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18th April 2015

Who Are You?

Guest blogger Jaysee Costa explains why he’s cool with being labelled an “anti” by the foxhunting brigade who continue to cling on to a dark past.

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Who are these “antis” we often hear about?

Do you know who you are?

You probably think you do, but other people may have other ideas based on just a pinch of truth and a barrowload of negative stereotypes. They may have put them all on a label that could be stuck on you forever.

I got many labels stuck on me over the years and one of them is the label “anti”. It’s not a term of endearment.

The label “anti” as a label has been used by those who regularly abuse animals – or are against laws and regulations that aim to stop animal abuse and suffering – to describe anyone that oppose what they do. “Anti” was a word used by bear baiters to describe politicians who voted for the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 which banned their bloodsport; it was used by vivisectionist to describe those who erected the ‘brown dog’ statue at Battersea in 1906 in honour of all the dogs that had been tortured in scientific experiments; it was used by terriermen to describe the campaigners who lobbied for the Protection of Badgers Act 1992; today it’s the word used by foxhunters to describe anyone supporting the hunting with dogs ban. So, it is meant to be a negative term used to insult (equivalent to “scum”) or simply a term to warn others in their fraternity that this person “is not one of us”. It is the nasty version of the condescending “bunny hugger” or “tree hugger” which looks down on animal protectionists and environmentalists and is often embellished by claiming that it means “anti-freedom”, “anti-countryside” or “anti-tradition”.
However, this label, which most of us wear as a badge of honour, has a dangerous side. Propagandists of animal abuse fraternities have been relentlessly using it to influence the general public – plus the police, CPS and the Courts – into believing that there is something wrong with being someone that does not want animals to be abused. Animal abusers have been quite successful in getting into journalists’ minds, who then write reinforcing the negative stereotype, creating a vicious circle. For instance, people or organisations who believe in the philosophy that all animals have the right to a life without abuse are immediately labelled by cheap journalists as “animal rights activists” with the implication that there is something extreme and dangerous in such beliefs. The term “animal rights”, as opposed to “animal welfare”, is actually an old 20th century cliché. These days most animal protection organisations, despite their names and logos which were created last century or earlier, have gradually converged into a philosophy of rights and a morality of welfare where the intrinsic value of animals is recognised at the same time that pragmatism is used to resolve human-animal conflicts.
“Anti” as a derogatory label is not only used against hunt saboteurs or volunteer hunt monitors. Organisations such as the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports or IFAW employ inspectors and investigators to gather evidence for Hunting Act prosecutions (among other wildlife crimes) and the negative label affects them too. Despite the fact such investigators technically work in ‘law enforcement’ as they are paid to gather evidence of crimes in a lawful, peaceful and respectful manner, and such evidence is primarily used in criminal prosecutions – not campaigning – they are not treated as such by the police and the Courts. Their evidence is treated as suspicious just because it comes from “antis”. To compensate for that they need to work on a ‘belt and braces’ approach to prove every single event which demands far more evidence than would be required in any other type of crime, and they cannot rely on their testimony or expertise because the defence will claim that they are not credible.
