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28th May 2017

The Magic Of Hares

Hounds Off is grateful to Brigit Strawbridge for her permission to use this 2017 photograph. Hounds Off is grateful to Brigit Strawbridge for her permission to use this 2017 photograph.

The Hare Preservation Trust invited Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, to write the The Magic Of Hares to mark the occasion of their 2017 Annual General Meeting & HareFest which took place at Aldeburgh in Suffolk on Saturday 28 May:

THE MAGIC OF HARES

It’s hard to know how to properly explain what I think about hares.

It’s not enough to say, “They’re amazing creatures, magical, beautiful, I love ‘em, look at their ears, those legs, you wanna see them moving, they’ve got wild eyes.” Words don’t adequately convey my feelings towards hares, or how they pull on my heart strings and stir emotions which always feel deep.

I do love hares. I love hares that I see doing their thing in passing fields beyond the windows of a car, I love hunted hares which I worry about and desperately want to escape, and I love all the hares in between.

My first encounter with a live hare was when I was in my early teens, while travelling on a West Oxfordshire backroad to play an evening tennis match. She was large and upright, poised on the tarmac ahead, then gangly but strong, powerful, poetic as she ran.

It was a straight and open stretch of single track lane so we were treated to an extended view. My Mother slowed to an appropriate speed so we could safely but closely see this almost unbelievable creature. Then, in a bound, she was gone, jinking right-handed into the luxuriant verge.

This hare made quite an impression. In that moment her species lept off the butchers shop meat hooks in Oxford’s Covered Market, out from pages of natural history books in the school library, and into my life.

I was upset to learn that hare hunting with dogs was considered to be good sport by people who did it to keep themselves entertained.

AN INTRODUCTION TO HARE HUNTING

My next hare encounter was with the Oxford Polytechnic Hunt Saboteurs Association. They were an effective and experienced bunch. I was a 14-year old local kid but the student hunt sabs took me under their wing in almost parental fashion. They taught me well.

It was early January 1983. We parked in the middle of nowhere and walked cross-country to a remote Buckinghamshire railway hamlet called Verney Junction to catch the Old Berkeley Beagles by surprise. Elderly folk leaning on sticks and gazing into fields gave us clues where the sharp end of the hunt was, and we caught up.

Strange individuals were in charge, running around, blowing a bugle and cracking whips, wearing breeches and riding hats. They controlled a pack of beagles and quartered the sticky plough fields in search of hares to chase. We shadowed them as best we could, using footpaths and avoiding the supporters who were unfriendly and aggressive.

Sometimes a hare would jump up right in front and sprint away. The dogs erupted into mad, unified barking and set off in hot pursuit, using their noses not eyes to follow an invisible scent. The hunters in their breeches, riding hats and green jackets legged after them, and when this happened I learned what to do.

Sooner or later the beagles would ‘check’. This meant they would lose the hares scent and have to refind it. Maybe the hare had doubled back on herself then run off at a sharp angle, or done a huge leap to the side to make it seem like she had just disappeared, or any number of other tricks her species can employ to throw hounds off their backs.

A check allows the Huntsman to catch up and assist his pack. We tried to disrupt the hunt by shouting at the beagles and clapping our hands to make them lift their heads. When their noses were up they were not actively hunting.

One sab in our group had a hunting horn. If we couldn’t get near then this was blown to imitate the Huntsman and confuse the beagles. I could see it worked. They were excited and could be encouraged to come towards us which was perfect if we knew the hare had gone in another direction.

Whenever we saw the hare running we sprayed citronella oil to cover her scent. We sprayed hedges and field edges, wherever we thought a hunted hare might pass or have passed. All the time we were watching, looking for the movement of a small brown hare against a background of naked, thorny hedges and rich, deep plough, trying to keep one step ahead of the hunters and follow in her footsteps, not theirs.

