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6th December 2018

Hunting Myths Part 1 (of 8): The Snakeoil Salesman

Stills grab from https://youtu.be/d6JgW9zQCi0

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

Hunting with dogs is an obsolete cruel activity, full stop. Surely everyone knows this, even those who participate in it, promote it, or fight against those opposing it? If some people want to call it a “sport”, then it is a cruel sport that should be banned. If some people want to call it a countryside “pursuit”, then it is a harmful pursuit that should stop. If some they call it a British “tradition”, then it is a primitive tradition that should be abolished.

But one thing is for certain. Hunting with hounds is not a method of wildlife management. It never was when first conceived, it never become when it was popular, and still isn’t one now that is being phased out. We know that simply because foxhunts have always bred and kept foxes later released to be chased, as the “fun” of hunting only occurs by participating in long chases across the countryside, and without “quarry” there is no chase. You can read this in all traditional books about hunting, and still see it today, even when hunts claim that what they do now is “trail hunting”, which is in fact a false alibi to avoid being prosecuted for breaches of the Hunting Act 2004.

Why is it then that the hunting fraternity seems to have given up defending their beloved “sport”, their cherished “pursuit” and their revered “tradition”, and the only thing you hear them now repeating again and again is that they are just “innocent” pest controllers providing a service to farmers? Well, the answer may be that they have run out of arguments, evidence and also “champions”. And the proof of this may be Jim Barrington.

On 11th October 2018, the Horse & Hound magazine, the front publication of the hunting fraternity propaganda machine, has for the first time published an interview with Jim Barrington, titled “Hunting’s most valuable asset?” Barrington is currently an “animal welfare” consultant of the Countryside Alliance and one of few remaining public champions of the hunting cause. In the last few years, you seldom see Hunt Masters, Huntsmen or any other actual hunt expert publicly defending hunting in debates or interviews. You mostly only ever see Jim Barrington, who has never hunted and is not hunting today, and who a few decades ago was a Director of the League Against Cruel Sports, one of the then leading anti-hunting organisations.

Why him? Because the hunts now claim to be something they never were, a pest control service, and therefore they don’t really need an expert in hunting anymore, just an expert on deception. The problem is that they have not chosen an expert on pest control or wildlife management either. They have not chosen an ecologist, zoologist or qualified animal welfare expert. So, it is not surprising that Jim Barrington’s arguments, repeated again and again every time the hunting debate surfaces, are so easy to debunk. So once again I will debunk them here, as I have done in the past, and I undoubtedly will be doing in the future as it seems these days the hunting fraternity only has this broken record to play.

But first let me make a general comment about Mr. Barrington’s current role. An “animal welfare” expert of the Countryside Alliance is like a “conservation” expert of British Association of Shooting & Conservation, or a “science” expert of Japanese whalers, or a health consultant of a tabacco company, or an environment consultant of an oil company. These lobbyists are hired to distract people from reality when a wrongdoing has already been exposed and the general public begin to move away from the companies and fraternities they represent. Their job is to confuse any debate, present falsities as facts, and ultimately to con naïve people into believing that “they do nothing wrong”, despite the compelling evidence. They will twist reality to convince you that extracting and burning petrol is good for the environment, that smoking is good for your health, that killing whales is good for science, that releasing millions of exotic pheasants in the wild and shooting them is good for conservation, and, of course, that hunting a terrified mammal until ripped apart by a pack of dogs is good for animal welfare.

So, on this basis, it is not Mr. Barrington’s fault if he has to exaggerate, mislead and deceive to try to get his points across, as this is his job, and he would not be hired if he stuck to the truth. But he should not complain when others tell it how it is. I remember how succinctly, directly and satisfyingly Dr. Brian May did this in the Newsnight’s interview when he famously stopped Mr. Barrington on his tracks.

In my next Blog, to be published here tomorrow, I will begin debunking Mr. Barrington’s arguments expressed in the Horse & Hound article mentioned above.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

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30th November 2018

Another Wretched Day With The Quantock Stag Hounds

Confused and frightened, Red deer hinds which were hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Thursday 29 November 2018. Stills grab courtesy: Somerset Wildlife Crime

From November through February deer hunters turn their attention, dogs and guns onto the females of the species. Red deer ‘hinds’ become the target. Often the hunt is little more than a shooting frenzy with multiple animals hounded then blasted. This was the case yesterday (29.11.18). I don’t know how many deer were killed by the Quantock Stag Hounds because most of their dirty work was hidden deep in private woods, but before midday I’d heard four gunshots. In the afternoon, two more deer were definitely taken and another possible before everyone dispersed and the Huntsman led seven hounds along the lanes back to their kennels. There seems to be less ritual afterwards. Maybe hinds don’t hold the allure of a majestic, beaten, stag. There are certainly less trophies to be had. You can cut off and mount the feet (known as ‘slots’) and pull out the teeth for ornaments but most hunt followers have plenty of these things already.

