26th April 2018
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.
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
24th April 2018
On 9th April a group of National Trust members met with the organisation’s new Director General to discuss the ongoing concerns over hunting on Trust land. Helen Beynon, Jack Riggall, Will Morton and Joe Hashman attended as members. Hilary McGrady (Director General) and Mark Harold (Director, Land & Nature) represented the Trust.
The meeting came after the narrow defeat of the motion to ban hunting on National Trust land at its AGM in October 2017 as a result of the Chair’s use of discretionary votes allocated to him, and at the end of the latest hunting season which was characterised by the misbehaviour of hunts and the failure of the Trust to adequately implement even the limited measures promised to members ahead of the vote. While we welcomed the opportunity to meet Hilary McGrady, the need to do so simply reflected the lack of robust action taken since the AGM.
We were told Ms McGrady wanted to hear from all sides, so she could get up to speed with the issue of hunting. Given the track record of many of the previously licensed hunts and those licensed last season, we looked to hear an explanation of why the Trustees would continue to persist in their illogical and callous position of maintaining hunts are responsible and trustworthy whilst disregarding the huge raft of evidence supplied to them by National Dis-Trust, other Trust members, animal welfare charities, hunt monitors and saboteurs.
It was confirmed at the meeting that the licensing system will be reviewed before next autumn’s AGM but will not revisit the decision to allow hunting on Trust land. Describing its ambition to reach a place where it can trust hunts, the Trust does not appear to accept that its view, that the majority of hunts behave responsibly, is fatally undermined by the extensive evidence provided to it at all levels prior to the vote and by the experience of this season, and maintained that it requires its own evidence of irresponsible or illegal behaviour.
The Trust’s failure to live up to the limited promises made to members ahead of last year’s vote has been deeply disappointing and the explanations for this remain unsatisfactory. The granting of licences to hunts with a poor track record, including trespassing and even killing foxes on National Trust land, is the clearest example of the deficiencies of the current system. While the Trust has accepted in some instances that the Board of Trustees reversed its position on some elements of its statement on which members based their vote, it has failed to recognise the lack of respect this represents for the democratic process and for those members who participated in it in good faith.
When asked why the Trustees had decided to change the wording of license requirements, leaving members in the same position as prior to the vote, we were told they changed their minds. It seems they did not consider the implications of the statement prior to the AGM or had another motive for doing so, this in the full knowledge that advising members to vote against the resolution would have a significant impact on how they would vote.
Although we were told the Trustees took this subject very seriously, there was no new system in place to monitor the hunts who were hastily granted licenses last season. We were told that staff had kept an eye on things, but couldn’t be everywhere. It seemed that the Trust are unwilling or unable to address the number of hunts who have trespassed and yet then rewarded them when applying for licenses.
Having not meaningfully taken account of the track records of the hunts it has licensed and not even attempted to monitor their activity on Trust land, it is difficult to imagine that the upcoming Review will be fully informed or effective. The most we have been given to expect is that the Trust may finally adhere to some of the conditions it promised its members and that it will begin to monitor the activity of hunts on its land. However, the potential monitoring system as described to us is unlikely to be credible and there is little reason to expect much improvement elsewhere considering these are the same issues we have been highlighting over and over to no avail since last year.
Sadly this new system will involve each hunt being monitored just once a season, with binoculars! The non-animal scent will be sampled at the same time. Hardly a robust system, particularly as hunts will be prewarned. To choose such an ineffectual approach is a slap in the face to members who still hoped to see signs that the statement by the Trustees was in good faith.
We welcomed the opportunity to place salient facts before Hilary McGrady, including a huge body of written and video evidence. However, we remain extremely sceptical that those supposedly hunting a fox-based scent with purpose-trained hounds when off Trust land will hunt an artificial scent whilst on it. Hilary McGrady agreed that without close monitoring none of us can be really sure how hunts operate on the more remote estates. The nature of the scent supposedly used by hunts on Trust land is frankly irrelevant if we cannot ascertain the hounds are trained to pursue anything but fox.
The hunts are as aware as we are that animals continue to be killed by hounds “accidentally”, surprising no one apart from the Trustees it seems. We await answers to several written questions, which we look forward to receiving from the Trust. Those members who are rapidly becoming more familiar with the barbaric realities of hunting with hounds continue to look forward to an era when the Trust genuinely takes note of those who are expert in the field of monitoring illegal hunting and advising on trespass. We hope for a time when the governance process reflects a genuine desire to respond to member opinions, rather than a situation where members have no opportunity to speak to the Trustees directly other than after they have decided their way forward and with resolutions, whatever their outcome, being considered as simply indicators of opinion, which could easily have been ascertained by the number of petitions and member demonstrations we have seen and which will continue until the Trust stop supporting savagely cruel and outdated activities.