Next week we were on a hillside, sabbing the Old Berkeley again. Beagles were nose-to-the-ground ahead of the Huntsman, searching after a check. We were well placed, discreetly in front and to the side.

The hunted hare broke cover and we dropped to our knees to appear small and unthreatening. The hare ran without a break of stride right passed us, so close you could hear the patter of her feet on the short turf and see into her big, bright, staring eyes.

We sprang into action, spraying citronella, shouting, clapping our hands to distract the excited beagles and get them to raise their heads. We didn’t stop the hunt completely but we did continually delay and disrupt until it got too dark to keep going.

Hares are also hunted on foot with basset hounds. Bassets are very wilful creatures and can appear almost comical in the hunting field. But don’t be fooled. A basset pack which is in the mood to hunt and kill a hare is relentless and deliberately cruel. Whereas the beagler hopes for an ideal hunt of 90 minutes from find to kill, with bassets the duration can be much longer. Hares are evolved to survive with short sharp sprints, not endurance running.

Hunting hares with hounds by scent demands patience, concentration and skill. Sabs developed and employed tactics designed to test all of these to the limit.

The most effective tactic is to take the pack completely. Beagles especially will happily run after nothing at all. They can be encouraged off the line of a hare when they check with appropriate horn and voice calls. Then it’s important to run as fast and far as possible before the hunters can get them back.

Beagles and Bassets are vulnerable to disruption and by 1986 had gone underground. The Shooting Times ceased advertising hunt meets full stop, and the Horse & Hound ‘Hunting Appointments’ section had reduced to a hard core of mounted fox and stag packs.

Luckily, in September 1986 I was given access to an archive pile of Horse & Hound magazines and noted five seasons worth of Old Berkeley Beagles meets.

There were clear and reliable patterns. October meets were nearly identical and then quite predictable for the rest of the season. One or two, like Monks House Farm outside Evenley near Brackley in Northamptonshire, took a bit of working out, but we got it. Lots of meets were held at pubs so a well-thumbed phone book and ringing around with a fake posh accent confirmed most fixtures with uncanny accuracy.

One Wednesday from Botolph Claydon the beagles picked up the line of their quarry early. The hare they were onto chose not to sit and sprint but kept on the move slower and steadier, way out ahead of hunting beagles. Elderly followers would indicate that they had seen her by raising a stick or holding aloft their caps. These signals informed the Huntsman where and when to gently guide his hounds.

It just so happened that the hunted hare and I crossed paths repeatedly during the early afternoon. Whenever this happened I’d put down some citronella and hope to buy her some time. But conditions that day were unhelpful and her scent was strong. Eventually the hunted hare ran towards me, then turned along a hedgeline with the pack on full cry just seconds behind.

The only way to stop them this time was to break cover. I shouted, sprayed and caused as much distraction as possible. Initially it worked. Beagles burst through the other side then lost momentum, lifted their heads and spread. But there were too many and it was too hot for me to handle. I was assaulted by the Field Master but wriggled free and had no choice but to get away as fast as possible to avoid a beating from him and others.

My moped was parked by the church. It stepped-through first time and I rode home at a top speed of 30 miles an hour. It was a traumatic experience which I recounted to my Mum. She listened and said only that, “Hares can sense when you are there and trying to do good.”

In 1986 I was an estate worker for the Berkshire Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Naturalists Trust, doing practical woodland and other habitat management. I was an excellent worker; punctual, reliable and keen.

It was quite a shock when the Old Berkeley Beagles Huntsman walked in to the office on the evening of our Christmas party. Turned out he was the North Buckinghamshire Regional Chairman. Early in the New Year I arrived five minutes late for work and was sacked on the spot.

RADLEY COLLEGE BEAGLES

A few public schools keep their own pack of beagles and at these institutions, hare hunting is on the curriculum. One, the Radley College, used to access many of its meets by driving right passed the top of our road. Even younger kids from an Oxford prep school called The Dragon were bussed out twice a week to join them in the countryside and learn how to kill for fun.

