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10th June 2018

Front Lines #foxylove

Front cover of HOWL, the magazine of the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Spring 1995, issue 57. Front cover of HOWL, the magazine of the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Spring 1995, issue 57.

It’s no secret that Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman is a Life Member of the Hunt Saboteurs Association. Although Hounds Off began existence in 2010, Joe has been an anti hunt campaigner for 36 years. We reproduce here in full his wide-ranging, thought provoking and deeply personal address to the 2018 Hunt Saboteurs Association AGM:

This is the front page of the first HOWL to be published after the Criminal Justice Act was introduced, in 1995. That young man blowing the horn, that’s me. My friend Peter White took the photo with a state-of-the-art waterproof camera while we were doing a two-man sab of the Park Beagles.

The hare had come down a hedge line and turned left-handed through a gate. The pack wasn’t far behind. Pete sprayed some citronella where she turned and I took position on a footbridge over a reservoir. Pete rated the beagles when they checked by the gate. I doubled the horn and gave a few whoops to bring them my way.

We crossed the water and ran along the quiet country lanes south of Yeovil. I was up front in the role of Huntsman, Peter whipped-in from the rear.

After a considerable distance we ran the pack halfway up a hill to a field corner with the intention of finding a barn with a door to put the hounds in. But we couldn’t find a barn so we just held them up and waited.

A long time passed.

Eventually we heard the peel of a beaglers bugle and voice calls in the distance and then realised that a slow a convoy of vehicles was out looking. We relocated downhill to a fast-running brook and slipped into the water up to our necks. Peter and I hid underneath the overhanging bank which was like a flooded cave of mud and tree roots.

We could hear engines, car doors and voices above our heads so we waited for it to go quiet. Then we waited a bit more, and only then did we emerge and clear off. The beauty of that day was that I don’t think the beaglers had a jolly clue what happened and we did completely scupper their hunt.

HOWL was having a poke at those sections of the Criminal Justice Act which were aimed specifically at hunt sabs. Michael Howard was Home Secretary at that time. He dubbed us as “Thugs, Wreckers and Bullies” and was pushing, pushing to bring this law in because we had to be stopped.

Ten years later, the Hunting Act came into force. It was supposed to spell the end of foxhunting and all the rest of it. But thirteen years on here we are, still at it.

On an illegal foxhunt in Dorset last season, some toe-rag, on a quad bike, pulled up next to me within kissing distance and sneered, “Are you a monitor or a sab?”

I was stood alone, in a gateway, filming. The Huntsman was on foot in a small covert across the field. Hounds were marking.

From an inside pocket, my radio crackled a message. I took it and relayed information which guided both sabs and monitors in. Terrier mush contorted his face. “You’re all the fucking same,” he snarled.

Are we all the same?

It feels like quite a responsibility, standing up here and telling you what I think. I don’t want to offend anyone. All I have is experience and ideas. All I ask is that you listen and consider. Everything is up for discussion afterwards. It’s good to talk.

I’m going to advocate engaging with the police. It’s ok to work with them. Not all coppers are bastards.

I’m going to suggest that you might want to consider joining organisations which have not yet banned hunting on their land, so you can raise a Members voice and cast a Members vote.

It’s ok to engage with the system. Sometimes it’s essential.

I challenged a binding over and High Court injunction taken by the Portman Hunt as far as the European Court of Human Rights. It took six years but I won.

I’ve taken two different employers to Tribunal and was successful on both occasions.

First time, a local hunt terrierman was the complainant. That was Unfair Dismissal.

Second time it was a combination of foxhunting, mink hunting and hare coursing which got me the sack. We called that out as Discrimination under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.

I’ve stood up in court numerous times, for prosecution and defence. Let me reassure you. If you’re honest, have a good case and a team which is intelligent and efficient then using the system against itself can be really effective. It’s not essential to be legally trained.

Just because we’re Hunt Sabs doesn’t mean we have to be outsiders.

My first sab was with the Swindon Group and we did the Old Berks. It was Boxing Day, 1982. My Dad dropped me off at Wantage near Oxford with a placard that said “Fox Hunters Are Scum”.

It was one of those days when we constantly tumbled in and out of a minibus. I watched and listened and learned.