© Helen Beynon 24.04.18
NOTE: We will be publishing an Overview of this meeting at the end of this week.
1st April 2018
Hunts do not always respect landowner wishes. Often people ask the local hunt to keep staff, followers and hounds off their property but then it happens – again. You need patience, stamina and strong support to stand up for yourself.
Sadly hunt trespass is all too common still. Hounds Off currently supports loads of people who are bemused at the attitude and arrogance of repeat offenders. In the instance below we are also asking ourselves, “But if they chase man-laid trails with dogs that are under control, like they say they do, then how come the Eggesford hounds were running all over forbidden land for the second time this year?”
Are you troubled by the hunt? Contact Hounds Off
© Joe Hashman
23rd January 2018
Last week we met a woman who had a foxhunt invade her property. She was still raw from the experience and visibly upset when telling us about it.
The local hunt was in the area and had let their hounds run loose on the scent of a fox. The fox ran into private woodlands with the hounds in hot pursuit. A herd of deer in the woods distracted the hounds and they split up to chase the deer in all directions, then cats, a dog and a goat. The woman and her friends were minding their own business just getting on with their day. Then this bedlam descended, literally, upon them. There weren’t enough broom handles or people to cope and anyway, the hounds were only interested in hunting.
This was no fleeting stampede. It took over an hour for the Huntsman to gather and remove his dogs. By then the police had turned up and were also helping. Two weeks later and six cats are still missing, presumed dead. The others are nervous, shy, frightened. It will take time and tlc to recover their confidence.
The woman was traumatised. She shook as she talked. Her eyes welled up when she described how the peace and tranquillity of her sanctuary exploded with animals running left, right and centre when about twenty-five foxhounds in full cry descended the valley with no warning. She expressed surprise at how big the dogs were and shock at seeing a fox flash past at great pace, running for its life. We explained that, actually, hunts across the land are breaking the law. All the hunters have to do is claim it was an “accident” and they get away with it. She now knows first hand the reality of #TrailHuntLies.
Hunt trespass can have a profound effect on people. It traps some in their homes, fearful to go out on certain days of the week in autumn and winter because they never know if the hunt is going to come crashing through their place. That is no way to live.
Imagine stepping out of your back door and being almost knocked over by rampaging hounds, then having someone sat high up on a horse shouting down at you and gesturing to open your gate so they can come in and fetch them. This actually happened in Dorset and now we keep in close contact with the woman and local police. She is clear and so are we – there must never be a repeat of this.
A young mother who had foxhounds come into her kitchen told her local newspaper, “I am shaken and beyond furious. I can’t bear to even speak to the hunt master who obviously thinks that my home, a haven for my children, is fair hunting ground for their hounds to come and go freely with complete disregard for the safety of my children.”
We watched with interest the evidence of terriermen following a hunt in Devon digging out a fox which hounds had run to ground on Saturday. To most right-minded people it’s an open and shut case but we’ve noted the terriermen’s excuse that they did not intend to kill the fox and were merely rescuing their dog. Without doubt they’ll lay that on as thick as possible and trust in the police to do less than a proper job. It grieves us to write that Devon & Cornwall Police have form. Despite this we’ve helped a number of disgruntled locals who have reported trespass and intimidation by the self-same hunt this last fortnight. We always advise involving the police at the outset, firstly by reporting anything which makes you feel concerned or unsafe and secondly, by cc-ing them in to all correspondence. We always live in hope to be pleasantly surprised.
We’ve been having a conversation with woodland owners in Somerset since December. They’re fed up to the back teeth of having the local hunt ripping through their land and terrorising its human and non-human inhabitants. We’ve arranged to meet later this week. So it was wonderful to receive an email from our contact this morning with details of three neighbouring farms who want to keep hounds off their vast acreages too.
January is always a busy month. We believe this is because it’s the fox mating season. Dog foxes are on the move in search of love. Their wanderings frequently take them far away from of their familiar, home patches. A hunted fox will instinctively bolt down a hole but hunts block all underground refuges and so the fox is forced, against its natural instincts, to keep running. Hunts deny this, of course, but we know the truth.
The above is just a snapshot of what we have going on right now. If you’re affected by hunt trespass or know someone who is then please, contact us. Hounds Off will support you. You are not alone.
© Joe Hashman
12th January 2018
Please use the Action & Advise pages of this website to protect your property, livestock & pets from hunt trespass.