In late 1989 at a place called Appleford they hunted a hare into private gardens. Locals were outraged. A petition was launched asking the Radley College Beagles to stop meeting at Appleford and 80% of villagers signed it. The Bursar of Radley College publicly promised “to do everything possible to avoid future problems”, but he wouldn’t commit to dropping the meet at Church Farm.

Two sets of severed hares ears were sent to my parents house through the post so clearly our campaigns were touching a nerve and sabbing on the day saved lives. The importance of non violent direct action cannot be underestimated. But looking back it’s worth considering, with these schoolboys especially, did we win hearts and minds or just make them more stubborn and entrenched?

HARE MEMORIAL DAY

On March 6th 1989 a vigil was held at the Martyrs Memorial in Oxford to remember hares killed by hounds. Over 40 people attended, listened to speakers and held a silence. Afterwards some of us went on to sab the Christchurch & Farley Hill Beagles. This is the Oxford University hunt and, as with the school packs, introduces many outsiders to so-called “fieldsports” and the lifestyle that goes with it.

Students who wanted to go beagling met at Oriel Square in one of the colleges, then got a lift. On Hare Memorial Day we had someone at Oriel Square, working undercover. She called in from a phone box to tell us the meet was at East Hanney. No hares were killed but the police were heavy handed.

I was arrested and charged with possessing an offensive weapon – a hunting whip – and threatening behaviour. In May, Wantage Magistrates Court ruled that the case should be discontinued but in early July I received a summons for non payment of outstanding costs. They were holding me liable for £156 because, technically, the case was never formally dropped. I went straight to the press and a week later Wantage Magistrates Court ruled that it was unfair to expect me to pay costs for a case which never got heard.

On another occasion out with this lot, we were set apon by a gang of local foxhunt thugs. Horns and sprays were stolen, we were assaulted, bloodied and bruised.

Be in no doubt that folk who enjoy killing a creature as timid and harmless as the hare will use any means possible, fair foul or violent, to quieten dissenters.

THE WATERLOO CUP

The Waterloo Cup was a three day festival of hare coursing. In coursing, hares are used as a live lure to test the speed and agility of two fast-running dogs like greyhounds. The Waterloo Cup was a sixty-four dog stake which, by process of elimination, whittled down to a grand final and eventual winner. There was prize money, prestige and the bookies loved it.

The hare coursing season ran from September to March. During that time lots of clubs around the country would hold smaller events of one day, sometimes two. The Waterloo Cup was the peak of the season, bringing together all winners and qualifiers. In its heydays of the late 1800s, crowds of eighty thousand would flock to watch.

The National Coursing Club was the governing body for this sport. They advised spectators not to identify with the hare because doing so might spoil their enjoyment. You have to wonder what kind of sub-human gets their kicks from watching hares running for their lives right before their eyes, sometimes even in and around their feet, twisting and turning, often being caught, frequently being savaged in the jaws of both dogs, almost always having to be killed by a coursing official called a “picker up” who would put the pitiful creature out of this totally unnecessary and extended misery by pulling its neck.

In 1985 the Hunt Saboteurs Association organised its annual disruption of the Waterloo Cup. Previously, terrible violence had been dished out to sabs by coursing supporters so on Day One protesters marched the lanes as close to the coursing fields as possible, always with a heavy police escort.

Day Two was different. Sabs were up before dawn, driving to a secluded spot just beyond the northern fringes of Liverpool in an assortment of battered transit vans and old cars.

Ahead was the River Alt. The location had been identified as a suitable fording place to reach the fields opposite. Later that morning hares would be corralled there so they could be released, one by one, into an arena in front of the dogs and jeering, rowdy crowds.

Gamekeepers encouraged unnaturally high numbers of hares around the West Lancashire village of Great Altcar specifically for coursing purposes. Hares were also imported from other places before this and other big coursing events. It was quite likely that some had recently arrived from the Six Mile Bottom Estate in Cambridgeshire. Sixty-three hares were needed to run the Waterloo Cup itself, and many more to complete the Plate and Purse competitions which ran concurrently. The last thing that coursing officials wanted was a shortage of quarry.