Investigators who take to the field to enforce and reinforce the Hunting Act have to endure the harassment and violence of hunts supporters who behave as if part of organised crime rings that prevent evidence of illegal hunting being secured. Hunting Act enforcers and reinforcers hardly ever have an adequate response from the police if they call them when they have been obstructed, attacked or robbed. All that, because they have the “anti” label. It does not matter if they explain what their job is and show that their teams include reputable ex-policemen and ex-military. They still call them “antis” and do not take their testimony and evidence as seriously as they should. This explains why there are not many prosecutions of illegal foxhunters. The police and CPS don’t take allegations of illegal hunting seriously and believe false alibis such as ‘trail hunting’ without checking they hold water. To cover for this lack of proper enforcement ‘”antis” are forced to spend valuable resources and time operating in a hostile environment full of pressures and difficulties.
Despite the fact that we’re now in the 21st century and our society has evolved so animal welfare principles form part of our modern lives, our opponents (who by nature are people that live more in the past than in the present) continue to be obsessed with these old labels, thinking that they offend us when using them. They don’t.
So yes, I am an “anti”. I am anti-violence, anti-cruelty, anti-bullying, anti-abuse, anti-crime, and this is why I support people who try to help animals in need. And I am proud of it, as most people with the same beliefs are. Naturally, as in all walks of life, there have been some who turned violent unnecessarily and who crossed the line of decency with the misguided idea that this would actually help our cause. There are so many of “us” that it would be impossible to prevent this happening since we are a very diverse bunch where all races, genders, cultures, creeds and even states of mind are represented. But you know how propagandists work. They pick on the exception and they make it a rule. You can see this all over the press and internet these days. Personally, if asked to identify just a few people to represent an entire group, I would have chosen any of the following “antis”: William Wilberforce, Mahatma Gandhi, Saint Francis of Assisi, Leonardo Da Vinci, Gautama Buddha, Pythagoras, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Frances Power Cobbe, or Frank Kafka (it’s nice to think that I could be seen as belonging to the same ‘club’ as them!).
Here is what happens when those who do not have any problem with violence became activists against those who do: the “anti-antis” are spawned. For quite some time people who want to continue hurting animals regardless of whether their activities are legal or ethical have organised themselves to hunt down the “antis”, so they can intimidate us away, or even worse. For those who are aware about how foxhunting works, the euphemism ‘hunt steward’ would have come to mind when reading this paragraph. Yes, these are the heavies who may have been contracted or simply volunteered to go out looking for people opposed to hunting (it does not matter who; hunt saboteurs, Wildlife Crime Investigators, charity inspectors, bystanders, etc) and ensure they cannot become witnesses of the hunt’s activities.
There seems to be a recent revival of these type of anti-antis. They sometimes don’t even hide their violent disposition, with masked faces and signs on their shirts which unequivocally advertise their cruel intentions.
So really, if there is any negative connotation to the word “anti”, this is now attached to those who created the label in the first place, because their actions reinforce the stereotype, not ours. They are the ones that want to stop people having the freedom to protest, they are the ones who want to stop people having the freedom to speak, they are the ones who want to stop people knowing what happens to the innocent animals they victimise, they are the ones who actively disrupt legal activities in favour of crime, and they are the ones who add violence where there was peace.
Sometimes, though, in this ocean of violence, propaganda and mis-labelling, there is a gust of fresh air. Recently, a district judge who was presiding a case where two “antis” had been prosecuted for aggravated trespass because of their attempts to help an injured deer that had been attacked by a hunt’s hounds, seemed to be able to see clearly through the mist. He acquitted them.
In his summing up of the case, the judge criticised the hunt and police, and praised the hunt saboteurs saying: “All of you contribute immensely to society not only in your working lives but in your free time. You deserve high praise for managing yourselves and your behaviour.”
I am proud to know who I am.
Jaysee Costa
An anti