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5th January 2018
Questions & queries via our Contact Us page or social media platforms. Thankyou.
6th December 2017
Lynn Massey-Davis contacted Hounds Off when she heard that the Holderness Hunt was meeting in the next village on 5 December 2017. We helped Lynn to spread #foxylove around her neighbourhood before, during (and after) the suspected illegal hunt. She wrote this blog for us to share and, hopefully, inspire;
I live near Hull and there are many things I am grateful for in my life and one of those things is my love of wildlife and respect for living things which brings me more joy than I can express. The two people I hold responsible for inspiring me on this course are my dad, Bill Massey, a lorry driver and Sir David Attenborough, one of the greatest naturalists of all time. It is these two men, plus one other who inspired me to lead a single-handed campaign against the Holderness Hunt who met in Winestead yesterday, close to where I live.
When I found out the hunt were meeting here I went online to find out if there were any local groups who could help me make it unscomfortable for them and deter them from coming to my patch ever again and there were none. It was hardly surprising, Patrington where I live is 16 miles the wrong side of Hull and no one wants to travel that far, ever! That is why our landscape and wildlife heritage is so wonderful. We have foxes, badgers, owls and even albino hares. As birdwatchers know too, we have the best views available of migrating birds every spring and autumn.
The people too are pretty spectacular – characterful, quirky, old fashioned but independent and free spirited, who love the fact that few fashionable people venture this far.
Being almost alone what could I do? It was unsafe to monitor the hunt directly, but I could still fulfil the main aims of my campaign, to make my opposition to hunting and concern for wildlife known. You too can achieve something even if you are just one. So here, are some ideas for a lone campaigner against a hunt:
Use the internet
We hear so much about the evils of social media, but this is a chance to use it for good. I connected with every anti hunt group I could. Now there are some of them who express their feelings there in a way I wouldn’t choose to myself to be sure, but they are a mine of information and support. It was on Facebook that I found Hounds Off and received masses of helpful guidance.
I also sent emails to the RSPCA, our local wildlife trust and our local newspaper.
From the comfort of my study I researched useful information such as details about the farm where the meet took place and found out that it actually belongs to the Church of England. This made me think, can the church as landlords and one of the biggest land owners in the country be persuaded to do what the National Trust failed to do? My thinking on this is still a work in progress so watch this space…
Use the traditional media
I created a police log where I recorded my concerns that in an area full of wildlife the Hunt were almost certain to break the law. I then wrote a letter to our weekly newspaper explaining how people could report the Hunt using this log number. It was printed and loads of people found me and expressed support.
As the advice on this page suggests, emails and letters record your intent. I put the hunt on notice and my letter has been passed around as a template to other groups so that they can use the form of words which are factual, cool and yet firm. I must have rattled them since it came back to me that they had distributed my picture to the followers. Naturally I was concerned so I told the police.
At the weekend I printed off and laminated about 50 signs to put around the area. I took someone with me as a witness and to make me feel secure. We asked people if we could put them up on their land. We put up dozens and people were so grateful to me and my staple gun. Of all the people we asked we only had 3 refusals and the aggression which two of them showed was all on their side. I was resolutely polite – you do get an amazing view from the moral high ground.
Schools, colleges public bodies, allotment societies and businesses are often supportive and may give you permission to put up signs in their property. But learn from my mistake, put the signs well inside fences or the hunt followers may tear them down.
I don’t know whether my actions and those of my two helpers saved any foxes yesterday but as they say, Rome wasn’t build in a day. I’m in this for the long haul.
I began this blog by saying I have been inspired by my dad, Sir David and one other. The one other is William Wilberforce born in and later MP for Hull. He didn’t give up easily and spent his whole life campaigning against slavery to win victory as an old man. As I am a descendant of Preacher John Newton, one of Wilberforce’s collaborators I can think of no better guide on this journey. One-day justice will prevail.
© Lynn Massey–Davis
Lynn is a teacher and freelance writer who has lived in Holderness for the last 25 years. She has a family and too many animals and her favourite species of animals are wombats.
27th August 2017
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
5th August 2017
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
28th May 2017
The Hare Preservation Trust invited Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, to write the The Magic Of Hares to mark the occasion of their 2017 Annual General Meeting & HareFest which took place at Aldeburgh in Suffolk on Saturday 28 May:
THE MAGIC OF HARES
It’s hard to know how to properly explain what I think about hares.
It’s not enough to say, “They’re amazing creatures, magical, beautiful, I love ’em, look at their ears, those legs, you wanna see them moving, they’ve got wild eyes.” Words don’t adequately convey my feelings towards hares, or how they pull on my heart strings and stir emotions which always feel deep.