Around mid afternoon, in a field corner, there was a dig. We marched in. There was a scuffle. In the melee a fox shot out and flashed along a hedge. And then another. This fox broke cover and ran into the open for all to see.

The pack was unleashed. We charged into the fray, spraying and rating. We didn’t think twice and we did distract and delay.

Swindon was a good group. They knew what they were doing. I’d like to say we saved the fox but I don’t really know. I was a just a middle class schoolkid. It was my first experience of hunted foxes and mad dogs on cry, thundering horses, flying mud, rural vandals pumped with bloodlust and the thrill of the chase.

Looking back, that was an early introduction to the infamous Three O’Clock Fox. Later investigations revealed an artificial earth in that field corner.

You might have been inspired by photos of sabs with long hair and flared trousers running on to the coursing fields at Altcar, of sabs sitting in badger setts to stop dig outs, or cradling foxes away from danger to safety in their arms.

They say, “A picture speaks a thousand words.” In this day and age, everyone’s a photographer and journalist. Having platforms to convey what happens in the field is a good thing.

Nobody understood this better than Mike Huskisson, and if you haven’t read Outfoxed then you must. He wasn’t the first to expose the bloody truth about hunting, and he won’t be the last, but the timing and quality of the evidence Mike produced, of heinous atrocities against wildlife, moves, inspires, lives on. It was a team effort, of course. Everybody needs support and back-up, but the influence of this work cannot be underestimated.

One thing Mike taught me is that you can be a hunt saboteur in numerous guises. There are many front lines.

********

In the early 1990’s, sabbing the New Forest Buckhounds with interventionist tactics wasn’t working.

It’s true that deer were saved. Anyone who was at one of the many blockades which prevented the Buckhounds leaving their kennels, or delayed them en route to a meet, will testify that we were effective. But our success also made the hunters more determined.

Kill rates went up because deer were chaperoned by outriders, shot on the move and even wrestled to the ground by hunters who were behaving like angry cowboys.

A few of us decided to replace hunting horns and citronella with video cameras, and we turned exclusively to filming. It was controversial. Running with the pack and letting the hunt play out without trying to stop it offended a lot of our friends. But, less than four years after the tactical shift, after centuries of deer hunting in this once-Royal Forest, with a combination of pen and pictures, political campaigning and non violent direct action, the Buckhounds disbanded.

During the passage of what became the Hunting Act there was a option which would have permitted fox hunting under licence. It was late 2002. Tony Blair and others were already wavering. They hoped this Middle Way would provide a satisfactory compromise.

A few months later, the International Fund for Animal Welfare released film of Cottesmore Hunt employees placing fox cubs into an artificial earth. This film exposed blatant flouting of huntings own, self-imposed, rules and exploded the myth of foxhunting as pest control. MPs were outraged and immediately voted, by more than two-to-one, for an outright ban.

The IFAW investigators who took that film were people like us who are still active today.

We can all be proud of the fact that Sabs have always been groundbreakers. We’ve always challenged the Establishment and the System. We’ve always led by example. We’ve paid for it with our liberty, our sanity, sometimes even our lives, but that’s what you do when you believe.

From the moment the Hunting Act came in to force, we’ve called out illegal hunting. But in 2005 who was listening? The press and public had reached saturation point and among our self-appointed leaders and charity bosses the assumption was “Job Done.”

But really, truthfully, did we expect hunters to just stop?

Think about the dogs in your life. How does it make you feel when you see them giving you that pack animal look?

If you’ve been brought up to think of a fox or badger as a disposable plaything piece of shit; if seeing your dog battle scarred but willing gives you pride and social status; if you fancy making a quick £700 on the black market, then of course you’re not going to stop hunting and digging just because there’s a law against it.

Remember how we reacted when they tried to stop us with the Criminal Justice Act?

So, thirteen years ago, the question was whether to sab, gather evidence or do both?

The first case went to court within months and once again, it was on evidence gathered by one of our own.

Exmoor Huntsman Tony Wright was convicted but he appealed and was acquitted. Worse still, the Appeal Judge ruled that searching for a fox was not covered by the term “hunting” as defined by the Hunting Act.

