hunters have found cunning ways to avoid the law and one of their dishonest excuses is to cry “Accident!”
What the film of hare hunting near Langport, Somerset shows is the beagle pack searching for, finding and pursuing a hare. The dogs are sniffing around seeking the scent of their quarry when suddenly the hare jumps up from right under their noses and sprints away as the beagles start barking excitedly and giving chase.
This is exactly how many hare hunts started before the Hunting Act came in to force in 2005 so why are they not liable? Well, there is a subtle difference which provides an excuse that gets them off the hook. Read on.
Look at the pictures at the head of this blog. Toppermost is a painting by avid sporting artist Tom Ilvester Lloyd (1873-1942). It portrays “the find”, that moment when a hare springs up literally in front of hounds and the hunt begins. Ilvester Lloyd entitled his work The First Essential Towards Sport which says it all, really.
Now look at the grab below, taken from film of the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018. This also captures the precise second when a hare is found and forced to make a run for it. It’s a post-ban, real-life version of The First Essential Towards Sport.
The reason why the Hunting Act cannot be enforced on the Ilminster Beagles is because in the evidence there are no humans in shot and therefore the Huntsman can claim that hunting of the hare took place by accident. Alas, thanks to a fundamental desire to circumvent the law and some unfathomable decisions in the Courts, crying “Accident!” is a get-out-of-jail card which hunters up and down the country are playing every time they go out.
Interestingly, when the hunted hare runs close to roe deer and the Ilminster Beagles switch to following them, hunt staff are close enough to be able to stop them and prevent a riot.
It’s a shame that the police are so under-resourced. A little targeted training would help them understand why and how huntsmen and women across the land are cocking a snook at them (and us) and go a long way to preventing wildlife crime in the first place.
Illegal hunting by the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018 was reported to Avon & Somerset Police and is recorded with the following Incident Number: AS-20180929-0304.
WATCH OUR FILM OF BEAGLING IN 2018 here.
HOW FOXHUNT MASTER CLAIMED “ACCIDENT” TO AVOID PROSECUTION film and report here.
IF YOU SEE BEAGLING phone the police on 101 or 999. Make sure that they record your call and give you an Incident Number.
IF YOU HEAR ABOUT BEAGLING tell us! All information is treated in confidence.
© Joe Hashman
5th August 2018
As part of the wider National Dis-Trust campaign which started in Cumbria, we’re adding this to Hounds Off as a reference point for you to learn more about the fell packs, their abuse of wildlife, and why we’re calling for them to be permanently banned from National Trust land. All of the fell packs were either licensed to use Trust land for the 2017/18 season or given free reign to trespass and kill foxes. Here are a few of the ‘highlights’ of their history (click the links to learn more)…
- In November 2017, the Eskdale & Ennerdale Foxhounds were documented trespassing on National Trust land with terriermen, but subsequently received a licence anyway.
- On 06/09/2017, a representative of the fell packs told the BBC that numerous foxes are ‘accidentally’ killed each season.
- At the Peterborough Hunting Festival on 19/07/2017, huntsman for the Blencathra Foxhounds stated that his hounds can sometimes be unsupervised up to five miles away, meaning nobody knows what they are doing or what they might be killing.
- A supporter of the Melbreak Foxhounds attacked a member of Lancashire Hunt Saboteurs on 10/01/2017 who then needed hospital treatment. The hunt supporter was convicted of assault.
- The Melbreak Foxhounds supplied a fake certificate to the Trust dated 23/10/2016 to help gain a licence, and were granted further licences to use Trust land long after the lie was exposed.
- The Melbreak Foxhounds were filmed killing a fox on Trust land by Cumbria Hunt Watch on 05/11/2015.
- On 15/03/2014, the Ullswater Foxhounds were filmed killing a fox before attacking a hunt monitor, resulting in a conviction for assault.
- The Melbreak Foxhounds killed a fox on 09/03/2014 after chasing it across Trust land, resulting in a police investigation resulting in charges and the subsequent intervention of a member of House of Lords trying to defend the huntsman.
- The Blencathra Foxhounds were investigated for illegally hunting & abuse of hunt monitors in 2013.
- On 24/03/2012, walkers witnessed the Coniston Foxhounds killing a fox and police investigated claims that hunt supporters seriously attacked protestors.
- The News & Star reported on 09/01/2012 about hunting forum users allegedly admitting to illegal fox hunting whilst with the Blencathra Foxhounds.
- A supporter of the Coniston Foxhounds attacked a League Against Cruel Sports investigator on 09/03/2010, receiving a police caution.
- The terrierman for the Ullswater Foxhounds was convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 after digging out & beating a fox to death on 26/10/2009, after it had gone to ground. He continued to be employed by the Ullswater Foxhounds, which continued to be licensed by the National Trust.
- The Ullswater Foxhounds huntsman was in court on 17/09/2009 after a fox was killed by his hounds.
- Huntsman for the Coniston Foxhounds was convicted for criminal damage after smashing the windows of a hunt monitor vehicle on 19/02/2008.
- The Blencathra Foxhounds are believed to have killed a fox on National Trust land on 11/02/2006.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
- Ask the Trust’s General Manager for Central & East Lakes firstly why the Melbreak have only been suspended, not banned, and secondly for him to stop offering licences to all fox hunts in Cumbria. His email is email@example.com.
- If you live in Cumbria and want to volunteer for our campaign, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for packs of leaflets specific to Cumbria to deliver/hand out.
- Sign the Keeptheban petition to ban all hunting on National Trust land in England & Wales.