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19th February 2015

Illegal Hunting: Beware The False Alibi – If In Doubt Call 101

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Acting on information received from a member of the public, in March 2007 a colleague and I attended an illegal two-day hare coursing event in North Yorkshire. On the morning of day one, as we pulled in to a verge to let vehicles pass along the narrow lane, a police car departed the scene. We noted the registration number.

Some weeks later we presented our evidence to the police. The officer in charge happened to be the driver of the car we’d noted. He held his hands up when we quizzed him why the illegal hunting had not been stopped at the time. He was at the scene to follow up complaints about highway obstruction. Apparently the coursing officials at the gate (you had to pay to enter) told him that they were doing ‘greyhound trialling’ which was different to hare coursing. With a few cosmetic changes to how the event was traditionally run and genuine ignorance of bloodsports from said copper, coursing supporters had invented a false alibi and they nearly got away with it.

Thankfully, Scarborough Magistrates Court was not hoodwinked. The landowners fought the charges but were convicted. A celebrity chef and a Sir decided to plead guilty as a result. Good job well done by IFAW, RSPCA and the police.

In 2011 the Huntsman and Terrierman from the prestigious, Leicestershire-based Fernie Hunt were convicted of Hunting Act offences. The judge who presided over their subsequent appeal accused them of using “cynical subterfuge” to twist evidence gathered by the League Against Cruel Sports and prepared by Leicestershire Police.

I suspect that with a few cosmetic changes to fox hunting, including the invention of a new post-Hunting Act sport dubbed ‘trail hunting’, similar acts of cynical subterfuge are widespread and ongoing. This is based on personal observation and the first-hand accounts of others.

The Hunting Act is the law, not a voluntary code of conduct which individuals or organisations can choose to observe or not. This is why reporting suspected illegal hunting to the police on 101 is so important. In these times of cuts and scarce resources, modern day policing is statistics-led. So getting a Log Number which records evidence of your call means that, literally, it counts. Sometimes we know that a phone call directly results in catching criminals red-handed.

Yes, it’s a hassle. Yes, you’ll feel interrogated by the police who want to know what you’ve seen and why, exactly, you think it’s a crime. But don’t be fobbed off or dissuaded. Just as there are police who can drive you crazy with their stubborn refusal to listen or see, so there are good coppers out there who’re willing to learn and have their misinformation corrected.

Take for instance the convictions of officials from the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt in 2012, again for Hunting Act offences. It was volunteers from the Hunt Saboteurs Association who gathered the evidence in this case. They compared their real-life footage with a scene from The Belstone Fox. The investigating officer saw exactly what was going on, the penny dropped, and justice was done.

Don’t leave it to others. If you see suspected wildlife crime report it. Your call counts.

Joe Hashman

Photo copyright © IFAW

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14th February 2015

Working For The Ban

Jordi Casamitjana, Campaigns & Enforcement Manager IFAW UK says:

There are many organisations in the UK that work to protect British wildlife from the cruelty of hunting with hounds, but not that many are international with headquarters in another continent. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is an exception and I am proud to be leading the team that deals with this issue.

IFAW joined the campaign to ban hunting with dogs as far back as 1989, and it was the coordinated efforts of the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and IFAW working in coalition which proved vital in finally securing a ban. However, all of us soon realised that getting the Hunting Act 2004 passed was not going to be enough, because the hunting fraternity was quite clear in its intention to challenge the ban. Creating the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’ instead of converting to drag hunting was early evidence of this.

So, since 2005 IFAW’s work on this issue has been mainly focused on two tasks: to help with enforcement of the Hunting Act and to protect the hunting ban. However, we never expected that we would be so busy on these two fronts for so long. In fact, for the last 10 years, we could never lower our guard because enforcement of the Act by police and CPS has been, to say the least, quite poor, and the threat of a repeal or weakening of the Act has never gone away (and today, only weeks from the General Election, this threat is sadly as real as it ever was).

On the enforcement front we have come a long way, though. We started monitoring hunts with a couple of hunt monitors, but the enforcement team grew and grew and we can say that we currently have one of the most sophisticated and efficient Wildlife Crime Investigator teams in the country, which uses state-of-the-art equipment and complex forensic techniques that have already produced significant results. Indeed, after many years of countless allegations of illegal hunting and not much progress by the authorities in addressing the problem our enforcement team, together with the RSPCA’s prosecution team, managed to secure the first conviction of a member of a Dorset hunt. A second prosecution of members of another hunt is in progress.

On our work to protect the ban, last year we managed to expose the Government’s plan to weaken the ban by modifying the ‘flushing to guns’ exemption of the Act. We believed this would result in ‘repeal by the back door’ as it would make enforcement even more difficult. We alerted media and public to this, campaigned against the plan and gathered support from other organisations that joined with us on the issue. Soon those plans were postponed, for now at least.

