13th Dec 2018
Pest Control, wildlife management or simply a cruel sport which made some money & satisfied the bestial urges of a sadistic minority? Here, now defunct New Forest Buckhounds Huntsman John Stride fumbles in his pocket for a gun whilst straddling an exhausted fallow buck run to collapse in a stream. Stills from a film taken in 1995 by Wildlife Action.
Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
Perhaps the claim that wild animals need to be lethally managed by people is the most crucial false argument Mr Barrington uses in his rhetoric (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). He always tries to get others to accept this claim before he then moves with the claim that ‘if they need to be killed, better do it with dogs’. But the truth is that in most cases, wildlife doesn’t need to be managed. In most cases, natural ecosystems (and the wildlife in them) need to be preserved by preventing humans’ interference and letting Nature to find its own balance. And in the cases where Nature needs a helping hand because we humans have messed the ecosystem too much, there are plenty of feasible wildlife management methods that are not lethal, and therefore are not based on killing wildlife (such as fencing, shepherding, translocations, management of available food, deterrents, etc.).
Unfortunately this dangerous idea that killing is necessary to succeed is very much entrenched in the minds of many landowners, from farmers killing wildlife around their land to protect their ‘products’, to shooting estates eliminating predators of the animals they want to sell as live targets for the guns, to conservation organisations obsessed with the preservation of a particular species and wanting to kill other animals that compete with them.
As such, non-lethal methods of wildlife management are often ignored and unnecessary killing is chosen when it should have been avoided. This accounts for the examples Mr Barrington uses in the article, which he uses as either examples of compulsion (‘it needs to be done’) or hypocrisy ( ‘we have to do it but we want to keep it secret’), as if somehow validates such practices. These examples of Mr Barrington’s lethal ideas are so dangerous that even some organisations which should be protecting animals are unfortunately (and erroneously) seduced by them, causing much unnecessary suffering and death.
In the case of foxes it is particularly true that they don’t need lethal control, as a lot of research has already proven that the fox population is not growing out of control, and their ‘negative’ effect on farming has been greatly exaggerated. Research has already shown how little foxes contribute to lamb predation and that it is likely that when a shepherd finds evidence of a fox eating a lamb this may be because the lamb died from other causes. The fox is just being a scavenger.
And foxes who take advantage of poor human husbandry by getting into henhouses do not kill more than they can eat at one sitting for the sheer fun of it. ‘Surplus killing’, as it is known, is a survival technique which has evolved in foxes to guard against future food shortages.
Fox populations self-regulate because they are composed by territorial animals, so the populations are kept more or less stable if the space and food availability does not change. And if there is a problem with a particular fox, killing it may make it worse. If farmers remove an older fox with any lethal wildlife management method because they consider this fox ‘vermin’ another young fox will replace it very soon after as the territory become vacant and no longer defended by the older fox. This new fox is most likely to be more ‘problematic’ to farming as it is likely to be more inexperienced and not know the territory well, venturing more into places it is not welcomed (the areas where livestock are kept), and thus making the ‘problem’ even worse.
In Mr Barrington‘s article it is claimed that hunting provides a huge level of controlled public access to private land, but everyone who has attempted to monitor hunting knows how false this is. It is precisely the fact hunts these days use much private land which the public are not allowed to enter which allows them to hunt illegally with impunity, as it is difficult to obtain evidence without such access. Hunt supporters don’t hesitate to prevent public access to rights of way and common land because they fear that anyone who does not belong to their fraternity may end up reporting them to the authorities when they witness what they actually do.
From blocking roads with their vehicles to physically assaulting bystanders, the hunting fraternity is well known for their intimidation and violent tactics towards the general public, so this claim is quite ludicrous.
© Jordi Casamitjana
Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak
Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane
Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural
Hunting Myths Pt 5: Hunting Conserves The Countryside
7th Dec 2018
OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
PREVIOUSLY: Hunting Myths Part 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Mr Barrington often repeats the classic claim that hunts only go for weak, diseased or old animals. This is completely untrue and there is no need to find any scientific research to prove it. We simply have to understand what hunting with hounds is and how it differs from shooting, lamping or snaring, which are other methods people use to kill wildlife.
Foxhunts, hare hunts, stag hunts and mink hunts use packs of hounds which locate a prey (“quarry”) and begin chasing it following its scent trail. Then, people on horse, motor vehicles or on foot follow the hounds through the countryside. This is the “fun” of the activity. The longer the chase, the better the hunting day. Weak or ill quarry animals would not run but hide as they don’t have the energy to flee, so there would not really be a chase if the hunts targeted those … and without a chase, there is no hunting.
