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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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3rd March 2019

Staghunting: And So It Continues…..

Stag at bay on a compost heap in a private garden adjacent to National Trust property on the Quantock Hills, March 2017. Photo © Hounds Off, with permission only

March 1st is when Spring Staghunting starts on the Quantock Hills and Exmoor. ‘Spring’ stags are the young adults, the stags with most energy and va-va-voom. These are a staghunters favourite quarry because they run hard, fast and long. For those who delight in chasing then killing fit and healthy Red deer then March and April are the most exciting months of the year.

Two years ago Teresa, a Quantock Hills resident, contacted Hounds Off and told us her story.

Teresa was in her kitchen. It was just after lunchtime. She could hear the Quantock Stag Hounds hunting really close and then saw out the window a hound by her garden pond. She grabbed her iPad to and went outside to take some film. The noise was suddenly deafening. There was a stag in her garden, up by the summerhouse. Other hounds were in the garden too and the stag moved towards the compost heap.

Hunting dogs from the Quantock Stag Hounds by Teresa’s garden pond. © Hounds Off, with permission

The hunted stag by the summerhouse © Hounds Off, with permission

A huntsman was just beyond the garden fence. He asked Teresa for permission to shoot the stag and she said, “No”. She asked the man his name and what he was doing. He said that she didn’t need to know. More hounds came in to the garden. Teresa reckoned there were about seven but they were hard to count because of so much movement.

Teresa refused to let the Quantock Stag Hounds Huntsman shoot the stag in her garden. © Hounds Off, with permission

By now the stag had climbed on top of the compost heap. There were riders looking down from the hill up above and conversations could be heard between unseen hunters on walkie-talkies. Numerous vehicles were parked on her private entrance drive with people standing and watching.

The hunted stag on the compost heap, using the height for protection. © Hounds Off, with permission

Suddenly there were four burly men at close quarters. The man who wanted to shoot the stag warned Teresa not to interfere in case the dogs attacked her. She was frightened because, as she told us afterwards, “I was outnumbered and could see that their blood was up.”

The dogs had chased the stag off the compost heap but he returned and was again at bay.

Stag at bay on a compost heap in a private garden adjacent to National Trust property on the Quantock Hills, March 2017. Photo © Hounds Off, with permission only

Teresa said, “The stag was surrounded by hounds and huntsmen and was clearly exhausted and petrified. I felt I needed to protect it. I felt strongly that it was not just right that I protect it, but it was my right to protect it.  Not just because I don’t agree with hunting with dogs, but because it was in my garden and I should have been able to save it. My garden was its sanctuary.”

Again, she told the hunters to call their hounds off. One young, thick-set individual threatened to call the police because he said she was “harbouring a deer.” He also threatened to call the RSPCA, shouting that the stag was injured and had to be killed. But they did manhandle their dogs over the fence and remove themselves as well.

Another man who Teresa didn’t know or recognise appeared. He also refused to identify himself and joined the other hunters. They huddled together and then, right in front of Teresa, stormed into her garden, ran towards the stag and physically pushed it off the compost heap, over the fence and away towards private farmland. The men and their dogs, the riders and the people in cars all followed in different directions as fast as they could.

Quantock Stag Hounds men and dogs trespassed with menace to get the hunted stag running again. © Hounds Off, with permission

Teresa was totally shocked and shaken. She immediately called the police to report the incident.

A couple of hours later two huntspeople called at the house. Only one of them would give his name. He said that they were “trailhunting” with eleven hounds when unfortunately this young, injured stag jumped up in front and caused a distraction. They decided to kill it because, apparently, it was injured. Their excuses were not believed and apologies not accepted.

“A day later the Huntsman left a message to tell me the stag had been previously shot by a .22 rifle. I learnt later from the police it was in the chest,” Teresa recalled, “But this exposed them as liars. I was stood ten feet away from the stag for some time. There was no injury to the chest, old or new, but it was exhausted. I didn’t realize it then, but subsequently I found out that they have used this excuse before to exploit a loophole in the Hunting Act. I thought at the time that it was a really odd thing to say that they would call the police because ‘I was harbouring a sick deer’, but I later realized that they worked out which angle they were going to use to get out of this, hence why they didn’t care about me filming.”

Avon & Somerset Constabulary completely failed to take Teresa’s allegation of illegal hunting seriously and it appears that there was a deliberate block put on conducting even a cursory investigation. The Quantock Stag Hounds got away with it. But we helped call the police failures to account. Crucially, over a year later their own Professional Standards Department upheld six out of nine points of complaint.