Sabs waded across the river and were organised into long lines which stretched across the fields. I was in one of these lines. There were sabs to both sides at close but regular intervals. Our tactic was to move in unison and shepherd hares out of the danger zone. As we walked, hares were jumping up all over the place. Some tried to dodge between the gaps. We had to create a wall of noise to turn them back.

Soon the police arrived. They emerged from the mist mob-handed and all wearing regulation black wellies. I was grabbed and frogmarched to a waiting mobile police cell which soon filled up. Sixteen of us were tried and found guilty at Ormskirk Magistrates Court of causing Criminal Damage to a field of cabbages. We were bound over to keep the peace. Prosecution witnesses included cops, coursers and their lackeys. They all lied through their teeth so we appealed. I was a minor at the time of the arrests. The Judge at Preston Crown Court granted my appeal alone, on the grounds of being led astray by the grown-ups.

The Waterloo Cup ran for another twenty years but 2005 was to be the last. For all it’s faults, the Hunting Act was unequivocal in making hare coursing illegal.

PALMER MILBURN BEAGLES

Beaglers and their like circumvented the Hunting Act by inventing the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’. They claimed to lay a scent themselves then set their dogs on to that. And because rabbits are not protected by the Hunting Act, they would pretend to be hunting these animals whenever it suited.

Rabbits bolt for a hole at the first sign of danger and are never more than a short dash away. I remember reading one post-ban feature article in the Horse & Hound about a beagle pack in Somerset, and the impossible tale of a “rabbit” that led hunters and their hounds a long and merry circular dance around the cider orchards of West Bradley.

The Palmer Milburn Beagles used trail hunting as a cover for illegal hare hunting in Berkshire and Wiltshire. One of their favourite hunting grounds was Salisbury Plain, a huge area used by the Army for training exercises.

Salisbury Plain mostly comprises vast tracts of open, uncultivated grassland with scattered woods which stretch as far as the eye can see. There are few metalled roads. It can be a desolate and wild place.

In this habitat hares thrive. They are big, wily creatures who enjoy sheltering amid the dips and folds of rough vegetation and dining on an unrivalled selection of naturally occurring seasonal herbs and grasses. For hunters, these hares are prime quarry and for that minority of people who are thrilled by such things, Salisbury Plain is an ideal place for pitting a pack of beagles against hares which are in the peak of physical condition.

For a couple of months during Winter 2006/07 I followed the Palmer Milburn Beagles with my colleague, Shely Bryan. Shely and I worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Our job was to gather evidence of Hunting Act offences for prosecutions.

We had a source for meets on Salisbury Plain so decided to take a look. First time out we pretended to be four-wheel drive enthusiasts who enjoyed muddy rides along the numerous tank tracks and green lanes. Then we pretended to be interested in watching the beagling but were too lazy to get out and walk. Instead we followed in our vehicle. Nobody objected so we spent many days tagging along.

Shely and I used the cover of being in a vehicle to discreetly gather loads of evidence. Our films showed that people were using a pack of beagles to find, chase and kill hares on Ministry of Defense land just as they had before hare hunting was banned. We showed that this was being done repeatedly and deliberately. We got footage of hares being chased by beagles, hunt staff and supporters in that order. We identified the people involved and evidenced other behaviour that was specific to beagling.

One piece of footage showed a hunted hare running below a supporter, then changing direction. A minute later the beagles came along the same line as the hare. Where the hare turned, they checked. The supporter who had seen the hare running below them raised his cap on a stick to show the Huntsman where she had gone and he, in response, got his hounds on the line again.