There may be a time when we can all relax and allow the Hunting Act to be applied effectively as other bans are but we are not quite there yet, so we still need to be “working for the ban”.

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21st January 2015

Hounds Off is Changing: Great New Look, Same Solid Service

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Hounds Off is tailored to support and help anyone, anywhere, who wants to keep hunts away from their property for whatever reason.

Our idea remains to keep www.houndsoff.co.uk available as a free resource available to all and let the concept develop organically. Many landowners have contacted us and we’ve helped them directly, including farmers, foresters and homeowners. We hear through the rural grapevine the good news that loads more have taken our advice and simply just got on with it, autonomously.

So here we are. Its early 2015 and this website is our third incarnation. We wanted to make our information clearer and more accessible. Just over a year ago we contacted Compassionate Dorset’s digital media professionals, Anna Celeste Watson and Stu Jones. Between us we’ve upgraded the Hounds Off logo (more about that soon) and created this website you’re on now.

We hope you’ll find it simple to navigate and easy to access the information you require. Please use the online Contact Us form to feed-back your experiences here. We constantly strive to improve our service and therefore value your opinions (especially ideas for improvements).

Please also share the Hounds Off website link with your family and friends or any of the many decent folks who might like to make their property into a sanctuary for wildlife.

This is a massive year for everyone affected by hunting. Much will depend on the outcome of the General Election in May. The bloodsports fraternity are placing great faith on a Tory majority delivering on a promise to repeal the ten-year old Hunting Act. Others believe that killing foxes and other wild mammals with dogs for amusement has no place in a civilised society. Our urge is to enforce and reinforce legislation which, though frequently ignored by many, has achieved over 340 prosecutions for illegal hunting.

Hounds Off was created with the knowledge that, whatever the law dictates, without countryside to ride around in and chase their quarry through, foxhunters and their ilk are scuppered. We’re also acutely aware that many people are affected by unwelcome hunt trespasses. Sometimes it’s a one-off, all too often the incidents are repeated. Hounds Off is relevant whichever way the political wind blows.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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20th December 2012

We Should All Take Heart

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In the case of RSPCA v Barnfield, Sumner and Heythrop, District Judge Pattinson should not have questioned the amount of money these convictions cost.

The amount of work which will have been invested in this result will have exceeded all bounds. You cannot survive the process on fresh air alone.

This was a massive ask. Everyone involved deserves the most generous credit for an awesome job done, and there will be many who came together to make this happen. Thank heavens that they did. Wildlife protection via the Hunting Act is stronger for it.

You cannot put a price on justice. We should all take heart.

Posted by Joe Hashman

Photo Copyright © Colin Varndell

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17th May 2012

The People’s Campaign Against Hunting

In respect of enforcing the Hunting Act, some recent good news; three members of the Crawley & Horsham Hunt were convicted of illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs at Haywards Heath Magistrates Court earlier this week. This brings the number of successful prosecutions since hunting was banned in 2005 to approaching two hundred and proves yet again that enforcement can work. Well done to everyone in giving justice a chance; from monitors with video cameras to the police and law enforcement agencies.

Official figures show that, seven years on, the Hunting Act (2005) is the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation to be introduced in recent times. It is curtailing the excesses of both registered Hunts and poacher-types across the countryside.

Nothing in life remains the same and this applies to the law as much as anything else. There is always an argument for updating the legal system as society grows and develops. The Hunting Act is no exception in this. Continued enforcement, coupled with future reinforcement, is the only sensible way forward.

In the meantime, Hounds Off is campaigning hard to make as much of the country Hunt-Free as possible by encouraging people like you to ban bloodsports where you live. Have a look at our website for details. Plump for the Hassle Free Option or Belt & Braces Approach, depending on your circumstance, and just follow the simple step-by-step instructions.