- Grass up the Cumbrian hunts if you see them by emailing Cumbria Hunt Watch on email@example.com.
- Follow National Dis-Trust on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
© National Dis-Trust
10th June 2018
It’s no secret that Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman is a Life Member of the Hunt Saboteurs Association. Although Hounds Off began existence in 2010, Joe has been an anti hunt campaigner for 36 years. We reproduce here in full his wide-ranging, thought provoking and deeply personal address to the 2018 Hunt Saboteurs Association AGM:
This is the front page of the first HOWL to be published after the Criminal Justice Act was introduced, in 1995. That young man blowing the horn, that’s me. My friend Peter White took the photo with a state-of-the-art waterproof camera while we were doing a two-man sab of the Park Beagles.
The hare had come down a hedge line and turned left-handed through a gate. The pack wasn’t far behind. Pete sprayed some citronella where she turned and I took position on a footbridge over a reservoir. Pete rated the beagles when they checked by the gate. I doubled the horn and gave a few whoops to bring them my way.
We crossed the water and ran along the quiet country lanes south of Yeovil. I was up front in the role of Huntsman, Peter whipped-in from the rear.
After a considerable distance we ran the pack halfway up a hill to a field corner with the intention of finding a barn with a door to put the hounds in. But we couldn’t find a barn so we just held them up and waited.
A long time passed.
Eventually we heard the peel of a beaglers bugle and voice calls in the distance and then realised that a slow a convoy of vehicles was out looking. We relocated downhill to a fast-running brook and slipped into the water up to our necks. Peter and I hid underneath the overhanging bank which was like a flooded cave of mud and tree roots.
We could hear engines, car doors and voices above our heads so we waited for it to go quiet. Then we waited a bit more, and only then did we emerge and clear off. The beauty of that day was that I don’t think the beaglers had a jolly clue what happened and we did completely scupper their hunt.
HOWL was having a poke at those sections of the Criminal Justice Act which were aimed specifically at hunt sabs. Michael Howard was Home Secretary at that time. He dubbed us as “Thugs, Wreckers and Bullies” and was pushing, pushing to bring this law in because we had to be stopped.
Ten years later, the Hunting Act came into force. It was supposed to spell the end of foxhunting and all the rest of it. But thirteen years on here we are, still at it.
On an illegal foxhunt in Dorset last season, some toe-rag, on a quad bike, pulled up next to me within kissing distance and sneered, “Are you a monitor or a sab?”
I was stood alone, in a gateway, filming. The Huntsman was on foot in a small covert across the field. Hounds were marking.
From an inside pocket, my radio crackled a message. I took it and relayed information which guided both sabs and monitors in. Terrier mush contorted his face. “You’re all the fucking same,” he snarled.
Are we all the same?
It feels like quite a responsibility, standing up here and telling you what I think. I don’t want to offend anyone. All I have is experience and ideas. All I ask is that you listen and consider. Everything is up for discussion afterwards. It’s good to talk.
I’m going to advocate engaging with the police. It’s ok to work with them. Not all coppers are bastards.
I’m going to suggest that you might want to consider joining organisations which have not yet banned hunting on their land, so you can raise a Members voice and cast a Members vote.
It’s ok to engage with the system. Sometimes it’s essential.
I challenged a binding over and High Court injunction taken by the Portman Hunt as far as the European Court of Human Rights. It took six years but I won.
I’ve taken two different employers to Tribunal and was successful on both occasions.
First time, a local hunt terrierman was the complainant. That was Unfair Dismissal.
Second time it was a combination of foxhunting, mink hunting and hare coursing which got me the sack. We called that out as Discrimination under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.
I’ve stood up in court numerous times, for prosecution and defence. Let me reassure you. If you’re honest, have a good case and a team which is intelligent and efficient then using the system against itself can be really effective. It’s not essential to be legally trained.
Just because we’re Hunt Sabs doesn’t mean we have to be outsiders.
My first sab was with the Swindon Group and we did the Old Berks. It was Boxing Day, 1982. My Dad dropped me off at Wantage near Oxford with a placard that said “Fox Hunters Are Scum”.
It was one of those days when we constantly tumbled in and out of a minibus. I watched and listened and learned.
Around mid afternoon, in a field corner, there was a dig. We marched in. There was a scuffle. In the melee a fox shot out and flashed along a hedge. And then another. This fox broke cover and ran into the open for all to see.
The pack was unleashed. We charged into the fray, spraying and rating. We didn’t think twice and we did distract and delay.
Swindon was a good group. They knew what they were doing. I’d like to say we saved the fox but I don’t really know. I was a just a middle class schoolkid. It was my first experience of hunted foxes and mad dogs on cry, thundering horses, flying mud, rural vandals pumped with bloodlust and the thrill of the chase.
Looking back, that was an early introduction to the infamous Three O’Clock Fox. Later investigations revealed an artificial earth in that field corner.
You might have been inspired by photos of sabs with long hair and flared trousers running on to the coursing fields at Altcar, of sabs sitting in badger setts to stop dig outs, or cradling foxes away from danger to safety in their arms.
They say, “A picture speaks a thousand words.” In this day and age, everyone’s a photographer and journalist. Having platforms to convey what happens in the field is a good thing.
Nobody understood this better than Mike Huskisson, and if you haven’t read Outfoxed then you must. He wasn’t the first to expose the bloody truth about hunting, and he won’t be the last, but the timing and quality of the evidence Mike produced, of heinous atrocities against wildlife, moves, inspires, lives on. It was a team effort, of course. Everybody needs support and back-up, but the influence of this work cannot be underestimated.