I’d love to know why that ruling wasn’t challenged, but it wasn’t. So the early stages of a hunt which we all know as “drawing”, is not illegal. At a stroke, enforcement got harder.

Loads of cases failed because of corruption, police and prosecution ineptitude, and loopholes which were inserted to protect the tally-ho brigade.

Hundreds of poachers and lurcher boys have been done, but precious few from registered hunts.

It took ten years before well-paid, professional, anti-hunting charity bosses were prepared to echo, publicly, what we had been banging on about that whole time – that the Hunting Act is chronically flawed and needs reinforcment.

But by then, the RSPCA had been destroyed as a campaigning organisation. In 2012 they took a courageous private prosecution against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt, based on evidence gathered by people like us.

They achieved a groundbreaking conviction. The Heythrop Hunt Limited admitted illegally hunting foxes. This meant the Hunt itself was guilty and not just an individual. That was important because servants can be sacked or retired and then claims made to be sweeping clean with a new broom. Getting done as a Corporate Body cut much deeper.

Despite being one of Englands richest, most prestigious packs, hunting foxes four days each week and drenched in privilege, the Heythrop Hunt and two staff members said that they pleaded guilty because they couldn’t afford to contest the case.

And the Countryside Alliance went into attack mode. They assassinated the motivation and reputation of our leading animal welfare charity with venom and fire.

Soon the Chief Exec was suffering from ill health, there was widespread internal restructuring and the RSPCA dropped their commitment to take Hunting Act prosecutions.

For a while hunts adopted pleading guilty on the grounds of saving taxpayers and charity donors money but a rash of convictions gave the Hunting Act statistical reinforcement.

So they changed tack, aiming instead at scuppering cases on technicalities surrounding evidence handling and witness reliability.

The League fell foul of these tactics during their 2015 case against the Lamerton Hunt in Devon and then they also pulled out from taking prosecutions.

IFAW had invested considerably in its Enforcement Team and achieved some notable successes. In December 2015 they published a report called Trail Of Lies which analysed, deconstructed and exposed how hunts throughout England & Wales are circumventing the law.

And then, six months later, IFAW dismantled their Enforcement Team. Bosses would say that they were channeling funds at worthy animal causes elsewhere in the world.

So I think we should take our hats off to sabs everywhere but especially from Beds & Bucks and South Cambridgeshire for being there and gathering evidence in the recent Fitzwilliam case. It’s the only standing conviction of a registered pack under the Hunting Act since Trail Of Lies was published.

The Countryside Alliance love playing the oppressed minority card and spinning all sorts of lies and bullshit. We shouldn’t blame them because this is a war and, whilst they’ve been very bad at getting the Hunting Act repealed, they have been pretty good so far at dodging and disabling it.

Not long after the Hunting Act came in to force I took part in a sting on the Palmer Milburn Beagles.

A friend and I pretended to be four-wheel drive nutters. We set it up so that one Saturday we chanced upon the beaglers during the course of green laning adventures on Salisbury Plain, and then went from there.

For two months we compiled a written and video dossier on the Palmer Milburn which showed consistent illegal hunting.

Unfortunately, it was a matter for the MoD police and the officer in charge knew nothing about the subject or how to apply the law.

So we filmed hares being found, hunted, lost, refound, hollered with voice and raised caps, hunted by scent, hunted by sight.

But the investigating officer didn’t understand that hunting is the crime, you don’t have to kill to be guilty. His entire investigation focussed on the one kill we did film, at distance in rough grassland.

It’d been a long hunt in poor weather. The hare was exhausted and had clapped. Huntsman was letting hounds cast themselves in the vicinity.

We were parked next to the Whipper-in, one of us out of the vehicle watching and chatting, the other filming discreetly from a window.

All of a sudden the beagles dived into a scrum amid a crescendo of noise. Huntsman bounded towards them and blew for a kill. We even recorded the Whipper-in saying, “That’s a kill. Don’t tell anyone I said that, it doesn’t happen.”

The investigating officer received our dossier and had six months to lay charges. But with one week to go he called a meeting and told us there was insufficient evidence.

He told us that, under caution, the Huntsman claimed they were not killing a hare. It was the beagles pouncing on a packet of biscuits he’d hidden to reward his dogs at the end of the trail.