Remember that our power lies in our collective strength. Hounds Off is proud to reveal that over 500 English acres have been made Hunt-Free since our launch in September 2011. Much of this is in prime foxhunting country. We want the exclusion zone to increase and spread. Please take action and share our website with your family and friends.

Hounds Off really is the people’s campaign against hunting!

Posted by Joe Hashman

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19th March 2012

The Reality Of Repeal

Before the ban on hunting with hounds, abuse of wildlife in the name of sport was widespread and serious. Nowadays, although the abuse sadly still continues, I’ve detected a scaling down of the worst excesses when the hunting fraternity think they’re being watched.

For instance, reports from a Hunt in the south-east are typical; a pack of foxhounds is taken for a glorified dog walk on Saturdays but it’s in the week that hunting live quarry occurs. According to sources, they’ve even resorted to the formerly common practice of ‘bagging’ foxes. This means that a fox is captured beforehand and tipped out of a sack for the dogs to chase. Such an unfortunate fox was referred to as a Bagman. Often a Bagman would have his paws cut first. It made the scent stronger and easier for hounds to follow. A kill was assured, thus keeping the pack ‘in blood’ (meaning, familiar with and keen for the taste of fox).

I believe that the ban on hunting with hounds is a good thing even though the law is definitely not perfect. Some Hunts pack up and go home as soon as anyone they don’t trust pulls out a camera. Others move off to remote land which is difficult for outsiders to access. There are Hunts that carry on regardless but I promise you that what I see nowadays is far less free & easy compared with the couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude of the tally-ho brigade when hunting was still legal pre-February 2005. The Hunting Act is a radical step in the right direction which needs enforcing and reinforcing.

However, as long as the bloodsports community remains “ready for repeal” no one should be complacent.

News of a horrific incident filtered back to me recently on the rural grapevine;

A hunted fox had taken shelter in a hollow between some big tree roots. The hounds were unable to scratch him out and the hunters couldn’t dig him out either. So a noose was fashioned out of barbed wire, hooked around the terrified animal and used to drag him into the open. To save on bullets the live fox was thrown into the air and landed amid the scrum of hungry dogs. A landworker, not actually following the hunt, witnessed this. He’s too afraid to speak out in public for fear of losing his job.

An ex-plumber friend of mine became so incensed when he learnt the shocking truth behind hunting’s glossy façade that he infiltrated Westcountry stag hunts to document and film this so-called sport. Being hunted with hounds is horribly demanding for the deer.

This was the end of one stag hunt which the ex-plumber told me about; “An exhausted stag ran into a private garden. I was on foot and could see flashes of the huntsman’s red coat through a hedge. He had a gun and was looking for the stag to shoot it. All of a sudden, crashing through the hedge, came this stag. He ran for about 25 feet and stood in a clump of overgrown brambles. He was very tired at this stage and couldn’t really move much more. Half a dozen people suddenly appeared and somebody was shouting for the gun. Eventually the man with the gun turned up and the stag was shot. The stag dropped to the ground right in front of me.

“Then, after a second, it stood up again. Very, very slowly. Almost like a cat which has been in a deep sleep and is waking up, it arched its back and stretched its legs deliberately. I thought they’d have to shoot it again but they didn’t. Instead, the stag was led by hands on its antlers and body up a slope. Somebody actually said, ’Let it walk.’ And do you know why they did this?

“The reason they let it walk up and out was so they didn’t have to carry the body up the slope. When they got close to the road they crushed it to the ground again and shot it a second time.

“One of the men turned to me and said, ’That wasn’t right.’ I thought he had also been shocked by this incident, but that wasn’t what he meant. You see, there were anti-hunt monitors out that day with cameras who were nothing to do with me. The man said that he meant this sort of thing should be done carefully and out of sight.”

Legalising this kind of depraved cruelty would be the reality of repealing the Hunting Act. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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8th March 2012

Why The Hunting Ban Is So Important To Our Society

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.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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