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21st Dec 2018

Illegal Hunting – Eye Witness Accounts

Surrey Hunt Monitors call illegal hunting out.

On Wednesday I observed the Portman Hunt blatantly chasing foxes in Dorset.

At about 11.30am I saw two quad bikes and some riders appear over the brow of a low hill, then the Huntsman with his pack of hounds at heel. He took them to foxy-looking bit of rough ground and let them go off and sniff around. His voice calls encouraged them and he rolled his tongue in a way which has been practiced by generations of foxhunters and is designed to rouse their quarry.

After a while one hound started to bark. “Speaking,” hunters call it. Then another and another and within seconds all the twenty-odd hounds were on, actively hunting and speaking in unison, running in and out of thick hedges and undergrowth, back and fore between a woodyard and scrubland in pursuit of a fox who was, unseen, twisting and turning in front and trying to shake them off.

The Huntsman was cunningly wearing a black coat so as to blend in with other riders. Once things got going he stood back to make it look like he wasn’t in full control and could claim to a policeman or a Judge that any illegal foxhunting was accidental. Additionally, there were people scattered around in all directions on foot and no doubt some of them would claim they were “laying a trail”.

I knew they were illegally hunting but hadn’t seen the fox so didn’t report the crime.

Hounds hunted locally for well over half and hour. There was a quiet interlude before the noise started again. Can’t be certain what happened there but likely the fox had found a refuge and before the hunt could continue he had to be flushed out with smaller, specialist dogs. That’s why blokes follow on quad bikes equipped with terriers and spades. They deny it, of course they do, but actually it’s a fact.

Then I could see and hear, from my vantage, that the hunt had gone away. Before they disappeared from view they turned left-handed and after that I was unable to keep track.

I was with friends standing on guard on a piece of land where hunting is forbidden. At 12.50pm I saw a small dot moving, left to right, across a field in the distance and lifted my binoculars to have a closer look. It was a fox. I watched him for a few seconds until he ran out of view.

Sure enough, less than a minute later the whole pack poured through a hedge into that same field and followed precisely the same line as I had just seen the fox take. They disappeared from view in exactly the same place too. And following the hounds were the riders. Doubtless they were having a fine old time. “Just like the good old days,” you could almost hear them think.

That’s when I called the police on 101 and reported the illegal hunting as a wildlife crime. I explained exactly what I’d seen. I couldn’t stop the hunt and even if I had captured the scene on film (which I didn’t) the evidence wouldn’t have stood up to dishonest cross examination in a court of law. But at least it’s recorded and has become a statistic (Crime Log Number I19-186), which is important.

Modern day policing is statistics-led. This means that resources are allocated where, statistically, there is deemed to be most need.

My Sister-in-Law wrote the following short letter to the local paper after she witnessed and reported illegal foxhunting recently too (Crime Log Number 8-224), which we publish here because they didn’t.

“Standing in a back garden last Saturday (8 December) I was blessed with the scene of a fox running across the field beyond, its body full stretch as it sped over the grass underfoot.  My awe was quickly broken as only a few seconds later a pack of hounds emerged hot on the fox’s tail. To my shock I was witnessing the local hunt in full motion.

“Fox hunting has been illegal for many years so to see the hunt chasing a fox was a shock and deeply saddening.  There was nothing to suggest the hunt was going to call the hounds off, which is what I’ve since been told is supposed to happen.

“I am not naive in thinking that what I saw was anything other than what was intended … the chase … the kill and whatever it is that the people who take part in this type of sport get from doing this.

“I didn’t choose to see or be part of what happened just a few metres away from me that day, but it left me feeling distressed and angry.

“Why is it okay to flout the law in this cruel way?”

C Fawcett, Shaftesbury

© Joe Hashman

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14th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 7: Snakeoil Salesman’s Last Stand

Who in their right mind could approve of the so-called "sport" of hare coursing, where hares are forced to run for their lives in front of greyhounds (or similar fast running dogs) while spectators gawp, bookies profit and officials judge and award points for every twist, turn, trip and kill? Photo credit: Ed Maynard.

Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

Mr Barrington and the Countryside Alliance keep saying it’s a myth that the majority of the population is against hunting (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). They often refer to particular attendance of anti-hunting or pro-wildlife events as evidence. The truth is that in the last two decades there has not been any single poll that has not shown a majority of a UK population being against hunting. This must be quite hard to swallow for Mr Barrington because, despite all his efforts, the percentages of people against hunting keep rising. It’s well over the 80% mark now.

