I’ve a friend in her fifties and she once told me about her first experience of fox hunting.
The local Hunt was gathering in the farmyard opposite her home. The spectacle was one to see; all those dressed up riders, the sounds and smells of horses, hounds and gathered assembly. She was a girl and naturally curious.
My friend told me that after a long afternoon running around the countryside and getting plastered with mud, she found herself in a place close to home where the woods opened out into fields. An exhausted fox was afoot in broad daylight, struggling to climb the steep hill where, halfway up, she stood. My friend said she also saw the dozens of hounds which were in full cry right behind.
She witnessed this sinking fox being crushed, bitten to the ground and torn apart. My friend has been quietly but firmly anti-hunting ever since.
My introduction to bloodsports was different. My parents brought me up to care about the feelings of animals and, to cut a long story short, on Boxing Day 1982 I found myself in the middle of the countryside with a group of Hunt Saboteurs. We were challenging two blokes who, with spades and terriers, were about to flush a fox from a drain towards expectant riders and hounds from the waiting hunt.
Actually there were two foxes underground. In the scuffle which took place one popped out the other end and made a dash for freedom unseen by the terriermen. The other did break cover in full sight of the hounds. I was with about ten ‘sabs’ who physically put themselves inbetween the hunters and their quarry. We caused chaos and, amazingly, the fox did escape.
How we relate to animals is important to how we develop as a society in relation to our treatment of them. Once, I watched a mother at the end of a stag hunt in Somerset. She stood her toddler atop the neck of the fallen beast and clasped her child’s hands to the magnificent antlers, one on each like riding a motorbike. I thought that was an appalling lesson in disrespect for animals.
As parents we’re at pains to teach our children the importance of honesty. Yet arguments put forward by lovers of bloodsports are, I believe, fundamentally dishonest. Much pro-hunting propaganda is downright contradiction. It has always been so. I remember the days when foxhunters claimed to be controlling a dangerous pest (“The fox ate my chickens”) whilst simultaneously preserving their numbers (“England has the highest fox population in Europe”).
Nowadays, seven years after this cruel bloodsport was banned, the country sports lobby continue their cynical subterfuge. On the one hand they say the Hunting Act (2004) – which prohibits hunting with hounds – is rubbish and doesn’t work. On the other they claim that foxhunters and their like are, apparently, not arrogant criminals because up and down the country Hunts are operating within this Law.
I know what I think.
When hunting with hounds was prohibited seven years ago, what this political outcome represented was simply society recognising in itself that these forms of ritualised animal sacrifice for pleasure and entertainment are unacceptable.
This view is shared by most decent people. Despite the erection of obstacles which have been hard to fathom and overcome, in terms of prosecutions the Hunting Act (2004) has been far and away the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation in recent decades. Where loopholes do exist there are compelling reasons to close them and reinforce the Act.
I believe that this is what we, as a civilised society, both need and want.
© Joe Hashman
8 March 2012