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27th August 2017

Calling All National Trust Members #TrailHuntLies

National Trust members will be voting whether or not to properly prohibit illegal hunting on its land at the AGM on Oct 21st 2017. Hounds Off urges all members to vote against bloodsports and false alibis. National Trust members will be voting whether or not to properly prohibit illegal hunting on its land at the AGM on Oct 21st 2017. Hounds Off urges all members to vote against bloodsports and false alibis.

If you belong to the National Trust then you may be aware that there’s a big vote coming up for members to decide whether or not to stop illegal hunting on NT lands. The vote takes place at the AGM in Swindon on October 21. It’s important because after twelve years of hunts riding roughshod over the law and public opinion, and decades of hunts abusing our wildlife and damaging delicate habitats, you’ve a chance to cast a vote which says “No hunting, enough is enough”.

The reason why you’re able to vote now is because of a resolution before NT members. According to our sources, this is it:

“That the members agree that The National Trust will not permit trail hunting, exempt hunting & hound exercise on their land, to prevent potential illegal activity in breach of The Hunting Act 2004 & The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and to prevent damage to other flora & fauna by hunts, their hounds, and their followers.”

Don’t be confused by terms like trail hunting, exempt hunting or hound exercise. These are just false alibis for illegal fox, hare, deer and mink hunting. It’s what the hunters say they’re doing so they can cynically circumvent the law and carry on killing on the sly. Your vote for the resolution will create hundreds of thousands of hectares of land where wild mammals can find safe sanctuary away from a minority of cruel and/or ignorant people who want to hunt them with dogs and kill them for fun.

Trail hunting is the commonest false alibi. It’s been used by most fox and hare hunts around the country for the last twelve years. Having been complicit in the whole trail hunting charade, or maybe just not being aware, the NT recently changed the conditions it imposes for licensing so-called trail hunting on its land. We think this a move in the right direction but fundamentally misses the point, which is that trail hunting doesn’t really exist. The International Fund for Animal Welfare published a complete exposé of trail hunting in a report called Trail Of Lies (Casamitjana, 2015). If you’re in any doubt about what you’re reading here then please, take a look.

Exempt hunting is how staghunters in the West Country get away with continuing their sport. They supposedly use two hounds running in relays, plus an army of people with vehicles and horses, to chase deer to an exhausted standstill so they can kill them and then conduct bloodthirsty celebration rituals.

Under certain conditions it is legal to stalk and flush wild mammals with two dogs. But staghunters abuse both word and will of the law and, as if to poke their tongues out as well as two fingers, often claim to be conducting simultaneous ‘scientific research’.

Back in 1997 the NT actually banned staghunting on its land and for a very good reason – staghunting causes extreme and unnecessary suffering. In response to concern from members, the NT commissioned an independent scientific study into the welfare implications of hunting red deer with hounds. From this it was concluded that the negative effects of hunting on deer were so severe that the NT banned it the day after publication. However, there is much evidence to suggest that, to this day, in parts of Devon and Somerset deer are still hunted on ground where they should be able to live in peace.

Hound exercise is a pretence for a particularly barbaric and sick practice, originally called Cub hunting (later sanitised to Autumn hunting). Hound exercise is a ruse for when foxhounds are trained to find, hunt and kill foxes as a pack. You’d be forgiven for reading the words “hound” and “exercise” and not thinking of fox families being split up and massacred by people with packs of dogs in the countryside, but that’s the idea.

The hunting community has been skilfully using words to create smokescreens and disguise their illegal intentions since the Hunting Act passed into law twelve years ago. Now it’s time to call time on their deceptions, confusions and #TrailHuntLies.

Members, your AGM/voting packs will be with you by mid-September. Please vote by proxy, online or in person on Oct 21 for the National Trust to prohibit trail hunting, exempt hunting and hound exercise on their land.

To be continued….

© Joe Hashman

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5th August 2017

Outfoxed Again by Mike Huskisson; a book review

Quorn Foxhounds, 4 Oct 1991. A fox cub is evicted from its underground refuge and forced to run for its life. Seconds later the hounds, standing back but waiting for this moment with the Huntsman, are unleashed.
Still from video taken by Mike Huskisson, featured in Outfoxed Again (AWIS, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9933822-1-5) Quorn Foxhounds, 4 Oct 1991. A fox cub is evicted from its underground refuge and forced to run for its life. Seconds later the hounds, standing back but waiting for this moment with the Huntsman, are unleashed. Still from video taken by Mike Huskisson, featured in Outfoxed Again (AWIS, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9933822-1-5)

Mike Huskisson’s latest book, Outfoxed Again, is an important read for anyone interested in the animal rights movement between 1984 and 2005 – a radical period in terms of campaigning and investigative strategies. It was Huskisson’s work (with others) on numerous front lines which, via printed media, photographs and film, brought the nightmare realities of hunting with hounds and other bloodsports especially to the attention of an animal loving nation. The resulting shock, horror and public roars of disapproval pushed forward, then achieved, real social, political and animal welfare changes during these years.

Huskisson has dedicated his life to fighting and exposing animal abuse. Outfoxed Again details his efforts, achievements, seminal scoops and exposés along the way. As in life so in animal cruelty investigations; here are 528 pages containing stomach-turning accounts of mans calculated, deranged and thoughtless inhumanity to other creatures; of roller-coaster moments, passages, chapters and also (much less glamorous) the slog – countless early starts, miles travelled, vehicle breakdowns, days in the field ‘on the job’ which turned up nothing and, yes, time in prison spent reflecting and preparing.

