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15th March 2019

Somerset Churchyard Fox Hunt Excuses Rebutted

On 23.02.19 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were forced to call their hounds off a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard by Monitors who were at the scene. Responsibility for disturbing and hunting the fox rests completely with the hunters. © Somerset Wildlife Crime/Hounds Off

Regarding the recent incident involving the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard, a member of the public contacted the Hunt and asked them to explain why they were hunting a fox when foxhunting is illegal. She received the email we reproduce, below:

From: B&SV Secretary <bsvsecretary@XXXXXXXXX>
To: XXXXXX
Sent: Fri, 8 Mar 2019 19:10
Subject: Re: Recent footage of vixen being chased in graveyard

Dear Mrs XXXXXXXX,

Thank you for your email.  The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale is committed to hunting within the law and does so through laying trails by people on horseback, on foot and on quad bikes. Occasionally as we progress through the countryside foxes and deer jump out in front of the hounds and if they deviate from the laid trail then we stop them at the earliest moment. We also have to contend with a number of anti-hunting activists watching us and trying to intimidate. Their tactics employed include spraying other scent on the ground, blowing horns and shouting to distract our hounds, which in turn confuses our hounds and renders our ability to control them that much more challenging. We believe that the film taken is not genuine and is deliberately constructed to discredit us, however clearly we would not normally be hunting anywhere near a graveyard and regret that the actions by the anti-hunting activists caused some hounds to go through the church grounds.

Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) was one of the Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime team who witnessed and filmed the Charlton Horethorn incident. Kevin is one of the most experienced Hunt Monitors in the country with nearly 40 years under his belt. We asked him to comment on the excuses made by the Hunt:

  • As demonstrated in the video from the Charleton Horethorne churchyard, Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt staff seem to exercise selective control over their hounds. They can control hounds very effectively when it suits them.
  • Monitors present witnessed the hounds being hunted on to a fox under the supervision of hunt staff. There were no attempts to draw them out of the cemetery or away from the fox which was clearly visible and holloa’d by several hunters and supporters.
  • Hunt staff only exercised adequate control over their hounds when asked by one of the Monitors present to call them off the hunted vixen. When faced with two video cameras the Whipper-In (second in command to the Huntsman) was left with little choice but to comply. This proved to be the vital moment that saved the vixens life.
  • We do not accept that the presence of any anti hunt Monitors would prevent hounds from being controlled efficiently. This is especially true when hounds are in close proximity to the Huntsman or Whipper-In, as was the case in this incident.
  • No hunt saboteurs were present in the cemetery or immediate area on the 23rd February, when this incident happened.
  • Footage is available that shows the Monitors present made no attempt to disrupt hounds with any calls, voice or horn and no scent dulling sprays were utilised. Claims to the contrary are merely an attempt by the hunt to dilute the validity of any allegations against them.
  • We invite the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale to comment in detail as to exactly what the allegations laid against the Monitors who were present are. We would be most interested to see any footage to support any claims that hounds were called into the cemetery.
  • As Monitors we maintain a passive presence with the hunt throughout the day and film proceedings. This can be useful on an evidential basis of any trespass or illegal hunting. As proven on the 23rd February in Charlton Horethorne, filming can often serve to save life when the hounds would otherwise be permitted to continue hunting unhindered. Our footage is available to be viewed here. It is worth noting that a member of hunt staff in a red coat is seen observing the hounds in the cemetery from the road side and makes no efforts to call them out.

Read our original Press Release here.

Footage of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a fox at Folke Church in Dorset on 22.12.18 can be viewed here.

Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime, without prejudice

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13th March 2019

Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers

Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers outside National Trust offices at Crooked Peak, Somerset on Friday 1st April 2019. Photo © Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers.

The Weston and Banwell Harriers are a furtive bunch of hunters operating southwest of Bristol. The way they carry on is suspicious to say the least. For instance, why would a legal hunt be involved with blocking badger setts? Consequently, local residents have been trying to persuade the National Trust to withdraw their permission for so-called trailhunting on land which by definition should provide a sanctuary for wildlife.

Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers met with National Trust staff on Friday March 1st. Afterwards, we asked them to let us know their thoughts;

“We attended with Maria Burt who started a petition against so-called trailhunting on National Trust land and set up the meeting, and Jac Freeman from the League Against Cruel Sports. We knew going into the meeting that there was a big likelihood that the licence wouldn’t be revoked but we wanted to give our best shot anyway for the wildlife that calls Wavering Down its home.

“With all our evidence in hand we explained to Nick Droy (National Trust Trailhunting Manager) and the National Trust Wavering Down Team that we didn’t believe the Weston & Banwell Harriers would stay in the rules of the trail hunting licence as they had already sett blocked once this year.

“But sadly and frustratingly this went over their heads and they used the usual excuse that a lot of money had been invested into trail hunt monitoring on their land.