On one occasion we filmed the beagle pack in full cry some way off. They hunted fast and hard then stopped and sniffed about. We could see the Huntsman nearby in the same area of long grass. Suddenly the beagles all converged really quickly in one place and the Huntsman blew his horn to signal a kill. This was confirmed to Shely and myself by the Whipper-In, who was standing close to our four-wheel drive as we all watched.

“That’s a kill,” she said, then, “Don’t tell anyone I said that, it doesn’t happen.”

We prepared all our evidence properly and handed it to the Military Police in person. We gave them everything they needed for justice to be done, but there were no charges.

At a meeting with the Investigating Officer, he told us that the Huntsman had been called in for interview and claimed that what we said was film of a kill actually showed the beagles pouncing on a packet of biscuits which he had hidden for them in the long grass.

We suspended our disbelief and told the Investigating Officer that it’s illegal to chase hares, you don’t just have to kill them.

But it was too late. The six month window for charges to be brought was just about to elapse and all our cases were effectively dead.

YORKSHIRE ‘GREYHOUND TRIALLING’ (aka HARE COURSING)

The Hunting Act Enforcement Team at IFAW was aware that the coursing community had adopted cosmetic changes to their sport which they hoped would enable them to defeat the law as well. When we received information that a post-ban version of the Waterloo Cup was to be run near Malton in Yorkshire in March 2007, Shely Bryan and I were sent to investigate.

For this job we used a camera hidden in binoculars and a pinhole camera worn on the lapel. I was on the binoculars. They were a brilliant piece of kit which allowed targeted, covert filming to take place whilst standing in the thick of it.

The evidence we gathered over two days of competition secured convictions of two landowners plus celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and hare coursing officianado Sir Mark Prescott.

The landowners claimed that they were hosting a new sport called Greyhound Trialling. In reality the only difference between this and pre-ban hare coursing was that the dogs wore muzzles and a length of orange barrier netting was staked up some distance opposite to where the hare and dogs started from. It was no barrier. More often than not hares would flee to either side. If they could keep going long enough the greyhounds would tire and stop. Sometimes the hare ran out of sight, followed by greyhounds and then their puffing, blowing, lumbering trainers.

With the binocular camera we shot film of a hare being pinned down against a wire fence and pummelled by the muzzled jaws of the dogs before the picker-up got there, wrestled the hare and killed it by grabbing the ears and feet and pulling in opposite directions.

These convictions at Scarborough Magistrates Court in July and September 2009 augmented those achieved by us in partnership with the the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports at Kings Lynn Magistrates Court in December 2008, following a Joint Operation on an event at Great Massingham in Norfolk.

We exposed Greyhound Trialling as a sham, well and truly. Word on the rural grapevine was that we had finished organised club coursing with these court cases.

I’d like to believe that this is still the situation. But we would be unwise to take such things for granted. History shows that bloodsports fanatics should never be trusted.

HOUNDS OFF

In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide at the upcoming General Election seemed imminent and I was really worried that this would jeopardise the future of the Hunting Act. I was determined to find a way of stopping hunting which would work effectively, regardless of the state of the law.

The idea of creating a network of wildlife sanctuaries, where landowners prohibited hunting on their property, made a lot of sense. I was familiar with League sanctuaries in the West Country and the way these once worked to scupper hunting.

I also remembered how hard the bloodsports community fought in the mid 1990s to overturn County Council bans because these had a real and negative effect on hunting across the country.

And I was inspired by locals from Elcombe in Gloucestershire. There, the Cotswold Hunt was once a frequent and unwelcome visitor. In 2006 residents organised themselves. They engaged with Stroud Council and the Police to try and get an ASBO against the hunt. Matters didn’t get quite that far but the Cotswold Hunt did receive an official warning under the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act and the problems stopped.

The fact is that if you take away land you take away hunting opportunities.

Friends, family and colleagues at IFAW helped to crystallise this thinking and in September 2011 a campaign was launched called Hounds Off.

The original mission was two-pronged;

First, to provide online resources specifically designed to help people to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass.