Huskisson is studious in crediting his backers, partners, colleagues (and opponents). Part Two of an intended trilogy, Outfoxed Again is a chronicle of Mike’s work and how he used the resources made available to him thanks to the vision and generosity of his supporters. It’s a weighty tome but vital in keeping the memory of animal suffering alive and teaching us all valuable lessons as we strive for a more compassionate future.

Buy a copy of Outfoxed Again from the Hounds Off shop. Scroll to the bottom.

Please follow this link to Mike Huskisson’s YouTube channel.

Please follow this link to Mike Huskisson’s ACIGAWIS website.

© Joe Hashman

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9th July 2017

Beware The ‘Middle Way’

Foxhunt supporters argue their case at a meet before the Hunting Act (2004) came into force. Foxhunt supporters argue their case at a meet before the Hunting Act (2004) came into force.

It’s official – the Government is not planning any attempts to bring back fox, hare, deer and mink hunting with hounds for at least two years. This assurance was given by Dr Thérèse Coffey MP when she answered Parlaimentary Written Question 943. Coffey wrote, “The governments manifesto includes a free vote on the Hunting Act (2004), but we are not planning to bring forward a free vote during this session.”

These are indeed strange political times. A couple of months ago it was all very different. So what happened?

Rewind to 2014. Discreet but determined efforts to weaken the Hunting Act by Tory ministers were afoot. They were scuppered by Liberals within the Coalition Government. In fact it was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who we have chiefly to thank for objecting, standing his ground and refusing to budge.

Just over a year later, in July 2015, pro hunt supporters within the newly elected majority Conservative government proposed amendments to the Hunting Act which would have rendered it unenforceable. After a frantic seven days of campaigning, the proposed amendments were withdrawn. Tactically for the bloodsports lobby it was best to avoid losing the vote because a second chance would be highly unlikely.

Then in April this year Prime Minister Theresa May called a surprise snap General Election. Her lead was unassailable, according to the polls. “The biggest Election win for decades” was widely predicted. And Brexit wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds….

The Daily Mirror published news of a leaked email from Conservative Peer, Lord Mancroft on May 8th. Mancroft, who is also Chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, urged Hunt Masters across the land to mobilise their supporters and campaign for pro-hunt Conservatives in marginal seats. His reckoning was that an increased House of Commons majority of 50 would be enough to overturn the Hunting Act.

To be fair, the leaked email only told us what we already knew. Ever since the Hunting Act was enshrined as law in February 2005, bloodsports organisations have been working hard to get sympathetic MPs elected. Politically speaking, it’s all a numbers game.

Vote OK is one of these pro bloodsports lobby groups. Despite an innocuous sounding name and equally nondescript website, Vote OK specifically targets manpower and resources into marginals and by-elections where they think they can get a pro-hunt candidate elected. They channel the energies of local Hunt Supporters Club members and offer them up to be foot soldiers. With a promise by the candidate to accede to their single-issue fanaticism, the foot soldiers are willing.

“This is the chance we have been waiting for,” Lord Mancroft wrote in his leaked email.

***

When Theresa May took questions from factory workers in Leeds on May 9th it was unusual. Up to then the questions to her on the campaign trail had been screened in advance and her answers prepared. In Leeds she was speaking ‘on the hoof’ as it were. When a man asked if there was truth in rumours that the Conservatives would make bloodsports legal again she replied, “As it happens I have always been in favour of foxhunting,” and reinforced her commitment to facilitate a free vote on repeal by MPs in Parliament.

What else could the Prime Minister say? In polling, her huge lead was, arguably, wobbling slightly. On the streets in marginal and targeted constiuencies she needed to fuel the resolve of bloodsports supporting foot soldiers who were on a promise. In Leeds on May 9th she was doing what she does worst – engaging in unscripted dialogue with the general public.

Theresa May’s comment made headlines and played an important part in the 2017 General Election result. In the end, the predicted landslide didn’t happen. The Conservative majority was actually reduced and the Prime Minister stooped to buying agreements with hitherto unlikely political bedfellows to enable her Government to retain a Parliamentary majority. In a delayed Queens Speech it was announced that Parliamentary session would last for two years instead of the usual one. Hence, the Hunting Act has grace until at least 2019.

***

Between now and then the bloodsports community will be plotting and planning. The struggle to reinforce or repeal the Hunting Act continues even behind closed doors. Dangers are not helped by Brexit. It could be that European Union Habitat Directives and other environmental laws are replaced by legislation which will include sneaky opportunities for hunting with hounds to return. We need to be alert to anything which repeals the Hunting Act by the back-door.

This will entail reading between the lines, interpreting carefully the words and phrases used in all post-Brexit Bills which have anything to do with farming, the countryside or wildlife. Any talk of licensing agreements, codes of conduct or self regulation should be treated as dodgy because they echo noises made for many years now by the pro hunting Middle Way Group (another innocuous sounding name, note).

Equally, beware talk of “wildlife management”, of hounds hunting quarry in “their wild and natural state”, plus claims that foxhunting et al is humane with only the weak and injured getting caught. As a starter for ten, ask yourself which predator blocks holes to force a healthy fox to run from hounds above ground when it’s natural defence strategy is to bolt down a hole? Don’t get us started on the use of mobile phone technology, motorised transport, radio collars and other tools utilised in the hunting field, or selective breeding of hounds which are produced and tailored to fit exactly the requirements of their ‘country’ and human masters.

