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25th October 2017

Hounds Off Opinion: National Trust 2017 AGM

Results from the Beynon Resolution for a cessation of trail hunting, exempt hunting & hound exercise on NT land at the National Trust 2017 AGM. Results from the Beynon Resolution for a cessation of trail hunting, exempt hunting & hound exercise on NT land at the National Trust 2017 AGM.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED

Helen Beynon’s Members Resolution to ban so-called trail hunting on National Trust properties failed by 299 votes (30,686 for; 30,985 against). So the #TrailHuntLies continue, just. The question is, what to do next?

Leaving the National Trust in disgust, though understandable, is only going to leave it vulnerable to entryism by the pro hunt lobby. That would be disastrous for persecuted wildlife. If you can afford the fees, then for fox sake remain or become a National Trust member. We are clear: change can only be effected from within (if you’re not a member then you cannot vote). As influential and substantial landowners, whether or not hunting is banned across 248,000 hectares really does matter.

SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Since 1988 there have been five National Trust (NT) Members Resolutions against hunting with hounds. Some were defeated, others were carried. Way back in 1990, the Chairman used between 30 and 40 thousand proxy votes in an attempt to defeat two motions presented to the AGM. Sounds familiar? The only difference between then and now is that one, the Cronin-Wilson Resolution (to ban staghunting on NT land) was carried by 68,679 to 63,985.

That Members voted to stop this particularly hideous form of rural entertainment rocked the NT Ruling Council and the hunting community at large.

The Ruling Council ignored their Members. Instead of implementing a ban, they set up a Working Party crammed with hunting sympathisers to investigate the implications of a ban whilst specifically ignoring the abuse of and suffering caused to hunted deer. Predicatably, the Working Party recommended no ban on staghunting. The hunting fraternity, meanwhile, amid threats of rural vandalism and disobedience if the bloodsport was prohibited, urged their supporters to join the NT in an effort to swing the balance of power in their favour. There was a battle royal being waged within and around the NT.

Lord Soper was President of the League Against Cruel Sports at the time and also a member of the NT. His Members Resolution to a NT Extraordinary General Meeting held on Saturday 16 July 1994 had many anti hunters rolling their eyes at its seeming timidity but it was ultimately to succeed in ways that nobody on either side of the bloodsports fence anticipated. The Soper Resolution called for a “balanced Working Party to be convened to consider the aspects of cruelty and welfare that were ignored previously.” It was carried by a whopping 114,857 to 99,607.

In April 1995 the NT Ruling Council invited Professor Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University to conduct a two-year scientific study into the welfare implications of hunting deer with hounds. He and his team did this with the full co-operation of West Country staghunts and the League Against Cruel Sports. The findings were published as ‘The Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer’ (aka The Bateson Report). The evidence of cruelty inherent in staghunting and the proven effects of suffering caused to hunted deer, regardless of whether they were eventually killed or not, stunned all concerned. The day after being presented with The Bateson Report, the NT Ruling Council (to its credit) agreed not to renew any licences for staghunting on NT land.

After a couple of days shame and shock, the hunters fought back. Among other tactics, Countryside Alliance President and staghunting apologist Baroness Mallalieu set up Friends of the National Trust (FONT) with the aim of getting their people elected onto the NT Ruling Council. To date FONT has not fully succeeded, but they are still trying.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

Sure, Helen Beynon’s 2017 Members Resolution to ban so-called trail hunting on NT lands failed, but by a whisker. I would argue that now is not the time to cut up membership cards and walk away. More than ever, hunted wildlife needs compassionate advocates with voices and votes. I hope you can see that where we today are is not the beginning but actually the continuation of something which has been going on for decades. Against the odds and despite all the pain, disappointment and blind eyes, we have moved (and keep moving) mountains.

You can be rest assured that hunt supporters up and down the country will be joining the National Trust en masse. They are already pressurising the Ruling Council to backslide on their recently introduced conditions for licensing so-called trail hunting. Currently, sixty-seven Hunts are in dispute with the NT over these license conditions. We need the NT to stand firm. Leaving as a protest might make you feel better in the short-term but in the long-run if our voices get weaker while theirs get stronger it won’t help hunted animals.