Second, to support the 2004 Hunting Act.

During the 2011/12 hunting season Hounds Off dealt with twenty-six complaints of hunt trespass. In 2016 this had risen to ninety-four cases of trespass and havoc by seventy-three different Hunts across the UK.

Last November a woman contacted Hounds Off. She had experienced a pack of beagles chasing a hare through her garden. She was upset about illegal hunting and also that a fence had been damaged. She told us the Beagle Master visited after the incident to reassure her that they were not hunting illegally. Apparently the hares they were chasing were “already injured” so the dogs were being used to execute mercy killings. The woman who had her Saturday afternoon ruined by hunt trespass and lies was seeking advice and support.

The first thing we did was help her to secure her property against future hunt trespass incidents using the ‘Hounds Off Belt & Braces Approach’. This is the standard action which we have encouraged and supported hundreds of people like this woman to do. It’s part of a suite of resources to be found on our website and can be implemented by anyone.

The next matter to address was the broken fence. We were able to provide the information needed so this hunt could be contacted and asked to pay the bill for damage repairs.

The third aspect we considered was the illegal hunting of hares. You see, it’s true that the Hunting Act does include an exemption which allows for the use of two hounds in dispatching genuinely wounded quarry. But if this exemption is claimed then it’s a condition that no more than two dogs are used and that those dogs must be under control.

Make no mistake, I’ve no doubt that this beagle pack was deliberately hunting healthy hares.

But who is going to pursue this? Who’s going to hold the hunters to account? The police are mostly indifferent and the big anti hunting charities have their own agendas.

Sadly at the moment, Hounds Off doesn’t have the resources to do it. We operate with volunteers, in personal time and with minimal funds. But we are always learning, always growing, always developing. And we have vision. Right now, we are establishing a specialist legal team which can advocate for the woman who contacted us to ask for help, and for the hare.

Last year the Hare Preservation Trust got in touch. They wanted to see hare hunting and coursing represented on the downloadable No Hunting poster which is available on www.houndsoff.co.uk . We agreed it was a great idea and if they stumped up the neccasary pence, we would make it happen.

The ‘Hounds Off Our Hares’ logo was launched last Spring. We made No Hunting & Coursing posters available and promoted a limited edition offer on merchandise which engaged lots of people, raised awareness and helped us to cover costs.

Once again, the Hunting Act is in danger. As in 2010, there is the very real prospect of a big Tory majority in the House of Commons after the upcoming General Election, and subsequent move by bloodsports apologists at Repeal.

I’m aware that here in Suffolk you have ongoing issues with illegal hare hunting by harrier packs and a brick wall of institutional corruption within Suffolk Police.

In darker moments it can all feel too much, too heavy, too painful. But these dark moments pass. The hunted hare must remain alert and strong if she is to survive and see tomorrow, and so must we.

There has never been a more important time to stop hunting where you live. Every farm, every field, every garden, every backyard, every community greenspace, everywhere counts. Please please please, use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource to help you do this. Share this website with your family, colleagues and friends.

Hounds Off is the people’s campaign against hunting and the beauty is that, to succeed, we need rely on no-one but ourselves.

“THE STAG OF THE STUBBLE”

I would like to finish by reading a piece I wrote on August 12th 2009;

“Harvests are coming in from the fields. The shape and texture of our landscape is changing again.

“I travelled back from the other side of Salisbury at dusk. In the expansive flats east of Fovant, combines were working under the gaze of their own bright lights. Great chuntering machines, spewing chaff in a continual jet of solids funnelled out sideways, gobbling vast swathes of rape, whose aroma filled the air as I passed through, windows down, enjoying the freshness of the Summer evening breeze.

“Somewhere betwixt front cutting blades and the stream of waste, somehow within that huge state-of-the-art monument to human invention and beneath the tiny seated driver, what needed to be done to render a crop useful in the factory was done.