And remember – recently elected MPs who are not familiar with the lies, propaganda and peer pressure of pro hunt types are susceptible to their spin and schmoosing and ‘gentle persuasion’. From the ridiculous claim that “if the fox didn’t enjoy it he wouldn’t join in” to pseudo-scientific arguments that chasing a wild mammal to exhaustion with a pack of dogs is humane so-called ‘wildlife management’. This nonsense all has to be countered. If it’s been said before, it needs to be said again. The other side has two years to prepare and rest assured they are on it. So are we.

© Joe Hashman

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22nd October 2016

It’s Good To Talk

Debating fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair 2016. Photo credit: Oli Melzack Debating fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair 2016. Photo credit: Oli Melzack

From the moment we had a social media presence we’ve had trolls. Online abuse is inevitable when you’re standing up to be counted. We don’t support it or partake. Hounds Off fundamentally disapproves of antisocial behaviour from anyone on any side.

We accept our own advice regarding trolls which is to, with a very rare exception, ignore them. That’s why their type always quieten down and, mostly, go away.

SPREADING FOXY LOVE

The news is often appalling. Human beings can inflict the most heinous crimes against their kind and fellow creatures. God knows, often the horror is very hard to understand or absorb. However incensed or outraged, we encourage folks in our Hounds Off community to spread foxy love instead.

To achieve the dream, foxy love must reach beyond its comfort zone and into what might be described as enemy territory. Foxy love seeks also to find common ground with people who, by whatever inclination, are practitioners of or apologists for foxy hate – folks who are not our natural bedfellows. That’s why it was great to represent Hounds Off in a debate about fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair in July. There’s no doubt that we challenged negative stereotypes and made a few die-hard hunt supporters think, however briefly, about the cruelty which is central to the pleasure they feel from participating in ‘country sports’.

We advertised our attendance in advance so that all our trolls were informed and aware of their chance to discuss the rights and wrongs of killing for sport face to face and in the comfort of their home turf. For reasons known only to themselves, our trolls didn’t grasp their opportunity, or if they did decided to keep quiet.

NO-PLATFORM ATTEMPT

A year ago Hounds Off was represented at the Winchester Hunting Symposium. There were all sorts of smear campaigns from hunt supporters beforehand. One of our then-regular trolls even published a rubbishing blog full of lies and misinformation designed to scupper the event (it has since been removed). Additionally, as the Hounds Off representative, I was personally besmirched and accused of supporting violent protest. A pro hunt MP threatened to pull out of participating if I was given a voice. I had to answer to the organiser and he then justified my attendance to Winchester University elders who decided the outcome of this no-platform attempt. We took it as complimentary when the Countryside Alliance joined in.

It’s good to have a voice and be listened to. Hounds Off attended the Winchester Hunting Symposium and, on behalf of hunted animals, our voice was heard.

DORSET DING-DONG

Recently we had a little ding-dong in the Dorset press about the seldom-mentioned issue of Hunts killing healthy but unwanted surplus hounds. For whatever reason, the Blackmore Vale Magazine Editor closed correspondence having given a hound-killing apologist the last, and inaccurate, word.

We used our social media platforms to keep this issue alive and it was latched on to by a troll who, evidently spoiling for an online argument, was particularly prolific about a month ago.

Our troll had been sprinkling mischief here and there. We monitored his presence discreetly but, as stated earlier, are not in the habit of censoring comments. After all, it’s good to talk.

Eventually our troll settled down into a dialogue with a Hounds Off supporter and the nitty-gritty realities of trailhunting aka foxhunting.

PSEUDO-SCIENCE

Eventually, playing his believed trump card, our troll posted a link to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM). The VAWM works towards repeal of the Hunting Act by employing lengthy, convoluted and twisted interpretations of pseudo-science to, incredibly, justify bloodsports. When you hear the likes of Conservative Party Environment Secretary Angela Leadsom say that hunting with hounds is good for animal welfare, this is where she gets her stuff.

Although superficially persuasive, we encourage all who are tempted to look a little deeper and read between the lines. VAWM arguments in support of bloodsports are fatally flawed.

COMMUNICATING & BEING HEARD

It’s good to have a voice, to talk, to be listened to. Via our website and social media platforms, Hounds Off continues spreading news, views and foxy love, giving all-comers a safe place to express themselves and censoring rarely.

In solidarity with people who wish to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass, we offer ongoing support, help, advice and back-up.

In defence of the Hunting Act 2004, Hounds Off will carry on deconstructing the propaganda and exposing the lies of bloodsports apologists who have yet to accept that the cruel pastimes of hunting wild animals with dogs for sport have been ruled as socially unacceptable.

© Joe Hashman

 

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11th August 2016

They Love Their Hounds, Don’t They?

Cheshire Foxhound shot October 30th 1996 Cheshire Foxhound shot October 30th 1996

We are told that it’s common practice for foxhounds belonging to registered Hunts to be killed off after a working life of six or seven years. Indeed, the Countryside Alliance estimated that 3000 foxhounds are destroyed in this way every year (1). That’s a lot of dead dogs but we suggest this figure is a gross underestimate of the true numbers of hounds which are bred by Hunts but become surplus to requirements.

PUPPIES

For starters, the Countryside Alliance estimate only accounted for retiring foxhounds. No mention is made of the hundreds-if-not-thousands of puppies produced by Hunts in their annual quest to improve the performance of foxhounds by selective breeding. We don’t have any statistics on how many bitches are used, on average, as breeding stock per Hunt each year, but we do know that a bitch may produce ten or more puppies. Apparently seven is considered enough for one bitch so from the start excess puppies may be put down at birth (2).

LOOKING THE PART

Conformation is crucial too. The Foxhound Kennel Stud Book stipulates the desirable shape and structure of a hound from aesthetic and performance perspectives. Many aesthetic features are condemned; including curly tails, upper or lower jaws which protrude noticeably, elbows which stick out or a narrow back (3).