I do love hares. I love hares that I see doing their thing in passing fields beyond the windows of a car, I love hunted hares which I worry about and desperately want to escape, and I love all the hares in between.
My first encounter with a live hare was when I was in my early teens, while travelling on a West Oxfordshire backroad to play an evening tennis match. She was large and upright, poised on the tarmac ahead, then gangly but strong, powerful, poetic as she ran.
It was a straight and open stretch of single track lane so we were treated to an extended view. My Mother slowed to an appropriate speed so we could safely but closely see this almost unbelievable creature. Then, in a bound, she was gone, jinking right-handed into the luxuriant verge.
This hare made quite an impression. In that moment her species lept off the butchers shop meat hooks in Oxford’s Covered Market, out from pages of natural history books in the school library, and into my life.
I was upset to learn that hare hunting with dogs was considered to be good sport by people who did it to keep themselves entertained.
AN INTRODUCTION TO HARE HUNTING
My next hare encounter was with the Oxford Polytechnic Hunt Saboteurs Association. They were an effective and experienced bunch. I was a 14-year old local kid but the student hunt sabs took me under their wing in almost parental fashion. They taught me well.
It was early January 1983. We parked in the middle of nowhere and walked cross-country to a remote Buckinghamshire railway hamlet called Verney Junction to catch the Old Berkeley Beagles by surprise. Elderly folk leaning on sticks and gazing into fields gave us clues where the sharp end of the hunt was, and we caught up.
Strange individuals were in charge, running around, blowing a bugle and cracking whips, wearing breeches and riding hats. They controlled a pack of beagles and quartered the sticky plough fields in search of hares to chase. We shadowed them as best we could, using footpaths and avoiding the supporters who were unfriendly and aggressive.
Sometimes a hare would jump up right in front and sprint away. The dogs erupted into mad, unified barking and set off in hot pursuit, using their noses not eyes to follow an invisible scent. The hunters in their breeches, riding hats and green jackets legged after them, and when this happened I learned what to do.
Sooner or later the beagles would ‘check’. This meant they would lose the hares scent and have to refind it. Maybe the hare had doubled back on herself then run off at a sharp angle, or done a huge leap to the side to make it seem like she had just disappeared, or any number of other tricks her species can employ to throw hounds off their backs.
A check allows the Huntsman to catch up and assist his pack. We tried to disrupt the hunt by shouting at the beagles and clapping our hands to make them lift their heads. When their noses were up they were not actively hunting.
One sab in our group had a hunting horn. If we couldn’t get near then this was blown to imitate the Huntsman and confuse the beagles. I could see it worked. They were excited and could be encouraged to come towards us which was perfect if we knew the hare had gone in another direction.
Whenever we saw the hare running we sprayed citronella oil to cover her scent. We sprayed hedges and field edges, wherever we thought a hunted hare might pass or have passed. All the time we were watching, looking for the movement of a small brown hare against a background of naked, thorny hedges and rich, deep plough, trying to keep one step ahead of the hunters and follow in her footsteps, not theirs.
Next week we were on a hillside, sabbing the Old Berkeley again. Beagles were nose-to-the-ground ahead of the Huntsman, searching after a check. We were well placed, discreetly in front and to the side.
The hunted hare broke cover and we dropped to our knees to appear small and unthreatening. The hare ran without a break of stride right passed us, so close you could hear the patter of her feet on the short turf and see into her big, bright, staring eyes.
We sprang into action, spraying citronella, shouting, clapping our hands to distract the excited beagles and get them to raise their heads. We didn’t stop the hunt completely but we did continually delay and disrupt until it got too dark to keep going.
Hares are also hunted on foot with basset hounds. Bassets are very wilful creatures and can appear almost comical in the hunting field. But don’t be fooled. A basset pack which is in the mood to hunt and kill a hare is relentless and deliberately cruel. Whereas the beagler hopes for an ideal hunt of 90 minutes from find to kill, with bassets the duration can be much longer. Hares are evolved to survive with short sharp sprints, not endurance running.
Hunting hares with hounds by scent demands patience, concentration and skill. Sabs developed and employed tactics designed to test all of these to the limit.
The most effective tactic is to take the pack completely. Beagles especially will happily run after nothing at all. They can be encouraged off the line of a hare when they check with appropriate horn and voice calls. Then it’s important to run as fast and far as possible before the hunters can get them back.
Beagles and Bassets are vulnerable to disruption and by 1986 had gone underground. The Shooting Times ceased advertising hunt meets full stop, and the Horse & Hound ‘Hunting Appointments’ section had reduced to a hard core of mounted fox and stag packs.