For us it was a difficult day and horrid. That said, we got some useful film which will help us continue to shine a light on this disgusting pastime, so I’m holding on to that. Some of it can be seen here.

At this time of year hinds might be pregnant, running with a first year calf still in tow, or both. They’re herd animals and like to stay close to home. So no long chases over miles of countryside here. Everything is much more contained as the deer run around in big circles, trying to shake off the hounds and dodge the bullets which can be around any corner or behind any tree.

In the interests of crop protection The Hunting Act (2004) permits the flushing of deer with two hounds providing that –

(a) reasonable steps are taken for the purpose of ensuring that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the wild mammal is shot dead by a competent person, and

(b) in particular, each dog used in the stalking or flushing out is kept under sufficiently close control to ensure that it does not prevent or obstruct achievement of the objective in paragraph (a).

Sadly, the wording is sufficiently vague to enable versions of stag, and now hind, hunting to continue which satisfies the bestial urges in a minority of country ladies and gentlemen and leaves the rest of us sickened and confused.

Special thanks to fellow volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime. Thanks also to everyone who supports our work. We could not do this without your backing. If you’re able, please consider making a contribution towards our campaign running costs.

Somerset Wildlife Crime donate here
Hounds Off donate here

Stag hunting in Somerset, October 2018 watch here

© Joe Hashman

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30th October 2018

PRESS RELEASE: Stag hunting in Somerset Oct 2018

Hunted stag runs for his life. Quantock Stag Hounds, 25.10.18 Photo credit: Hounds Off

SHOCKING FOOTAGE EMERGES OF STAG HUNTING JUST TEN MILES FROM TAUNTON

  • Campaigners have released shocking footage of a Red deer stag being hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds in Somerset on Thursday 25 October 2018.
  • The hunt took place about ten miles from Taunton near the picturesque West Somerset Railway line at Crowcombe Heathfield and lasted for three hours.
  • Hunters used combination of horse riders, dogs and four wheel drive vehicles to harass and harry the stag through woods for nearly two hours before forcing him out into the open, and on his own, for another hour.
  • After being flushed from the woods, film clearly shows the stag running with his mouth gasping and tongue lolling. There is a heaviness to his gait.
  • About an hour later two hounds, which had been set to follow the stag by scent, have chased him to exhaustion. The stag is ‘at bay’ behind a tree in undergrowth.  Hounds can be clearly seen ‘marking’ their target; barking incessantly, rushing forwards and jumping back as the stag uses his antlers to keep them from attacking.
  • Gunmen from the Quantock Stag Hounds get within close range but the stag jumps up and makes a bid to escape. Hounds give chase and five minutes later, away from cameras, the stag is killed.
  • Hunt followers and riders gather in the woods for the traditional carve-up, where the body is divided into trophies for people to take away and remember their day.

The film can be viewed here.

Many people think that stag hunting was banned when the Hunting Act (2004) made chasing and killing most wild mammals with dogs illegal. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Stag hunters in the West Country have reinvented their bloodsport with subtle differences which allow them to exploit loopholes and exemptions which circumvent the law, including;

  • Claiming to be conducting Research & Observation according to Schedule 1 (9) of The Hunting Act (2004), in the same way as Japanese and other whaling nations carry on killing under the pretence of scientific research.
  • The Research exemption was intended to enable scientists to carry out their studies if they needed dogs to find a wild mammal. But it does not specify that people claiming Research under this exemption have to be scientists, that their research has to be genuine or that it should be non-lethal.
  • The Observation part only requires a hunter to be looking at the stag when it is killed.
  • Flushing to guns. The Hunting Act (2004) provides for this in Schedule 1 (1), so long as only two hounds are used and the stag is shot as soon as possible.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  • The National Trust banned stag hunting in 1997 after Professor Patrick Bateson published a report which found that hunting deer with hounds inflicted cruelty and distress far beyond anything they might experience in nature.
  • Stag hunting was prohibited on Forestry Commission land in 1997 too.
  • Campaigners have documented numerous incidents of trespass by the Quantock Stag Hounds on National Trust and Forestry Commission land during September and October 2018.
  • The Quantock Stag Hounds hunt deer with dogs Mondays and Thursdays throughout September to April.

For more information or interviews please contact:

Bobbie Armstrong
Somerset Wildlife Crime: 07572495309

Joe Hashman
Hounds Off: 07711 032697

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9th October 2018

Staghunting On The Quantock Hills 08.10.18

Scene from Quantock Stag Hounds carve up at Staple Farm, West Quantoxhead, Somerset, 8 October 2018.

There was a moment yesterday when I thought that the Quantock Stag Hounds had decided not to go hunting but alas it wasn’t so. In the end they killed a stag and took the body to a farm to carve it up. Men and women supped cans of drink and watched in gory fascination as the Huntsman, elbow deep in warm blood, dished out bits of inneds and butchered the animal at their feet, in front of their eyes.