First of a seven page letter upholding six out of nine points of complaint made by Teresa. © Hounds Off

Teresa said, “When I reflect back with the knowledge I have gained over the last two years, I know that the Hunting Act has to change. Any reasonable person looking at the facts knows exactly what these hunts are up to. But the legal system is choosing to ignore the test of the reasonable person. As it stands today it is almost impossible to prove illegal hunting and get a conviction.”

Her immediate neighbours are the National Trust and she feels let down by them, too. Despite receiving all the evidence and her witness statement, and despite the fact that they themselves banned deer hunting with dogs on their land in 1997, the Quantock Stag Hounds frequently hunt across forbidden land. As recently as January 28th this year they held a fundraising meet and then hunted on National Trust land. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are in dialogue with the Trust to work out how to prevent future arrogant flouting.

Members of the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on National Trust land at Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset on Monday 28 January 2019. The National Trust banned all deer hunting with dogs from their properties in 1997. Photo © Hounds Off

Rural residents have turned to us in desperation and we answered their call. Our tactics are simple; in partnership with Somerset Wildlife Crime and individuals, groups and organisations who want to work with us, we’re shining a light on modern day staghunting. Please see the following links for more details:

Please consider making a donation to our campaign. We couldn’t do what we do without you.

© Joe Hashman. Founder; Hounds Off

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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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29th January 2019

Quantock Stag Hounds Meet Fundraise & Hunt On National Trust Land 28.01.19

Members of the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on National Trust land at Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset on Monday 28 January 2019. The National Trust banned all deer hunting with dogs from their properties in 1997. Photo © Hounds Off

The Quantock Stag Hounds know that they’re banned from hunting on National Trust land. So imagine our surprise when yesterday, Monday 28th January 2019, they gathered at 11am with all their dogs, horseriders, motorbikes, quads, four-wheel drives and hangers-on in Beacon Hill Car Park, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset. Beacon Hill is owned by the National Trust!

Not only did the Quantock Stag Hounds meet on forbidden land but they held a whisky raffle as well, to raise money for hunt funds.

Shortly after 11.30am they set off over the hills to hunt female Red deer in the remote wooded valleys around Holford and then, at around 2.30pm, they were back on National Trust land between Beacon Hill and Weacombe Hill. I watched and filmed as the Huntsman and Whipper-In (the Huntsmans assistant) used two hounds to search for deer in Weacombe Combe.

At this time of year female Red deer, known as ‘hinds’, are the quarry.

Hind Hunting isn’t what is used to be. Since technically being outlawed in 2005, hunters have changed their modus operandi. These days they only use two hounds to track deer and in realty, hinds are hunted as much by humans as dogs. Everyone is linked by mobile phones and radios to co-ordinate their movements. There’s very little chasing. When deer are roused from cover they have to dodge pot-shots from strategically positioned assasins armed with short-barrelled shotguns.

It does seem crazy that in an area of outstanding natural beauty, frequented by dozens of people enjoying recreation which has nothing to do with bloodsports, the Quantock Stag Hounds can send their supporters out into the thick of it wielding live firearms.

I was part of a team of Hunt Monitors from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime. We’ve been keeping an eye on the Quantock Stag Hounds every week since September last year. On 28.01.19 we had a foot team deployed near Holford and around midday they reported hearing gunshot. We believe that a calf was separated from its mother and wounded with a botched shot, because, after the gunshot, frantic voices were heard from deep down in a valley near a place called Lady’s Edge.

Kevin Hill is one of our most experienced Monitors. He’s been monitoring staghunting in the West Country for over 35 years. After hearing gunshot in the Lady’s Edge area Kevin reported, “A short while later a lone hind was observed that appeared to be searching for her calf. She was alert and displayed a nervous attitude, moving and stopping and looking in all directions.”

Monitoring deer hunting is really difficult. In the woods, often you can hear but not see.

We have informed the National Trust of unlicensed deer hunting with dogs on their land and are currently helping them with their enquiries.

***

We are all volunteers and give our time freely. If you support what we do and would like to help cover our fuel and equipment costs please consider buying us a ‘coffee’:

Hounds Off

Somerset Wildlife Crime

Learn more about the campaign to ban all live animal hunting with dogs on National Trust land, here.