Luckily, in September 1986 I was given access to an archive pile of Horse & Hound magazines and noted five seasons worth of Old Berkeley Beagles meets.
There were clear and reliable patterns. October meets were nearly identical and then quite predictable for the rest of the season. One or two, like Monks House Farm outside Evenley near Brackley in Northamptonshire, took a bit of working out, but we got it. Lots of meets were held at pubs so a well-thumbed phone book and ringing around with a fake posh accent confirmed most fixtures with uncanny accuracy.
One Wednesday from Botolph Claydon the beagles picked up the line of their quarry early. The hare they were onto chose not to sit and sprint but kept on the move slower and steadier, way out ahead of hunting beagles. Elderly followers would indicate that they had seen her by raising a stick or holding aloft their caps. These signals informed the Huntsman where and when to gently guide his hounds.
It just so happened that the hunted hare and I crossed paths repeatedly during the early afternoon. Whenever this happened I’d put down some citronella and hope to buy her some time. But conditions that day were unhelpful and her scent was strong. Eventually the hunted hare ran towards me, then turned along a hedgeline with the pack on full cry just seconds behind.
The only way to stop them this time was to break cover. I shouted, sprayed and caused as much distraction as possible. Initially it worked. Beagles burst through the other side then lost momentum, lifted their heads and spread. But there were too many and it was too hot for me to handle. I was assaulted by the Field Master but wriggled free and had no choice but to get away as fast as possible to avoid a beating from him and others.
My moped was parked by the church. It stepped-through first time and I rode home at a top speed of 30 miles an hour. It was a traumatic experience which I recounted to my Mum. She listened and said only that, “Hares can sense when you are there and trying to do good.”
In 1986 I was an estate worker for the Berkshire Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Naturalists Trust, doing practical woodland and other habitat management. I was an excellent worker; punctual, reliable and keen.
It was quite a shock when the Old Berkeley Beagles Huntsman walked in to the office on the evening of our Christmas party. Turned out he was the North Buckinghamshire Regional Chairman. Early in the New Year I arrived five minutes late for work and was sacked on the spot.
RADLEY COLLEGE BEAGLES
A few public schools keep their own pack of beagles and at these institutions, hare hunting is on the curriculum. One, the Radley College, used to access many of its meets by driving right passed the top of our road. Even younger kids from an Oxford prep school called The Dragon were bussed out twice a week to join them in the countryside and learn how to kill for fun.
In late 1989 at a place called Appleford they hunted a hare into private gardens. Locals were outraged. A petition was launched asking the Radley College Beagles to stop meeting at Appleford and 80% of villagers signed it. The Bursar of Radley College publicly promised “to do everything possible to avoid future problems”, but he wouldn’t commit to dropping the meet at Church Farm.
Two sets of severed hares ears were sent to my parents house through the post so clearly our campaigns were touching a nerve and sabbing on the day saved lives. The importance of non violent direct action cannot be underestimated. But looking back it’s worth considering, with these schoolboys especially, did we win hearts and minds or just make them more stubborn and entrenched?
HARE MEMORIAL DAY
On March 6th 1989 a vigil was held at the Martyrs Memorial in Oxford to remember hares killed by hounds. Over 40 people attended, listened to speakers and held a silence. Afterwards some of us went on to sab the Christchurch & Farley Hill Beagles. This is the Oxford University hunt and, as with the school packs, introduces many outsiders to so-called “fieldsports” and the lifestyle that goes with it.
Students who wanted to go beagling met at Oriel Square in one of the colleges, then got a lift. On Hare Memorial Day we had someone at Oriel Square, working undercover. She called in from a phone box to tell us the meet was at East Hanney. No hares were killed but the police were heavy handed.
I was arrested and charged with possessing an offensive weapon – a hunting whip – and threatening behaviour. In May, Wantage Magistrates Court ruled that the case should be discontinued but in early July I received a summons for non payment of outstanding costs. They were holding me liable for £156 because, technically, the case was never formally dropped. I went straight to the press and a week later Wantage Magistrates Court ruled that it was unfair to expect me to pay costs for a case which never got heard.
On another occasion out with this lot, we were set apon by a gang of local foxhunt thugs. Horns and sprays were stolen, we were assaulted, bloodied and bruised.
Be in no doubt that folk who enjoy killing a creature as timid and harmless as the hare will use any means possible, fair foul or violent, to quieten dissenters.