“Giving a hunt notice that they will be monitored just means that they will behave when being monitored by the National Trust.

“How a conservation organisation can support hunting that can and will damage our ecosystem baffles us.

“But our determination to make Wavering Down and Somerset a safe haven for wildlife will continue.

“Hunting is a cruel out of date past time that has no place and is not welcomed. And neither are the Weston and Banwell Harriers, who have been terrorising our wildlife for years unchallenged. Our main aim is to bring an end to this and show them some resistance. We will do all we can to stop them needlessly killing wildlife for sport and fun!

“A big thank you again to everyone that came Friday your support was amazing! And a big thank you to the National Dis-Trust for all the advice and guidance!

“For our wildlife always.”

https://www.facebook.com/localsagainstwestonandbanwellharriers/

Hotline number: 07946663765
Email: somersetantibloodsports88@gmail.com

© Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers

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25th February 2019

Lactating Fox Hunted In Somerset Churchyard 23.02.19

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.

Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt hounds invade St Peter & St Paul’s Churchyard in Charlton Horethorne on 23.02.19 in persuit of a live fox. Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime

 

Fox is chased with dogs across St Peter & St Paul’s Churchyard in Charlton Horethorne, Somerset, 23.02.19 by the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt. Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime

 

A significant undercarriage is a telltale sign that this hunted vixen was nursing young cubs underground nearby. Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime

NOTES

In recent weeks the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt;

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10th February 2019

Hunters Disregard Horse Welfare

About 70 riders followed the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt from their meet at Marsh Court in Dorset on 09.02.19, contrary to biosecurity advice from The Hunting Office with equine flu at large. Photo © Hounds Off

BREAKING: PRESITIGIOUS SOMERSET STABLES CONFIRMS EQUINE FLU BUT LOCAL HUNT CARRIES ON REGARDLESS

Horse racing was suspended last week after an outbreak of equine flu at a Cheshire stables. Equine flu is a highly contagious and unpleasant viral infection which affects the respiratory system in horses. Explaining its decisive action, the British Horseracing Authority said (7 Feb), The health and welfare of our horses must be a priority.”

It is unfortunate that some of  the hunting world has chosen to carry on regardless.

Despite Horse & Hound reporting (8 Feb) advice from The Hunting Office*, “Where there are training yards in the area it may be sensible not to hunt this weekend,” it was actually business as usual for many mounted foxhound packs across the British Isles (9 Feb).

One such hunt was the Somerset-based Blackmore & Sparkford Vale, where about seventy riders turned out on horseback to gallop behind dogs chasing the scent of foxes. Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt country is known for having some big stables, including Paul Nicholls Racing at Ditcheat,  Colin Tizzard Venn Farm Racing Ltd at Milborne Port and Millfield School at Street where equine flu was confirmed on 8 Feb.

Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman said, “If the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt genuinely cared about the health and wellbeing of horses they’d have suspended all mounted hunting immediately. The fact that they have chosen to carry on hunting demonstrates how prepared they are to put horses at risk rather than lose a days play.

© Joe Hashman; Founder, Hounds Off

* The Hunting Office is the administrative hub for the Council of Hunting Associations.  The Hunting Office exists to help and advise Masters and its member Hunts.  It represents and supports packs of hounds from fourteen hunting associations in England, Scotland and Wales, providing advice on all matters regarding hunting activities, hunt management and hound health & welfare.

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1st February 2019

How To Report Hunt Incidents To The National Trust

Report illegal, thuggish, dangerous and disrespectful hunt behaviour to the National Trust in a consistent way that makes it harder for them to ignore: 

  1. Report illegal, thuggish, dangerous or disrespectful actions or behaviour regardless of whether it happens on National Trust land because they should take this in to account when deciding to issue a licence, or not.

  2. Report hunts licenced by the National Trust.

  3. Report unlicensed hunts that are trespassing on National Trust land.

General Resources

  • If you need to find out which hunts are currently licensed by the National Trust, all dates & maps can be seen on our Facebook page here.
  • The individual ‘photo albums’ for each hunt licence also contain the contact details for the local National Trust staff who manage the area being hunted.
  • If you need to confirm if the National Trust own a particular bit of land, their property boundaries can all be seen here (NOTE: please use the ‘explore’ function to open a map).

What To Report

Who To Report It To

  • Contact details for the most relevant point of contact within the National Trust for each hunt licence can be found here.
  • In addition to this, please also CC in Nick Droy and his ‘trail hunting’ management team at trailhunting.management@nationaltrust.org.uk as well as ourselves at nationaldis-trust@riseup.net

Finally….

  • National Dis-Trust volunteers will always be on hand if you are unsure about how to go ahead with any of the above (especially hunt trespass) as relevant National Trust contact details may not be readily available.
  • Contact us on Facebook, Twitter or via nationaldis-trust@riseup.net

Jack Riggall, National Dis-Trust.

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21st December 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 December 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 December 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 December 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 October 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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