ABILITY TO HUNT

For a foxhound, performance means having a sharp sense of smell, stamina, a good bark and the right temperament for working in a pack. This is all observed and finely tuned during late summer and autumn hound exercise (formerly called, more honestly, Cub Hunting). By the time of the Opening Meets and the full season proper, only the best hounds will have made the grade. For example, ‘babblers’ (hounds which bark when they smell an animal other than fox and so mislead the others) and ‘skirters’ (hounds that cut corners instead of sticking precisely to a scent) are disruptive and seldom tolerated. As former Horse & Hound editor Michael Clayton writes in his 1989 Modern Guide to Foxhunting, “It may well be necessary to eliminate from the pack hounds notably guilty of these misdemeanours.”

DELIBERATELY UNDERESTIMATING?

Now consider that the 2015/16 season Hunting Special edition of Horse & Hound detailed 293 registered Hunts in England, Wales and Scotland which are breeding, drafting and retiring hounds to maintain their ‘sport’ year in year out – 186 registered packs of foxhounds, 17 harrier packs (chasing foxes and/or hares), 60 beagle packs (hare), 8 basset packs (hare), 19 mink hunts and 3 stag hunts.

The Countryside Alliance estimate of 3000 hounds killed at the end of their working lives was only based on about 200 Hunts registered with the Masters of Fox Hounds Association. It took no account of the other hare, mink and deer hunts which have their own separate Associations. Neither did it account for those young hounds which look wrong or are not deemed good enough to make the cut. That’s why we believe that the Countryside Alliance figure was way below the real tally.

FROM THE HORSES MOUTH

As a late Twentieth Century foxhunting and hound breeding legend, the 10th Duke of Beaufort, is quoted by Clayton in his Modern Guide:

“Lord Henry Bentinck … said that the secret of his success was to breed a great many hounds, and then to put down a great many.

“If you can follow his example so much the better for the future of your pack…”

SHIFTING RESPONSIBILITY

A major claim made by those who lobbied against the Hunting Act was that up to 20 000 hounds would have to be destroyed if hunting was banned (4). We know that this threatened mass execution didn’t happen because Hunts tweaked their mode of operation to circumvent the law then carried on regardless.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

However, in the eleven years since the Hunting Act came into force, based on that Countryside Alliance estimate, 33 000 foxhounds will have been killed for being too old. Even if you don’t count those overlooked foxhound puppies, the beagles, bassets, minkhounds and the staghounds, so-called ‘country sports’ are still responsible for one heck of a pile of dead dogs.

(1) & (4) Report of Committee of Enquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England & Wales (Lord Burns & Others), The Stationary Office, 2000. Point 6.79.
(2) The Chase – A Modern Guide to Foxhunting (Clayton), Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd, 1989. Page 50.
(3) The Chase – A Modern Guide to Foxhunting (Clayton), Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd, 1989. Page 45/46.

Read The Daily Mirror expose (14 July 2015); Thousands of healthy foxhounds – including pups – are clubbed to death or shot if they’re ‘unsuitable’, here.

© Joe Hashman

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30th July 2016

Hounds Off at The Game Fair 2016

Foxhunting & the Hunting Act 2004 were debated at The Game Fair by Hounds Off, League Against Cruel Sports, Countryside Alliance, Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management & the assembled audience. Foxhunting & the Hunting Act 2004 were debated at The Game Fair by Hounds Off, League Against Cruel Sports, Countryside Alliance, Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management & the assembled audience.

Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman reports from The Game Fair at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

It’s good to talk. Receiving an invite to debate Hunting Act rights and wrongs at the biggest fieldsports show of the year was not what we expected, but the opportunity came and was seized. We figured that appealing to the better nature of hunting folk could only be productive, especially if misinformation and negative stereotypes were exploded at the same time.

In favour of bloodsports were the Countryside Alliance and Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management. Shining a light for compassion, progressive and civilised behaviour were Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) and myself. Before taking questions we were each given ten minutes to hold the floor. On behalf of Hounds Off, this is what I said;

I’ve known enough of you over the years to realise that many of you are decent human beings. I know you love your families, your animals, your countryside. So someone like me, who feels profoundly upset by the suffering inflicted on wild animals when being hunted by hounds, simply doesn’t understand how you can’t feel it too. Because I know, apart from a handful of phsycopaths who sadly do love the blood and power, that most of you are not bad people.

Hunting literature tells us that fallow deer, chased by the New Forest Buckhounds until 1997, were never attacked by dogs at the conclusion of a hunt. I found it hard to believe but at the time had no evidence to the contrary. So, with others, I attended most Buckhound meets in the Forest for five years from 1992.

Repeatedly, we filmed deliberately protracted chases lasting for many hours. We got footage of deer being savaged by hounds, wrestled to the ground by hunt supporters, held underwater and half drowned. We proved that the public face of this centuries old tradition and its private reality were indeed two different things. Thankfully, the Buckhounds disbanded 19 years ago.

Even today, foxhunting literature claims that foxes were hunted “in their wild and natural state.” It sounds fair, reasonable even. But that was not the case on Boxing Day 1982 when, for the first time in my life, I attended a hunt. It was the Old Berkshire at Wantage in my home county. Towards the end of day, in a field corner near Denchworth, a couple of blokes with terrier and spades stuck their dog down a hole and, as if by magic, bolted a fox. There was no chase beforehand, hounds did not mark to ground. It just happened that the pack and mounted field were waiting patiently close by while the terriermen did their work. When their fox was running in the open and in full view, the Huntsman let his hounds go.