They started not far from Bishops Lydiard which itself is a stones throw from Taunton. I was part of a team of Hunt Monitors. We were parked near the beauty spot of Lydiard Hill, by some horseboxes. We anticipated that the Hunt would come in this direction.

Shortly after 11am my radio crackled and the message came through that there was movement our way. Then a gaggle of hunt riders came along the lane, gave us a bit of verbal, loaded their horses into the boxes, and drove off. That was when, fleetingly, I vain hoped they were going to leave stags on the Quantock Hills in peace.

Instead, the Hunt relocated. We got a message that they were up Crowcombe and sure enough that’s where they were hunting.

Staghunting on the Quantocks is not what it was. Prosecutions, campaigning pressure and changing attitudes from the police have forced them to stop using a pack of a dozen or more hounds to chase stags to exhaustion. This season, which started at the end of August, they’ve been using two hounds and an army of riders and vehicle followers to chase and chaperone their quarry. It’s a tactic which staghunters on Exmoor have employed for years now and I think they believe it exempts them from prosecution under the Hunting Act.

There were a couple of huntable stags in Crowcombe Park but an especially big fellow was the target. It took a while for the Hunt to flush him up onto the hills but eventually their pressure forced him out.

I was tracking the Quantock Stag Hounds (QSH) in a vehicle, in communication with others who were both mobile and on foot. From hilltops you get some fantastic views but the Quantock Hills are characterised by large blocks of woodland and numerous steep, deep valleys known as ‘combes’. The staghunters know this landscape intimately and are skilled at operating simultaneously in the open yet out of sight, if that makes sense.

The stag was somewhere below a high spot called Bicknoller Post. Horsemen and women lined the tracks and combe sides. The stag didn’t appear keen to run. It’s mating season for Red deer in Devon and Somerset (the ‘rut’) so likely he was pretty tired from all that. I thought they were going to shoot him there and then but no, they wanted some sport.

What followed was not a high speed, high adrenalin gallop and chase over the countryside. It was more akin to a slow walk. The stag kept low among whatever cover he could find to hide in and the hunters, co-ordinated by radios and aided by their two dogs, pushed the deer along and steered him away from our eyes and camera lenses.

We drove into the picturesque village of Holford. By now we had a hunt supporter tailing us. We waited to let a party of schoolchildren pass. I hoped they saw the anti hunting stickers in the car window and that’s why they smiled and waved and shouted hello as adults in yellow tabbards shepherded them safely to the side. Or, more likely, they were just naturally excited to be exploring such a beautiful place.

A sharp right and left and we were in the car park with dog walkers and tourists. Our hunt tail parked up herself and ran to keep tabs on the foot team we deployed. I drove up a remote, single track lane and at the end was a gathering of elderly hunt supporters in cars.

A number of wooded combes with streams converge at Holford and in the recent past it was a favourite killing place for the QSH. But these days they are no longer Kings of the Hills. They skulk more. Red coats have been swapped for fawny brown. They’re quieter. They still take up a lot of space but they try to avoid clogging villages with four-wheel drives and quad bikes. They are adept at chaperoning their stag quite discreetly away from public gaze.

There were moments while we were in Holford. We heard the hunting horn and urgent, loud shouting. Vehicles travelled at dangerous pace on bumpy lanes back and forth. But nothing more than that came our way.

Our teams of Hunt Monitors communicate by walkie-talkie and telephone, neither of which work well in this area of Somerset. It’s hard to be in the right place at the right time anyway but when communications are poor because the signal isn’t great it’s even harder. We believed that the hunted stag had left the Hills for farmland near Kilve but weren’t sure.

The stag was killed south of the A39 near Kilve late in the afternoon, in the depths of private property, and taken to a nearby farmyard for the post-orgasmic ‘carve up’. They were not happy about us trying to take some pictures and it was difficult anyway as they’d hidden themselves behind buildings. Out of sight but not out of our minds.

That was the bloody reality of staghunting on the Quantock Hills this day, 8th October 2018.

Volunteers from Hounds Off and Somerset Wildlife Crime continue to monitor staghunting on the Quantocks, bear witness and gather evidence to show how hunts are operating. You can support our work here. Mark your donation ‘QSH’ and we will dedicate it to this specific fund.

© Joe Hashman

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6th October 2018

Spot The Difference

Top: 'The First Essential Towards Sport' by Tom Ilvester Lloyd (1873-1942). Bottom: Ilminster Beagles from Bineham City Farm, near Ilchester, Somerset, 29 September 2018.

You could be forgiven for wondering why the Ilminster Beagles are not getting done for illegal hunting because film of them finding and chasing hares on 29 September 2018 is quite clear. The problem is that hunters have found cunning ways to avoid the law and one of their dishonest excuses is to cry “Accident!”

