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15th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths (Complete) by Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana

Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana (second left) with (l to r) Joe Hashman (Hounds Off), Chris Williamson (MP), Penny Little (Protect Our Wild Animals) & Philip Mansbridge (IFAW) at the Trail Of Lies launch in 2015, a report written by Casamitjana which deconstructed & exposed the false alibi of so-called 'trail-hunting'.

Make no mistake, the bloodsports lobby are currently pitching hunting with hounds as a humane and cost-effective form of “wildlife management” with smarmy smiles and cleverly constructed, pseudo-scientific arguments. And they still believe that they can win.

On October 11th 2018 the Horse & Hound Magazine published and interview with ex-League Against Cruel Sports Executive Director turned pro-hunt advocate James Barrington, entitled “Hunting’s Most Valuable Asset?” Barrington is part of the Countryside Alliance and Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, both organisations which campaign for repeal of the Hunting Act (2004) and a return to the days when chasing and killing foxes, hare, mink and deer with packs of hounds was legal.

Dismissing or ignoring the relentless campaign of lies and misinformation would be foolish. That’s why Hounds Off invited zoologist Jordi Casamitjana to respond to the claims made by Mr Barrington and were pleased to publish these in a series of blog posts, the links for which are below. Do feel free to share any or all of them as appropriate. Read More >>

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14th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 7: Snakeoil Salesman’s Last Stand

Who in their right mind could approve of the so-called "sport" of hare coursing, where hares are forced to run for their lives in front of greyhounds (or similar fast running dogs) while spectators gawp, bookies profit and officials judge and award points for every twist, turn, trip and kill? Photo credit: Ed Maynard.

Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

Mr Barrington and the Countryside Alliance keep saying it’s a myth that the majority of the population is against hunting (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). They often refer to particular attendance of anti-hunting or pro-wildlife events as evidence. The truth is that in the last two decades there has not been any single poll that has not shown a majority of a UK population being against hunting. This must be quite hard to swallow for Mr Barrington because, despite all his efforts, the percentages of people against hunting keep rising. It’s well over the 80% mark now.

Of course he will now claim that polls undertaken by reputable polling companies using big random samples don’t show the reality of public opinion, suggesting instead we should just count how many people have attended a particular hunting protest or Parliamentary reception, then conclude those are the only people opposing hunting. And, of course, if he continues to ignore science it would not be surprising if he said that if no “antis” have attended a packed hunting ball or a pro-hunting countryside event, this must mean the anti-hunting sentiment has vanished and people in the UK now wants hunting back (which is kind of what he implies in the Horse & Hound article).

Mr Barrington also must be very frustrated when again and again attempts to repeal or weaken the Hunting Act 2004 have failed because a dwindling number of pro-hunt MPs, even during Conservative Governments.

I am sure he will not give up, though, as he has a job to do, so he will continue trying to deceive on-the-fence MPs (or MPs that are secretly pro-hunt) into believing that he can offer a supposedly “middle way” between the two sides of the hunting debate (as he did during the debate for the passing of the Hunting Act 2004).

Some MPs may fall into this as he will do that by disguising the repeal of the hunting ban with a new “Wild Mammals Protection Bill”, which will sound good, as will talk about protection of mammals and banning some horrible practices … but in the end it will introduce a licensing system which will allow only a “select” group of “experts” to undertake wild mammal “lethal” control … and you know who he will be referring to, don’t you? Yes, registered hunts, of course.

Fortunately, it would not take that much for those deceived politicians to realise the trap they were about to fall into. But it is important we keep vigilant and help them to avoid falling and persuade them instead to support any initiative to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, to eliminate all the loopholes (such as the “flushing to guns” or the “observation and research” exemptions) and false alibis (such as “trail hunting”) which hunts constantly use to circumvent the law.