Because of the long grass, poor light and the fact that this hare was knackered and chopped, we couldn’t prove the utter piss-taking nonsense of this lie.

Acting on information received, we did a job on the Tynedale in Northumberland. We’d drive through the night, have coffee and a detailed briefing with our disgruntled ex-hunt servant contact, then get to work.

The Tynedale own a notorious fox cover called Beukley. We trained hidden cameras on badger setts which pepper its craggy lower slopes and got footage of earth-stopping. And we repeated this in other locations.

Northumberland police were willing but the CPS refused to let the case go to trial because they questioned whether the setts were active.

We had hair, prints, a range of accepted field signs and confirmation by a local badger expert but the CPS insisted on evidence that was practically impossible to achieve.

Before he was Prime Minister, David Cameron pulled strings for his Heythrop chums. Again, we became trusted hunt supporters and filmed lots of illegal hunting over a period of many months.

We produced another compelling dossier and the coppers were on board. It had gone up to the CPS and then, out of the blue, the case dropped dead. No explanations, it just stopped.

It wasn’t until publication of Lord Ashcroft’s book “Call Me Dave” that what happened was revealed – influence had been exerted over the heads of Gloucestershire Police by the Conservative Party leader. Once again, justice wasn’t done.

********

The Hunting Act is weak but not completely flawed.

It used to be, around the end of every February or early March, a three day event was held in Lancashire called the Waterloo Cup. It was the pinnacle of the hare coursing season, considered by aficionados of the sporting greyhound to be its ultimate test.

Canine speed, agility and stamina would be scrutinised by putting in front of them a live hare. Greyhounds were released in pairs, scoring points for how quickly they ran up to their quarry and their skill in working her at every twist and turn.

Publicly, coursing supporters would say that the object was to exercise not kill the hare. But from the crowds at Waterloo, which sometimes numbered thousands, cheers and celebrations were loud and drunken when she was snatched, “bowled over” or clamped, screaming between the jaws, tragic and doomed, a living tug-of-war rope. The Judge on horseback awarded points for that, too.

This was a knock-out competition starting with 64 entrants. Winning greyhounds progressed until one victorious dogs trainer got awarded the Waterloo Cup itself, loads of money and legendary status in the history books.

There was a Plate Event for losers and side shows. Many hares were needed and had to be imported regularly from East Anglia to keep the population artificially high.

Hare coursing was well organised by different local Clubs. Weekly meets were held across England and Scotland from September to March under rules stipulated by the National Coursing Club.

Then the Hunting Act made it illegal. But, just as foxhunters invented trailhunting as a false alibi, so hare coursers rebranded their sport as ‘Greyhound Trialling’.

On 2nd and 3rd March 2007 I found myself in Yorkshire, working undercover to expose the myth of Greyhound Trialling at a two-day event being billed as the New Waterloo Cup. We knew that there had been numerous similar, smaller events throughout that winter and this was the culmination of efforts to facilitate the reintroduction of hare coursing.

My partner wore a pinhole camera. I had a camcorder wired into binoculars.

On arrival we could see people away in the fields beyond a belt of trees, waving plastic bags on sticks, working as ‘beaters’. There were lots of vans with greyhounds being tended and prepared.

Just out from the field edge was a man standing in a three-sided shelter, wearing the traditional red coat, holding a pair of greyhounds on a leash. Hares were being shepherded, manoeuvred to run, one at a time, from behind the shelter into the area in front and in view.

Greyhounds would be straining now and slipped from their long leads. The sprint was on. Parallel lines of people stood in the field to scare the hare back towards the middle whenever she tried to break free to the side.

This was all entirely consistent with pre-ban hare coursing run under National Coursing Club rules.

But there were a couple of subtle differences. First, the greyhounds were muzzled. We didn’t see any hares get savaged although we did film them pinned and pummelled before men wrestled them away and pulled their necks.

Second, there was a man with a gun who, according to the law, was supposed to shoot hares which had been ‘flushed’ beyond a stretch of orange plastic barrier netting. He only ever discharged his gun into the air, to laughter and ironic applause, and the netting was both unfit for purpose and often in entirely the wrong place.