I revisited that field corner and found an artificial earth. It conformed with what I’d read about in a book on foxhunting by the 10th Duke of Beaufort. I still can’t get my head around why decent people would think that it could ever be okay to capture, imprison and then make a fox run for its life in front of a pack of dogs. Even if you think you know the answer, ask yourself; what is that really about?

In November 1996, The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald reported a meet of the Ullswater Foxhounds at Dockray. One fox was marked to ground, bolted with terriers then chased by hounds on four occasions before being dug out and killed the fifth time it sought sanctuary underground. The fifth time. If that’s not animal cruelty for sport, then what is it?

Anyone who’s been hare coursing knows that hares in pain cry like a human infant. You too may have witnessed greyhounds with their teeth clamped around the bodies and limbs of live hares whilst pulling them in opposite directions like a living tug o war rope. It frequently took minutes before lumbering humans prized the hare out of their dogs mouths and delivered a neck-snapping coupe de gras. In hare coursing the fabled “quick nip to the back of the neck” was a deliberate untruth promoted to defend the indefensible.

Why would anyone want do this, especially to a hare, and for amusement? No wonder that the National Coursing Club issued guidance for spectators not to identify with the hare. Thank goodness that the Hunting Act 2004 genuinely has ended the abomination of organised club coursing, and successive court cases have made it crystal clear that using live hares as a competitive lure for running dogs is an offence.

And what about the Hunting Act? In some areas, and with certain offences like hare coursing, it is employed well. But, as many of us know, for hunting with scent hounds, enforcement is proving much more difficult. In many ways, I have to salute the organised, determined, campaign of resistance waged by the hunting community.

However, I’m with Judge Pert. In the 2011 case of Hopkins and Allen, he perceptively described two convicted members of the Fernie Hunt of using the cover of trail hunting as a cynical subterfuge to create a false alibi for illegal, live animal hunting.

I’d suggest that Hunts circumvent the Law in other ways too.

On Saturday 17 February 2007 I followed a joint meet of the Croome & West Warwickshire and the Radnor & West Herefordshire Hunts. That day they were nudging and winking at the Falconry exemption under Schedule 1 of the Hunting Act 2004. In reality, aside from minor cosmetic changes, I observed them to be foxhunting in the same way as it existed pre ban.

At ten-to-three, Huntsman and hounds were at a place near Upton Snodsbury known locally as Ken’s Orchard. I was chatty with the man in charge of a golden eagle that day. “It doesn’t hold as well as it used to because Ken died and he doesn’t feed them anymore,” the birdman said.

We were parked on the verge amongst hunt followers, watching. Presently a terrierman went on foot into a bit of rough just off the road. He had a poke around, warned us not to make too much noise, then got on a walkie-talkie and said, “Come up the track, turn left, put them in to the brambles on the right.”

Huntsman and hounds appeared from Ken’s Orchard and did as instructed. Within seconds a fox shot out and took the main body of the pack south-west. Simultaneously another fox ran out on the north side and, with hounds almost on top of him from the start, was devastated at the first fence which he couldn’t get through in time.

The car followers around me loved all this and there was much excitement and laughter about “another accident.” The birdman, who witnessed everything, had made no attempt to even get the golden eagle out of its box. In shared post-kill pleasure, which obviously I was faking, we joked about his inaction while the tattered-rag-of-a-fox was stuffed in a bin bag and taken away on the back of a quad bike.

Most people do not support bloodsports. This applies in rural areas as much as in towns and cities. To be honest, rural opposition to hunting doesn’t surprise me because it’s here, in the countryside, where ordinary people are personally affected by hunt trespass, the chaos that goes with it, and the fear of sometimes serious repercussions if they make their true feelings known by simply saying “No Hunting”.

I set up Hounds Off six years ago to support those people. Today we support hundreds of folks who are fed up with the antisocial behaviour of Hunts that stick two fingers up at the compassionate majority; Hunts that continue to ride roughshod over their wishes, properties and the law of the land; Hunts that continue to chase and kill wildlife accidentally-on-purpose.

I am not an anti because I’m jealous; I would not want to be you. I’m anti hunting because I know that it is wrong to compromise the welfare of animals and, especially, it’s wrong to compromise their welfare for fun. And d’you know what, thankfully I’m not alone.

People who I talk to say that what they hate about bloodsports is the arrogance and sense of entitlement which many participants exhibit; in thinking that animal protection laws do not apply to them; in behaving like the countryside is their own private playground; in thinking that it is okay to inflict dangerous chaos and obstruction on others as they go about their daily business; and most of all, the arrogance of deliberately making hunted wildlife suffer for the sake of entertainment.

I’m really grateful to the organisers for inviting me to The Game Fair and thank them for giving me an opportunity to say this to you. I’d like to appeal to anyone here who has an open mind to open your heart as well and consider change. To you I’d say drop the cynical subterfuge, discard the false alibis, trail hunt lies and embrace country sports which don’t involve cruelty to animals. Drag Hunts and Bloodhound packs have been doing this for donkeys years. There are many ways to preserve the pomp, ceremony, employment, rural infrastructure and the thrill of the chase without forcing a wild animal to run for its life at the sharp end. This is the future and this, surely, has to be the way of a civilised, progressive society.

On behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports, Robbie shared some fair points and home truths too. Read his account of The Game Fair 2016 here.