I just became a paid-up Member because I want to ensure that these new licensing conditions which hunts are calling “unworkable” are actually adhered to. And, next time there is a Members Resolution to stop hunting on National Trust land, I’ll be ready, willing and eligible to vote for it (who knows, I might even be the proposer…).

RECOMMENDED READING

Thanks to Ian Pedler for documenting so much of the long history of various campaigns against deer hunting. His excellent book Save Our Stags (ISBN 978-0-9554786-0-4) is a hugely valuable tool for any students or others who want to learn about the campaigns against deer hunting with hounds from 1891 to 2007.

© Joe Hashman

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23rd September 2017

Calls For Hunt Supporting Wildlife Trust Chairman To Go

Banners & good manners greeted attendees of the Kent Wildlife Trust AGM in Chatham on Saturday 23 September 2017, supporting Tom Fitton's 156k signature petition questioning the suitability of having a hunt supporter as Chairman of the KWT. Banners & good manners greeted attendees of the Kent Wildlife Trust AGM in Chatham on Saturday 23 September 2017, supporting Tom Fitton's 156k signature petition questioning the suitability of having a hunt supporter as Chairman of the KWT.

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. Watch and listen here or read, below;

“We are here to ask serious questions about the current Chairman of Kent Wildlife Trust and his suitability for the role. This is not an attack on Kent Wildlife Trust or its employees, volunteers or members. We recognise and support what Kent Wildlife Trust does in terms of its worthy work to restore, save and enhance our natural heritage. But we are seeking clarity on ethical matters which have arisen, and disputed information, principally in relation to past and present links which Kent Wildlife Trust’s Chairman has with the bloodsport of hunting hares with a pack of beagles, known as ‘beagling’.

“Beagles are specially bred to run slower than a fleet-footed hare but with an enhanced ability to follow the scent that a hunted hare leaves behind her as she tries to escape. By working as a pack under the guidance of a Huntsman, his staff and hunt supporters who keep watch from hilltops, field corners and through binoculars, the aim of the beagling game is to gradually tire the hare enough for the pack of dogs to pull her down and bite her to death.

“Beagles are famously independent hounds with great stamina. Some individuals in the pack will be especially good at following scent across plough, or through woodland, or deciphering the sweet smell of hare amid the fumes of traffic which linger around country lanes. Beagling combines human and canine teamwork to find, hunt and catch hares.

“At the end of a hunt, when the beagles are tearing at their reward, it’s traditional for the Huntsman to step amongst his charges with a knife to cut off hares ears, feet, tail and sometimes the head as trophies, to be mounted on plaques or stuffed in the pocket of the first person at the scene, to be smeared on the face of a child at his or her first kill, or given to the landowner as thanks for permitting the beagles to hunt hares across their land for sport (1). I know to the majority of decent, right-minded people such things seem repulsive and bizarre, but this is beagling.

“Beagling is one of the most deliberately cruel bloodsports in terms of animal suffering. Don’t be fooled by the fancy dress and friendly little dogs. In favourable conditions and the right mood to chase and catch a hare, beagles are relentless. For the Huntsman and followers, 90-minutes from find to kill is considered ideal (2); whilst they will have been marvellously entertained, their quarry will be reduced to a stiff-legged, hunched, shattered shadow of its former self and the beagles will relish their hard-earned prize at the bloody end. Hare’s have evolved to survive with short sharp sprints, not endurance running. Beagling is the opposite of natural selection.

“We know that the current Kent Wildlife Trust Chairman was Huntsman for the Blean Beagles Hunt for many years from 1971 (3) and in 1991 he became a Joint Master. As Huntsman, his aim would be to help his dogs seek and destroy hares for the amusement of those who pay money to watch. As Joint Master, his responsibilities would have included the day-to-day running of the Hunt (4).

“Beagling seriously compromises the welfare of hares (5). Our democratically elected representatives have recognised this fact. In November 2004 MPs voted to pass the Hunting Act and abolish beagling. During the season before the ban the Blean Beagles killed 22 hares and, very unusually, 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 (6).