Organised hare coursing is covered by Section 5 of the Hunting Act, which is unequivocal. It states, “A ‘hare coursing event’ is a competition in which dogs are, by the use of live hares, assessed as to skill in hunting hares.” There is little wriggle room for people who get caught.

The upshot of our undercover operation was that two landowners were found guilty at Scarborough Magistrates Court of hosting the illegal event. Subsequently, celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and racehorse trainer Sir Mark Prescott bowed to a private prosecution brought by IFAW. They pleaded guilty.

Although Dickson-Wright made the headlines, it was Prescott who was a lynch pin of the coursing world. He had revived the original Waterloo Cup in its later years when it seemed to be dying a natural death.

At around that time we secured convictions against organisers and landowners who facilitated and attended a so-called ‘Greyhound Trialling’ event in Norfolk. Together, these operations signalled a victory for the Hunting Act (Section 5) and the end of organised Club Coursing – unless you know otherwise….

*******

In 2013 Owen Patterson was the Environment Minister. He was presented with a research paper by the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs which claimed that using two hounds to flush foxes to guns was inefficient and inhumane. Patterson joined the chorus of hunt supporters seeking amendments so that using a full pack to flush would be legal, as in Scotland.

For a while it looked likely that the Conservative-led Coalition Government would pass the amendments and the Countryside Alliance was licking its lips in anticipation. In fact, the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs was a front for the CA itself.

Thankfully not everyone was so crooked and bent. Within DEFRA itself there were misgivings.

The Welsh Farmers paper was flagged as containing incomplete data, inconsistencies, statements at odds with its own evidence and being neither peer-reviewed nor published.

I’m told it was a refusal to budge by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg which finally saw this sly effort dropped.

Do you remember July 2015, when Parlaiment was about to be suspended for the summer holidays? Tories had just won a majority and had another stab at back-door repeal. They proposed amendments which were presented as minor and just bringing England and Wales into line with Scotland.

But hunt supporters underestimated how much the public still dislike ritualised animal abuse. If they thought they could undermine the Hunting Act (and democracy) quietly, unnoticed and with little resistance, they were spectacularly wrong.

Millions of us protested our disapproval. We lobbied our MPs. We spoke, wrote, tweeted, retweeted, shared, liked, favourited, pinned, posted, demonstrated, reported, advertised, sang, shouted and dreamed about defeating these amendments and the dark forces behind them.

Key to saving the Hunting Act was MP support. Hunters claimed the Scottish National Party scuppered those amendments but that’s not true. Actually, an irresistible coalition was mobilised, comprising MPs from across political parties and Home Nations who all committed to defending the law.

Hunters lost their nerve. The day before the scheduled vote the amendments were withdrawn.

Remember last year, that surprise snap General Election? Polls predicted “The biggest Election win for decades”. And Brexit wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds….

The Daily Mirror published news of a leaked email from Conservative Peer and foxhunting fanatic Lord Mancroft, urging Hunt Masters to mobilise their supporters and campaign for pro-hunt Tories in marginal seats. He reckoned that an increased majority of 50 in the House Of Commons would be enough to overturn the Hunting Act.

To be honest, Mancroft only confirmed what we already knew.

Bloodsports organisations have always worked hard to get their own people elected.

Vote OK is the baby of Lord Ashcroft, another Tory Peer with disproportionate money, power and influence. Manpower and resources get poured into marginal constituencies where they think they can get pro-hunt candidates elected.

Vote OK channels the energy of local Hunt Supporters Club members and offers them up as campaigning foot soldiers. The deal is that the candidate must accede to their single-issue fanaticism and promise to vote for repeal of the Hunting Act.

In his email to every Master of Fox Hounds, Lord Mancroft wrote, “This is the chance we have been waiting for.”

The day after the Mirror exposé, the Prime Minister took questions from factory workers in Leeds. Until then, questions put forward on the campaign trail had been screened in advance and answers prepared. In Leeds TM the PM was speaking unscripted.

When a man asked if there was truth in rumours that Tories would make bloodsports legal again, Teresa May replied, “As it happens I have always been in favour of foxhunting.”

We campaigned bloody hard after that, didn’t we? Especially in places like Wrexham.

For loads of reasons the Tories divebombed. They’ve even dropped their pledge to repeal the Hunting Act during the life of this parliament.