What the film of hare hunting near Langport, Somerset shows is the beagle pack searching for, finding and pursuing a hare. The dogs are sniffing around seeking the scent of their quarry when suddenly the hare jumps up from right under their noses and sprints away as the beagles start barking excitedly and giving chase.

This is exactly how many hare hunts started before the Hunting Act came in to force in 2005 so why are they not liable? Well, there is a subtle difference which provides an excuse that gets them off the hook. Read on.

Look at the pictures at the head of this blog. Toppermost is a painting by avid sporting artist Tom Ilvester Lloyd (1873-1942). It portrays “the find”, that moment when a hare springs up literally in front of hounds and the hunt begins. Ilvester Lloyd entitled his work The First Essential Towards Sport which says it all, really.

Now look at the grab below, taken from film of the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018. This also captures the precise second when a hare is found and forced to make a run for it. It’s a post-ban, real-life version of The First Essential Towards Sport.

The reason why the Hunting Act cannot be enforced on the Ilminster Beagles is because in the evidence there are no humans in shot and therefore the Huntsman can claim that hunting of the hare took place by accident. Alas, thanks to a fundamental desire to circumvent the law and some unfathomable decisions in the Courts, crying “Accident!” is a get-out-of-jail card which hunters up and down the country are playing every time they go out.

Interestingly, when the hunted hare runs close to roe deer and the Ilminster Beagles switch to following them, hunt staff are close enough to be able to stop them and prevent a riot.

It’s a shame that the police are so under-resourced. A little targeted training would help them understand why and how huntsmen and women across the land are cocking a snook at them (and us) and go a long way to preventing wildlife crime in the first place.

Illegal hunting by the Ilminster Beagles on 29 September 2018 was reported to Avon & Somerset Police and is recorded with the following Incident Number: AS-20180929-0304.

WATCH OUR FILM OF BEAGLING IN 2018 here.

HOW FOXHUNT MASTER CLAIMED “ACCIDENT” TO AVOID PROSECUTION film and report here.

IF YOU SEE BEAGLING phone the police on 101 or 999. Make sure that they record your call and give you an Incident Number.

IF YOU HEAR ABOUT BEAGLING tell us! All information is treated in confidence.

© Joe Hashman

 

 

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5th August 2018

The Fell Packs & #TrailHuntLies in Cumbria

As part of the wider National Dis-Trust campaign which started in Cumbria, we’re adding this to Hounds Off as a reference point for you to learn more about the fell packs, their abuse of wildlife, and why we’re calling for them to be permanently banned from National Trust land. All of the fell packs were either licensed to use Trust land for the 2017/18 season or given free reign to trespass and kill foxes. Here are a few of the ‘highlights’ of their history (click the links to learn more)…

  • In November 2017, the Eskdale & Ennerdale Foxhounds were documented trespassing on National Trust land with terriermen, but subsequently received a licence anyway.
  • On 06/09/2017, a representative of the fell packs told the BBC that numerous foxes are ‘accidentally’ killed each season.
  • At the Peterborough Hunting Festival on 19/07/2017, huntsman for the Blencathra Foxhounds stated that his hounds can sometimes be unsupervised up to five miles away, meaning nobody knows what they are doing or what they might be killing.
  • A supporter of the Melbreak Foxhounds attacked a member of Lancashire Hunt Saboteurs on 10/01/2017 who then needed hospital treatment. The hunt supporter was convicted of assault.
  • The Melbreak Foxhounds supplied a fake certificate to the Trust dated 23/10/2016 to help gain a licence, and were granted further licences to use Trust land long after the lie was exposed.
  • The Melbreak Foxhounds were filmed killing a fox on Trust land by Cumbria Hunt Watch on 05/11/2015.
  • On 15/03/2014, the Ullswater Foxhounds were filmed killing a fox before attacking a hunt monitor, resulting in a conviction for assault.
  • The Melbreak Foxhounds killed a fox on 09/03/2014 after chasing it across Trust land, resulting in a police investigation resulting in charges and the subsequent intervention of a member of House of Lords trying to defend the huntsman.
  • The Blencathra Foxhounds were investigated for illegally hunting & abuse of hunt monitors in 2013.
  • On 24/03/2012, walkers witnessed the Coniston Foxhounds killing a fox and police investigated claims that hunt supporters seriously attacked protestors.
  • The News & Star reported on 09/01/2012 about hunting forum users allegedly admitting to illegal fox hunting whilst with the Blencathra Foxhounds.
  • A supporter of the Coniston Foxhounds attacked a League Against Cruel Sports investigator on 09/03/2010, receiving a police caution.
  • The terrierman for the Ullswater Foxhounds was convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 after digging out & beating a fox to death on 26/10/2009, after it had gone to ground. He continued to be employed by the Ullswater Foxhounds, which continued to be licensed by the National Trust.
  • The Ullswater Foxhounds huntsman was in court on 17/09/2009 after a fox was killed by his hounds.
  • Huntsman for the Coniston Foxhounds was convicted for criminal damage after smashing the windows of a hunt monitor vehicle on 19/02/2008.
  • The Blencathra Foxhounds are believed to have killed a fox on National Trust land on 11/02/2006.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS?