The truth is that hounds do not “decide” to go for the weakest animals as they just follow a scent and have no idea of the condition of the animal they are chasing. This is why the Hunting Act 2004 – that was meant to ban hunting in England and Wales – outlawed the chase of the wild mammal with dogs, not actually the killing. Indeed, it makes it an offence to “engage or participate in the pursuit of a wild mammal with dogs”.
Incidentally, the hounds have been selectively bred over generations to run slower than their quarry but with superior stamina. This is one way to deliberately prolong the hunt and provide good “sport”.
And as far as the claim of chasing “old” animals is concerned, it is important to realise that in autumn each foxhunt engages in cub hunting to train their hounds to kill foxes. They go to woods, copses, fields of standing crops and other places where they know there is a fox den, they surround them so they cannot escape, and then they send the pack of hounds in to kill them. These are “cubs”, not old foxes, and every year an estimated 10,000 fox cubs are hunted by the UK hunts, even now.
Despite the claim of doing “trail hunting” (actually just a cover for illegal hunting) the hunts still need to train their hounds to chase and kill foxes, and they can only do that with the secretive and clandestine activity of “cub hunting” (which they have re-named “autumn hunting”).
Part 3 of this series will be published here tomorrow.
© Jordi Casamitjana
27th Aug 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 Aug 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
24th Aug 2015
A new season of fox hunting begins as soon as the harvest is in sufficiently to afford access to the land. In many parts of the country this means that during August, and certainly from September, hunts are out in force with horses, hounds and four-wheel drive vehicles.
Fox hunting in late summer and autumn is a prelude to the pomp and ceremony of the full season which runs mostly from end Oct/early Nov until March or April. Since the 2004 Hunting Act outlawed fox hunting, participants refer to autumn hunting as ‘hound exercise’. Before then it was known more honestly as ‘cub hunting’ (or ‘cubbing’ for short).
Hunt supporters may claim that what is described below is outdated because hunting is different since the Hunting Act. Actually, most of the evidence we have seen and heard suggests that very little has changed and the law is being widely flouted. Links at the bottom of this piece are evidence of this. Sure, there have been a few cosmetic tweaks which serve to confuse the issue, but the following is as true before the ban as now, ten years after. That’s why Hounds Off and many others are calling for the Hunting Act to be strengthened in ways which mean that foxes (and other abused wild animals) are afforded better protection.
The purpose of this article is to outline what cubbing is, what it looks like and how you can report it if you see it (or hear about it on the grapevine).
Cubbing usually starts in the early morning at first light. This means from 6am in mid August, getting later as autumn comes. By mid October 9.30 or 10am is the norm. At the beginning of the day, before the sun is at its full power, hounds are able to smell foxes better. Hounds hunt by scent so are trained to do this at times when conditions are best. In the early season hunts may finish by mid morning or, in late September/October, by mid afternoon.
Evening hunts are popular too. Scent is often good later in the day and an evening ‘meet’ might combine killing foxes with a social occasion (such as a barbecue).
Cubbing is vital for hunting purposes.
The principle objective is training the hounds. They need to recognise the smell, look and taste of a fox as well as how to hunt as a pack. Dog packs will be large. Many are youngsters trying to make the grade. Some older, experienced hounds will be there too, to teach and lead by example.
Young hounds are best trained by hunting and killing a lot of foxes. Cubbing, especially early in the season, is a brutal and bloody affair (though mostly conducted out of sight).
Here’s what the late 10th Duke of Beaufort wrote in his 1980 David & Charles publication, Fox-Hunting, on pages 68/69 (the late Duke had massive status in the hunting world):
“The object of cub-hunting is to educate both young hounds and fox-cubs. As was said earlier, it is not until he has been hunted that the fox draws fully on his resources of sagacity and cunning so that he is able to provide a really good run….I try to be out cub-hunting as often as possible myself, and the ideal thing is for the Master to be out every day….Never lose sight of the fact that one really well-beaten cub killed fair and square is worth half a dozen fresh ones killed the moment they are found without hounds having to exert themselves in their task. It is essential that hounds should have their blood up and learn to be savage with their fox before he is killed.”
If one or two foxes do escape that’s good from a hunting perspective too. These foxes know to get up and running when hounds are about and are dispersed to all over the place to ensure a reliable spread of animals to chase. Later on, when punters pay a tidy fee for the privilege of ‘riding to hounds’, these are the foxes which are hoped to provide the best sport. Hunts are businesses, after all.
