24th August 2015
A new season of fox hunting begins as soon as the harvest is in sufficiently to afford access to the land. In many parts of the country this means that during August, and certainly from September, hunts are out in force with horses, hounds and four-wheel drive vehicles.
Fox hunting in late summer and autumn is a prelude to the pomp and ceremony of the full season which runs mostly from end Oct/early Nov until March or April. Since the 2005 Hunting Act outlawed fox hunting, participants refer to autumn hunting as ‘hound exercise’. Before then it was known more honestly as ‘cub hunting’ (or ‘cubbing’ for short).
Hunt supporters may claim that what is described below is outdated because hunting is different since the Hunting Act. Actually, most of the evidence we have seen and heard suggests that very little has changed and the law is being widely flouted. Links at the bottom of this piece are evidence of this. Sure, there have been a few cosmetic tweaks which serve to confuse the issue, but the following is as true before the ban as now, ten years after. That’s why Hounds Off and many others are calling for the Hunting Act to be strengthened in ways which mean that foxes (and other abused wild animals) are afforded better protection.
The purpose of this article is to outline what cubbing is, what it looks like and how you can report it if you see it (or hear about it on the grapevine).
Cubbing usually starts in the early morning at first light. This means from 6am in mid August, getting later as autumn comes. By mid October 9.30 or 10am is the norm. At the beginning of the day, before the sun is at its full power, hounds are able to smell foxes better. Hounds hunt by scent so are trained to do this at times when conditions are best. In the early season hunts may finish by mid morning or, in late September/October, by mid afternoon.
Evening hunts are popular too. Scent is often good later in the day and an evening ‘meet’ might combine killing foxes with a social occasion (such as a barbecue).
Cubbing is vital for hunting purposes.
The principle objective is training the hounds. They need to recognise the smell, look and taste of a fox as well as how to hunt as a pack. Dog packs will be large. Many are youngsters trying to make the grade. Some older, experienced hounds will be there too, to teach and lead by example.
Young hounds are best trained by hunting and killing a lot of foxes. Cubbing, especially early in the season, is a brutal and bloody affair (though mostly conducted out of sight).
Here’s what the late 10th Duke of Beaufort wrote in his 1980 David & Charles publication, Fox-Hunting, on pages 68/69 (the late Duke had massive status in the hunting world):
“The object of cub-hunting is to educate both young hounds and fox-cubs. As was said earlier, it is not until he has been hunted that the fox draws fully on his resources of sagacity and cunning so that he is able to provide a really good run….I try to be out cub-hunting as often as possible myself, and the ideal thing is for the Master to be out every day….Never lose sight of the fact that one really well-beaten cub killed fair and square is worth half a dozen fresh ones killed the moment they are found without hounds having to exert themselves in their task. It is essential that hounds should have their blood up and learn to be savage with their fox before he is killed.”
If one or two foxes do escape that’s good from a hunting perspective too. These foxes know to get up and running when hounds are about and are dispersed to all over the place to ensure a reliable spread of animals to chase. Later on, when punters pay a tidy fee for the privilege of ‘riding to hounds’, these are the foxes which are hoped to provide the best sport. Hunts are businesses, after all.
By harvest time this years litter of cubs look like young adults and are still in family units. Huntsmen already know where foxes are living. Farmers and gamekeepers supply this information. Hounds will be taken for training to these places, one by one.
Cubbing in August and September often involves surrounding small woods or rough bits of ground with a ring of people on foot and horseback. This is known as ‘holding-up’. Holding-up may also happen around fields of maize or large-leaved crops such as sugar beet. Families of foxes often reside there because they can creep around freely but safely under cover. Woodland or standing crop, old orchard, bramble thicket or somewhere else, a foxy place is called a ‘covert’ (pronounced with a silent ‘t’).