Thanks xx

Red deer hind appears to be searching for her missing calf in woods near Holford, Somerset 28.01.19

Quantock Stag Hounds supporter selling tickets for a fundraising Whisky Raffle on National Trust land 28.01.19

Quantock Stag Hounds supporter tries to prevent Hounds Off cameraman evidencing unlicenced hunting activities on National Trust land at Beacon Hill, Staple Plain, West Quantoxhead, Somerset 28.01.19

Huntsman of the Quantock Stag Hounds using dogs to search for deer on National Trust land at Weacombe Combe 28.01.19

© Joe Hashman

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30th November 2018

Another Wretched Day With The Quantock Stag Hounds

Confused and frightened, Red deer hinds which were hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Thursday 29 November 2018. Stills grab courtesy: Somerset Wildlife Crime

From November through February deer hunters turn their attention, dogs and guns onto the females of the species. Red deer ‘hinds’ become the target. Often the hunt is little more than a shooting frenzy with multiple animals hounded then blasted. This was the case yesterday (29.11.18). I don’t know how many deer were killed by the Quantock Stag Hounds because most of their dirty work was hidden deep in private woods, but before midday I’d heard four gunshots. In the afternoon, two more deer were definitely taken and another possible before everyone dispersed and the Huntsman led seven hounds along the lanes back to their kennels. There seems to be less ritual afterwards. Maybe hinds don’t hold the allure of a majestic, beaten, stag. There are certainly less trophies to be had. You can cut off and mount the feet (known as ‘slots’) and pull out the teeth for ornaments but most hunt followers have plenty of these things already.

For us it was a difficult day and horrid. That said, we got some useful film which will help us continue to shine a light on this disgusting pastime, so I’m holding on to that. Some of it can be seen here.

At this time of year hinds might be pregnant, running with a first year calf still in tow, or both. They’re herd animals and like to stay close to home. So no long chases over miles of countryside here. Everything is much more contained as the deer run around in big circles, trying to shake off the hounds and dodge the bullets which can be around any corner or behind any tree.

In the interests of crop protection The Hunting Act (2004) permits the flushing of deer with two hounds providing that –

(a) reasonable steps are taken for the purpose of ensuring that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person, and

(b) in particular, each dog used in the stalking or flushing out is kept under sufficiently close control to ensure that it does not prevent or obstruct achievement of the objective in paragraph (a).

Sadly, the wording is sufficiently vague to enable versions of stag, and now hind, hunting to continue which satisfies the bestial urges in a minority of country ladies and gentlemen and leaves the rest of us sickened and confused.

Special thanks to fellow volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime. Thanks also to everyone who supports our work. We could not do this without your backing. If you’re able, please consider making a contribution towards our campaign running costs.

Somerset Wildlife Crime donate here
Hounds Off donate here

Stag hunting in Somerset, October 2018 watch here

© Joe Hashman

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30th October 2018

PRESS RELEASE: Stag hunting in Somerset Oct 2018

Hunted stag runs for his life. Quantock Stag Hounds, 25.10.18 Photo credit: Hounds Off

SHOCKING FOOTAGE EMERGES OF STAG HUNTING JUST TEN MILES FROM TAUNTON

  • Campaigners have released shocking footage of a Red deer stag being hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds in Somerset on Thursday 25 October 2018.
  • The hunt took place about ten miles from Taunton near the picturesque West Somerset Railway line at Crowcombe Heathfield and lasted for three hours.
  • Hunters used combination of horse riders, dogs and four wheel drive vehicles to harass and harry the stag through woods for nearly two hours before forcing him out into the open, and on his own, for another hour.
  • After being flushed from the woods, film clearly shows the stag running with his mouth gasping and tongue lolling. There is a heaviness to his gait.
  • About an hour later two hounds, which had been set to follow the stag by scent, have chased him to exhaustion. The stag is ‘at bay’ behind a tree in undergrowth.  Hounds can be clearly seen ‘marking’ their target; barking incessantly, rushing forwards and jumping back as the stag uses his antlers to keep them from attacking.
  • Gunmen from the Quantock Stag Hounds get within close range but the stag jumps up and makes a bid to escape. Hounds give chase and five minutes later, away from cameras, the stag is killed.
  • Hunt followers and riders gather in the woods for the traditional carve-up, where the body is divided into trophies for people to take away and remember their day.

The film can be viewed here.