One thing Mike taught me is that you can be a hunt saboteur in numerous guises. There are many front lines.
In the early 1990’s, sabbing the New Forest Buckhounds with interventionist tactics wasn’t working.
It’s true that deer were saved. Anyone who was at one of the many blockades which prevented the Buckhounds leaving their kennels, or delayed them en route to a meet, will testify that we were effective. But our success also made the hunters more determined.
Kill rates went up because deer were chaperoned by outriders, shot on the move and even wrestled to the ground by hunters who were behaving like angry cowboys.
A few of us decided to replace hunting horns and citronella with video cameras, and we turned exclusively to filming. It was controversial. Running with the pack and letting the hunt play out without trying to stop it offended a lot of our friends. But, less than four years after the tactical shift, after centuries of deer hunting in this once-Royal Forest, with a combination of pen and pictures, political campaigning and non violent direct action, the Buckhounds disbanded.
During the passage of what became the Hunting Act there was a option which would have permitted fox hunting under licence. It was late 2002. Tony Blair and others were already wavering. They hoped this Middle Way would provide a satisfactory compromise.
A few months later, the International Fund for Animal Welfare released film of Cottesmore Hunt employees placing fox cubs into an artificial earth. This film exposed blatant flouting of huntings own, self-imposed, rules and exploded the myth of foxhunting as pest control. MPs were outraged and immediately voted, by more than two-to-one, for an outright ban.
The IFAW investigators who took that film were people like us who are still active today.
We can all be proud of the fact that Sabs have always been groundbreakers. We’ve always challenged the Establishment and the System. We’ve always led by example. We’ve paid for it with our liberty, our sanity, sometimes even our lives, but that’s what you do when you believe.
From the moment the Hunting Act came in to force, we’ve called out illegal hunting. But in 2005 who was listening? The press and public had reached saturation point and among our self-appointed leaders and charity bosses the assumption was “Job Done.”
But really, truthfully, did we expect hunters to just stop?
Think about the dogs in your life. How does it make you feel when you see them giving you that pack animal look?
If you’ve been brought up to think of a fox or badger as a disposable plaything piece of shit; if seeing your dog battle scarred but willing gives you pride and social status; if you fancy making a quick £700 on the black market, then of course you’re not going to stop hunting and digging just because there’s a law against it.
Remember how we reacted when they tried to stop us with the Criminal Justice Act?
So, thirteen years ago, the question was whether to sab, gather evidence or do both?
The first case went to court within months and once again, it was on evidence gathered by one of our own.
Exmoor Huntsman Tony Wright was convicted but he appealed and was acquitted. Worse still, the Appeal Judge ruled that searching for a fox was not covered by the term “hunting” as defined by the Hunting Act.
I’d love to know why that ruling wasn’t challenged, but it wasn’t. So the early stages of a hunt which we all know as “drawing”, is not illegal. At a stroke, enforcement got harder.
Loads of cases failed because of corruption, police and prosecution ineptitude, and loopholes which were inserted to protect the tally-ho brigade.
Hundreds of poachers and lurcher boys have been done, but precious few from registered hunts.
It took ten years before well-paid, professional, anti-hunting charity bosses were prepared to echo, publicly, what we had been banging on about that whole time – that the Hunting Act is chronically flawed and needs reinforcment.
But by then, the RSPCA had been destroyed as a campaigning organisation. In 2012 they took a courageous private prosecution against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt, based on evidence gathered by people like us.
They achieved a groundbreaking conviction. The Heythrop Hunt Limited admitted illegally hunting foxes. This meant the Hunt itself was guilty and not just an individual. That was important because servants can be sacked or retired and then claims made to be sweeping clean with a new broom. Getting done as a Corporate Body cut much deeper.
Despite being one of Englands richest, most prestigious packs, hunting foxes four days each week and drenched in privilege, the Heythrop Hunt and two staff members said that they pleaded guilty because they couldn’t afford to contest the case.
And the Countryside Alliance went into attack mode. They assassinated the motivation and reputation of our leading animal welfare charity with venom and fire.
Soon the Chief Exec was suffering from ill health, there was widespread internal restructuring and the RSPCA dropped their commitment to take Hunting Act prosecutions.
For a while hunts adopted pleading guilty on the grounds of saving taxpayers and charity donors money but a rash of convictions gave the Hunting Act statistical reinforcement.
So they changed tack, aiming instead at scuppering cases on technicalities surrounding evidence handling and witness reliability.
The League fell foul of these tactics during their 2015 case against the Lamerton Hunt in Devon and then they also pulled out from taking prosecutions.
IFAW had invested considerably in its Enforcement Team and achieved some notable successes. In December 2015 they published a report called Trail Of Lies which analysed, deconstructed and exposed how hunts throughout England & Wales are circumventing the law.
And then, six months later, IFAW dismantled their Enforcement Team. Bosses would say that they were channeling funds at worthy animal causes elsewhere in the world.
So I think we should take our hats off to sabs everywhere but especially from Beds & Bucks and South Cambridgeshire for being there and gathering evidence in the recent Fitzwilliam case. It’s the only standing conviction of a registered pack under the Hunting Act since Trail Of Lies was published.
The Countryside Alliance love playing the oppressed minority card and spinning all sorts of lies and bullshit. We shouldn’t blame them because this is a war and, whilst they’ve been very bad at getting the Hunting Act repealed, they have been pretty good so far at dodging and disabling it.