THE WATERLOO CUP
The Waterloo Cup was a three day festival of hare coursing. In coursing, hares are used as a live lure to test the speed and agility of two fast-running dogs like greyhounds. The Waterloo Cup was a sixty-four dog stake which, by process of elimination, whittled down to a grand final and eventual winner. There was prize money, prestige and the bookies loved it.
The hare coursing season ran from September to March. During that time lots of clubs around the country would hold smaller events of one day, sometimes two. The Waterloo Cup was the peak of the season, bringing together all winners and qualifiers. In its heydays of the late 1800s, crowds of eighty thousand would flock to watch.
The National Coursing Club was the governing body for this sport. They advised spectators not to identify with the hare because doing so might spoil their enjoyment. You have to wonder what kind of sub-human gets their kicks from watching hares running for their lives right before their eyes, sometimes even in and around their feet, twisting and turning, often being caught, frequently being savaged in the jaws of both dogs, almost always having to be killed by a coursing official called a “picker up” who would put the pitiful creature out of this totally unnecessary and extended misery by pulling its neck.
In 1985 the Hunt Saboteurs Association organised its annual disruption of the Waterloo Cup. Previously, terrible violence had been dished out to sabs by coursing supporters so on Day One protesters marched the lanes as close to the coursing fields as possible, always with a heavy police escort.
Day Two was different. Sabs were up before dawn, driving to a secluded spot just beyond the northern fringes of Liverpool in an assortment of battered transit vans and old cars.
Ahead was the River Alt. The location had been identified as a suitable fording place to reach the fields opposite. Later that morning hares would be corralled there so they could be released, one by one, into an arena in front of the dogs and jeering, rowdy crowds.
Gamekeepers encouraged unnaturally high numbers of hares around the West Lancashire village of Great Altcar specifically for coursing purposes. Hares were also imported from other places before this and other big coursing events. It was quite likely that some had recently arrived from the Six Mile Bottom Estate in Cambridgeshire. Sixty-three hares were needed to run the Waterloo Cup itself, and many more to complete the Plate and Purse competitions which ran concurrently. The last thing that coursing officials wanted was a shortage of quarry.
Sabs waded across the river and were organised into long lines which stretched across the fields. I was in one of these lines. There were sabs to both sides at close but regular intervals. Our tactic was to move in unison and shepherd hares out of the danger zone. As we walked, hares were jumping up all over the place. Some tried to dodge between the gaps. We had to create a wall of noise to turn them back.
Soon the police arrived. They emerged from the mist mob-handed and all wearing regulation black wellies. I was grabbed and frogmarched to a waiting mobile police cell which soon filled up. Sixteen of us were tried and found guilty at Ormskirk Magistrates Court of causing Criminal Damage to a field of cabbages. We were bound over to keep the peace. Prosecution witnesses included cops, coursers and their lackeys. They all lied through their teeth so we appealed. I was a minor at the time of the arrests. The Judge at Preston Crown Court granted my appeal alone, on the grounds of being led astray by the grown-ups.
The Waterloo Cup ran for another twenty years but 2005 was to be the last. For all it’s faults, the Hunting Act was unequivocal in making hare coursing illegal.
PALMER MILBURN BEAGLES
Beaglers and their like circumvented the Hunting Act by inventing the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’. They claimed to lay a scent themselves then set their dogs on to that. And because rabbits are not protected by the Hunting Act, they would pretend to be hunting these animals whenever it suited.
Rabbits bolt for a hole at the first sign of danger and are never more than a short dash away. I remember reading one post-ban feature article in the Horse & Hound about a beagle pack in Somerset, and the impossible tale of a “rabbit” that led hunters and their hounds a long and merry circular dance around the cider orchards of West Bradley.
The Palmer Milburn Beagles used trail hunting as a cover for illegal hare hunting in Berkshire and Wiltshire. One of their favourite hunting grounds was Salisbury Plain, a huge area used by the Army for training exercises.
Salisbury Plain mostly comprises vast tracts of open, uncultivated grassland with scattered woods which stretch as far as the eye can see. There are few metalled roads. It can be a desolate and wild place.
In this habitat hares thrive. They are big, wily creatures who enjoy sheltering amid the dips and folds of rough vegetation and dining on an unrivalled selection of naturally occurring seasonal herbs and grasses. For hunters, these hares are prime quarry and for that minority of people who are thrilled by such things, Salisbury Plain is an ideal place for pitting a pack of beagles against hares which are in the peak of physical condition.
For a couple of months during Winter 2006/07 I followed the Palmer Milburn Beagles with my colleague, Shely Bryan. Shely and I worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Our job was to gather evidence of Hunting Act offences for prosecutions.