It’s not surprising that the rejection of hunting by the UK population, both rural and urban, in any constituency in the UK, is denied by Mr Barrington and colleagues. This is classic “denial”, which I am sure he has to do as part of his job … but he must know by now that there is no way back, for hunting, and for him.

If Mr Barrington is indeed “hunting‘s most valuable asset” we just need to be sure he doesn’t get away with false claims and sneaky political manoeuvres and keep him “at bay” every time he surfaces. Hunting with dogs is an obsolete cruel activity and eventually will be completely abolished, no matter which “assets” are used to derail this unstoppable social progress.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

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

Hunting Myths Pt 6: Hunting Is Wildlife Management

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13th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 6: Hunting Is Wildlife Management

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
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

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

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11th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 5: Hunting Conserves The Countryside

A hunt-free wildlife sanctuary in Dorset where a 'light touch' and minimal disturbance is enabling plants and animals to thrive.

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

It is claimed that hunts help to create a biodiverse ecosystem, but there has never been any evidence to support this claim. How can the use of a pack of hounds chasing wild animals to death followed by a group of riders trampling all over the countryside help biodiversity? Every time hunts remove the hunted animals from the ecosystem they are reducing its biodiversity. Every time they disrupt badger sets or block holes to prevent foxes to hide, they affect the survival rates of wildlife using these holes, reducing biodiversity. Every time they trespass with lots of hounds, horses and vehicles into Nature Reserves or Natural Parks they disturb wildlife which may decrease biodiversity.

Not to forget that hunting in any of its forms has historically contributed to the extinction of many of the animals that used to exist in the UK, such as Wild boar or the Eurasian bison. Every time otter hunters used to hunt otters they put this species closer to extinction, until the otters become legally protected (leading to the creation of Mink Hunts, which continue hunting illegally, both mink and otters). And hunts still hound hares today (even if is also illegal), the populations of which are considered threatened in the British Islands.

Man-made extinctions of local populations are considered the worst biodiversity “sins”, and the hunting/shooting fraternity, together with the animal agriculture industry, undoubtedly are the worst culprits.

The idea that hunting is responsible for farmers and landowners keeping some of their land as wild and natural as possible to allow the “quarry” to thrive before they are killed, falls completely on its face when it is used at the same time with the claim hunts are about lethal control of wildlife (now conveniently labelled “vermin”). And this claim is made even more ridiculous in the article by Mr. Barrington saying that the worse British ecological disasters had been the release of North American mink from fur farms, the outbreak of BT in Baronsdown and the overpopulation of badgers, somehow trying to vilify the animal protection movement implying they are responsible for this.

In actual fact it is very well-known that the American mink was already established in the wild in the UK many years before any animal rights activist released any from the fur farms, because the same fur farmers, possibly pro-hunt, had released them or let them escape. It is a very well-known fact that the Bovine TB outbreak in the deer population of Barnosdown (and any piece of land with deer in the West Country, by the way) was caused by the cattle farmers, most likely hunt supporters, which caused the disease in the first place (remember this is “bovine” TB, not “Deer” TB) and spread it all around the country. It is a very well-known fact that there is no evidence to support that there is an over-population of badgers in the UK and only those who support the current badger cull, many of them pro-hunt farmers and shooting states, have developed this deception, together with the falsehood that badgers are responsible of the BTb epidemic in cattle (which, again, was clearly caused by the destructive cattle industry, the undeniable number one cause of Global Warming, as report after report keeps confirming).

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

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

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10th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural

Terriermen armed with digging equipment and small dogs follow almost every pack of Foxhounds. No predator, or so-called predator, of foxes blocks their holes to keep them running 'on top' or digs them out if they do escape underground. Just one example of how foxhunting is anything but "natural". Portman Hunt, 2018. Photo credit: Wildlife Witness

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

One of Mr. Barrington‘s favourite claims is that hunting with hounds is the equivalent of natural predation as the hunts play the role of the wolves, now extinct in the UK, which he claims are the natural predators of foxes. This is completely untrue, as actually there are no real natural predators of foxes and there have never been. Foxes are a predator species, not a prey species, and just because wolves are bigger it doesn’t mean that they normally predate on foxes. In this issue one can clearly see what happens when someone with no background in zoology or ecology tries to use zoological arguments (Mr. Barrington makes a basic error in assuming that the simplistic idea of the bigger fish always eats the smaller fish in the sea applies everywhere).