Of course he will now claim that polls undertaken by reputable polling companies using big random samples don’t show the reality of public opinion, suggesting instead we should just count how many people have attended a particular hunting protest or Parliamentary reception, then conclude those are the only people opposing hunting. And, of course, if he continues to ignore science it would not be surprising if he said that if no “antis” have attended a packed hunting ball or a pro-hunting countryside event, this must mean the anti-hunting sentiment has vanished and people in the UK now wants hunting back (which is kind of what he implies in the Horse & Hound article).

Mr Barrington also must be very frustrated when again and again attempts to repeal or weaken the Hunting Act 2004 have failed because a dwindling number of pro-hunt MPs, even during Conservative Governments.

I am sure he will not give up, though, as he has a job to do, so he will continue trying to deceive on-the-fence MPs (or MPs that are secretly pro-hunt) into believing that he can offer a supposedly “middle way” between the two sides of the hunting debate (as he did during the debate for the passing of the Hunting Act 2004).

Some MPs may fall into this as he will do that by disguising the repeal of the hunting ban with a new “Wild Mammals Protection Bill”, which will sound good, as will talk about protection of mammals and banning some horrible practices … but in the end it will introduce a licensing system which will allow only a “select” group of “experts” to undertake wild mammal “lethal” control … and you know who he will be referring to, don’t you? Yes, registered hunts, of course.

Fortunately, it would not take that much for those deceived politicians to realise the trap they were about to fall into. But it is important we keep vigilant and help them to avoid falling and persuade them instead to support any initiative to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, to eliminate all the loopholes (such as the “flushing to guns” or the “observation and research” exemptions) and false alibis (such as “trail hunting”) which hunts constantly use to circumvent the law.

It’s not surprising that the rejection of hunting by the UK population, both rural and urban, in any constituency in the UK, is denied by Mr Barrington and colleagues. This is classic “denial”, which I am sure he has to do as part of his job … but he must know by now that there is no way back, for hunting, and for him.

If Mr Barrington is indeed “hunting‘s most valuable asset” we just need to be sure he doesn’t get away with false claims and sneaky political manoeuvres and keep him “at bay” every time he surfaces. Hunting with dogs is an obsolete cruel activity and eventually will be completely abolished, no matter which “assets” are used to derail this unstoppable social progress.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman

Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak

Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane

Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural

Hunting Myths Pt 5: Hunting Conserves The Countryside

Hunting Myths Pt 6: Hunting Is Wildlife Management

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13th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 6: Hunting Is Wildlife Management

Pest Control, wildlife management or simply a cruel sport which made some money & satisfied the bestial urges of a sadistic minority? Here, now defunct New Forest Buckhounds Huntsman John Stride fumbles in his pocket for a gun whilst straddling an exhausted fallow buck run to collapse in a stream. Stills from a film taken in 1995 by Wildlife Action.

Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

Perhaps the claim that wild animals need to be lethally managed by people is the most crucial false argument Mr Barrington uses in his rhetoric (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). He always tries to get others to accept this claim before he then moves with the claim that ‘if they need to be killed, better do it with dogs’. But the truth is that in most cases, wildlife doesn’t need to be managed. In most cases, natural ecosystems (and the wildlife in them) need to be preserved by preventing humans’ interference and letting Nature to find its own balance. And in the cases where Nature needs a helping hand because we humans have messed the ecosystem too much, there are plenty of feasible wildlife management methods that are not lethal, and therefore are not based on killing wildlife (such as fencing, shepherding, translocations, management of available food, deterrents, etc.).

Unfortunately this dangerous idea that killing is necessary to succeed is very much entrenched in the minds of many landowners, from farmers killing wildlife around their land to protect their ‘products’, to shooting estates eliminating predators of the animals they want to sell as live targets for the guns, to conservation organisations obsessed with the preservation of a particular species and wanting to kill other animals that compete with them.

As such, non-lethal methods of wildlife management are often ignored and unnecessary killing is chosen when it should have been avoided. This accounts for the examples Mr Barrington uses in the article, which he uses as either examples of compulsion (‘it needs to be done’) or hypocrisy ( ‘we have to do it but we want to keep it secret’), as if somehow validates such practices. These examples of Mr Barrington’s lethal ideas are so dangerous that even some organisations which should be protecting animals are unfortunately (and erroneously) seduced by them, causing much unnecessary suffering and death.