“When hunting with hounds was banned beagling didn’t stop. Many hare hunts said they were chasing a scent laid by a human runner and called this activity ‘trail hunting’. Trail hunting didn’t exist until February 18th 2005, the day the Hunting Act came in to force. Many people believe, as I do, that trail hunting is no more than a false alibi designed to create confusion and provide a cover for illegal hunting (7).

“This is where the activities of Kent Wildlife Trust become disputed. They say that their Chairman Mike Bax ceased to be involved with the Blean Beagles in 2005. I have a copy of Baily’s Hunting Directory dated 2006-2007. Baily’s has been the official go-to place for who’s-who in the hunting world since 1897. The 2006-07 edition clearly lists M W S Bax as a Joint Master. Soon after that Baily’s ceased publishing hard copy and became available only by online subscription. In its electronic version, as recently as 2016, Michael W S Bax remained listed as a Master of the Blean Beagles. His business partner is listed as being the Blean Beagles Huntsman since 2006. Additionally, the well-known weekly magazine Horse & Hound named M Bax as Joint Master in their 2013/14 Hunting Directory. They have subsequently removed all names and details.

“So why is Kent Wildlife Trust insisting otherwise? Could it be that admitting their man has a panchant for hare hunting sits uncomfortably with their mission and values? Certainly, pushing the limits of animal welfare legislation, possibly even being party to cynically subverting it, would be at odds with the role and responsibilities of a former High Sherriff of Kent and person sitting as Chairman of Kent’s Crime Rural Advisory Group (8).

“Of course, while the majority of people might not understand how anyone could enjoy partaking in bloodsports, before the Hunting Act was passed hunting hares was not a criminal activity. If the Blean Beagles are now hunting lawfully, in terms of Mike Bax’s involvement, nobody could reasonably object. But this is the problem. Beagling has long been a closed shop to outsiders, an activity which requires you to have references and referees to vouch on your behalf before you’re allowed to join in. Beagling takes place mostly on remote or private land which means that it’s virtually impossible to monitor. To the misinformed or uninitiated it’s easy to be misled or unaware about what is really going on, especially on those rare public relation exercises when outsiders or the press are present.

“For me there are two big queries. First, why is the Kent Wildlife Trust insisting that their Chairman has had no links with the Blean Beagles since 2005 in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary and, second, are the Blean Beagles currently operating within the law? Until answers which stand up to proper scrutiny are provided on both counts, and any consequences dealt with, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask their Chairman to step aside.”

© Joe Hashman

References:

(1) Beagling (1954), J. Ivester-Lloyd, page 90
(2) Horse and Hound. November 7, 1980
(3) Baily’ Hunting Directory (1981)
(4) http://www.amhb.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=173&Itemid=61 Sourced 22.09.17
(5) Report of Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England & Wales (2000), Lord Burns & others, point 6.67
(6) Hounds Magazine, Summer 2004

(7)Trail Of Lies (2015), International Fund for Animal Welfare

(8) http://www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/who-we-are/our-trustees Sourced 22.09.17

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27th August 2017

Calling All National Trust Members #TrailHuntLies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued….

© Joe Hashman

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5th August 2017

Outfoxed Again by Mike Huskisson; a book review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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9th July 2017

Beware The ‘Middle Way’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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1st December 2016

The Devil’s In The Detail (But Who’s Looking?)

Evidence of illegal hare hunting by the Easton Harriers. Photo courtesy Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs Evidence of illegal hare hunting by the Easton Harriers. Photo courtesy Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs

HUNT TRESPASS IN WILTSHIRE

A message came to Hounds Off that hare hunting beagles breached a fence and ran into a Wiltshire garden last Saturday. Apparently the Hunt Master muttered an excuse about hunting “wounded hares”. Our Wiltshire contact said she thought hunting with dogs was banned. Something about the wounded hare excuse just didn’t ring true to us either. We asked a friend for his thoughts. He pinged them back to us in quick time.