“The combine I saw was literally on the final strait. A single remaining column of standing arable almost swallowed up.

“And so the earth is laid bare again. A naked spread of soil and stalks to be picked over by small birds and, in waxing moonlight, that lolloping, nose-twitching, wide-eyed, ever cautious, perfectly proportioned, ears keen, harming none, built-for-speed, always ready to run, stag of the stubble – the hare.”

© Joe Hashman
May 2017

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28th February 2017

Calling Residents Of Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield & Surrounding Area

Huntsman gathers hounds from private gardens on Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire 25.02.17 Huntsman gathers hounds from private gardens on Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire 25.02.17

You may have read seen the news from last Saturday of hunters and a pack of hounds chasing a fox from open countryside into the edge of town, trashing property and gardens, then cornering the exhausted creature and biting it to death in a private back garden with the shocked residents terrified, upset and powerless to do anything? If not, read it here or watch it here.

I’m glad there were no Saboteurs or Monitors out with the Cheshire Forest Hunt on Saturday 25th February because you can be certain that, had there been, they would have been blamed for the pandemonium caused by the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. As it is, the hunters cannot shift responsibility for hunting a terrified fox which sought sanctuary in the gardens and patios of a residential street on the edge of Macclesfield. Even before that fox was caught and killed the shocking reality of foxhunting was laid bare. Well done to everyone who has spoken up and not swept this outrageous animal abuse under the carpet.

Incidents like this have happened before and experience suggests will happen again. We will have to wait and see if Cheshire Police have the appetite to meaningfully investigate Saturdays events but whatever happens there is positive, practical action which every resident of Penningtons Lane can take to stop hunting in the future and it is this: make your farm, field or garden a hunt-free zone by following the simple Hounds Off formulas here.

DO ‘HOUNDS OFF’ IN CHESHIRE

Hounds Off exists precisely to support and advise anyone who wants to protect their property from hunt trespass. This website is a resource so please use it. Employ the Cost & Hassle Free Option for Warning Off your local hunt, or the Belt & Braces Approach if you want to be doubly sure. If anything at any stage is unclear then contact the Hounds Off team direct and we will help – that’s what we do.

If you live on or around Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire (or know someone who does) please forward this blog to them and encourage them to warn the Cheshire Forest Hunt off their property.

DO ‘HOUNDS OFF’ ANYWHERE

In fact, wherever you are you can do this. There are at least 200 hunts in the UK and we suspect most of them to be engaged in illegal activity. We know that if you want to keep hounds off our wildlife, Hounds Off really works.

© Joe Hashman

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11th January 2017

The £5 Money Shot – Making Evidence Of Illegal Hunting Count

Cheshire Forest Huntsman being questioned by police, 2nd January 2017. Photo credit: Cheshire Monitors Cheshire Forest Huntsman being questioned by police, 2nd January 2017. Photo credit: Cheshire Monitors

Did you hear about the bang-to-rights evidence of illegal hunting which the police and/or CPS weren’t interested in? Apparently it happens all the time…

It’s beyond doubt that there’s an institutional disinterest in Hunting Act cases and the authorities seek any excuse not to proceed with matters. In court, experience shows Defence teams seizing any opportunity to subvert evidence or witnesses against them. If you want your evidence to withstand close and vindictive scrutiny you need The Money Shot and, for fox sake, make it a £5er;

£1; The fox (hare, deer or mink) fleeing….

With no quarry in the frame, the Defense will argue that there is no chasing of a live animal. Establish the identity of the quarry species with your camera. You’ll need much more than film of fleeing quarry to get the offenders into court but without this you have nothing.

£2; …being chased by a pack of hounds….

A kill is not essential for an offence to be committed under the Hunting Act (2004). Chasing with dogs is illegal. Once evidence of the quarry has been secured, pan back to the hounds to show what they’re doing and how many are involved.

£3; …in view of the Huntsman or Whipper-In….