We had a source for meets on Salisbury Plain so decided to take a look. First time out we pretended to be four-wheel drive enthusiasts who enjoyed muddy rides along the numerous tank tracks and green lanes. Then we pretended to be interested in watching the beagling but were too lazy to get out and walk. Instead we followed in our vehicle. Nobody objected so we spent many days tagging along.
Shely and I used the cover of being in a vehicle to discreetly gather loads of evidence. Our films showed that people were using a pack of beagles to find, chase and kill hares on Ministry of Defense land just as they had before hare hunting was banned. We showed that this was being done repeatedly and deliberately. We got footage of hares being chased by beagles, hunt staff and supporters in that order. We identified the people involved and evidenced other behaviour that was specific to beagling.
One piece of footage showed a hunted hare running below a supporter, then changing direction. A minute later the beagles came along the same line as the hare. Where the hare turned, they checked. The supporter who had seen the hare running below them raised his cap on a stick to show the Huntsman where she had gone and he, in response, got his hounds on the line again.
On one occasion we filmed the beagle pack in full cry some way off. They hunted fast and hard then stopped and sniffed about. We could see the Huntsman nearby in the same area of long grass. Suddenly the beagles all converged really quickly in one place and the Huntsman blew his horn to signal a kill. This was confirmed to Shely and myself by the Whipper-In, who was standing close to our four-wheel drive as we all watched.
“That’s a kill,” she said, then, “Don’t tell anyone I said that, it doesn’t happen.”
We prepared all our evidence properly and handed it to the Military Police in person. We gave them everything they needed for justice to be done, but there were no charges.
At a meeting with the Investigating Officer, he told us that the Huntsman had been called in for interview and claimed that what we said was film of a kill actually showed the beagles pouncing on a packet of biscuits which he had hidden for them in the long grass.
We suspended our disbelief and told the Investigating Officer that it’s illegal to chase hares, you don’t just have to kill them.
But it was too late. The six month window for charges to be brought was just about to elapse and all our cases were effectively dead.
YORKSHIRE ‘GREYHOUND TRIALLING’ (aka HARE COURSING)
The Hunting Act Enforcement Team at IFAW was aware that the coursing community had adopted cosmetic changes to their sport which they hoped would enable them to defeat the law as well. When we received information that a post-ban version of the Waterloo Cup was to be run near Malton in Yorkshire in March 2007, Shely Bryan and I were sent to investigate.
For this job we used a camera hidden in binoculars and a pinhole camera worn on the lapel. I was on the binoculars. They were a brilliant piece of kit which allowed targeted, covert filming to take place whilst standing in the thick of it.
The evidence we gathered over two days of competition secured convictions of two landowners plus celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and hare coursing officianado Sir Mark Prescott.
The landowners claimed that they were hosting a new sport called Greyhound Trialling. In reality the only difference between this and pre-ban hare coursing was that the dogs wore muzzles and a length of orange barrier netting was staked up some distance opposite to where the hare and dogs started from. It was no barrier. More often than not hares would flee to either side. If they could keep going long enough the greyhounds would tire and stop. Sometimes the hare ran out of sight, followed by greyhounds and then their puffing, blowing, lumbering trainers.
With the binocular camera we shot film of a hare being pinned down against a wire fence and pummelled by the muzzled jaws of the dogs before the picker-up got there, wrestled the hare and killed it by grabbing the ears and feet and pulling in opposite directions.
These convictions at Scarborough Magistrates Court in July and September 2009 augmented those achieved by us in partnership with the the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports at Kings Lynn Magistrates Court in December 2008, following a Joint Operation on an event at Great Massingham in Norfolk.
We exposed Greyhound Trialling as a sham, well and truly. Word on the rural grapevine was that we had finished organised club coursing with these court cases.
I’d like to believe that this is still the situation. But we would be unwise to take such things for granted. History shows that bloodsports fanatics should never be trusted.
In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide at the upcoming General Election seemed imminent and I was really worried that this would jeopardise the future of the Hunting Act. I was determined to find a way of stopping hunting which would work effectively, regardless of the state of the law.
The idea of creating a network of wildlife sanctuaries, where landowners prohibited hunting on their property, made a lot of sense. I was familiar with League sanctuaries in the West Country and the way these once worked to scupper hunting.
I also remembered how hard the bloodsports community fought in the mid 1990s to overturn County Council bans because these had a real and negative effect on hunting across the country.
And I was inspired by locals from Elcombe in Gloucestershire. There, the Cotswold Hunt was once a frequent and unwelcome visitor. In 2006 residents organised themselves. They engaged with Stroud Council and the Police to try and get an ASBO against the hunt. Matters didn’t get quite that far but the Cotswold Hunt did receive an official warning under the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act and the problems stopped.