Although wolves may have occasionally eaten foxes that would be extremely rare and definitively does not make the fox the natural prey of the wolf, in the same way leopards are not the natural prey of lions, or wolves are not the natural prey of tigers, or coyotes are not the natural prey of pumas. You don’t see an increase of populations of these smaller predators when the larger predators population decreases (ie; tigers are endangered now), as such rare occasional kills (which tend to be accidental rather than a deliberate attempt to predate) are unlikely to have any significant population effect.

Wolves may kill and eat foxes in dispute over carcases, but foxes are fast and can easily hide when chased, so wolves would not normally go for them (beside wolves natural prey are ungulates as they are endurance hunters which need big mammals to feed the pack).

And just in case you are thinking of replacing wolves for lynxes (also extinct in the UK), the same applies. Although there have been reports of lynxes predating on foxes this is unlikely to apply in England and Wales where man-made hunting occurs as lynxes are ambush predators which would only managed to catch foxes in deep snow, where their legs and larger paws give them the advantage. This situation, when it could conceivably happen in wild areas in Scotland when there is deep snow, could not be compared to humans chasing a fox with a pack of hounds for a long time, then bolting it with a terrier when it hides in one of the holes that had not previously be blocked by terriermen the day before, and then the hounds continue the chase it until the whole thing happens again. This is a completely unnatural behaviour foxes would never experience in Nature before humans began hunting them for “sport”.

In Nature, nobody would have blocked the numerous hiding places the fox would have found, and nobody would have dig it out or bolt it out with a smaller predator that happens to hunt together with the wolves or the lynx.

Hunting with hounds is an unnatural man made practice and it does not replace any natural predation foxes would have evolved to deal with. Because of this foxes are not equipped to endure it and suffer great deal when hunted.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY

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

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8th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane

Nothing humane or quick about the hunting & killing of this healthy stag by the Quantock Stag Hounds on August 29th 1995. By definition, without the Hunting Act such atrocities would be legal. Stills grab from film taken by Kevin Hill.

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

Mr Barrington claims (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18) that hunting causes less animal suffering than other ways to kill such as shooting. This is not true. He claims that shooters often miss and injure the animals they target (which is true and this is why shooting should also be banned) and so hunting is a better alternative. However, he completely omits three key facts:

1) Only in hunting you have the psychological and physical suffering caused by the prolonged chase, which Professor Bateson and Elizabeth L. Bradshaw famously proved with their undisputed research which led to the banning of staghunting in National Trust land many years ago (a ban which, unfortunately, the NT does very little to enforce).

2) The animals may also be injured by the hounds and not be killed straight away if they managed to hide underground on time or to flee into land the hounds cannot enter.

3) Dogs, like most canids (wolves, hyenas, etc.), would not kill their prey by a quick bite in the neck as felids (cats, tigers, etc.) do, but by biting any part of the body they can reach, and keep biting. Therefore, the actual death along (ignoring the suffering already caused by the long chase) is likely to cause lots of pain and suffering.

Need more proof? If a horse is fatally injured in a race, a dangerous animal escapes from a zoo, or diseased livestock needs to be put down, what is the “humane” method the authorities choose to kill the animal? Do they choose death by “dog bites”?

Mr Barrington often claims that hunting is the most efficient way to control foxes, deer and hare. This is a curious way to use the term “efficient”, as it actually means “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.” So, comparing it with other wildlife control activities (unfortunately still legal) such as shooting or snaring, how can it be more efficient?