© Joe Hashman

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9th June 2016

Mixing Up The Medicine – Trail Hunting & Biosecurity

Volunteers who vaccinate badgers against Bovine tuberculosis adhere to a strict biosecurity Code Of Conduct when accessing land or in contact with animals. Are so-called Trail Hunts so vigilant and does their activity compromise farm animal welfare? Here, volunteers on a Dorset farm prepare the medicine on vaccination morning. Volunteers who vaccinate badgers against Bovine tuberculosis adhere to a strict biosecurity Code Of Conduct when accessing land or in contact with animals. Are so-called Trail Hunts so vigilant and does their activity compromise farm animal welfare? Here, volunteers on a Dorset farm prepare the medicine on vaccination morning.

This is a serious question: Does so-called Trail Hunting compromise biosecurity on farms?

According to a 2014 government guidance document enitled ‘Disease prevention for livestock and poultry keepers’, some of the “main” ways in which farm animal and bird diseases are spread (and which in Italics we suggest are pertinent to Trail Hunting) include;

– animals moving between and within farms and, in particular, the introduction of new animals. Imported horses and dogs plus disturbed wildlife all move within and between farms during a days hunting.
– movement of people, especially workers, between and within farms. People follow hunting, sometimes in large numbers, and as they enjoy their days activity they move between and within farms.
– farm visitors – people, pets, equipment and vehicles. People, pets/working animals, equipment and vehicles are exactly what comprises a Hunt in the field.

Biosecurity measures suggested by DEFRA and APH, include;

– where possible, limit and control farm visitors – people and vehicles.
– have pressure washers, brushes, hoses, water and disinfectant available, and make sure visitors use them.
– clean and then disinfect any farm machinery/equipment if you are sharing these with a neighbouring farm.
– keep livestock away from freshly spread slurry.
– include signs directing visitors to the farmhouse/office and urging visitors not to feed animals or get in close contact.
– where possible a hard standing area away from livestock should be provided for visitors’ vehicles.
– consider offering protective clothing and footwear – Wellington boots are recommended because they are easy to clean and disinfect.

This is also a serious question:

Have you ever seen anybody pay heed to biosecurity or disinfect themselves/their tools of the trade when hunting across country from farm to farm?

Of all the farm animal diseases (of which there are many) Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) has occupied an enormous amount of debate, action and resources in recent years and continues to do so.

We know that bTB exists in wildlife populations as well as farm animals. According to DEFRA and APH, “Infected animals spread the disease mainly through coughing and sneezing. Bacteria are released into the air and inhaled by other animals in close contact.” We are told, in the same document, that the disease can also be spread, “through contaminated equipment, animal waste, feed and pasture.”

So-called Trail Hunting involves hordes of people on horseback, in vehicles and on foot with packs of hounds chasing their quarry from farm to farm, getting their sticky hands, feet, wheels, hooves and paws amongst all manner of livestock and into the dirtiest, darkest corners of the countryside.

According to DEFRA and APH, bTB prevention measures include the instruction to “Practice strict biosecurity” and this takes us back to the top of this blog.

So the original question, “Does so-called Trail Hunting compromise biosecurity on farms”, stands. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who can answer it with authority.

If you feel moved to ask DEFRA about any of the above then why not? They offer a range of contact options. You can Tweet them @DefraGovUK.

You could raise the matter with your MP too.

Help to stop the danger of spreading diseases by making where you live a No Hunting zone.

© Joe Hashman

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3rd February 2016

Hunting Across The Scottish/English Border

A review into the Proection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 will take place this year. A review into the Proection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 will take place this year.

Contribute to the Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 here or using the link at the end of this Blog.

Read about and watch an expose of foxhunting in Scotland during 2014/15 by the League Against Cruel Sports here

Do you recall how pro hunt factions within the government tried to sneak changes to the Hunting Act last July? They used a Parlaimentary sleight of hand to introduce amendments which would have totally undermined the spirit of the Hunting Act. In doing so, they claimed to be simply “bringing English law in line with Scotland.” The law in Scotland is different to that in England & Wales and fundamentally weaker. No wonder they fancied the change!

Flagging the ‘English votes for English MPs’ card, hunters and pro hunt politicians also made great play of their belief that SNP MPs should not be allowed to vote on this issue.

To our minds, the idea that hunted foxes and hares don’t cross manmade national boundaries is silly – there is as yet no exclusion fence on the English/Scottish border! Many Hunts operate either side of that invisible dividing line, often on the same day because:

1/ their ‘country’ (ie: the geographic area over which they hunt) encompasses land in both countries.
2/ the English/Sottish border forms the boundary of their ‘country’ but it is not a physical barrier that would prevent hounds “accidentally” chasing a fox (or hare in the case of Beagles) from one side to the other.

WHICH HUNTS AND WHO SAYS?

Bewcastle Hunt
“The country (hunted on foot) is situated on the borders of Scotland, Northumberland and Cumberland.”
Source: Baily’s Hunting Directory 2007-2008, page 15.

Border Hunt
“The country is nearly all hill and open moorland astride the English/Scottish border.”
Source: Baily’s Hunting Directory 2007-2008, page 20.