In the case of foxes it is particularly true that they don’t need lethal control, as a lot of research has already proven that the fox population is not growing out of control, and their ‘negative’ effect on farming has been greatly exaggerated. Research has already shown how little foxes contribute to lamb predation and that it is likely that when a shepherd finds evidence of a fox eating a lamb this may be because the lamb died from other causes. The fox is just being a scavenger.

And foxes who take advantage of poor human husbandry by getting into henhouses do not kill more than they can eat at one sitting for the sheer fun of it. ‘Surplus killing’, as it is known, is a survival technique which has evolved in foxes to guard against future food shortages.

Fox populations self-regulate because they are composed by territorial animals, so the populations are kept more or less stable if the space and food availability does not change. And if there is a problem with a particular fox, killing it may make it worse. If farmers remove an older fox with any lethal wildlife management method because they consider this fox ‘vermin’ another young fox will replace it very soon after as the territory become vacant and no longer defended by the older fox. This new fox is most likely to be more ‘problematic’ to farming as it is likely to be more inexperienced and not know the territory well, venturing more into places it is not welcomed (the areas where livestock are kept), and thus making the ‘problem’ even worse.

In Mr Barrington‘s article it is claimed that hunting provides a huge level of controlled public access to private land, but everyone who has attempted to monitor hunting knows how false this is. It is precisely the fact hunts these days use much private land which the public are not allowed to enter which allows them to hunt illegally with impunity, as it is difficult to obtain evidence without such access. Hunt supporters don’t hesitate to prevent public access to rights of way and common land because they fear that anyone who does not belong to their fraternity may end up reporting them to the authorities when they witness what they actually do.

From blocking roads with their vehicles to physically assaulting bystanders, the hunting fraternity is well known for their intimidation and violent tactics towards the general public, so this claim is quite ludicrous.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman

Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak

Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane

Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural

Hunting Myths Pt 5: Hunting Conserves The Countryside

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10th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural

Terriermen armed with digging equipment and small dogs follow almost every pack of Foxhounds. No predator, or so-called predator, of foxes blocks their holes to keep them running 'on top' or digs them out if they do escape underground. Just one example of how foxhunting is anything but "natural". Portman Hunt, 2018. Photo credit: Wildlife Witness

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

One of Mr. Barrington‘s favourite claims is that hunting with hounds is the equivalent of natural predation as the hunts play the role of the wolves, now extinct in the UK, which he claims are the natural predators of foxes. This is completely untrue, as actually there are no real natural predators of foxes and there have never been. Foxes are a predator species, not a prey species, and just because wolves are bigger it doesn’t mean that they normally predate on foxes. In this issue one can clearly see what happens when someone with no background in zoology or ecology tries to use zoological arguments (Mr. Barrington makes a basic error in assuming that the simplistic idea of the bigger fish always eats the smaller fish in the sea applies everywhere).

Although wolves may have occasionally eaten foxes that would be extremely rare and definitively does not make the fox the natural prey of the wolf, in the same way leopards are not the natural prey of lions, or wolves are not the natural prey of tigers, or coyotes are not the natural prey of pumas. You don’t see an increase of populations of these smaller predators when the larger predators population decreases (ie; tigers are endangered now), as such rare occasional kills (which tend to be accidental rather than a deliberate attempt to predate) are unlikely to have any significant population effect.

Wolves may kill and eat foxes in dispute over carcases, but foxes are fast and can easily hide when chased, so wolves would not normally go for them (beside wolves natural prey are ungulates as they are endurance hunters which need big mammals to feed the pack).

And just in case you are thinking of replacing wolves for lynxes (also extinct in the UK), the same applies. Although there have been reports of lynxes predating on foxes this is unlikely to apply in England and Wales where man-made hunting occurs as lynxes are ambush predators which would only managed to catch foxes in deep snow, where their legs and larger paws give them the advantage. This situation, when it could conceivably happen in wild areas in Scotland when there is deep snow, could not be compared to humans chasing a fox with a pack of hounds for a long time, then bolting it with a terrier when it hides in one of the holes that had not previously be blocked by terriermen the day before, and then the hounds continue the chase it until the whole thing happens again. This is a completely unnatural behaviour foxes would never experience in Nature before humans began hunting them for “sport”.

In Nature, nobody would have blocked the numerous hiding places the fox would have found, and nobody would have dig it out or bolt it out with a smaller predator that happens to hunt together with the wolves or the lynx.