When hounds are first entered into covert there may be complete silence apart from the occasional toot on hunting horn or odd word of encouragement from the Huntsman. Hounds will be searching, noses down, for the smell of a fox. When one hound gets a whiff he or she will ‘speak’. That means they bark in a particular way. As other hounds find the scent too so the speaking gets louder until all the dogs are ‘on cry’ and their collective noise reaches a crescendo.
At this point the fox is darting around in the undergrowth ahead of the pack, trying to escape. If it pops out from the edge of the covert then the surrounding riders and foot followers will shout, clap and slap their saddles to make a wall of noise to scare the fox back. Even if a fox is not seen, but the sound of hounds speaking is close enough to indicate that the fox is running close to the edge, a wall of noise is created. Hunt supporters help considerably to kill foxes during cubbing.
Sooner or later the fox will be caught and killed, either above ground in the jaws of the hounds or when dug out by men with spades and terriers if it tries to hide down a hole. This happens repeatedly until the whole litter is destroyed. Some brave foxes will beat the wall of noise and get away. These are ‘good’ foxes which are hoped to run far and fast during the winter months.
Cub hunting is not all holding-up. Any place likely to provide foxes is tried; hedgerows, streams, field corners, untidy back gardens, derelict farm buildings, even ivy-clad trees. Short hunting runs may be encouraged by hardly holding-up at all or on side only so that, by October and just before the lucrative full season, hounds are hunting their quarry in the open over decent stretches of ground.
Cub hunting has been illegal since February 2005 and should be reported to the police by dialling 101 (some forces suggest 999) and giving as much information as possible, especially regarding what you saw and the location.
Cubbing happens August to October on any day of the week except Sunday, usually in the morning but sometimes in the evening after working hours. Meets are often held in farm yards or fields. Groups of riders, hounds and 4×4 vehicles are tell-tale signs.
The occasion and dress code is informal, even scruffy sometimes. Often nobody wears the distinctive red coats known as ‘hunting pink’. So you may see a hunt but not actually realise it because what you witness looks like just random groups of riders or people assembled at odd times in strange places and apparently looking at nothing.
Hounds running close to or across roads would strongly suggest illegal hunting. Nobody in their right mind would risk laying artificial trails in such dangerous places where the risk of accidents is so real.
Look out too for lines of riders spaced apart at regular intervals along country lanes or in fields and woods. They could be holding-up. Listen out for the ‘wall of noise’ made by hunt followers to frighten foxes. Staccato cries of “Aye-aye-aye!” are commonplace alongside whip-cracking. The combined sound is often unearthly. Riders may converge at pace amid a lot of screaming in an effort to force their quarry back towards the hounds.
Hunts make great play of the fact that they only go to where they’ve been invited. So if a hunt is trespassing on forbidden ground or somewhere else unwelcome then there’s little doubt that they’ll be up to no good.
We advise always report suspected illegal hunting to the police using 101 (or 999 if appropriate). Other people to inform are the League Against Cruel Sports on their wildlife crime hotline 01483 361 250 and the Hunt Saboteurs Association via @huntsabs on social media or phone 0845 4500727. All info received is important and will be recorded for future reference or acted upon immediately.
Here is evidence of illegal cub hunting which resulted in prosecutions for members of the Meynell and South Staffs Hunt in 2012:
Here is an expose of the North Cotswold Hunt apparently feeding and housing foxes in artificial homes then hunting them with hounds during an autumn cub hunt in 2014:
On behalf of hunted wildlife, thank you for reading this and for caring.
© Joe Hashman
10th August 2015
On Thursday 27th August the 148th Bucks County Show takes place near Aylesbury. ‘Attractions’ for visitors include the obligatory parade of hunting dogs. You’d be forgiven for thinking that in 2015 such a spectacle was a thing of the past but it seems not. Hunters and Show organisers would no doubt claim that they operate within the law. We question that. Time and time again the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’ has been proven to be a cynical ploy to circumvent the Hunting Act.