  1. Ask the Trust’s General Manager for Central & East Lakes firstly why the Melbreak have only been suspended, not banned, and secondly for him to stop offering licences to all fox hunts in Cumbria. His email is jeremy.barlow@nationaltrust.org.uk.
  2. If you live in Cumbria and want to volunteer for our campaign, please email us at nationaldis-trust@riseup.net for packs of leaflets specific to Cumbria to deliver/hand out.
  3. Sign the Keeptheban petition to ban all hunting on National Trust land in England & Wales.
  4. Grass up the Cumbrian hunts if you see them by emailing Cumbria Hunt Watch on huntwatch@outlook.com.
  5. Follow National Dis-Trust on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

© National Dis-Trust

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28th July 2018

Are Hunters Spreading More Than #TrailHuntLies In Cheshire & Beyond?

Are badgers really to blame for spreading bTB or is there another, much more dangerous, source? Photo courtesy of Cheshire Monitors

Cheshire Monitors write about hunting and it’s role in the spread of diseases, especially bovine tuberculosis (bTB):

The 2017/18 hunting season in Cheshire was interesting , to say the least. Yes, a number of Cheshire foxes sadly lost their lives to criminal interests but in many other ways it could not have gone better for us. We oversaw leaps forward in many areas as the nets were closing in on Cheshire’s three foxhunts….

– In response to Mike Amesbury MPs enquiries, Cheshire Police & Crime Commissioner announced a review of how foxhunting is policed in the county, as reported here by the Cheshire Chronicle.

– Cheshire’s Conservative MPs are abandoning their traditional support for foxhunting, mirroring the national stance of their party.

– Foxhunts are losing their land. Estates have recently revoked permission for access to their land in Cheshire.

Cheshire landowners would be wise to note this trend and get ahead of it by stopping hunts from entering their properties, especially those who have a stake in keeping disease at bay. Foxhounds have been recorded with bTB in a number of places, most notably within the Kimblewick Hunt where a large number of dogs were culled after picking up the disease in December 2016, and in Ireland where post-mortem results revealed bTB in foxhounds.

Biosecurity and foxhounds do not go well together. One report says they are at risk of a wide range of parasites and diseases including bTB when breaking up fox carcasses. Yes, foxes do carry bTB; just look at this research from France. Yes, foxhounds do break up foxes that they’ve caught; look at what Andrew German allowed to happen on Boxing Day 2017.

Conversely, the badger cull has found a very low rate of confirmed bTB in badgers across the country (a mere 4.87%) after testing 861 badger carcasses that were culled in High Risk Areas. A recent Freedom Of Information request to Nottingham University* pointed out that the tests can’t distinguish between ‘infected’ or ‘infectious’. It’d be charitable to describe the badger cull as a farce, and an expensive one at that (£831,093 in policing costs in Cheshire alone) …. and don’t the three Cheshire foxhunts employ people specifically to tamper with badger setts**? Not very biosecure, is it?

Foxhunters know about their role in the spread of bTB but hide it, as evidenced by the absolute stonewall at DEFRA that was erected after the Kimblewick Foxhounds outbreak. Did you know that the DEFRA Minister for Animal Welfare is a member of the Kimblewick and a former Master of one of the hunts which amalgamated to form the Kimblewick?

Foxhunters have known about the risk that hunting with hounds poses in the spread of bTB for decades. Just have a read of this quote from ‘To Hunt A Fox’ (1937) by foxhunter David Brock, page 187;

“There is in this country a great move on foot for the establishment of more and more Tuberculin Tested herds. To establish such a herd is an expensive and troublesome affair and, once he has established it, the farmer is not going to risk incurring infection from outside. It is at present believed that this infection can be carried on the boots of human beings and the feet of animals. What more likely than that it will be carried from an infected farm to a pure one by horses and hounds?”

We’ll leave these thoughts with you. If you’re a landowner in Cheshire (or anywhere) who wants to stop hunting on your land then please contact Hounds Off for specialist help, support and advice.

* Hat-tip to Cheshire Wounded Badger Patrol for this
** No, they are not there to mend fences

© Cheshire Monitors

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11th July 2018

NOW AVAILABLE: Hounds Off ‘Sleeping Fox’ Cuddly Toy

After a long journey in planning and then across the seas, we are really pleased that our eagerly anticipated Hounds Off ‘Sleeping Fox’ cuddlies are now available and looking for new homes!

They’re genuinely soft and snuggly. We love ’em. Hope you do too.

Obviously they’re a fundraiser. All proceeds go directly to fund our work, which is seemingly endless and complicated; Hounds Off supports farmers, landowners and rural residents who are affected by hunt trespass. In the real world, this all costs money. We thought that selling our mascots like this could be a good idea! Thanks for reading, thanks for caring and hopefully thanks for spreading a little #foxylove.