Hunting with hounds is an unnatural man made practice and it does not replace any natural predation foxes would have evolved to deal with. Because of this foxes are not equipped to endure it and suffer great deal when hunted.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman

Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak

Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane

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18th Oct 2018

Government Defends Wildlife Crime On Public Land

Forestry Commission sign warning of a 2016 drag hunting event at North York Moors, where no actual drag hunt operates. Photo courtesy International Fund for Animal Welfare

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

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5th Aug 2018

The Fell Packs & #TrailHuntLies in Cumbria

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?

  1. 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 jeremy.barlow@nationaltrust.org.uk.
  2. If you live in Cumbria and want to volunteer for our campaign, please email us at nationaldis-trust@riseup.net for packs of leaflets specific to Cumbria to deliver/hand out.
  3. Sign the Keeptheban petition to ban all hunting on National Trust land in England & Wales.
  4. Grass up the Cumbrian hunts if you see them by emailing Cumbria Hunt Watch on huntwatch@outlook.com.
  5. Follow National Dis-Trust on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

© National Dis-Trust

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10th Jun 2018

Front Lines #foxylove

Front cover of HOWL, the magazine of the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Spring 1995, issue 57.

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

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14th Mar 2018

Huntsman Claims Fox Hunted On National Trust Land ‘Inadvertently’ And Is Acquitted

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).

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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:

For more information or interview requests please contact the Hounds Off Press Office on 07711 032697 or email help@houndsoff.co.uk

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.

Website:

www.houndsoff.co.uk

shirley mug shot

Huntsman and Master of Fox Hounds for the Portman Hunt on 8th March 2017, when the hounds under his control “inadvertently” hunted a fox on the National Trust-owned Kingston Lacy Estate in Dorset. He faced charges under Section 1 of the Hunting Act but was found Not Guilty at Poole Magistrates Court on 14.03.18. Credit: Peter White / Hounds Off

 

fox and hounds

Portman Hunt hounds (top right) chasing the fox (centre). Huntsman Evo Shirley admitted that foxes are hunted “inadvertently from time to time” and told the District Judge at Poole Magistrates Court that his “best chance of stopping them was to allow what was happening to play out.” Credit: Peter White / Hounds Off

 

fox

The hunted fox. Accident or on purpose, the fox is still forced to run for its life or face an ugly end in the jaws of up to 40 rampant foxhounds. Credit: Peter White / Hounds Off

 

ENDS

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26th Feb 2018

Trail Hunting – A Nationwide Criminal Conspiracy

Campaigners continue to expose #TrailHuntLies & lobby the National Trust to stop issuing licences to kill fox, hare, deer & mink on their land for so-called 'sport'. Here, at Stourhead in Wiltshire on 25 Feb 2018 as part of a day of similar protests at NT sites around England, co-ordinated by the National Dis-Trust. Pic: Hounds Off

Trail hunting is a myth, a ruse invented by the hunting community to enable them to continue abusing wild mammals with dogs for sport.

Trail hunting was invented on the day the Hunting Act (2004) came in to force. It has been used as a false alibi to cynically subvert the law ever since. There is no trail hunting governing body, there are no written rules and regulations to which participants must abide. How to conduct a so-called trail hunt is left up to each individual hunt to decide.

Trail hunting is billed by the Countryside Alliance and their allies as a temporary activity which sustains the infrastructure of hunting until such time as the law banning bloodsports is repealed. One of the main tenets of this charade is the principle that the scent which is laid for hounds to follow is based on their traditional quarry. They say that this will enable them to switch back to fox, hare, deer and mink hunting at the drop of a hat because their hounds won’t need retraining. We say that this pretence enables them to “accidentally on purpose” harrass and kill live animals. Nobody, not even the National Trust, is denying that “accidents” happen.

In 2017 the National Trust introduced some changes in the rules they claim hunts must obey in return for a licence to trail hunt on NT land. The first of these is banning the use of animal-based scents as a trail for hounds to follow.

“This will reduce the risk of foxes or other wild animals being accidentally chased,” the NT tells us. Alas, it’s a nonsense.

Hunts continue to train their hounds to hunt the scent of their traditional quarry, not something else. You cannot have a situation where a hunt goes after a fox-based scent on private land on Monday, then an artificial scent on NT land on Wednesday. Hunting a pack of hounds doesn’t work like that. Training a them to be steady and reliable on one thing takes time and effort. And who’s checking anyway? Not the NT. They’re happy to let hunts self-regulate.

