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15th March 2019

Somerset Churchyard Fox Hunt Excuses Rebutted

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

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

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

Dear Mrs XXXXXXXX,

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

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

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

Read our original Press Release here.

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

Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime, without prejudice

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13th March 2019

Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For our wildlife always.”

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

Hotline number: 07946663765
Email: somersetantibloodsports88@gmail.com

© Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers

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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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1st February 2019

How To Report Hunt Incidents To The National Trust

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

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

  2. Report hunts licenced by the National Trust.

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

General Resources

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

What To Report

Who To Report It To

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

Finally….

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

Jack Riggall, National Dis-Trust.

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10th December 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural

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

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman

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

Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane

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7th December 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 2 (of 8): They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak

The cover of Horse & Hound magazine, 25 October 2018. Their strapline, circled in red, says it all.

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

PREVIOUSLY: Hunting Myths Part 1: The Snakeoil Salesman

Mr Barrington often repeats the classic claim that hunts only go for weak, diseased or old animals. This is completely untrue and there is no need to find any scientific research to prove it. We simply have to understand what hunting with hounds is and how it differs from shooting, lamping or snaring, which are other methods people use to kill wildlife.

Foxhunts, hare hunts, stag hunts and mink hunts use packs of hounds which locate a prey (“quarry”) and begin chasing it following its scent trail. Then, people on horse, motor vehicles or on foot follow the hounds through the countryside. This is the “fun” of the activity. The longer the chase, the better the hunting day. Weak or ill quarry animals would not run but hide as they don’t have the energy to flee, so there would not really be a chase if the hunts targeted those … and without a chase, there is no hunting.

The truth is that hounds do not “decide” to go for the weakest animals as they just follow a scent and have no idea of the condition of the animal they are chasing.  This is why the Hunting Act 2004 – that was meant to ban hunting in England and Wales – outlawed the chase of the wild mammal with dogs, not actually the killing. Indeed, it makes it an offence to “engage or participate in the pursuit of a wild mammal with dogs”.

Incidentally, the hounds have been selectively bred over generations to run slower than their quarry but with superior stamina. This is one way to deliberately prolong the hunt and provide good “sport”.

And as far as the claim of chasing “old” animals is concerned, it is important to realise that in autumn each foxhunt engages in cub hunting to train their hounds to kill foxes. They go to woods, copses, fields of standing crops and other places where they know there is a fox den, they surround them so they cannot escape, and then they send the pack of hounds in to kill them. These are “cubs”, not old foxes, and every year an estimated 10,000 fox cubs are hunted by the UK hunts, even now.

Despite the claim of doing “trail hunting” (actually just a cover for illegal hunting) the hunts still need to train their hounds to chase and kill foxes, and they can only do that with the secretive and clandestine activity of “cub hunting” (which they have re-named “autumn hunting”).

Part 3 of this series will be published here tomorrow.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

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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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18th October 2018

Government Defends Wildlife Crime On Public Land

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

GOVERNMENT DEFENDS WILDLIFE CRIME IN PUBLICLY OWNED FORESTS

Yesterday, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs responded to a petition calling for an end to the licensing of so-called ‘trail hunts’ on the Public Forest Estate, which is owned & managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the public. The response is pretty much a paraphrased Countryside Alliance press release and there are a couple of things they’ve either overlooked, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not:

– The petition specifically doesn’t call for an end to licences given to hunts which have agreements formed under a general agreement with the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association (MDBA), as drag hunting & clean boot hunting are not covers for wildlife crime.
– DEFRA’s response omits that licences are also granted to hunts under a general agreement with the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles (AMHB), such as the New Forest Beagles.

Most importantly, though, they’ve regurgitated one of the most worn out lies in the country and they’ve done so without scrutiny. This is, of course, that fox & hare hunts have stopped hunting live quarry and started to ‘trail hunt’.

‘Trail hunting is a legitimate activity … Many hunts have since turned to trail hunting as an alternative to live quarry hunting…’ – DEFRA, 17th October 2018.

Here’s a couple of brief reasons why this is rubbish:

– In 2014, a review of RSPCA prosecuting activity was published by Stephen Wooler CB, a former Chief Inspector for the Crown Prosecution Service. On P109/s9.1 it stated that: ‘The evidence reviewed leaves no room for doubt that, despite the 2004 legislation, traditional fox hunting remains “business as usual” in many parts of the country.’
– Both before & after the Wooler Review, hunts that have been licensed to use public land by the Forestry Commission have been convicted; the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 based on footage from Derby Hunt Saboteurs and the Cottesmore Hunt were convicted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 based on footage from the League Against Cruel Sports.