Many folks turn a blind eye to such things. Others take action. One such person is Buckinghamshire resident Katie Angus. She has started a petition asking the Show organisers to stop giving support to illegal hunting and we’re happy to share a link to her petition here:
Look out for reports in local newspapers such as the Bucks Herald. The LUSH store in High Wycombe will be sharing the petition on their social media platforms!
Katie contacted Hounds Off asking us to support her efforts. We asked Katie to write some words for us to use for raising awareness about her petition and the reasons why she started it. This she did:
What is a County Show? A family event filled with traditional fun and a sense of community? An opportunity to support local businesses and feel proud to be part of a more rural way of life?
What is fox hunting? A cruel, barbaric ‘pastime’ of a minority who find sick gratification in chasing a terrified animal to a torturous death!
So where I ask is the reasoning behind local fox hunts and beagles (hare hunts) being invited to parade in the main ring of the Bucks County Show? A direct promotion of the hunt and it’s vile ‘values’ that are statistically proven to provide no benefit to country life.
The UK fox population is stable and has been for the past decade, both in rural and urban areas. There is no overpopulation of foxes.
Foxes help to manage the rabbit and vole populations which has a significant economic benefit for farmers.
According to Defra, 95% of lamb losses are due to farm husbandry practices and, in a study conducted on two Scottish hill farms, just 1% of lamb losses could confidently be attributed to fox predation. Just 1%!!
What justification is left? Tradition and sport??
Have we not evolved enough as a species that we no longer need to hunt and barbarically kill wild mammals for amusement?
Does anybody seriously consider it acceptable to drive terrified animals from their homes for sick entertainment by an out of touch minority with no conscience or heart?
66% of the British public are supporters of foxes, across every region in the UK! Every region has significantly more people in favour of the hunting ban than in favour of fox hunting.
So why do the organisers of Bucks County Show believe they’re providing Bucks residents, and those who travel from surrounding counties, with the kind of entertainment they want to see?
The truth is they don’t care what the majority of us want to see. The show serves to support their own outdated beliefs and provides a platform for them to promote their barbaric, depraved enjoyment to the public in advance of the continued attempts to repeal the Hunting Act.
Something so politically emotive and subjective should not be forced on the majority of the public who want to see an end to this barbaric ‘sport’.
This is the reason that I began a petition, after being dismissed with a generic email response and no explanation at all from the organisers as to why they feel it justified to invite the local hunt to a family event, meaning I wouldn’t take my own family if they paid me to!
It’s time Bucks County Show brought tradition in line with a changing society. One where the public do not consider animal torture as a sport or as entertainment! One where animal welfare matters and this outdated, terrible ‘tradition’ no longer has a place!
Please make your views known by signing the petition for the change that’s so desperately needed and help us to be the voice of the voiceless. Thanks so much in advance.
© Joe Hashman
24th July 2015
Re: The proposed Hunting Act 2004 (Exempt Hunting) (Amendment) Order 2015, by Statutory Instrument
We think many MPs were aware, had the above (Amendment) Order been passed using an inappropriate parliamentary process, that the Hunting Act would effectively be a dead law. Being complicit in deceiving colleagues either satisfied their own personal leisure preferences, or those of others who helped them to power. We also realise that many MPs do not know much about about hunting with hounds and/or are vulnerable to peer pressure, especially if newly elected.
In English Foxes, James Gray MP (Conservative, North Wiltshire) blogged his take on recent events in his online Weekly Column. We have no problem with him voicing his opinion but we do feel that disingenuous statements must be countered. Two lines in particular caught our attention.