£10 each + £3 p&p, purchase your HOUNDS OFF ‘SLEEPING FOX’ here!

For bulk orders please contact us to arrange appropriate postage costs: help@houndsoff.co.uk

Please help us to spread #foxylove

Hounds Off Sleeping Fox vital stats: Made in China, 23cm x 23cm, 100% polyester.

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28th May 2018

Tall Tales Of Fox Urine & Suicidal Foxes

Mysteries surrounding fox scent and how it is (or isn’t) used as a cover for illegal hunting are explored in this Guest Blog by a Hunt Monitor from Surrey…

“Trail hunting is a legal activity and that is what was happening here.  Hounds follow a trail of fox’s urine.”  The Nottingham Post reported these words of Adrian Simpson of the Countryside Alliance in March this year following the successful appeal against the conviction of three members of the Grove and Rufford Hunt.

Mr Simpson added: “It became patently clear in the course of the appeal that a fox jumped out in front of the hounds, which pursued it for a short distance and killed it”.

So let’s get this right:  the hunt’s hounds were following a trail of fox urine when a fox unfortunately jumped out in front of them.  Now I have no way of assessing the likelihood of a fox thinking it would be a good idea to play chase with a pack of foxhounds, beyond stating the obvious that it looks like a bad evolutionary trait, but I can analyse the fox urine part of the story.  I can do so (in part) because I have personally been shown a bottle which I strongly suspect did once contain fox urine – originally.  Here it is:

bottle

I captured this image last hunting season when Mr Jeremy Gumbley, a former Master of and “trail layer” for the Surrey Union Hunt, showed it to me.  He was in a good mood that day.  Whether that was because the police had turned up in force (around 25 officers in five 4×4’s) and had arrested a Hunt Saboteur for alleged criminal damage, I could not say.  But whether for that reason or because he was simply attempting to convince me of the legitimacy of his hunt’s activities, he not only showed me the bottle, but explained a little about it.  He even invited me to smell its contents, though I declined that kind offer, explaining that I really didn’t have a sense of smell which could help me verify what it was.

As you can see, this product is called FoxPee and you can just about read that it also says “100% Fox Urine”.  So far, so good then.

“Where did you get it from?” I asked Mr Gumbley.  His answer?  “A shop that sold it”.

A little coy maybe, but perhaps understandable.  So I asked a long-time Campaigner about it.  He recognised this as having been available from a country store in the exact part of Surrey where Mr Gumbley lives.  So again, so far, so good.  This story is really hanging together.

But wait a second.  Does that bottle look a little old to you?  Funny that, because the Campaigner also told me the product hadn’t been sold in this shop for a decade or more, and certainly it was not listed on-line as being available there when I looked.  And yet the bottle was still half full. Now perhaps things are looking a little less clear cut.

Then you look on the internet and you find that this product cannot be bought anywhere in the UK, but rather is made (if that is the right word – farmed in some horrible fashion one imagines) by a company based in Maine in the north east United States, so it will need to be imported.

Then you do a little more research and find that the importation of this material would require a licence from the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.  You then learn that in response to Freedom of Information requests it has been clearly established that no licences have been granted any time in recent years, the latest request taking the position up to March 2018.

And I should also have mentioned that Mr Gumbley said that he didn’t really think his bottle contained fox urine.

Put all these things together and it really is now looking a lot less clear cut.  A reasonable deduction might be that this is an old bottle which has been re-filled with something.  If so, what’s in it?  Well that’s not really the point.  If its not fox urine, why would the Countryside Alliance spokesperson say hunts use fox urine?

Of course strictly speaking he was only talking about the Grove and Rufford, even if his statement could, perfectly reasonably, be interpreted as meaning that all, or at least many, hunts use fox urine.

So where could the Grove and Rufford have got its fox urine, bearing in mind that it cannot have been imported (at least legally) any time in recent years, which eliminates any foreign source?

One possibility is from “Adrian’s Fox Scent”.  That’s not as in Adrian Simpson’s fox scent – at least I assume not – its apparently a company trading name, the company in question being Harrier Contracting Limited.  It has advertised itself as “the UK’s leading supplier of animal urines” according to these web-page screenshots I came across:

adrinsfox scent advert

And apparently it issued this certificate to the Melbreak Hunt in 2016:

certificate

I am not sure why anyone would need a certificate of supply – an old-fashioned invoice with a VAT number might have been more what one might have expected – but taking it at face value, it seems to lend substance to the claims.  But again there are just a couple of things which make things a little less clear cut.

First, where exactly does Adrian’s Fox Scent “make” its fox urine?  It must be in the UK somewhere, unless those FOI requests were wrong.  Anyone seen a fox-urine farm anywhere?

Second, how come Companies House records say that Harrier Contracting was dissolved on 7 February 2017, having never traded?