The fact is that if you take away land you take away hunting opportunities.
Friends, family and colleagues at IFAW helped to crystallise this thinking and in September 2011 a campaign was launched called Hounds Off.
The original mission was two-pronged;
First, to provide online resources specifically designed to help people to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass.
Second, to support the 2004 Hunting Act.
During the 2011/12 hunting season Hounds Off dealt with twenty-six complaints of hunt trespass. In 2016 this had risen to ninety-four cases of trespass and havoc by seventy-three different Hunts across the UK.
Last November a woman contacted Hounds Off. She had experienced a pack of beagles chasing a hare through her garden. She was upset about illegal hunting and also that a fence had been damaged. She told us the Beagle Master visited after the incident to reassure her that they were not hunting illegally. Apparently the hares they were chasing were “already injured” so the dogs were being used to execute mercy killings. The woman who had her Saturday afternoon ruined by hunt trespass and lies was seeking advice and support.
The first thing we did was help her to secure her property against future hunt trespass incidents using the ‘Hounds Off Belt & Braces Approach’. This is the standard action which we have encouraged and supported hundreds of people like this woman to do. It’s part of a suite of resources to be found on our website and can be implemented by anyone.
The next matter to address was the broken fence. We were able to provide the information needed so this hunt could be contacted and asked to pay the bill for damage repairs.
The third aspect we considered was the illegal hunting of hares. You see, it’s true that the Hunting Act does include an exemption which allows for the use of two hounds in dispatching genuinely wounded quarry. But if this exemption is claimed then it’s a condition that no more than two dogs are used and that those dogs must be under control.
Make no mistake, I’ve no doubt that this beagle pack was deliberately hunting healthy hares.
But who is going to pursue this? Who’s going to hold the hunters to account? The police are mostly indifferent and the big anti hunting charities have their own agendas.
Sadly at the moment, Hounds Off doesn’t have the resources to do it. We operate with volunteers, in personal time and with minimal funds. But we are always learning, always growing, always developing. And we have vision. Right now, we are establishing a specialist legal team which can advocate for the woman who contacted us to ask for help, and for the hare.
Last year the Hare Preservation Trust got in touch. They wanted to see hare hunting and coursing represented on the downloadable No Hunting poster which is available on www.houndsoff.co.uk . We agreed it was a great idea and if they stumped up the neccasary pence, we would make it happen.
The ‘Hounds Off Our Hares’ logo was launched last Spring. We made No Hunting & Coursing posters available and promoted a limited edition offer on merchandise which engaged lots of people, raised awareness and helped us to cover costs.
Once again, the Hunting Act is in danger. As in 2010, there is the very real prospect of a big Tory majority in the House of Commons after the upcoming General Election, and subsequent move by bloodsports apologists at Repeal.
I’m aware that here in Suffolk you have ongoing issues with illegal hare hunting by harrier packs and a brick wall of institutional corruption within Suffolk Police.
In darker moments it can all feel too much, too heavy, too painful. But these dark moments pass. The hunted hare must remain alert and strong if she is to survive and see tomorrow, and so must we.
There has never been a more important time to stop hunting where you live. Every farm, every field, every garden, every backyard, every community greenspace, everywhere counts. Please please please, use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource to help you do this. Share this website with your family, colleagues and friends.
Hounds Off is the people’s campaign against hunting and the beauty is that, to succeed, we need rely on no-one but ourselves.
“THE STAG OF THE STUBBLE”
I would like to finish by reading a piece I wrote on August 12th 2009;
“Harvests are coming in from the fields. The shape and texture of our landscape is changing again.
“I travelled back from the other side of Salisbury at dusk. In the expansive flats east of Fovant, combines were working under the gaze of their own bright lights. Great chuntering machines, spewing chaff in a continual jet of solids funnelled out sideways, gobbling vast swathes of rape, whose aroma filled the air as I passed through, windows down, enjoying the freshness of the Summer evening breeze.
“Somewhere betwixt front cutting blades and the stream of waste, somehow within that huge state-of-the-art monument to human invention and beneath the tiny seated driver, what needed to be done to render a crop useful in the factory was done.
“The combine I saw was literally on the final strait. A single remaining column of standing arable almost swallowed up.
“And so the earth is laid bare again. A naked spread of soil and stalks to be picked over by small birds and, in waxing moonlight, that lolloping, nose-twitching, wide-eyed, ever cautious, perfectly proportioned, ears keen, harming none, built-for-speed, always ready to run, stag of the stubble – the hare.”
© Joe Hashman