Many people think that stag hunting was banned when the Hunting Act (2004) made chasing and killing most wild mammals with dogs illegal. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Stag hunters in the West Country have reinvented their bloodsport with subtle differences which allow them to exploit loopholes and exemptions which circumvent the law, including;

  • Claiming to be conducting Research & Observation according to Schedule 1 (9) of The Hunting Act (2004), in the same way as Japanese and other whaling nations carry on killing under the pretence of scientific research.
  • The Research exemption was intended to enable scientists to carry out their studies if they needed dogs to find a wild mammal. But it does not specify that people claiming Research under this exemption have to be scientists, that their research has to be genuine or that it should be non-lethal.
  • The Observation part only requires a hunter to be looking at the stag when it is killed.
  • Flushing to guns. The Hunting Act (2004) provides for this in Schedule 1 (1), so long as only two hounds are used and the stag is shot as soon as possible.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  • The National Trust banned stag hunting in 1997 after Professor Patrick Bateson published a report which found that hunting deer with hounds inflicted cruelty and distress far beyond anything they might experience in nature.
  • Stag hunting was prohibited on Forestry Commission land in 1997 too.
  • Campaigners have documented numerous incidents of trespass by the Quantock Stag Hounds on National Trust and Forestry Commission land during September and October 2018.
  • The Quantock Stag Hounds hunt deer with dogs Mondays and Thursdays throughout September to April.

For more information or interviews please contact:

Bobbie Armstrong
Somerset Wildlife Crime: 07572495309

Joe Hashman
Hounds Off: 07711 032697

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9th October 2018

Staghunting On The Quantock Hills 08.10.18

Scene from Quantock Stag Hounds carve up at Staple Farm, West Quantoxhead, Somerset, 8 October 2018.

There was a moment yesterday when I thought that the Quantock Stag Hounds had decided not to go hunting but alas it wasn’t so. In the end they killed a stag and took the body to a farm to carve it up. Men and women supped cans of drink and watched in gory fascination as the Huntsman, elbow deep in warm blood, dished out bits of inneds and butchered the animal at their feet, in front of their eyes.

They started not far from Bishops Lydiard which itself is a stones throw from Taunton. I was part of a team of Hunt Monitors. We were parked near the beauty spot of Lydiard Hill, by some horseboxes. We anticipated that the Hunt would come in this direction.

Shortly after 11am my radio crackled and the message came through that there was movement our way. Then a gaggle of hunt riders came along the lane, gave us a bit of verbal, loaded their horses into the boxes, and drove off. That was when, fleetingly, I vain hoped they were going to leave stags on the Quantock Hills in peace.

Instead, the Hunt relocated. We got a message that they were up Crowcombe and sure enough that’s where they were hunting.

Staghunting on the Quantocks is not what it was. Prosecutions, campaigning pressure and changing attitudes from the police have forced them to stop using a pack of a dozen or more hounds to chase stags to exhaustion. This season, which started at the end of August, they’ve been using two hounds and an army of riders and vehicle followers to chase and chaperone their quarry. It’s a tactic which staghunters on Exmoor have employed for years now and I think they believe it exempts them from prosecution under the Hunting Act.

There were a couple of huntable stags in Crowcombe Park but an especially big fellow was the target. It took a while for the Hunt to flush him up onto the hills but eventually their pressure forced him out.

I was tracking the Quantock Stag Hounds (QSH) in a vehicle, in communication with others who were both mobile and on foot. From hilltops you get some fantastic views but the Quantock Hills are characterised by large blocks of woodland and numerous steep, deep valleys known as ‘combes’. The staghunters know this landscape intimately and are skilled at operating simultaneously in the open yet out of sight, if that makes sense.

The stag was somewhere below a high spot called Bicknoller Post. Horsemen and women lined the tracks and combe sides. The stag didn’t appear keen to run. It’s mating season for Red deer in Devon and Somerset (the ‘rut’) so likely he was pretty tired from all that. I thought they were going to shoot him there and then but no, they wanted some sport.

What followed was not a high speed, high adrenalin gallop and chase over the countryside. It was more akin to a slow walk. The stag kept low among whatever cover he could find to hide in and the hunters, co-ordinated by radios and aided by their two dogs, pushed the deer along and steered him away from our eyes and camera lenses.