1. The Government was proposing a very modest little Statutory Instrument
Official documents are heavy to read, so we’ve simplified these for all to see and (hopefully) understand. The Statutory Instrument proposed five crippling amendments:
a/ Allowing an unlimited number of dogs to be used to flush wild mammals out of woods and similar places in front of people armed with guns to shoot them (rather than two, as the law currently allows).
b/ Extending the circumstances where Hunting Act exemptions permit dogs to be used underground to hunt wild mammals (so-called ‘terrier work’).
c/ Removing the need for those engaged in terrier work to carry written permission from the landowner with them whilst so engaged.
d/ Broadening exemptions to include permitting hunting of wild mammals which the hunter “believes” may be diseased; surely a gift for any defence lawyer.
e/ Permitting an unlimited number of dogs to be employed in chasing wild mammals for the purposes of “Research and Observation”. Hunting by definition requires that quarry species are observed by someone and this amendment, alongside any pseudo-scientific research that might be invented in conjunction, would open the floodgates to hunting with hounds as practiced before the Hunting Act came into force. We all know how certain nations twist R&O to fit their whale hunting bent.
2. All it effectively did was correct an anomaly and bring the practice in England more in line with that in Scotland
A lot of Government propaganda since the amendments were pulled has centred on assassinating the SNP for interfering with a law which does not affect them. This is disingenuous on two fronts.
Firstly, wild mammals do not recognise national boundaries and in the Borders may be hunted from England into Scotland, and back.
Second, the Scottish equivalent of the Hunting Act is widely acknowledged as being the weaker of the two and very difficult to enforce. So after ten years of cynical subterfuge, false alibis, much criticism but hundreds of successful prosecutions we suggest it’s no wonder that hunting apologists want to weaken English & Welsh law under the guise of becoming more like Scotland! In fact, as we hope you can see, if the amendments had been carried then in reality the Hunting Act would’ve been effectively destroyed from an enforcement perspective. This is why we (and others) have called this an attempt at “repeal by the back door.”
1. Recent Government figures show that in ten years there have been 590 prosecutions under the Hunting Act, with a success rate of 64%. By comparison, Scottish hunting legislation has had 210 prosecutions in thirteen years with a success rate of 35%. There have been no successful prosecutions of registered hunts in Scotland.
2. Interestingly, no mention was made of parity of penalties. Probably because in Scotland you can go to prison for 6 months whereas in England & Wales the worst punishment is a low fine.
3. A commitment to fully review the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 has been given by the SNP in light of recent events.
4. The Government would have lost that vote without any intervention by the SNP. It’s only certain media outlets who made it look as if the SNP stopped the castration of the Hunting Act.
© Joe Hashman
14th July 2015
Parliamentary plans to weaken the Hunting Act have been seen off – for now. Our collective roar of disapproval has been heard, loud and clear.
The means by which crippling amendments to the Hunting Act were intended to be slipped through is called a Statutory Instrument (SIs), which allows for quick and easy alterations to existing legislation. The SIs was was pulled today, twenty-four hours before MPs were due to vote, and pulled without a shadow of doubt because an irresistible coalition was built which consisted of MPs from across political parties and the Home Nations who were committed to defeating bloodsports enthusiasts on this issue.
In the first instance, respect and thanks to all those MPs and those who lobbied them; everybody who wrote, talked, tweeted, retweeted, shared, liked, favourited, pinned, posted, demonstrated, reported, advertised, sang, shouted and dreamed about defeating these amendments and the dark forces behind them. If those dark forces within and outside of Parliament thought they could undermine the Hunting Act (and democracy) quietly, unnoticed and with little resistance, they were spectacularly wrong.
Arguably, after our monumental efforts we would be in a better position if there had been a 90-minute debate then vote. Everything indicated that we would have won handsomely. The bloodsports lobby know this too, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they lost their nerve and decided to move the goalposts.
To most decent-minded folk it might seem strange that there are some people and associations whose sole mission in life seems to be to make hunting with hounds legal again, but sadly this is the case. What happens next is uncertain. Doubtless they will dust themselves down, regroup, plot and try another way.