Not long after the Hunting Act came in to force I took part in a sting on the Palmer Milburn Beagles.
A friend and I pretended to be four-wheel drive nutters. We set it up so that one Saturday we chanced upon the beaglers during the course of green laning adventures on Salisbury Plain, and then went from there.
For two months we compiled a written and video dossier on the Palmer Milburn which showed consistent illegal hunting.
Unfortunately, it was a matter for the MoD police and the officer in charge knew nothing about the subject or how to apply the law.
So we filmed hares being found, hunted, lost, refound, hollered with voice and raised caps, hunted by scent, hunted by sight.
But the investigating officer didn’t understand that hunting is the crime, you don’t have to kill to be guilty. His entire investigation focussed on the one kill we did film, at distance in rough grassland.
It’d been a long hunt in poor weather. The hare was exhausted and had clapped. Huntsman was letting hounds cast themselves in the vicinity.
We were parked next to the Whipper-in, one of us out of the vehicle watching and chatting, the other filming discreetly from a window.
All of a sudden the beagles dived into a scrum amid a crescendo of noise. Huntsman bounded towards them and blew for a kill. We even recorded the Whipper-in saying, “That’s a kill. Don’t tell anyone I said that, it doesn’t happen.”
The investigating officer received our dossier and had six months to lay charges. But with one week to go he called a meeting and told us there was insufficient evidence.
He told us that, under caution, the Huntsman claimed they were not killing a hare. It was the beagles pouncing on a packet of biscuits he’d hidden to reward his dogs at the end of the trail.
Because of the long grass, poor light and the fact that this hare was knackered and chopped, we couldn’t prove the utter piss-taking nonsense of this lie.
Acting on information received, we did a job on the Tynedale in Northumberland. We’d drive through the night, have coffee and a detailed briefing with our disgruntled ex-hunt servant contact, then get to work.
The Tynedale own a notorious fox cover called Beukley. We trained hidden cameras on badger setts which pepper its craggy lower slopes and got footage of earth-stopping. And we repeated this in other locations.
Northumberland police were willing but the CPS refused to let the case go to trial because they questioned whether the setts were active.
We had hair, prints, a range of accepted field signs and confirmation by a local badger expert but the CPS insisted on evidence that was practically impossible to achieve.
Before he was Prime Minister, David Cameron pulled strings for his Heythrop chums. Again, we became trusted hunt supporters and filmed lots of illegal hunting over a period of many months.
We produced another compelling dossier and the coppers were on board. It had gone up to the CPS and then, out of the blue, the case dropped dead. No explanations, it just stopped.
It wasn’t until publication of Lord Ashcroft’s book “Call Me Dave” that what happened was revealed – influence had been exerted over the heads of Gloucestershire Police by the Conservative Party leader. Once again, justice wasn’t done.
The Hunting Act is weak but not completely flawed.
It used to be, around the end of every February or early March, a three day event was held in Lancashire called the Waterloo Cup. It was the pinnacle of the hare coursing season, considered by aficionados of the sporting greyhound to be its ultimate test.
Canine speed, agility and stamina would be scrutinised by putting in front of them a live hare. Greyhounds were released in pairs, scoring points for how quickly they ran up to their quarry and their skill in working her at every twist and turn.
Publicly, coursing supporters would say that the object was to exercise not kill the hare. But from the crowds at Waterloo, which sometimes numbered thousands, cheers and celebrations were loud and drunken when she was snatched, “bowled over” or clamped, screaming between the jaws, tragic and doomed, a living tug-of-war rope. The Judge on horseback awarded points for that, too.
This was a knock-out competition starting with 64 entrants. Winning greyhounds progressed until one victorious dogs trainer got awarded the Waterloo Cup itself, loads of money and legendary status in the history books.
There was a Plate Event for losers and side shows. Many hares were needed and had to be imported regularly from East Anglia to keep the population artificially high.
Hare coursing was well organised by different local Clubs. Weekly meets were held across England and Scotland from September to March under rules stipulated by the National Coursing Club.
Then the Hunting Act made it illegal. But, just as foxhunters invented trailhunting as a false alibi, so hare coursers rebranded their sport as ‘Greyhound Trialling’.
On 2nd and 3rd March 2007 I found myself in Yorkshire, working undercover to expose the myth of Greyhound Trialling at a two-day event being billed as the New Waterloo Cup. We knew that there had been numerous similar, smaller events throughout that winter and this was the culmination of efforts to facilitate the reintroduction of hare coursing.
My partner wore a pinhole camera. I had a camcorder wired into binoculars.
On arrival we could see people away in the fields beyond a belt of trees, waving plastic bags on sticks, working as ‘beaters’. There were lots of vans with greyhounds being tended and prepared.
Just out from the field edge was a man standing in a three-sided shelter, wearing the traditional red coat, holding a pair of greyhounds on a leash. Hares were being shepherded, manoeuvred to run, one at a time, from behind the shelter into the area in front and in view.
Greyhounds would be straining now and slipped from their long leads. The sprint was on. Parallel lines of people stood in the field to scare the hare back towards the middle whenever she tried to break free to the side.
This was all entirely consistent with pre-ban hare coursing run under National Coursing Club rules.
But there were a couple of subtle differences. First, the greyhounds were muzzled. We didn’t see any hares get savaged although we did film them pinned and pummelled before men wrestled them away and pulled their necks.
Second, there was a man with a gun who, according to the law, was supposed to shoot hares which had been ‘flushed’ beyond a stretch of orange plastic barrier netting. He only ever discharged his gun into the air, to laughter and ironic applause, and the netting was both unfit for purpose and often in entirely the wrong place.