We drove into the picturesque village of Holford. By now we had a hunt supporter tailing us. We waited to let a party of schoolchildren pass. I hoped they saw the anti hunting stickers in the car window and that’s why they smiled and waved and shouted hello as adults in yellow tabbards shepherded them safely to the side. Or, more likely, they were just naturally excited to be exploring such a beautiful place.

A sharp right and left and we were in the car park with dog walkers and tourists. Our hunt tail parked up herself and ran to keep tabs on the foot team we deployed. I drove up a remote, single track lane and at the end was a gathering of elderly hunt supporters in cars.

A number of wooded combes with streams converge at Holford and in the recent past it was a favourite killing place for the QSH. But these days they are no longer Kings of the Hills. They skulk more. Red coats have been swapped for fawny brown. They’re quieter. They still take up a lot of space but they try to avoid clogging villages with four-wheel drives and quad bikes. They are adept at chaperoning their stag quite discreetly away from public gaze.

There were moments while we were in Holford. We heard the hunting horn and urgent, loud shouting. Vehicles travelled at dangerous pace on bumpy lanes back and forth. But nothing more than that came our way.

Our teams of Hunt Monitors communicate by walkie-talkie and telephone, neither of which work well in this area of Somerset. It’s hard to be in the right place at the right time anyway but when communications are poor because the signal isn’t great it’s even harder. We believed that the hunted stag had left the Hills for farmland near Kilve but weren’t sure.

The stag was killed south of the A39 near Kilve late in the afternoon, in the depths of private property, and taken to a nearby farmyard for the post-orgasmic ‘carve up’. They were not happy about us trying to take some pictures and it was difficult anyway as they’d hidden themselves behind buildings. Out of sight but not out of our minds.

That was the bloody reality of staghunting on the Quantock Hills this day, 8th October 2018.

Volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime continue to monitor staghunting on the Quantocks, bear witness and gather evidence to show how hunts are operating. You can support our work here. Mark your donation ‘QSH’ and we will dedicate it to this specific fund.

© Joe Hashman

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6th October 2018

Spot The Difference

Top: 'The First Essential Towards Sport' by Tom Ilvester Lloyd (1873-1942). Bottom: Ilminster Beagles from Bineham City Farm, near Ilchester, Somerset, 29 September 2018.

You could be forgiven for wondering why the Ilminster Beagles are not getting done for illegal hunting because film of them finding and chasing hares on 29 September 2018 is quite clear. The problem is that hunters have found cunning ways to avoid the law and one of their dishonest excuses is to cry “Accident!”

What the film of hare hunting near Langport, Somerset shows is the beagle pack searching for, finding and pursuing a hare. The dogs are sniffing around seeking the scent of their quarry when suddenly the hare jumps up from right under their noses and sprints away as the beagles start barking excitedly and giving chase.

This is exactly how many hare hunts started before the Hunting Act came in to force in 2005 so why are they not liable? Well, there is a subtle difference which provides an excuse that gets them off the hook. Read on.

Look at the pictures at the head of this blog. Toppermost is a painting by avid sporting artist Tom Ilvester Lloyd (1873-1942). It portrays “the find”, that moment when a hare springs up literally in front of hounds and the hunt begins. Ilvester Lloyd entitled his work The First Essential Towards Sport which says it all, really.

Now look at the grab below, taken from film of the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018. This also captures the precise second when a hare is found and forced to make a run for it. It’s a post-ban, real-life version of The First Essential Towards Sport.

The reason why the Hunting Act cannot be enforced on the Ilminster Beagles is because in the evidence there are no humans in shot and therefore the Huntsman can claim that hunting of the hare took place by accident. Alas, thanks to a fundamental desire to circumvent the law and some unfathomable decisions in the Courts, crying “Accident!” is a get-out-of-jail card which hunters up and down the country are playing every time they go out.

Interestingly, when the hunted hare runs close to roe deer and the Ilminster Beagles switch to following them, hunt staff are close enough to be able to stop them and prevent a riot.

It’s a shame that the police are so under-resourced. A little targeted training would help them understand why and how huntsmen and women across the land are cocking a snook at them (and us) and go a long way to preventing wildlife crime in the first place.

Illegal hunting by the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018 was reported to Avon & Somerset Police and is recorded with the following Incident Number: AS-20180929-0304.

WATCH OUR FILM OF BEAGLING IN 2018 here.

HOW FOXHUNT MASTER CLAIMED “ACCIDENT” TO AVOID PROSECUTION film and report here.