It’s a massive shift.

Remember, the Countryside Alliance used to be called the British Field Sports Society and the BFSS was widely known as “The Conservative Party At Play”.

The hunters goal is to destroy the Hunting Act and future-proof bloodsports. And the next big threat is Brexit.

If all goes to plan, masses of European law and EU Directives will be changed into bespoke British legislation. The Countryside Alliance have sussed that it’s here where they can stick in their oar and influence things so that these new laws will simply supercede the Hunting Act. There’ll be no need for repeal.

Last year the CA produced their own Brexit Policy Document, and they aimed it at MPs. They barely mentioned hunting but this thing called “wildlife management” played big.

Now they’ve published their Brexit Rural Charter. There’s a whole section on wildlife management and hunting with hounds is pitched as an integral part of this.

The principal of hunting with dogs is being normalised and detoxified with rose-tinted promises of self-regulation and words like sustainable, environmental, natural, conservation, humane, even animal welfare.

I believe that the CA has taken its lead from America. Over there, hunting, shooting and fishing are administered at local level by official bodies which “manage” wildlife populations via licences, quotas, regulations. What happens on the ground is state-sponsored animal abuse on a mind-boggling scale but it’s sold to the public as practical, sensible, wholesome and good.

I hope I’m wrong but, as things stand, it’s on the cards for an American-style system of administrating bloodsports to slip-slide onto the statute books as EU Environmental Directives and Laws are replaced with UK-specific legislation.

This is complicated politics. The question is, do we, as a movement, have the vision, experience, skills and will to get our heads together and avert this car crash before it happens.

And it’s not just MP’s being hoodwinked by hunters. They’ve been grooming children for generations because an ongoing supply of willing participants is essential for the continuity of deathsports.

A vital part of the infrastructure which traditionally leads horse loving youngsters into the dark world of killing-for-fun are the Pony Clubs, most of which are linked with mounted hunts and, so long as these hunts claim to be trailhunting within the law, they’re able to mislead many impressionable youngsters (and their parents) about their real intent.

With a range of horse-related activities on offer which seem a million miles from the ritualised sacrifice of a fox, hare or deer, Pony Clubs provide a perfect gateway for introducing children into the ways of the Hunt.

Trail Hunting is nothing more than a charade which provides a perfect cover story for grooming the young and the the gullible, especially when days are tailored to enhance the illusion and the messaging from respectable adults, supporters clubs, hunts themselves and their representative organisations all conspire to convince impressionable young minds that Trail Hunting is legitimate.

By the time the awful truth dawns it’s no longer seen as awful. To the next generation of deathsport enthusiasts, indoctrinated into a world of false alibis, blind eyes and rural lies, wild mammals which are illegally hunted and killed are no longer empathised with; reduced instead to objects of amusement, to be besmirched and abused, accidentally or accidentally-on-purpose, depending on who’s looking or asking.

Did you know, a few years ago the Countryside Alliance Foundation created a whole suite of teaching aids aimed at primary school kids called the Countryside Investigators?

Countryside Investigators branding is bright and appealing. But it’s a confidence trick. Scratch the surface and Countryside Investigators is just another tool for grooming children with pro hunt propaganda.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Kimblewick were grooming inner city youngsters in South London a few weeks ago, because it’s all part of their master plan.

*******

This is the point where I was going to tell you about a hunting atrocity which happened in a private garden. But I can’t, and the reason I can’t is that the person who Hounds Off is supporting is so frightened of upsetting the local hunting community that she doesn’t want the incident to be identified. It’s isolated where she lives and her worries are genuine.

So let me tell you about staghunting on National Trust property instead.

Back in the 1990s, the National Trust commissioned a Cambridge University Professor of Animal Behaviour to conduct a two-year scientific study into the welfare implications of staghunting. It was in response to a Members Motion at an Extraordinary General Meeting in 1995. Members voted overwhelmingly for such a study. It was truly independent and both Westcountry staghunters and the League co-operated.

Professor Patrick Bateson and his team shadowed the Devon & Somerset and the Quantock Staghounds. They observed and then took blood samples from sixty-four hunted deer at the point of death. In the lab the samples were analysed and tested. They were contrasted and compared with similar samples from deer that were shot.