So, foxy lover, be ready for anything. Stay informed and keen. Hounds Off, and others, will keep you fully up to speed via mail-outs, e-alerts or (in our case) blogs and social media. But for a moment, as you rest and take stock, reflect on the fact that within the space of seven days the latest bloodthirsty intentions of hunters were scuppered. Through wholly peaceful means, we have sent dark forces into retreat.
Hounds Off is proud to be part of Team Fox, which is itself a coalition of animal welfare organisations from across the political and campaigning spectrum who are united in their wish to see the Hunting Act reinforced not repealed. These organisations comprise the staff, volunteers, members and supporters who make impossible things possible. That’s what Team Fox is – people like you and me; decent, compassionate individuals who have the collective energy to move mountains.
© Joe Hashman
13th July 2015
In between cutting his first courgettes and tending the sheep, our Hounds Off poet-in-residence Mick Spreader has been pondering on the latest cynical attempts at creeping repeal of the Hunting Act. He wrote the following especially for SNP MPs, hoping they’ll see that we’re the same side in our opposition to David Cameron’s furthering the narrow interests of “Privilege” and that they’ll vote accordingly.
THE YEAR OF THE SHEEP revisited
At night they came with torch and noise
men mounted all on horse.
They drove you from your Highland croft
by brutal use of force.
Ancestral homes put to the torch
lit up the darkness deep
That year they cleared you off your land
is called “Year of the Sheep”.
And into towns they drove you
or forced to emigrate
You shipped off to a distant land
to an uncertain fate.
No longer did your homeland ring
with gaelic voice or pipe
The only sound that could be heard
– the bleating of the sheep.
In England it was different
the result was much the same
“Privilege” stole our common land
and did so without shame.
The choices for the labouring man,
when they were narrowed down, were,
Stay upon the land and starve
or slave away in town.
And so, my Scottish brother,
the enemy’s the same.
He’s endured all down the ages
and “Privilege” is his name.
Again he rears his monstrous head
his foul intentions plain
Send Cameron’s red-coat “Privilege” mates
“hameward to think again.”
© Mick Spreader
12 July 2015
12th July 2015
Dear SNP MP,
I write regarding the Hunting Act 2004 amendments which are being voted upon in the Commons on Weds 15 July 2015:
Please vote against them. I’m aware that it has been said that these amendments simply bring English & Welsh legislation in line with your Scottish equivalent, The Protection Of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. I’m also aware that by pitching the amendments this way, pro-bloodsport Tories seek to compromise you and your SNP colleagues by claiming that voting against them would be hypocritical. This is not true. Actually, they need you to abstain in order to push their amendments through.
There are many details within the amendments which, if passed, will make the English & Welsh Hunting Act far weaker than its Scottish counterpart. For example, hunting wild mammals with a full pack of hounds will be exempt if conducted under the guise of “research and observation”. Laws which control the use of terriers to dig out quarry which has found sanctuary underground will be relaxed. Also, the amendments being put forward to MPs refer to all “mammals”, not just foxes as your 2002 Act does.
We all know that these amendments are a cynical and calculated attempt at creeping repeal which has been a long time in plotting. However, you cannot be accused rightly or wrongly of hypocrisy if you vote against because what you’re voting on is beyond comparison with the laws you have at home.
So please, please, please do the right thing. Attend the House of Commons on July 15. Vote against the Hunting Act amendments. Earn massive thanks and respect from us lot down here and join forces with the vast majority of English and Welsh people who believe in compassion not cruelty.
P.O. Box 162
10th July 2015
Nobody of a reasonable disposition can be in any doubt about the motives behind government moves to amend the Hunting Act so as to allow unlimited numbers of hounds to ‘flush foxes to guns’. Why? Well, because in practically every debate about foxhunting as pest control for over ten years now we’ve been told, by the hunters themselves, that shooting equals inevitable wounding and consequent suffering. We’ve been consistently fed the line that shooting foxes is cruel while being torn apart by dogs is humane. Yet now MPs are being presented with, and encouraged to vote for, an amendment which they say will make shooting foxes easier.