IF YOU SEE BEAGLING phone the police on 101 or 999. Make sure that they record your call and give you an Incident Number.

IF YOU HEAR ABOUT BEAGLING tell us! All information is treated in confidence.

© Joe Hashman

 

 

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29th September 2018

Kent Wildlife Trust – Hunting For The Truth

Demonstrators at the Kent Wildlife Trust 2018 AGM, highlighting the fact that serious questions about their Chairman and his hunting connections remain in dispute.

At the Kent Wildlife Trust 2018 AGM, held at the Kent County Showground, Detling, on September 29th, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman spoke on behalf of over 205,000 people who have signed Tom Fitton’s petition calling for the pro-hunting Chairman to be replaced. Here is what he said:

Some people are not telling the truth about the Kent Wildlife Trust Chairman and his involvement with hare hunting. The truth matters because it cuts to the heart of who controls the countryside.

Kent Wildlife Trust accept that their current Chairman, Mike Bax, hunted hares with the Blean Beagles only until thirteen years ago, when this pastime was prohibited.

But our evidence shows that he was the Huntsman for the Blean Beagles from 1971 until ‘91 and from then until 2016 he was a Joint Master.

For twenty years, as Huntsman his job would have been to help his dogs seek and destroy hares for the amusement of paying spectators. As Joint Master, his responsibilities would have included the day-to-day running of the Hunt.

Beagling is a deliberately cruel bloodsport. The greater the suffering, the better the hunting. Beagles are finely tuned killing machines, selectively bred to run slower than a sprint-specialist hare but with enhanced stamina and sensitive noses so they can follow the scent that their quarry leaves behind as she tries to escape.

There is no natural predator that hunts hares like this. Beagling is the complete opposite of natural selection.

Beagles work as a pack under the guidance of a Huntsman. Their aim is to gradually tire the hare enough for the dogs to pull her down and bite her to death.

In favourable conditions and the right mood to chase and catch a hare, beagles are relentless. 90-minutes from find to kill is considered perfect (1). At the bloody end, the Huntsman and spectators will have been marvellously entertained, their quarry reduced to a stiff-legged, hunched, shattered shadow of her former self and the beagles will relish their hard-earned prize.

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to what was being written in the sporting press shortly before beaglers took their activities underground to avoid falling foul of the law.

From the Purbeck & Bovingdon Beagles in Dorset; “… we had a splendid morning with a hunt of three hours finally killing in a field of kale.” (2)

From the Stoke Hill in Devon; “An entertaining day….A useful view of the hare running the road … saw hounds on good terms again … a final fast burst across some old pasture saw this well beaten hare accounted for … A hunt of over two hours …” (3)

“A useful view” means that the hare had given hounds the slip but someone saw it and told the Huntsman where. “Well beaten” means stiff-legged, hunched and shattered. “Accounted for” is a euphemism for catching and ripping apart.

From Somerset, the Clifton Foot bragged, “… a classic hare hunt … recorded a successful conclusion in three hours and twenty six minutes.” (4)

This from the Chilmark, also in Somerset; “The best of November hunting … the field had a grandstand view of an eighty minute hunt … they ran into the hare at the fields feet.” (5)

In beagling, spectators are known collectively as ‘the field’. So, translated, this means the dogs killed the hare right in front of everybody who was watching.

In the Home Counties, the South Herts gushed; “Better was to come … where visitors …. saw hounds catch their hare after a glorious seventy minutes of steady hunting.” (6)

The Cambridgeshire-based Pipewell Foot boasted, “An amazing hunt was enjoyed … for nearly one and a half hours … to a well-deserved conclusion.” (7)

The North Staffordshire Moorland wrote of one hunt climax, “The view … was magnificent as they rolled her over in an open meadow below.” (8)

“Rolled her over.” Sounds almost pleasant doesn’t it? But we’re not talking about making love in the clover. It’s a rose-tinted euphemism for glossing over the cruel reality of using dogs to chase a hare to the limit of her physical ability, then savage and rip her to pieces.

This from the Holme Valley, in Yorkshire; “…a hare was hunted for around for 70 minutes giving the remaining field some excellent viewing until hounds were rewarded in the copse.” (9)

Nobody thinks about how the hare feels do they? It’s all about the glorious view and the sweet little dogs who deserve a prize at the end of all their hard work. In fact, people who go beagling are actually advised not to consider the suffering of the hare and are warned that if they do then their enjoyment might be spoiled (10). I wonder if Mike Bax ever considered the plight of his quarry during twenty years as Huntsman and another twenty-five as a Master?