Organised hare coursing is covered by Section 5 of the Hunting Act, which is unequivocal. It states, “A ‘hare coursing event’ is a competition in which dogs are, by the use of live hares, assessed as to skill in hunting hares.” There is little wriggle room for people who get caught.
The upshot of our undercover operation was that two landowners were found guilty at Scarborough Magistrates Court of hosting the illegal event. Subsequently, celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and racehorse trainer Sir Mark Prescott bowed to a private prosecution brought by IFAW. They pleaded guilty.
Although Dickson-Wright made the headlines, it was Prescott who was a lynch pin of the coursing world. He had revived the original Waterloo Cup in its later years when it seemed to be dying a natural death.
At around that time we secured convictions against organisers and landowners who facilitated and attended a so-called ‘Greyhound Trialling’ event in Norfolk. Together, these operations signalled a victory for the Hunting Act (Section 5) and the end of organised Club Coursing – unless you know otherwise….
In 2013 Owen Patterson was the Environment Minister. He was presented with a research paper by the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs which claimed that using two hounds to flush foxes to guns was inefficient and inhumane. Patterson joined the chorus of hunt supporters seeking amendments so that using a full pack to flush would be legal, as in Scotland.
For a while it looked likely that the Conservative-led Coalition Government would pass the amendments and the Countryside Alliance was licking its lips in anticipation. In fact, the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs was a front for the CA itself.
Thankfully not everyone was so crooked and bent. Within DEFRA itself there were misgivings.
The Welsh Farmers paper was flagged as containing incomplete data, inconsistencies, statements at odds with its own evidence and being neither peer-reviewed nor published.
I’m told it was a refusal to budge by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg which finally saw this sly effort dropped.
Do you remember July 2015, when Parlaiment was about to be suspended for the summer holidays? Tories had just won a majority and had another stab at back-door repeal. They proposed amendments which were presented as minor and just bringing England and Wales into line with Scotland.
But hunt supporters underestimated how much the public still dislike ritualised animal abuse. If they thought they could undermine the Hunting Act (and democracy) quietly, unnoticed and with little resistance, they were spectacularly wrong.
Millions of us protested our disapproval. We lobbied our MPs. We spoke, wrote, tweeted, retweeted, shared, liked, favourited, pinned, posted, demonstrated, reported, advertised, sang, shouted and dreamed about defeating these amendments and the dark forces behind them.
Key to saving the Hunting Act was MP support. Hunters claimed the Scottish National Party scuppered those amendments but that’s not true. Actually, an irresistible coalition was mobilised, comprising MPs from across political parties and Home Nations who all committed to defending the law.
Hunters lost their nerve. The day before the scheduled vote the amendments were withdrawn.
Remember last year, that surprise snap General Election? Polls predicted “The biggest Election win for decades”. And Brexit wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds….
The Daily Mirror published news of a leaked email from Conservative Peer and foxhunting fanatic Lord Mancroft, urging Hunt Masters to mobilise their supporters and campaign for pro-hunt Tories in marginal seats. He reckoned that an increased majority of 50 in the House Of Commons would be enough to overturn the Hunting Act.
To be honest, Mancroft only confirmed what we already knew.
Bloodsports organisations have always worked hard to get their own people elected.
Vote OK is the baby of Lord Ashcroft, another Tory Peer with disproportionate money, power and influence. Manpower and resources get poured into marginal constituencies where they think they can get pro-hunt candidates elected.
Vote OK channels the energy of local Hunt Supporters Club members and offers them up as campaigning foot soldiers. The deal is that the candidate must accede to their single-issue fanaticism and promise to vote for repeal of the Hunting Act.
In his email to every Master of Fox Hounds, Lord Mancroft wrote, “This is the chance we have been waiting for.”
The day after the Mirror exposé, the Prime Minister took questions from factory workers in Leeds. Until then, questions put forward on the campaign trail had been screened in advance and answers prepared. In Leeds TM the PM was speaking unscripted.
When a man asked if there was truth in rumours that Tories would make bloodsports legal again, Teresa May replied, “As it happens I have always been in favour of foxhunting.”
We campaigned bloody hard after that, didn’t we? Especially in places like Wrexham.
For loads of reasons the Tories divebombed. They’ve even dropped their pledge to repeal the Hunting Act during the life of this parliament.
It’s a massive shift.
Remember, the Countryside Alliance used to be called the British Field Sports Society and the BFSS was widely known as “The Conservative Party At Play”.
The hunters goal is to destroy the Hunting Act and future-proof bloodsports. And the next big threat is Brexit.
If all goes to plan, masses of European law and EU Directives will be changed into bespoke British legislation. The Countryside Alliance have sussed that it’s here where they can stick in their oar and influence things so that these new laws will simply supercede the Hunting Act. There’ll be no need for repeal.
Last year the CA produced their own Brexit Policy Document, and they aimed it at MPs. They barely mentioned hunting but this thing called “wildlife management” played big.
Now they’ve published their Brexit Rural Charter. There’s a whole section on wildlife management and hunting with hounds is pitched as an integral part of this.
The principal of hunting with dogs is being normalised and detoxified with rose-tinted promises of self-regulation and words like sustainable, environmental, natural, conservation, humane, even animal welfare.
I believe that the CA has taken its lead from America. Over there, hunting, shooting and fishing are administered at local level by official bodies which “manage” wildlife populations via licences, quotas, regulations. What happens on the ground is state-sponsored animal abuse on a mind-boggling scale but it’s sold to the public as practical, sensible, wholesome and good.