DEFRA have rejected the requests of the petition on a completely false premise. It remains open & ongoing to gain signatures, and needs 100,000 signatures before 18th March 2019. If you haven’t signed this already, please do so here!

© Jack Riggall

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13th October 2018

Game Of Cat & Mouse Continues #TrailHuntLies

HOUNDS OFF OPINION

The National Trust has started issuing licences for foxhunt packs to carry out so-called trailhunting on their land. But this season the business-as-usual status quo has changed slightly. Licences will now be open to public scrutiny and a small team has been appointed to oversee this activity. For many this is not enough, for others it’ll be too much.

Myself, I’m a realist. I know the National Trust is a huge chuntering juggernaut of a conservation charity which must cater for a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I know how frustratingly slow it can be to effect positive change but I also recognise that the National Trust has a history of being led by its Members and it is always worth using your voice and your vote.

So it was that on Friday 12 October I travelled to Birmingham and, with Jack Riggall from National Dis-Trust, met with Nick Droy and Rob Rhodes from the National Trust. Nick is five weeks into his role of Trailhunting Manager and Rob (who attended via telephone) is the Head of Countryside Management & Rangers.

Trailhunting Manager is a new post, created by the National Trust in response to concern from Members and the public that trailhunting is nothing more than a false alibi used to provide a cover for illegally chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs.

Nick told us that his professional background is in practical countryside management at both regional and national levels and it started eighteen years ago when he was himself a National Trust volunteer. He explained that he has no hunting in his background and is approaching this complex issue with a fresh eye and open mind.

Nick will lead a team of three; an office-based co-ordinator and a worker who will assist in carrying out face to face engagements, checks in the field and monitoring of so-called trailhunting on National Trust land.

This season, the Trailhunting Team will be conducting one pre-arranged inspection of each Hunt which is granted a licence by the National Trust. My problem with this is that it provides an easy way for #TrailHuntLies to avoid detection because when Nick is about Hunts will temporarily change the way they behave.

I told Nick and Rob this and referred them to a 2015 report called Trail Of Lies. It is a fantastically complete and in-depth exposé of how Hunts have used trailhunting to circumvent the law, to carry on abusing and killing. The only problem with Trail Of Lies is that it was complied and produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and so hunters consider it to be propaganda.

It is not and, to reinforce the point, I signposted the National Trust Trailhunting Manager to another, independent, source which reaches the same conclusion; the Wooler Review.

What happened was the RSPCA had grasped the nettle in terms of taking private Hunting Act prosecutions and landed seminal convictions against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt in 2012. The Countryside Alliance went ballistic and set out to destroy their opponents.

Their criticism reached a crescendo in January 2013 when former Countryside Alliance head honcho Simon Hart MP initiated a debate in the House of Commons about prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and in response Her Majesty’s Attourney General suggested that an independent review could be advantageous. The RSPCA Council took heed and appointed Stephen Wooler CB to do this. Wooler is a Barrister and former Chief Inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service.

During our meeting I read a passage from the Wooler Review and asked Nick to think of his Trailhunting Team as being the police officers to which Wooler refers;

“Securing the evidence neccasary to mount effective prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 in respect of mainstream foxhunting therefore requires far more than sending a team of police officers to take the names and addresses of those at a hunt gathering. The evidence required is such that it is unlikely to be achieved through police presence and observations alone since behaviours would then be likely to change.” (1)

In fact, Wooler goes on to describe a “cat and mouse game between hunting participants and supporters and those endeavouring to gather evidence through observations and recordings.” (2)

I concur with Wooler (2014) and Trail Of Lies (2015): giving hunters a heads-up when they’ll be monitored on National Trust land is rather like the police telling a burglar when they’ll be round to look for stolen goods.

As Trailhunting Manager, it is part of Nick Droy’s job description (and background research) to meet with the likes of Jack and myself. I found him to be friendly, open and likeable. That’s a good start, but I do believe that there are fundamental flaws in how the National Trust have instructed him to carry out his duties. We agreed to keep lines of communication open and meet again next summer. Doubtless much will happen between now and then.

© Joe Hashman

References:

(1) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 5.
(2) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 6.

Hounds Off is run by volunteers. We rely on public support to fund our work. If you would like to contribute please do so here.

Costs incurred on 12 October 2018;
Return travel by road from Dorset to Oxford (179 miles at 44 pence per mile) = £78.76; Oxford to Birmingham New Street return, by train (Adult Standard Class) = £79.20; Total = £157.96

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