This from the Pevensey Marsh, just down the road in Sussex;

“The day from Little Marshfoot was probably the best of the season … killed at dusk, after ninety minutes.” (11)

And, bringing it right back home, during the season before the ban the Kent Wildlife Trust Chairman Mike Bax’s own Blean Beagles killed 22 hares and boasted in the sporting press of “producing some fine sport”. This included “accounting for a tired hare” after a “very fast” half-hour, and catching another after a continuous chase over two and a half miles (12).

Parliament banned beagling in 2005 because it seriously compromises the welfare of the hare (13) but the abuse didn’t stop. Many hunts pretended they were chasing a scent laid by a human runner. They called this newly invented fictitious activity “trail hunting”, but trail hunting is a con. It’s a false alibi designed provide a cover for illegal hunting.

Others pretended to be after rabbits because rabbits are not protected by the law.

Shortly after beagling was banned, one of the Countryside Alliance’s own national board members, the late Admiral Sir James Eberle, boasted, “a previously not well known breed of ‘bush rabbit’ provided a notable quarry.” The Countryside Alliance’s man was clearly and defiantly sticking two fingers up at the Hunting Act because there is no such creature as a ‘bush rabbit’ (14).

As I said earlier, not everyone is telling the truth.

Scratch the surface, read between the lines, take the trouble to inform yourself even slightly. Only the corrupt or wilfully ignorant could fail to see that, between the bloodsports community and Countryside Alliance, there is a nationwide criminal conspiracy to subvert the law and carry on cruel and illegal hunting.

This is awkward for the Kent Wildlife Trust. Mike Bax is part of the Kentish bloodsports community and his apparent addiction to killing for fun is clearly at odds with their aims and objectives.

As well as heading up the Wildlife Trust, former Huntsman and Hunt Master Mike Bax is an ex High Sherriff of Kent, sits as Chairman of the Kent Rural Crime Advisory Group and is President of Kent Crimestoppers. So what is really going on here?

For many years the hunting lobby has been infiltrating the system by getting their people into positions of authority. It’s a tactic called Entryism.

We believe that Mike Bax is part of this tactic. That’s not to say that everything he does is bad. He will be party to decisions and policies on which we all agree. This is all part of the smokescreen and, amid the fog, clearly Mike Bax swings his power and influence to open doors which Kent Wildlife Trust find so irresistible that they feel compelled to push misinformation about their Chairman to cover their backs.

This is actually about vested interests and criminal elements presenting an acceptable face to facilitate the abuse and killing of animals in beautiful surroundings. Their ultimate goal is to repeal the Hunting Act, then embed hunting into the fabric of society so that the public and Parliament never challenge its existence again.

Our campaign is not an attack on Kent Wildlife Trust, its employees, volunteers or members. We recognise and support what they do in terms of worthy work to restore, save and enhance our natural heritage. But, and it’s a big “but”, we have a wealth of evidence regarding the links between Kent Wildlife Trust, their Chairman Mike Bax and the Blean Beagles hare hunt which contradict their official statements.

In the absence of any explanations which stand up to proper scrutiny, it seems perfectly reasonable to continue to politely ask their Chairman to step aside.

As I said at the beginning, not everyone is telling the truth.

© Joe Hashman

(1) Horse & Hound, 07.11.1980

(2) Hounds Magazine, November 1990

(3) Hounds Magazine, December 1990

(4) Hounds Magazine, October 1987

(5) Hounds Magazine, April 1990

(6) Hounds Magazine, November 1990

(7) Hounds Magazine, Summer 1990

(8) Hounds Magazine, April 1990

(9) Hounds Magazine, Volume 4 Number 1

(10) The Art Of Beagling. Captain J. Otho Paget. Pub. H.F. & G. Witherby. 1931. Page 217

(11) Hounds Magazine, April 1990

(12) Hounds Magazine, Summer 2004

(13) Lord Burns Enquiry Into Hunting With Dogs, June 2000. Point 6.67

(14) Baily’s Hunting Directory 2006-2007, page xivi

At the Kent Wildlife Trust AGM held in Chatham on September 23rd 2016, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman spoke on behalf of 156,000 people who signed a petition calling for the Chairman to stand down. Read or listen here

Sign Tom Fitton’s petition here.

Support Hounds Off.

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10th June 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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