I hope I’m wrong but, as things stand, it’s on the cards for an American-style system of administrating bloodsports to slip-slide onto the statute books as EU Environmental Directives and Laws are replaced with UK-specific legislation.
This is complicated politics. The question is, do we, as a movement, have the vision, experience, skills and will to get our heads together and avert this car crash before it happens.
And it’s not just MP’s being hoodwinked by hunters. They’ve been grooming children for generations because an ongoing supply of willing participants is essential for the continuity of deathsports.
A vital part of the infrastructure which traditionally leads horse loving youngsters into the dark world of killing-for-fun are the Pony Clubs, most of which are linked with mounted hunts and, so long as these hunts claim to be trailhunting within the law, they’re able to mislead many impressionable youngsters (and their parents) about their real intent.
With a range of horse-related activities on offer which seem a million miles from the ritualised sacrifice of a fox, hare or deer, Pony Clubs provide a perfect gateway for introducing children into the ways of the Hunt.
Trail Hunting is nothing more than a charade which provides a perfect cover story for grooming the young and the the gullible, especially when days are tailored to enhance the illusion and the messaging from respectable adults, supporters clubs, hunts themselves and their representative organisations all conspire to convince impressionable young minds that Trail Hunting is legitimate.
By the time the awful truth dawns it’s no longer seen as awful. To the next generation of deathsport enthusiasts, indoctrinated into a world of false alibis, blind eyes and rural lies, wild mammals which are illegally hunted and killed are no longer empathised with; reduced instead to objects of amusement, to be besmirched and abused, accidentally or accidentally-on-purpose, depending on who’s looking or asking.
Did you know, a few years ago the Countryside Alliance Foundation created a whole suite of teaching aids aimed at primary school kids called the Countryside Investigators?
Countryside Investigators branding is bright and appealing. But it’s a confidence trick. Scratch the surface and Countryside Investigators is just another tool for grooming children with pro hunt propaganda.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Kimblewick were grooming inner city youngsters in South London a few weeks ago, because it’s all part of their master plan.
This is the point where I was going to tell you about a hunting atrocity which happened in a private garden. But I can’t, and the reason I can’t is that the person who Hounds Off is supporting is so frightened of upsetting the local hunting community that she doesn’t want the incident to be identified. It’s isolated where she lives and her worries are genuine.
So let me tell you about staghunting on National Trust property instead.
Back in the 1990s, the National Trust commissioned a Cambridge University Professor of Animal Behaviour to conduct a two-year scientific study into the welfare implications of staghunting. It was in response to a Members Motion at an Extraordinary General Meeting in 1995. Members voted overwhelmingly for such a study. It was truly independent and both Westcountry staghunters and the League co-operated.
Professor Patrick Bateson and his team shadowed the Devon & Somerset and the Quantock Staghounds. They observed and then took blood samples from sixty-four hunted deer at the point of death. In the lab the samples were analysed and tested. They were contrasted and compared with similar samples from deer that were shot.
Bateson’s report was published in 1997. The extent of suffering and cruelty caused to deer killed by hunting with dogs was proven to be so profound, so extreme, so beyond anything which might be experienced in nature, that it shocked everyone. The National Trust immediately banned staghunting on its land.
Next day, The Daily Telegraph headline was, “Death Knell Sounded For Staghunting.” But sadly, it wasn’t.
After a short period when the hunting community hung its head in shame, they came out fighting. They rubbished Bateson and his methodology and did their own, quick, pseudo-scientific study which concluded that Bateson was wrong and that staghunting wasn’t really very cruel.
Consequently, staghunting never stopped. And for me the scandal is that for twenty-one years the National Trust have failed to enforce their own ban.
Just take the situation on the Quantock Hills. It’s a compact area with some very large blocks of National Trust land. Technically, the Quantock Staghounds are not allowed to go there. They have no licence for so-called “exempt hunting”. But they do, frequently, because that’s where hunted deer take them. National Trust Wardens don’t stop them because they say the boundaries are so big and remote that they just can’t be in the right place at the right time.
There are similarly large blocks of Forestry Commission land from which staghunting is also technically forbidden. Without the Commission and Trust acres, the Quantock Staghounds would struggle to operate two days a week for eight and a half months a year. They’ve already taken extra country on loan from the Devon & Somerset to remain viable.
What do we do about this? Direct action, monitoring and evidence gathering, political campaigning or a combination?
One thing I feel strongly about is if you can afford to become a Member then join the National Trust. I know many have left in disgust after last years Members Resolution to ban trailhunting was scuppered by the Ruling Council but the simple fact is, since then, overall membership has gone up because there’s been a massive influx of hunt supporters joining. Ever since The Bateson Report, they’ve been trying to take over the National Trust. Cancelling or refusing membership might give you some personal satisfaction but as a campaigning tactic it is flawed.
The National Dis-Trust was started by people like us, and has done sterling work over recent years. 618,000 acres and the viability of many hunts are at stake so it’s really worth thinking about the most effective ways to best protect animals from cruelty.
Hounds Off offers a way to stop hunting even if the Hunting Act gets repealed or superseded.
I’ve told previous AGMs about how we help, support and advise beleaguered landowners, about saving lives, making friends and influencing people. These things remain the core of what we do. But Hounds Off is evolving. We’ve now got solicitors and barristers supporting landowners from Devon to Cheshire to Sussex and we are developing real teeth.