By harvest time this years litter of cubs look like young adults and are still in family units. Huntsmen already know where foxes are living. Farmers and gamekeepers supply this information. Hounds will be taken for training to these places, one by one.
Cubbing in August and September often involves surrounding small woods or rough bits of ground with a ring of people on foot and horseback. This is known as ‘holding-up’. Holding-up may also happen around fields of maize or large-leaved crops such as sugar beet. Families of foxes often reside there because they can creep around freely but safely under cover. Woodland or standing crop, old orchard, bramble thicket or somewhere else, a foxy place is called a ‘covert’ (pronounced with a silent ‘t’).
When hounds are first entered into covert there may be complete silence apart from the occasional toot on hunting horn or odd word of encouragement from the Huntsman. Hounds will be searching, noses down, for the smell of a fox. When one hound gets a whiff he or she will ‘speak’. That means they bark in a particular way. As other hounds find the scent too so the speaking gets louder until all the dogs are ‘on cry’ and their collective noise reaches a crescendo.
At this point the fox is darting around in the undergrowth ahead of the pack, trying to escape. If it pops out from the edge of the covert then the surrounding riders and foot followers will shout, clap and slap their saddles to make a wall of noise to scare the fox back. Even if a fox is not seen, but the sound of hounds speaking is close enough to indicate that the fox is running close to the edge, a wall of noise is created. Hunt supporters help considerably to kill foxes during cubbing.
Sooner or later the fox will be caught and killed, either above ground in the jaws of the hounds or when dug out by men with spades and terriers if it tries to hide down a hole. This happens repeatedly until the whole litter is destroyed. Some brave foxes will beat the wall of noise and get away. These are ‘good’ foxes which are hoped to run far and fast during the winter months.
HORSES & HOUNDS RUNNING CROSS COUNTRY
Cub hunting is not all holding-up. Any place likely to provide foxes is tried; hedgerows, streams, field corners, untidy back gardens, derelict farm buildings, even ivy-clad trees. Short hunting runs may be encouraged by hardly holding-up at all or on side only so that, by October and just before the lucrative full season, hounds are hunting their quarry in the open over decent stretches of ground.
Cub hunting has been illegal since February 2005. We advise always report suspected illegal hunting to the police using 101 (dial 999 if 101 is taking too long, or the suspected crime is in progress). Other people to inform are the League Against Cruel Sports via this link or for immediacy on their wildlife crime hotline 01483 361 108 and the Hunt Saboteurs Association via this link, on social media or phone 0845 2501291. All info received is important and will be recorded for future reference or acted upon immediately.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Cubbing happens August to October on any day of the week except Sunday, usually in the morning but sometimes in the evening after working hours. Meets are often held in farm yards or fields. Groups of riders, hounds and 4×4 vehicles are tell-tale signs.
The occasion and dress code is informal, even scruffy sometimes. Often nobody wears the distinctive red coats known as ‘hunting pink’. So you may see a hunt but not actually realise it because what you witness looks like just random groups of riders or people assembled at odd times in strange places and apparently looking at nothing.
Hounds running close to or across roads would strongly suggest illegal hunting. Nobody in their right mind would risk laying artificial trails in such dangerous places where the risk of accidents is so real.
Look out too for lines of riders spaced apart at regular intervals along country lanes or in fields and woods. They could be holding-up. Listen out for the ‘wall of noise’ made by hunt followers to frighten foxes. Staccato cries of “Aye-aye-aye!” are commonplace alongside whip-cracking. The combined sound is often unearthly. Riders may converge at pace amid a lot of screaming in an effort to force their quarry back towards the hounds.
Hunts make great play of the fact that they only go to where they’ve been invited. So if a hunt is trespassing on forbidden ground or somewhere else unwelcome then there’s little doubt that they’ll be up to no good.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
We advise always report suspected illegal hunting to the police using 101 (dial 999 if 101 is taking too long, or the suspected crime is in progress). Other people to inform are the League Against Cruel Sports via this link or for immediacy on their wildlife crime hotline 01483 361 108 and the Hunt Saboteurs Association via this link, on social media or phone 0845 2501291. All info received is important and will be recorded for future reference or acted upon immediately.
Here is evidence of illegal cub hunting which resulted in prosecutions for members of the Meynell and South Staffs Hunt in 2012:
Here is an expose of the North Cotswold Hunt apparently feeding and housing foxes in artificial homes then hunting them with hounds during an autumn cub hunt in 2014:
On behalf of hunted wildlife, thank you for reading this and for caring.
© Joe Hashman