Sorry I don’t have any answers these questions.  Nor do I have any other ideas as to where all this fox urine comes from.  And as you will gather from this blog, I really have tried to find out.

Oh and there’s one final thing.  At least according to my reading, fox urine comes within the scope of The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 implementing European Union Regulation (EC) 1069/2009.  And since these Regulations prevent the introduction of products within their scope into the environment, this seems to mean that it is illegal to use fox urine as a trail.

So the next time your local hunt says it uses a trail of fox urine, can I suggest you ask them two questions:

Where do you get your fox urine?

Why do they think this is legal given Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 and The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013?

Or perhaps next time Mr Simpson gives an interview, someone can ask him…

© A Surrey Hunt Monitor

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26th April 2018

The American Mink In Britain – Time To Think Again?

Huntsman of the Devon & Cornwall Minkhounds taunts his dogs with a live mink, 3rd May 1982. Photo: Mike Huskisson, Animal Welfare Information Service (AWIS)

Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana offers a radical perspective on, arguably, Britain’s most maligned wild mammal:

The long and sad story of mink, the forgotten victim. I wish I had done more to help them.

Over the years I have been in the trenches of many animal protection battle fronts, but often I feel that I missed many. We UK wildlife protectionists often go on and on talking about red foxes, some who know a bit more also talk about brown hares, and those really in the know don’t ever forget to mention red deer which are still hunted by the three remaining staghunts in the West Country. But what about mink? Not many animal welfare and conservation organisations stand up for protecting mink, and I think this is very sad. And you will see why in a minute.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who wave the flag of animal lovers but they will not hesitate to tell you that they want to see all mink in the UK killed by any means necessary, be gassing, poisoning, shooting, snaring, trapping, or ripped to pieces by dogs. Others, though, waving the same flag, will say that this is outrageous … but they also want to see them killed though only with one or two of these methods, not the most “barbaric” ones. Well, I want none of them. I don’t want to see any mink killed at all. But by law, if you happen to catch a fox in the UK, you can let it go; if you catch a hare you can let it go; but if you catch mink you have to kill it, or let someone else do it for you.

What has mink done to deserve this? Nothing, other than being mink. Mink are long bodied, dark-coloured, semiaquatic, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae, which also includes weasels, otters and ferrets. The mink that you can find these days in Great Britain is the American mink (Neovison vison). The European mink, which does exist in the continent, apparently never was present in the British Isles. How on earth has the American mink ended up in Great Britain then? If you ask them and they could speak to us, they probably would reply (with a distinct British accent) that they were born here and so were their parents, and their grand parents, and their great grand parents.

Those mink would not really know of course, but what really happened was this: Over 15,000 years ago American mink were just doing their mink thing in America, when a group of descendants from African ape-like primates arrived from the North. As these invaders were alien to the land, and as they had evolved in warm habitats and no longer had thick fur on their bodies, they started looking for animals with fur, killing them, and stealing their fur for warmth. Soon they spotted mink and their beautiful and very dense fur, so started killing them for it. This happened for millennia and these people never seemed to lose their appetite for chasing and killing mink for their skin, even if they did not need it anymore as the world was getting warmer and they had moved South. But some still wanted the mink’s fur because it “look good” on them and made them look important.

So, rather than keep chasing them and killing them someone had the idea of keeping them in small cages so they could kill them without chasing them … and mink farms were created. Across the Atlantic, the people here in Britain (also descendants of African ape-like primates who emigrated there) had already chased and killed most animals with fur to the point of their extinction, so they thought that it would be fun (and profitable) get some of those mink farms over here. And so they did. Britons began farming American mink in the UK from the 1920s. At their peak in the 1950s, there were 400 known fur farms. After a while, though, when people learned about the horrible conditions the mink were kept and killed in in the farms, began losing their appetite for mink coats as wearing one became politically incorrect, so some mink farmers let their mink go free and moved to something else. But the mink, rather than die out, learnt how to adapt to their new habitat. They became wild again and to their merit they survived and thrived. Today mink are widespread in Britain’s mainland, except in the mountainous regions of Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.

Mink live wild in Britain only because humans thought it would be fun & profitable to breed them in battery farms then kill them for their luxurious pelts, as here in Dorset in 1997. Some mink escaped. Photos: Joe Hashman

Mink live wild in Britain only because humans thought it would be fun & profitable to breed them in battery farms then kill them for their luxurious pelts, as here in Dorset in 1997.  Mink have been escaping and breeding in the wild since the 1930s. Photos: Joe Hashman/Respect For Animals

Yes, in the 1990’s some animal liberation activists helped to free some mink at the very end of the demise of the mink farming industry which ended with a ban on mink farming, but the wild population in the UK was already established decades earlier from multiple escapes or deliberate releases of the farmers. In fact, by December 1967, wild mink were present in over half the counties of England and Wales.