And because havoc and trespass incidents are inevitable consequences of illegal hunting, we work with the police.
Nobody likes being treated like a fool, including officers of the law. Remember, beneath the uniform, they’re people too, and there are many who are fucking well fed up with illegal hunting.
It’s not easy to break down cultural and political barriers. It takes time, patience and energy to dispel negative stereotypes, to earn trust you never had. It can be a thankless task but we’re doing it and we’re doing it for the animals.
If hunting is ever going to really stop we must connect with people in a positive way. We’ve got to reach and touch the hearts and minds of ignorant, arrogant, addicted, thugs, wreckers and bullies so that they wake up one morning and think, you know what, I don’t want to abuse and kill animals any more. And these people need to pass on this new way of thinking to their children.
I always ask myself, what would I do if I was them? I know that if I was a nasty bastard and felt assailed or mocked by anti’s, I’d go out and abuse more animals for longer in their name as vengeance.
For me, sabbing has always been about spreading love not hate. I’m not deluded. I know we make people angry. But I don’t think that rubbing people’s noses in it is a good idea.
In February, I was driving with a friend to a pop-up demo at a Mendip Farmers meet. We were chatting and she asked, when did I stop being a Hunt Saboteur? I said I haven’t, I just do it differently these days.
Remember that lad on the quad bike I mentioned at the start? Maybe he was right. Maybe, fundamentally, us lot here today are the same…
Because there is something. There is something that makes us devise crazy plans that might just work, something that gives us strength to roll with the knocks and stand up again in defence of wildlife in difficult and often dangerous conditions.
Lots of people care, and care genuinely. But what is it, what is it that moves you to put your neck on the line in service of our humble brethren?
© Joe Hashman
28th May 2018
Mysteries surrounding fox scent and how it is (or isn’t) used as a cover for illegal hunting are explored in this Guest Blog by a Hunt Monitor from Surrey…
“Trail hunting is a legal activity and that is what was happening here. Hounds follow a trail of fox’s urine.” The Nottingham Post reported these words of Adrian Simpson of the Countryside Alliance in March this year following the successful appeal against the conviction of three members of the Grove and Rufford Hunt.
Mr Simpson added: “It became patently clear in the course of the appeal that a fox jumped out in front of the hounds, which pursued it for a short distance and killed it”.
So let’s get this right: the hunt’s hounds were following a trail of fox urine when a fox unfortunately jumped out in front of them. Now I have no way of assessing the likelihood of a fox thinking it would be a good idea to play chase with a pack of foxhounds, beyond stating the obvious that it looks like a bad evolutionary trait, but I can analyse the fox urine part of the story. I can do so (in part) because I have personally been shown a bottle which I strongly suspect did once contain fox urine – originally. Here it is:
I captured this image last hunting season when Mr Jeremy Gumbley, a former Master of and “trail layer” for the Surrey Union Hunt, showed it to me. He was in a good mood that day. Whether that was because the police had turned up in force (around 25 officers in five 4×4’s) and had arrested a Hunt Saboteur for alleged criminal damage, I could not say. But whether for that reason or because he was simply attempting to convince me of the legitimacy of his hunt’s activities, he not only showed me the bottle, but explained a little about it. He even invited me to smell its contents, though I declined that kind offer, explaining that I really didn’t have a sense of smell which could help me verify what it was.
As you can see, this product is called FoxPee and you can just about read that it also says “100% Fox Urine”. So far, so good then.
“Where did you get it from?” I asked Mr Gumbley. His answer? “A shop that sold it”.
A little coy maybe, but perhaps understandable. So I asked a long-time Campaigner about it. He recognised this as having been available from a country store in the exact part of Surrey where Mr Gumbley lives. So again, so far, so good. This story is really hanging together.
But wait a second. Does that bottle look a little old to you? Funny that, because the Campaigner also told me the product hadn’t been sold in this shop for a decade or more, and certainly it was not listed on-line as being available there when I looked. And yet the bottle was still half full. Now perhaps things are looking a little less clear cut.
Then you look on the internet and you find that this product cannot be bought anywhere in the UK, but rather is made (if that is the right word – farmed in some horrible fashion one imagines) by a company based in Maine in the north east United States, so it will need to be imported.
Then you do a little more research and find that the importation of this material would require a licence from the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. You then learn that in response to Freedom of Information requests it has been clearly established that no licences have been granted any time in recent years, the latest request taking the position up to March 2018.
And I should also have mentioned that Mr Gumbley said that he didn’t really think his bottle contained fox urine.
Put all these things together and it really is now looking a lot less clear cut. A reasonable deduction might be that this is an old bottle which has been re-filled with something. If so, what’s in it? Well that’s not really the point. If its not fox urine, why would the Countryside Alliance spokesperson say hunts use fox urine?
Of course strictly speaking he was only talking about the Grove and Rufford, even if his statement could, perfectly reasonably, be interpreted as meaning that all, or at least many, hunts use fox urine.
So where could the Grove and Rufford have got its fox urine, bearing in mind that it cannot have been imported (at least legally) any time in recent years, which eliminates any foreign source?
One possibility is from “Adrian’s Fox Scent”. That’s not as in Adrian Simpson’s fox scent – at least I assume not – its apparently a company trading name, the company in question being Harrier Contracting Limited. It has advertised itself as “the UK’s leading supplier of animal urines” according to these web-page screenshots I came across:
And apparently it issued this certificate to the Melbreak Hunt in 2016:
I am not sure why anyone would need a certificate of supply – an old-fashioned invoice with a VAT number might have been more what one might have expected – but taking it at face value, it seems to lend substance to the claims. But again there are just a couple of things which make things a little less clear cut.