College Valley/North Northumberland Hunt
“The College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt came into existence in 1982, when The College Valley Hunt amalgamated with the North Northumberland. The Country hunted is in Northumberland and extends from the Kale Water in the north-west taking in the Cheviot Hills to the Harthope Burn and Glendale Valley and on to the coastal strip by Holy Island and then north to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and the Scottish Border.”
Source: http://cvnnh.org.uk (February 3rd 2016)

Jedforest Hunt
“The Jedforest Hunt country is rectangular in shape approximately 15 miles by 7 miles. It lies in the county of Roxburghshire and the hunt boundaries are the River Teviot to the North, the River Slitrig to the West, the Roman Road/Dere Street to the East, and the Scottish/English border to the South”
Source: http://www.jedforesthunt.co.uk/about-us.html (February 3rd 2016)

Other Hunts which have the boundaries of their countries defined at least in part by the English/Scottish national boundary include;

Berwickshire Hunt
Duke of Buccleuch Hunt
Liddesdale Hunt

EVIDENCE OF CROSS-BORDER HUNTING

Further evidence of hunting across the English/Scottish border can be found in hunting reports. These are first-hand accounts of actual hunts written by followers of those hunts and published in the sporting press. The following are three examples from before legislation was brought into force in either country:

College Valley/North Northumberland Hunt
“A large crowd and many visitors came to Hethpool on the 25th, and saw a fine hill hunt…. Hounds persevered over the Schill Rigg to cross into Scotland to circle the Dodd hill, and go up the Cheviot burn. He turned out to the peat on Maillieside but swung back to the Auchope Cairn – 2,300 feet, and thus back into England.”
Source: Hounds Magazine, Volume 5 Number 6 Summer 1989.

Jedforest Hunt
“At Overwells we enjoyed the hospitality of the Fraser family….hounds were hacked to the Batts Moor to draw…. Coming off the hill for Whitton Edge, the pack rejoined and crossed the Roman Road into Border Country.”
Source: Hounds Magazine, Volume 7 Number 3 January 1991.

Bolebroke Beagles at the Northumberland Beagling Festival
(Note: this refers to hare hunting with beagles)
“Again, we journey north of the border for our final day, on Friday, to Mr Bob Tyser’s farm at Chatto.”
Source: Hounds Magazine, Volume 7 Number 1 November 1990.

Hounds Off contends, therefore, that MPs from all parties deserve a voice and parity with the strongest of the two pieces of legislation should be the aspiration (ie The Hunting Act – bringing Scotland in to line with England, not the other way around).

There is currently a Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 taking place. This Review will ascertain whether current legislation is providing a sufficient level of protection for wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control of these animals where necessary. Would you like to know more about it or maybe make a contribution? Written submissions are invited between 1 February and 31 March 2016 and can be sent either by post or email using the link below:

http://www.gov.scot/About/Review/protection-wild-mammals

Read about and watch an expose of foxhunting in Scotland during 2014/15 by the League Against Cruel Sports here

© Joe Hashman

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16th December 2015

Trail Of Lies – Deconstructing & Exposing The Hunters False Alibi

"Trail Hunting in general is nothing more than a post-hunting ban creation to provide a false alibi against accusations of illegal hunting" - International Fund for Animal Welfare "Trail Hunting in general is nothing more than a post-hunting ban creation to provide a false alibi against accusations of illegal hunting" - International Fund for Animal Welfare

Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, reports from London.

Trail Of Lies is a report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which deconstructs then exposes Trail Hunting as the false alibi which many of us have always believed it to be. It was an honour to speak at the launch of Trail Of Lies yesterday in Westminster, on behalf of associates, friends and colleagues who have spent much of the last decade gathering the data and evidence upon which this report is based.

Trail Of Lies provides critical information which unveils the truth behind the false alibi of Trail Hunting and includes recommendations to solve the problem of enforcing the Hunting Act.

Here’s what I said:

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has run an Enforcement Team since the Hunting Act came into effect in 2005. During that time, in partnership with the police, RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports, we’ve dealt effectively with attempts by the hare coursing community to rename and reinvent their pastime of choice in a way which was intended to circumvent the law. In fact, by working with our aforementioned partners, together we’ve eradicated organised club coursing from the British Isles.

The same can’t be said of fox, deer, hare and mink hunting with hounds and this is the source of great regret within our Enforcement Team. For many outside of the hunting bubble it’s hard to understand how and why these deathsports continue. The reasons are complicated, and one of them is the false alibi of Trail Hunting.

Don’t forget that the hunting community pledged to defy the Hunting Act even before it was passed. This same community vows to retain and defend the infrastructure of hunting so that, if they ever succeed in repealing the Act, full-on deathsports can resume seamlessly and without delay. Trail Hunting is a vital part of their strategy to keep hunting live quarry with hounds viable while actively degrading the Hunting Act and those who seek to enforce it, be they law enforcement agencies or NGOs such as IFAW.

The Enforcement Team has evidenced over ten years of cynical subterfuge and false alibis by hunts the length and breadth of Britain; hunts who we suspect have used Trail Hunting to pretend to be doing one thing while actively doing another.

Many of us believe that hope for a compassionate future lies in the hands of the younger generation – that the Hunting Act enshrines the will of the people but, until hunting and killing wild mammals with dogs becomes socially unacceptable, there will always be a problem. We believe our opponents know this too. That’s why Trail Hunting is so useful to them. It allows bloodsports to continue with a veneer of respectability and provides a readymade excuse if they get sussed out.

One of the changes which the Enforcement Team have noted over the last decade is that many Hunts split their day. They have a jolly ride until 2.30 or 3 o’clock and then, when folk who hunt to ride have mostly exhausted themselves and gone home, for the hard core who ride to hunt the real and illegal business begins.

Well-known in hunting circles is a phenomenon called the “3 o’clock fox”. Around this time on a winters day, atmospheric changes often make the scent left by wild animals stronger and, of coarse, from the angle of a Wildlife Crime Investigator, daylight starts fading which makes evidence gathering more difficult. We see it as no coincidence that this is frequently when the gloves come off and the business of hunting with hounds gets serious.