Productivity wise – in this case meaning number of animals killed – a foxhunt will spend most of the day hunting an average of three or four foxes. Often some of these, if not all, get away. And the “wasted effort or expense” of this? Four or five paid hunt staff, dozens of paying filed riders, large vehicles to move the animals around, maintaining large pack of hounds, all the horses and their keep, expensive uniforms, and even all the policing due to allegations of illegal hunting, and public order issues when hunt saboteurs, hunt monitors or other witnesses are around … compared with a vehicle, a torch and a gun, or a stalker, or just a few snares. The most efficient, really? To be clear I think shooting, snaring and hunting should all be banned because they are all cruel and unnecessary. However, if they are ranked by efficiency, how anyone can seriously claim that hunting is the most efficient?

But let’s be generous and accept that there may be people out there who genuinely believe hunts are real “wildlife managers”. Well, it they want to call them like that then hunts are the least effective, least efficient and least humane wildlife managers in existence. So much so, that it almost looks like rather than be composed by ecologists, zoologist, veterinarians or anthropologists with a deep understanding of wildlife and the environment , they are composed by horse riders, bird shooters, dog breeders, livestock farmers, badger baiters and fox diggers. Oh wait … that’s why!

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

PREVIOUSLY 

Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman

Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak

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7th Dec 2018

Hunting Myths Pt 2 (of 8): They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak

The cover of Horse & Hound magazine, 25 October 2018. Their strapline, circled in red, says it all.

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
Zoologist

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6th Dec 2018

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

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

OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

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18th Oct 2018

Government Defends Wildlife Crime On Public Land

Forestry Commission sign warning of a 2016 drag hunting event at North York Moors, where no actual drag hunt operates. Photo courtesy International Fund for Animal Welfare

GOVERNMENT DEFENDS WILDLIFE CRIME IN PUBLICLY OWNED FORESTS

Yesterday, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs responded to a petition calling for an end to the licensing of so-called ‘trail hunts’ on the Public Forest Estate, which is owned & managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the public. The response is pretty much a paraphrased Countryside Alliance press release and there are a couple of things they’ve either overlooked, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not:

– The petition specifically doesn’t call for an end to licences given to hunts which have agreements formed under a general agreement with the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association (MDBA), as drag hunting & clean boot hunting are not covers for wildlife crime.
– DEFRA’s response omits that licences are also granted to hunts under a general agreement with the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles (AMHB), such as the New Forest Beagles.

Most importantly, though, they’ve regurgitated one of the most worn out lies in the country and they’ve done so without scrutiny. This is, of course, that fox & hare hunts have stopped hunting live quarry and started to ‘trail hunt’.

‘Trail hunting is a legitimate activity … Many hunts have since turned to trail hunting as an alternative to live quarry hunting…’ – DEFRA, 17th October 2018.

Here’s a couple of brief reasons why this is rubbish:

– In 2014, a review of RSPCA prosecuting activity was published by Stephen Wooler CB, a former Chief Inspector for the Crown Prosecution Service. On P109/s9.1 it stated that: ‘The evidence reviewed leaves no room for doubt that, despite the 2004 legislation, traditional fox hunting remains “business as usual” in many parts of the country.’
– Both before & after the Wooler Review, hunts that have been licensed to use public land by the Forestry Commission have been convicted; the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 based on footage from Derby Hunt Saboteurs and the Cottesmore Hunt were convicted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 based on footage from the League Against Cruel Sports.

DEFRA have rejected the requests of the petition on a completely false premise. It remains open & ongoing to gain signatures, and needs 100,000 signatures before 18th March 2019. If you haven’t signed this already, please do so here!

© Jack Riggall

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13th Oct 2018

Game Of Cat & Mouse Continues #TrailHuntLies

HOUNDS OFF OPINION

The National Trust has started issuing licences for foxhunt packs to carry out so-called trailhunting on their land. But this season the business-as-usual status quo has changed slightly. Licences will now be open to public scrutiny and a small team has been appointed to oversee this activity. For many this is not enough, for others it’ll be too much.