Bateson’s report was published in 1997. The extent of suffering and cruelty caused to deer killed by hunting with dogs was proven to be so profound, so extreme, so beyond anything which might be experienced in nature, that it shocked everyone. The National Trust immediately banned staghunting on its land.

Next day, The Daily Telegraph headline was, “Death Knell Sounded For Staghunting.” But sadly, it wasn’t.

After a short period when the hunting community hung its head in shame, they came out fighting. They rubbished Bateson and his methodology and did their own, quick, pseudo-scientific study which concluded that Bateson was wrong and that staghunting wasn’t really very cruel.

Consequently, staghunting never stopped. And for me the scandal is that for twenty-one years the National Trust have failed to enforce their own ban.

Just take the situation on the Quantock Hills. It’s a compact area with some very large blocks of National Trust land. Technically, the Quantock Staghounds are not allowed to go there. They have no licence for so-called “exempt hunting”. But they do, frequently, because that’s where hunted deer take them. National Trust Wardens don’t stop them because they say the boundaries are so big and remote that they just can’t be in the right place at the right time.

There are similarly large blocks of Forestry Commission land from which staghunting is also technically forbidden. Without the Commission and Trust acres, the Quantock Staghounds would struggle to operate two days a week for eight and a half months a year. They’ve already taken extra country on loan from the Devon & Somerset to remain viable.

What do we do about this? Direct action, monitoring and evidence gathering, political campaigning or a combination?

One thing I feel strongly about is if you can afford to become a Member then join the National Trust. I know many have left in disgust after last years Members Resolution to ban trailhunting was scuppered by the Ruling Council but the simple fact is, since then, overall membership has gone up because there’s been a massive influx of hunt supporters joining. Ever since The Bateson Report, they’ve been trying to take over the National Trust. Cancelling or refusing membership might give you some personal satisfaction but as a campaigning tactic it is flawed.

The National Dis-Trust was started by people like us, and has done sterling work over recent years. 618,000 acres and the viability of many hunts are at stake so it’s really worth thinking about the most effective ways to best protect animals from cruelty.

*******

Hounds Off offers a way to stop hunting even if the Hunting Act gets repealed or superseded.

I’ve told previous AGMs about how we help, support and advise beleaguered landowners, about saving lives, making friends and influencing people. These things remain the core of what we do. But Hounds Off is evolving. We’ve now got solicitors and barristers supporting landowners from Devon to Cheshire to Sussex and we are developing real teeth.

And because havoc and trespass incidents are inevitable consequences of illegal hunting, we work with the police.

Nobody likes being treated like a fool, including officers of the law. Remember, beneath the uniform, they’re people too, and there are many who are fucking well fed up with illegal hunting.

It’s not easy to break down cultural and political barriers. It takes time, patience and energy to dispel negative stereotypes, to earn trust you never had. It can be a thankless task but we’re doing it and we’re doing it for the animals.

If hunting is ever going to really stop we must connect with people in a positive way. We’ve got to reach and touch the hearts and minds of ignorant, arrogant, addicted, thugs, wreckers and bullies so that they wake up one morning and think, you know what, I don’t want to abuse and kill animals any more. And these people need to pass on this new way of thinking to their children.

I always ask myself, what would I do if I was them? I know that if I was a nasty bastard and felt assailed or mocked by anti’s, I’d go out and abuse more animals for longer in their name as vengeance.

For me, sabbing has always been about spreading love not hate. I’m not deluded. I know we make people angry. But I don’t think that rubbing people’s noses in it is a good idea.

In February, I was driving with a friend to a pop-up demo at a Mendip Farmers meet. We were chatting and she asked, when did I stop being a Hunt Saboteur? I said I haven’t, I just do it differently these days.

*******

Remember that lad on the quad bike I mentioned at the start? Maybe he was right. Maybe, fundamentally, us lot here today are the same…

Because there is something. There is something that makes us devise crazy plans that might just work, something that gives us strength to roll with the knocks and stand up again in defence of wildlife in difficult and often dangerous conditions.

Lots of people care, and care genuinely. But what is it, what is it that moves you to put your neck on the line in service of our humble brethren?

© Joe Hashman

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