First, where exactly does Adrian’s Fox Scent “make” its fox urine? It must be in the UK somewhere, unless those FOI requests were wrong. Anyone seen a fox-urine farm anywhere?
Second, how come Companies House records say that Harrier Contracting was dissolved on 7 February 2017, having never traded?
Sorry I don’t have any answers these questions. Nor do I have any other ideas as to where all this fox urine comes from. And as you will gather from this blog, I really have tried to find out.
Oh and there’s one final thing. At least according to my reading, fox urine comes within the scope of The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 implementing European Union Regulation (EC) 1069/2009. And since these Regulations prevent the introduction of products within their scope into the environment, this seems to mean that it is illegal to use fox urine as a trail.
So the next time your local hunt says it uses a trail of fox urine, can I suggest you ask them two questions:
Where do you get your fox urine?
Why do they think this is legal given Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 and The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013?
Or perhaps next time Mr Simpson gives an interview, someone can ask him…
© A Surrey Hunt Monitor
14th March 2018
Hunt Monitors Peter White & Kevin Hill with Joe Hashman from Hounds Off outside Poole Magistrates Court today (14.03.18) where Portman Hunt Master Evo Shirley was acquitted of illegally hunting a fox, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004).
DORSET HUNTSMAN ADMITS HE ALLOWED HOUND PACK TO CHASE FOX ON NATIONAL TRUST LAND BUT CLAIMS IT WAS ACCIDENTAL AND IS ACQUITTED
A Dorset huntsman was today acquitted of illegally hunting a fox with hounds, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004).
District Judge Stephen Nicolls, presiding over the case brought by Dorset Police at Poole Magistrates Court, had previously heard eye-witness evidence from volunteer hunt monitors Peter White and Kevin Hill. Film taken by Peter White showed the Portman Hunt hounds chasing a fox on land owned by the National Trust near Wimborne Minster. However, District Judge Nicolls was not satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that this was deliberate and contrary to the Hunting Act as he interpreted it so he cleared Mr Evo Shirley, Master of Fox Hounds and Huntsman for the Portman Hunt, of the charge.
In evidence Mr Shirley told the court that he had allowed his pack of hounds to hunt a fox which they had flushed from a small wood on 8 March 2017, rather than try to stop them, because he could not control them while they were in hot pursuit and needed to let the events “play out.”
Reflecting on the case, Peter White said, “Dorset Police deserve full credit for listening to myself and Kevin Hill when we approached them and said that we had film of what we believed was illegal foxhunting.”
Regarding the verdict, Mr White said, “The Portman Hunt want people to think that they go after trails of fox urine and not live foxes. Unfortunately on this occasion they have persuaded the Court that the fox was hunted by accident and, as the Hunting Act stands, this is a defence in law.”
With regards to the National Trust, the landowners who allow so-called trail hunting to take place on the Kingston Lacy Eastate, Mr White said, “Despite this verdict, I believe that the Portman Hunt can no longer be trusted. In evidence, Mr Shirley admitted that foxes have been ‘inadvertently’ hunted on numerous occasions. Members and visitors might be shocked to learn that the National Trust is well aware of this too.”
Explaining how trail hunting can be easily used as a convenient cover for illegal bloodsports, Kevin Hill said, “Trail hunting is set up for accidents to happen. In evidence it was admitted that the Portman Hunt hounds are trained to go after a fox-based scent so clearly live foxes are constantly at risk. It was revealed that the whereabouts of man-laid trails was unknown to the Huntsman so he had no idea if his hounds were chasing that or a live fox, until he actually saw it. We were told that the hunting pack numbered thirty to forty hounds and, because they were hard onto the fox, the Huntsman could not stop them.”
Explaining how crying “Accident” allows for a defence in Hunting Act cases and how this loophole could be closed, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman said, “To succeed with prosecutions, the law demands we prove that hunting wild mammals is intentional. In this case the Defence was able to persuade Judge Nicolls that the fox was hunted inadvertently. For thirteen years hunters have exploited this loophole to escape conviction. I suggest that using a large pack of hounds trained to hunt a fox-based scent in areas where foxes are known to live is reckless behaviour. It is now time to clearly define Section 1 of the Hunting Act so that to ‘hunt’ means ’cause or permit a dog to seek out, pursue, attack, injure or kill a wild mammal’.”
For the acquitted defendent, former Royal Air Force pilot Mr Bruce Cook had previously told the Court that he was responsible for laying trails that day for the Portman Hunt. Despite telling District Judge Nicolls that he had recorded his movements with GPS readings on an iPhone, he was unable to provide any verifiable evidence of this. Mr Cook admitted that the maps he provided as proof had not been prepared by himself, were inaccurate and that additional photographs claiming to have been taken on 8 March 2017 were “indicative of every photo I take on a hunt” and therefore it was not possible or him to definitively pin them to that date and place.
A spokesperson for the National Dis-Trust said, “The result of this case simply reinforces what we have been saying for years, namely that the National Trust faith in and defense of hunts is utterly misplaced & unjustifiable. Their licence system, for permitting hunting with hounds on National Trust property, should be revoked before the next season begins.”
Notes for Journalists:
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About Hounds Off:
Hounds Off helps homeowners, landowners and tenants to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass. Hounds Off also supports the Hunting Act (2004). We seek to enforce and reinforce this legislation in partnership with the public, wildlife crime investigators, legal professionals and politicians.