Under the Hunting Act, there is an Exemption that allows hunting an injured hare lawfully, “for the purpose of relieving the wild mammal’s suffering” (1). However, and these are salient points in this instance, no more than two dogs may be used (2), it’s done on permitted land only (3) and the dogs must be kept under control (4).

We already know a pack was used, the hunters did not have permission to hunt in the garden and clearly they were running out of control when they did. Illegal, doncha think?

Our friend reckoned that the trespass aspect was interesting too. If the beaglers were claiming the wounded hare Exemption then they must admit to having control of their hounds – which makes the trespass deliberate. Getting to the truth would help our Wiltshire contacts should they take civil action to protect their property in future.

And here’s the frustrating bit. Why do we have to resort to civil actions? Whichever way you look at it, in 2016 hunt trespass isn’t something the anti hunting rural dweller should have to endure.

EVIDENCE OF ILLEGAL HUNTING IN SUFFOLK

As to what’s occurring with recent and ongoing allegations of illegal hare hunting in Suffolk, you might well despair. Compelling evidence gathered by Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs raises serious questions about the Easton Harriers and their hunting activities. Their false alibi is tenuous too. Are they claiming “rabbit hunting” or, like the Wiltshire beaglers, going after wounded hares (BBC Suffolk News online, 29 November 2016, see below)?

IMG_4073

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-38146564

When Brian May tweeted that Law and Order had broken down in Suffolk, he joined a chorus calling out the blatantly obvious. We all hope the police and prosecuting authorities find a hitherto vacant will (and the expertise) to fully and forensically investigate these allegations of illegal hunting.

Two facts we suggest that detectives unpick early on:

1/ The dogs used are purpose-bred, specialist hare hunting hounds (ie harriers).

2/ The habitat and habits of hares and rabbits differ in basic ways which make it easy to establish what is the true quarry just by simple observation.

If, under proper scrutiny, the Easton Harriers claim the wounded hare Exemption then immediately they are guilty of illegal hunting for running more than two hounds. We could go on…

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton of Suffolk Police has appealed for information and background intelligence. We ask her to treat this blog as both, take it seriously and positively investigate. Honestly, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work this all out!

REFERENCES

(1) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (3).
(2) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (4).
(3) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (6) (b).
(4) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (7) (b).

ACTION TO TAKE

Request Suffolk Police investigate allegations of illegal hunting by the Easton Harriers, here

Contact Suffolk Police & Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore with your concerns, here

Make your property into a nature reserve from which hunting is forbidden, here

Write to your MP and ask them to support the Hunting Act (2004), here

IMG_4072

© Joe Hashman

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22nd October 2016

It’s Good To Talk

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

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

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

SPREADING FOXY LOVE

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

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

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

NO-PLATFORM ATTEMPT

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

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

DORSET DING-DONG

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

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

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

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

PSEUDO-SCIENCE

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

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

COMMUNICATING & BEING HEARD

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

 

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29th August 2016

Make Friends, Save Lives & Influence People

The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable.  This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable. This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk

In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide seemed imminent and, naturally, fears about the future of the Hunting Act occupied much of my mind. The challenge was (and remains) to find a way to stop hunting which can be effective regardless of what the law says. What became Hounds Off was an idea. Or rather, a collection of ideas.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘COUNTRY’

The hunting community knows full well that having land to tally-ho over is essential. “Country” (as they call it) is central to everything they do and having access to it is jealously guarded. Despite hunting with hounds truly being a minority pastime, the unspeakable minority operates a well oiled machine which facilitates their animal abuses of choice even though technically they’re outlawed.

AN IDEA…

Back to the idea.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) used to have a black and white poster with those words on complete with images of deer, fox, hare and otter. It was straight-forward and simple poster but struck a chord the first time I saw it.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. That’s HOWL, the radical, informative, inspirational, ground-breaking, often entertaining voice of the HSA.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife. Hounds Off. This is what we want. Short, sharp, to the point. Does what it says on the tin, kind of thing. Did the HSA object? I asked the Committee. “No,” they said. “Carry on.”