Integral to the continuity of deathsports is an ongoing supply of willing participants. 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 Pony Clubs are linked with mounted hunts and, so long as these hunts claim to be Trail Hunting within the law, they’re able to hoodwink 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.

Remember, Trail Hunting was invented post-Ban and is not even recognised by the associations which administer genuine non live animal hunting. In general, it’s nothing more than a charade which provides a perfect cover story for grooming the young and 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 is seen as no longer awful. To the next generation of deathsports enthusiasts, indoctrinated into a world of false alibis, blind eyes and rural lies, wild mammals which are illegally hunted and killed may no longer be 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.

And so the hunting community can unite in defiance of a law they despise. In doing so, if they can misrepresent their dishonest intentions to the outside world or to a court of law and be celebrated as freedom fighters by their cock-snooking supporters and peers, they will. We’ve seen it time and time again.

Trail Of Lies is a report which deconstructs then exposes Trail Hunting as the false alibi which the IFAW Enforcement Team has long observed it to be. As a whistle-blowing document, we welcome it.

On a personal level I’d like to thank IFAW, and especially Jordi Casamitjana, for having the vision to produce Trail Of Lies, as well as acknowledging the important work of Wildlife Crime Investigators out in the field. Their dogged determination in difficult and often dangerous conditions has been essential to the production of this Report.

I hope and pray that Trail Of Lies is used wisely, and that IFAW continues to invest time and resources into the Enforcement Team so we can continue to monitor the effectiveness, or not, of the Hunting Act in England and Wales for another ten years at least.

© Joe Hashman

Read the summary report, Uncovering The Trail Of Lies here

http://www.ifaw.org/sites/default/files/Uncovering%20the%20Trail%20of%20Lies.pdf

Read the full Trail Of Lies report here

http://www.ifaw.org/united-kingdom/resource-centre/2015-ifaw-trail-lies-report

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6th December 2015

Not All Coppers Are Bastards

Here, police put an end to an illegal hare hunt. It's easy to feel angered by their inaction sometimes but worth remembering that they're people just like us. Whilst they are bound by instructions from their superiors, many sympathise with the plight of hunted animals and will help when they can. 
Photo: Hunt Saboteurs Association Here, police put an end to an illegal hare hunt. It's easy to feel angered by their inaction sometimes but worth remembering that they're people just like us. Whilst they are bound by instructions from their superiors, many sympathise with the plight of hunted animals and will help when they can. Photo: Hunt Saboteurs Association

Negative stereotypes can be unhelpful and are often wrong. It’s sometimes hard to relate to policemen and women who are impotent in the face of illegal hunting, heavy-handed when dealing with protesters and bound by diktat from their superiors. But many are decent people, as we shall see…

Once upon a time, many years before hunting was banned, I was out with a couple of friends trying to get in between foxes and the hounds from our local Hunt.

I was standing in a gateway looking across a large field which was studded with a few old oak trees and surrounded by hedges. The land rose gently ahead to an undulating skyline of open spaces, woods and occasional clusters of farm buildings. From somewhere in the not too distant distance, behind the fold of a hill, the sounds of hunting horn and dogs barking were just discernible on the wind.

My friends were in a car half a mile away, deliberately around a couple of bends to observe the country from another angle. We were in communication via CB radios. Pulled up on the verge next to me was a police car. The officer, who I knew as one of our local Bobbies, sat with his engine off and window half wound down. Apart from the sights and sounds so described, the countryside seemed empty.

Presently I saw the movement of an animal at the bottom of a hedge away to my left. The animal moved delicately, cat-like, and became more identifiable as it got nearer.

I took a step back to conceal myself from view so as not to frighten what was a fleet-footed fox. He went out of view for a few seconds, then into it again, ducking under the lowest bar of the gate and splish-splashing through a puddle which was not easily avoided. His head was down but tongue not lolling which was good – this fox had not yet been pushed too hard.

I saw the fox across Froghole Lane, a single track road with passing places, and kept watching him for as long as possible. I informed my friends what happened on the CB then took a garden mist sprayer full of diluted citronella oil from an inside pocket and dispensed aromatic clouds to cover completely the gateway, puddle, verges right, left and opposite, including where the fox slinked through and carried on running the other side.

The policeman did nothing. He remained sitting behind the wheel of his stationary vehicle, window half wound down.

In a few minutes we could hear the sound of foxhounds barking and on the move, getting closer. A red-coated rider appeared in the far right hand corner of the field in front and one, two hounds then more, poured through the hedge on our left and were running towards us, heads down, making an awful din.

In the meantime a Landrover had parked up nearby at a passing place along Froghole Lane and so had a couple of cars.

Well before the hounds got to ‘our’ gateway they stopped running as a pack and spread out in the field, noses to the ground. Their noisy, excited barking calmed and the red-coated rider shadowed them but kept a distance.

At pace, another red-coat rider, standing up in his saddle and with coat-tails flying, galloped alongside the hounds. He touched a horn to his lips and blew a staccato note, riding at pace with all hounds virtually at his heels from left to right in the field, straight across the gateway.

They never did refind the scent of that fox. The hunters and their hounds went back into the distant green yonder. The Landrover cranked up and drove off. Without even noticing the cars vanished to other lay-bys and pull-ins on other lanes. We friends continued to keep as close as realistically possible and try whenever we could to get between the hounds and their quarry.

I saw the policemen some time later in town. I’ll spare you his name as, although long-retired, he is to this day very much alive. I asked him why he did nothing to stop us from scuppering that hunt.

He smiled in a kindly way and nodded his head to the side as he winked. “I don’t like them either,” he said.

© Joe Hashman

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