You may be forgiven to think this was a happy ending for the sad mink story, but it was not. As they were considered “alien” species and they were predators of “native” species it become acceptable (and legal) to kill any mink found “to save British wildlife”, and any method of killing seemed OK, even being ripped apart by dogs. It didn’t seem to matter if they were helping to keep the population of rabbits down (the other “alien” species many people wanted to exterminate) or that they were partially taking the role of fish predator that the native otters naturally took before they disappeared in certain rivers. They were still wanted all dead.

And as you know the hunting fraternity likes to kill wildlife for fun, so they didn’t waste any time to jump to the opportunity. Otter hunts began to target mink after otters were so depleted in numbers that it became illegal to hunt them in 1978. During a mink hunt, which normally happens throughout spring to autumn, the hounds are followed on foot as they walk or swim along riverbanks while the mink frantically attempt to escape. Unlike otters, mink have small territories (less than a mile of river bank) so once they have been spotted by the hunt they tend not to go far. Eventually they will be caught and ripped to pieces by the hounds, while a crowd of hunt followers amuse themselves with the spectacle.

When the anti-hunting movement celebrated the protection of otters at the end of the 1970s it did not hesitate to continue campaigning when it realised the “otter hunts” just switched to mink from then on, and became the 22 “mink hunts” we still have today. After all, if killing otters with dogs was barbaric, killing mink with the very same dogs was barbaric too. But some people out there disagreed with this compassionate attitude towards mink, vilifying mink as horrible “foreign” vicious creatures that kill all the “British” wildlife they can find, so they deserved to die and be exterminated.

But why kill them? Well, it’s the easy route, isn’t it? If there was an association only for the protection of gazelles in Africa, it probably would advocate for the extermination of cheetahs. If there was one only for protection of ants in South America, it probably would advocate for the extermination of anteaters. If there was a society for the protection of bamboo in Asia, it probably would advocate for the extermination of pandas. It is not the mink’s fault that it predates on critically endangered species such as water voles. That is what predators do – predate on animals they can catch and eat. Mink doesn’t know that the vole it is trying to eat to survive belongs to an endangered species. Many people would not complain if a fox would eat the very same vole (foxes are also one of their common predators). Why are there people that at the same time call for the protection of foxes and the extermination of mink, while water voles are predated by both? Cats often kill wildlife and they certainly can predate on voles too. And domestic cats, like mink, are not native from these islands and were brought up here by humans. Should they all be exterminated too? I don’t think so.

Mink hunting was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act 2004 as it bans the hunting of most wild mammals with dogs (regardless if they are native or not), but sadly most hunts circumvent the law and this includes mink hunts. They still go out killing mink claiming that they are now going after rats (one of the exemptions of the Hunting Act). Some of the methods to kill mink have been banned but they can be legally caught and killed by cage and spring traps and unfortunately many people, including many conservation organisations, do.

Of course we need to do as much as we humanely can to protect the water vole and other endangered species from extinction, but I don’t think we can just accept that the best way to do it is by killing all its predators (mink, foxes, otters, stoats, weasels, owls, herons, Marsh harriers, pike, Brown rats, Golden eagles and cats), or by condemning some and pardoning others, as if we really know which species Natural Selection would have “spared” if we had not been here to mess Nature up. After all, post-war intensification of agriculture, water pollution and the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat that has taken place since that time have contributed to the water vole decline.

Call me a bunny hugger, but I just simply don’t buy the concept of “blind” lethal conservation. People always find an excuse to kill wildlife, don’t’ they? Let’s kill foxes because they eat chickens, let’s kill badgers because they get ill on cattle fields, let’s kill pigeons because they don’t wear nappies, and let’s kill mink because they have the wrong passports. Even if it is true that in the end mink ends up killing the last vole, it will still not be its fault. It will be our fault, and we cannot simply find our way out of it by continuing killing others. How many mink have to die to save the life of one vole? This “critical” approach is one of the basic tenants of what is called compassionate conservation, which I subscribe to and many other animal protectionist do these days.

So, American mink have been shot and trapped for their fur, kept captive in farms to be killed in horrible conditions, then taken captive to other countries to continue breeding them, then released but persecuted by everyone trying to kill them in all sorts of ways, and still today they are illegally hunted, and legally trapped, snared and shot dead by many people. None of these mink asked for this. We humans are the demons that are inflicting this unsolicited Hell on them since we first encountered them about 15,000 years ago.

But not all is bad in the mink story. Hunt saboteurs have not abandoned mink. And thanks to the ban the population of otters is now increasing and it seems that this is helping to keep the population of mink down, which could persuade mink “controlling” conservationists that perhaps they should stop persecuting mink and let Nature find its own balance, as it always has done.

You see, in these islands I am also considered a “foreigner” by some, so I cannot help to feel a special connection with the unfairly vilified mink. This is why it makes me feel good to see a mink image joining the fox, the stag and the hare on anti-hunting campaign material.

Mink are one of these hunting victims too, you know.

It’s simply not their fault.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

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