We believe that everybody who follows so-called trail hunts, save newcomers, children and the terminally naive, knows that trail hunting doesn’t really exist. Sure, somebody might trot around with a duster on the end of a whip as lip service to a ‘trail’ for the benefit of show, or if the press or cameras are present. But away from outsiders, out of public gaze, hunting wild mammals with dogs for sport continues much as it did in the last century. There is, we suggest, a nationwide criminal conspiracy to facilitate this animal abuse. It’s tragic that the National Trust Ruling Council chooses to collude.

© Joe Hashman

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19th Feb 2018

National Trust: “Talk To The Hand……..”

The Portman Hunt all over Hod Hill in North Dorset on 6 November 2017. Hod is owned by the National Trust. Hunting is only permitted under licence. No licence existed. Photos: Hounds Off

Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, reports:

It’s no wonder that so many people have lost faith in the National Trust. The vote rigging debacle at their 2017 AGM and their attitude to what we call #TrailHuntLies has been documented on these blog pages and elsewhere. It’s not something which just became an issue recently. The campaign to stop hunting on National Trust land has been going on for decades and is unlikely to disappear any time soon. I believe that to influence change within an institution like the NT, albeit a charitable one, you need a voice and a vote. That’s why I’m a Member. It’s just a shame that Members who highlight broken promises, breaches of licences and/or the law are currently being stonewalled with cut-and-paste platitudes.

On 6 November 2017 the Portman Hunt went onto Hod Hill, an Iron Age hill fort in North Dorset which is owned by the National Trust. I was there, turned my video camera on and recorded what happened. Hunt staff, followers and hounds were on Hod for 33 minutes between 3.16 and 3.49pm. There is a public bridleway across the site which anyone is free to use unfettered, but the Portman Hunt was not on this. They were all over the place. I understood the Portman was only allowed onto National Trust land if granted a licence and that, on 6 Nov ‘17, no such licence existed. That evening I contacted the landowners.

My initial email simply asked, “Please could you tell me if the Portman Hunt has a licence from the National Trust to do so-called trail hunting on Hod Hill, Stourpaine, North Dorset?”

There was no response so I resent it five days later. Oliver Silvester of the National Trust Supporter Services Centre answered by return. He redirected me to Amy Middleton at National Trust West Dorset. She’s the Estate Manager and Hod is on her patch.

Amy wrote back very candidly, “I can confirm that the Portman Hunt does not have a trail hunting licence for Hod Hill.”

I thanked Amy for confirming that this was an unlicensed activity and therefore not permitted by the National Trust. I informed her that I had GPS-verified evidence on film.

My email closed with this question, “In view of the fact that they were on National Trust land without a licence I would, as a Member, like the National Trust to take this matter further. Please could you advise me what action the National Trust will be taking and what I can do to assist the process?”

Three days later came the reply.

“The matter has been raised directly with the Master of the hunt,” said Amy in her email, plus, “We take any reports of hunts acting illegally or outside the terms of any licence very seriously.” I wondered how seriously they took hunting on their land with no licence at all!

Five days later I sent another email just to confirm that I was not reporting illegal hunting but specifically, “unlicensed trail hunting”. I wanted to know what was being done to ensure that it didn’t happen again.

Next day Amy Middleton, National Trust Estate Manager for South Somerset, West Dorset & Knightshayes, replied, “We are treating any report of trespass on a case by case basis and endeavouring to establish the facts. At this stage I am unable to comment any further.”

A day later I opened an email from Oliver Silvester of the National Trust Supporter Services Centre. Oliver wrote, “We have raised your enquiry with our Specialist Team who should respond in due course.”

They did. On 24 November 2017 Sophie Novelli dropped me an email. Apparently she works on the Specialist Team who were looking into the details of my “query”. Apparently it had been forwarded to the Estate Manager of their Regional Office, a person called Amy Middleton. Sophie ended her missive, “I am sorry that we cannot be of any further help as we specialise in membership and donations.”

And that’s the last I’ve heard of it.

There has been a related development….

The Portman Hunt Huntsman appeared at Poole Magistrates Court on the 12 and 13 February charged under Section 1 of the Hunting Act (Hunting a Wild Mammal with Dogs) in March 2017. What came out under cross examination was that the alleged offence occurred on the National Trust-owned Kingston Lacy Estate. The case was not concluded and the District Judge set a further date of 14 March 2018, at Poole, to deliver his verdict.

Of course, in law a person is innocent until proven guilty. We make no assertions one way or the other at this stage. But, depending on the outcome of this case, it will be interesting to see how the National Trust responds as a consequence.

To be continued….

© Joe Hashman

You can join a peaceful protest at a National Trust property near you this Sunday, 25th February. See this link to the National Dis-Trust for details.

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