CREATING HUNT-FREE ZONES

After quite a lot of meetings with colleagues and close friends it was decided that a website would be the best vehicle for delivering the Hounds Off message. Our plan was (and remains) to create as many No Hunting nature reserves as possible, including all sorts of land; from whole estates and farms to smallholdings and back yards. We wanted easy, universal access to the information needed to do this effectively, autonomously and with no-strings. The Internet provides an ideal platform and so www.houndsoff.co.uk was born.

The concept of creating hunt-free zones is not new. The League Against Cruel Sports started buying sanctuary land in the West Country in the 1950’s, principally to disrupt staghunting. The counter-concept of preserving hunting rights had earlier seen the formation of companies who sole purpose was to support bloodsports. In reality, Royalty has been dictating over hunting preserves for centuries. Today a whole structure exists to exert the power and control of that influential, criminal minority who like to hunt. Not everybody knows about this ‘system’ but it’s real. Anyone who has crossed their line knows about it, that’s for sure; the bullying, the ostracising, the undermining, the dismissing, the evicting. Rural peer pressure can be intense.

TOOL IN YOUR KITBAG

So where does Hounds Off come in? Well, Hounds Off empowers people. We will stand with anyone affected by hunt trespass (or the threat of it). Our motto is, “You Are Not Alone”. www.houndsoff.co.uk provides the information and tools needed to protect property, livestock and pets. Alongside bringing together a community of related minds to stand united on this issue in real life and via social media, the aims and objectives of Hounds Off today genuinely are as simple as this. Looking to the future, if you believe as we do that “available country” is a major factor in deciding whether or not a Hunt can exist, then squeezing them in that area makes perfect sense.

For Hunt Sabs, Monitors and other front-line campaigners, Hounds Off is another tool in your kitbag which can be used to scupper bloodsports and save lives. You’re meeting the outraged public, disgruntled locals, beleaguered landowners and farmers who have had enough. Please use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource where you can suggest folk go to find support and solutions to the problem of hunt trespass. The Action & Advice pages (Warn Off Your Local Hunt) are especially crucial!

IT’S SERIOUS!

Last autumn I was working in a wood which belongs to a Hounds Off landowner. One of my fellow volunteers told me he was living off-grid in a bender under a hedge on land owned by friends who were new to the area. The local Hunt had run their hounds through his encampment and the new owners could do nothing to prevent it. Turns out that, deep within the conditions of sale, rights to hunt over that land were protected. You can be sure similar arrangements are being made elsewhere. Aside from ongoing efforts to repeal the law, I’ve no doubt that anything and everything which could obstruct hunting in the future is being ‘dealt with’ or neutralised, often quietly and behind the scenes. This includes ensuring access to as much land as possible via sporting rights, deeds and covenants. Remember, without available country any Hunt is knackered.

HOUNDS OFF IN ACTION

The best thing we can tell you is that, since launching in September 2010, Hounds Off has helped folk across the UK and thousands of new acres of hunt-free land has been established. Where hunt-related problems persist so our support remains ongoing. The Hounds Off philosophy is simple and based on people power. Hounds Off is about being strong at our roots, resolute, standing with our friends united and, yes, these tactics are effective!

Have a look at the accompanying diagram called “How To Make Friends & Influence People”. It’s not theory – it comes from real-life experiences of how Hounds Off is working on the ground and shows how cultivating relationships between Sabs, Monitors and the public can benefit us all, including (most importantly) abused wildlife. See what you think and how you could make it relevant for your situation. Most importantly, personalise it. Make Hounds Off your own and www.houndsoff.co.uk an asset which you use.

© Joe Hashman

Feel free to reproduce appropriately and, please, always with a link to www.houndsoff.co.uk

This blog first appeared in April 2016 on the Accidental Activist website, More Than Just Badgers, and was entitled, Squeeze Them In The Country.

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11th August 2016

They Love Their Hounds, Don’t They?

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

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

PUPPIES

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

LOOKING THE PART

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

ABILITY TO HUNT

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

DELIBERATELY UNDERESTIMATING?

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

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

FROM THE HORSES MOUTH

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

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

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

SHIFTING RESPONSIBILITY

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

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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30th July 2016

Hounds Off at The Game Fair 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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