Myself, I’m a realist. I know the National Trust is a huge chuntering juggernaut of a conservation charity which must cater for a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I know how frustratingly slow it can be to effect positive change but I also recognise that the National Trust has a history of being led by its Members and it is always worth using your voice and your vote.

So it was that on Friday 12 October I travelled to Birmingham and, with Jack Riggall from National Dis-Trust, met with Nick Droy and Rob Rhodes from the National Trust. Nick is five weeks into his role of Trailhunting Manager and Rob (who attended via telephone) is the Head of Countryside Management & Rangers.

Trailhunting Manager is a new post, created by the National Trust in response to concern from Members and the public that trailhunting is nothing more than a false alibi used to provide a cover for illegally chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs.

Nick told us that his professional background is in practical countryside management at both regional and national levels and it started eighteen years ago when he was himself a National Trust volunteer. He explained that he has no hunting in his background and is approaching this complex issue with a fresh eye and open mind.

Nick will lead a team of three; an office-based co-ordinator and a worker who will assist in carrying out face to face engagements, checks in the field and monitoring of so-called trailhunting on National Trust land.

This season, the Trailhunting Team will be conducting one pre-arranged inspection of each Hunt which is granted a licence by the National Trust. My problem with this is that it provides an easy way for #TrailHuntLies to avoid detection because when Nick is about Hunts will temporarily change the way they behave.

I told Nick and Rob this and referred them to a 2015 report called Trail Of Lies. It is a fantastically complete and in-depth exposé of how Hunts have used trailhunting to circumvent the law, to carry on abusing and killing. The only problem with Trail Of Lies is that it was complied and produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and so hunters consider it to be propaganda.

It is not and, to reinforce the point, I signposted the National Trust Trailhunting Manager to another, independent, source which reaches the same conclusion; the Wooler Review.

What happened was the RSPCA had grasped the nettle in terms of taking private Hunting Act prosecutions and landed seminal convictions against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt in 2012. The Countryside Alliance went ballistic and set out to destroy their opponents.

Their criticism reached a crescendo in January 2013 when former Countryside Alliance head honcho Simon Hart MP initiated a debate in the House of Commons about prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and in response Her Majesty’s Attourney General suggested that an independent review could be advantageous. The RSPCA Council took heed and appointed Stephen Wooler CB to do this. Wooler is a Barrister and former Chief Inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service.

During our meeting I read a passage from the Wooler Review and asked Nick to think of his Trailhunting Team as being the police officers to which Wooler refers;

“Securing the evidence neccasary to mount effective prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 in respect of mainstream foxhunting therefore requires far more than sending a team of police officers to take the names and addresses of those at a hunt gathering. The evidence required is such that it is unlikely to be achieved through police presence and observations alone since behaviours would then be likely to change.” (1)

In fact, Wooler goes on to describe a “cat and mouse game between hunting participants and supporters and those endeavouring to gather evidence through observations and recordings.” (2)

I concur with Wooler (2014) and Trail Of Lies (2015): giving hunters a heads-up when they’ll be monitored on National Trust land is rather like the police telling a burglar when they’ll be round to look for stolen goods.

As Trailhunting Manager, it is part of Nick Droy’s job description (and background research) to meet with the likes of Jack and myself. I found him to be friendly, open and likeable. That’s a good start, but I do believe that there are fundamental flaws in how the National Trust have instructed him to carry out his duties. We agreed to keep lines of communication open and meet again next summer. Doubtless much will happen between now and then.

© Joe Hashman

References:

(1) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 5.
(2) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 6.

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Costs incurred on 12 October 2018;
Return travel by road from Dorset to Oxford (179 miles at 44 pence per mile) = £78.76; Oxford to Birmingham New Street return, by train (Adult Standard Class) = £79.20; Total = £157.96

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