Without a clear majority of pro hunt MPs to be certain of success if outright repeal was tabled, motives behind the proposed Hunting Act amendments are to cynically subvert legislation which needs strengthening not weakening.
From the beginning of their hunting careers, bloodsports participants are told to disassociate with the quarry and connect with hounds instead. As children, hunt-related activities which are far removed from the realities of killing for fun are designed to convert young hearts and minds.
Hunting fox, deer, hare and mink (formerly badgers and otters too) with hounds are bloodsports which depend on people who take part developing blind spots to cruelty in their minds and an indifference to animal suffering in the recess of their hearts. Slowly slowly they’re converted to a place where they actually enjoy it so much that they’ll do and say whatever needs to be done or said to justify this animal abuse to themselves and those they seek to persuade.
Doubtless in other walks of life your average hunt supporter is a half decent individual. Alas, when it comes to defending the leisure activity of foxhunting they will do and say whatever it takes to circumvent any opposition.
Please contact your MP as a matter of urgency. Point out the hypocrisy of the amendments in terms of animal welfare and that if they vote for them on July 15 they’re either being complicit in the ongoing lie or duped by others who’s intentions are wholly dishonest.
Joe Hashman, July 10th 2015
9th July 2015
The Government is attempting to seek approval for an amendment to the Hunting Act which will permit a pack of dogs to be used to chase foxes into range of waiting guns for shooting. Their justification? Pest control, of course!
The effect of this amendment, if it is passed, would be to render the Hunting Act virtually impossible to apply and open to abuse. The process by which this change will be made is simple and quick. It has begun this week and comes to a head on Wednesday July 15 in the House Of Commons when it will be voted upon by MPs. If passed, it’ll go straight to the House Of Lords and that will be that.
In a nutshell, this is what we know: pro hunt forces within Government have realised that the number of compassionate MPs is such that they may lose a vote on full repeal of the Hunting Act. So they are using what’s called a Statutory Instrument to seek what is effectively repeal by the back door.
The proposed amendment was discussed in a Commons back room yesterday by the so-called 1922 Committee. ‘Flushing to guns’ with two hounds is currently permitted by the Hunting Act in England and Wales but is unsatisfactory to the hunting fraternity because it fails to satisfy their desire for a prolonged chase (i.e., ‘sport’).
Cameron & Co tried something similar in the spring of 2014 but were scuppered in large part by their LibDem partners. Now, as we all know, the shackles of coalition have been lifted. We do still have many friends in all parties though.
In Scotland, where legislation is different, a pack of hounds may be used for flushing to guns. So their tactic is to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland and snooker the SNP (who as far as we know may still vote on this issue) because opposition to these proposed changes will make them look like hypocrites. However, the fresh intake of SNP MPs have acknowledged that their law is being widely flouted by Scottish hunts and are already committed to properly scrutinising it.
So, we have only seven days to go and the outcome rests entirely in the hands of our elected members.
Our job in this time is to contact our MPs and ask them two things:
- To oppose this attempt to repeal the Hunting Act by the back door.
- Crucially, to attend the Commons on Wednesday July 15 and vote against the amendment.
The hunting fraternity and their politician allies are taking the mick out of the rest of us here. They know full well that their sneaky plan is to scupper the Hunting Act by underhand political means. In doing so, they are making fools out of MPs who buy into this stuff and sticking two fingers up at the rest of us who don’t.
Remember, every single vote counts and is important. Yes, this has been scheduled for the very end of a long week just as MPs are about to go on their summer holidays. But lip service means nothing here, actions (meaning being there and voting) are everything.
Please everyone, sign petitions yes, but for fox sake we must ALL write to and email our MPs, regardless of previously stated intentions or political persuasions. If you do nothing else today, do this!
Find out who your MP is and how to contact them here www.writetothem.com
© Joe Hashman July 9th 2015
18th April 2015
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.
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.
19th February 2015
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.