These days hounds are often allowed to range way ahead of the Huntsman. If quarry is found and chased then those responsible can claim to either not know or that it was an “accident”. Evidence which shows somebody in charge of the hounds was well able to view events makes it harder to cry “accident”.

£4; …who is not trying to stop them….

Film the behaviour of anyone at the scene including body gestures (such as pointing) and any use of horn and voice. “Accident” is far less plausible if hunt staff can be shown to have done nothing to stop the hounds. If hunt staff are filmed actively encouraging the chase (such as by cheering hounds on or doubling the horn), or by taking and acting upon information communicated to them by others then even better. This will show an intent to break the law which is hard to deny.

£5; …for a considerable time or distance.

It’s not possible to state what constitutes “considerable” but obviously the longer the chase goes on with nothing being done to stop it, the stronger the evidence of illegal hunting being an intentional thing.

Identification

When filming either Huntsman or Whipper-In take the earliest opportunity to zoom in as close as possible because identification is absolutely essential for proving who did what. Hunting Act cases will fail due to weak ident even if the actual illegal hunting is obvious. These days hunt staff often wear anonymous matching jackets and ride horses with similar colouring and features; tactics which conspire to make evidence gathering even more difficult. The smallest detail could be a clincher so be alert to capturing on film anything, anything, which could help with positive identification.

Other things: keep cameras running as long as possible; use GPS readings to verify time, date, location; don’t commentate or remonstrate whilst filming (bite your tongue if you have to – let your film do the talking); guard good evidence with your life until instructed otherwise by a professional person you trust.

The £5 Money Shot is intended to provide helpful guidance for property owners and individuals involved with law enforcement. It’s one of many wider conversations around the Hunting Act (2004). If  further debate and discussion about evidence gathering of illegal hunting is prompted then good. If anyone finds it useful, applies it in the field and succeeds in court then even better!

Recommended further research:

The Hunting Act, a website for enforcement professionals
Trail Of Lies Report by IFAW and explanation of the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’

© Joe Hashman
Founder, Hounds Off

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22nd October 2016

It’s Good To Talk

Debating fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair 2016. Photo credit: Oli Melzack Debating fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair 2016. Photo credit: Oli Melzack

From the moment we had a social media presence we’ve had trolls. Online abuse is inevitable when you’re standing up to be counted. We don’t support it or partake. Hounds Off fundamentally disapproves of antisocial behaviour from anyone on any side.

We accept our own advice regarding trolls which is to, with a very rare exception, ignore them. That’s why their type always quieten down and, mostly, go away.

SPREADING FOXY LOVE

The news is often appalling. Human beings can inflict the most heinous crimes against their kind and fellow creatures. God knows, often the horror is very hard to understand or absorb. However incensed or outraged, we encourage folks in our Hounds Off community to spread foxy love instead.

To achieve the dream, foxy love must reach beyond its comfort zone and into what might be described as enemy territory. Foxy love seeks also to find common ground with people who, by whatever inclination, are practitioners of or apologists for foxy hate – folks who are not our natural bedfellows. That’s why it was great to represent Hounds Off in a debate about fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair in July. There’s no doubt that we challenged negative stereotypes and made a few die-hard hunt supporters think, however briefly, about the cruelty which is central to the pleasure they feel from participating in ‘country sports’.

We advertised our attendance in advance so that all our trolls were informed and aware of their chance to discuss the rights and wrongs of killing for sport face to face and in the comfort of their home turf. For reasons known only to themselves, our trolls didn’t grasp their opportunity, or if they did decided to keep quiet.

NO-PLATFORM ATTEMPT

A year ago Hounds Off was represented at the Winchester Hunting Symposium. There were all sorts of smear campaigns from hunt supporters beforehand. One of our then-regular trolls even published a rubbishing blog full of lies and misinformation designed to scupper the event (it has since been removed). Additionally, as the Hounds Off representative, I was personally besmirched and accused of supporting violent protest. A pro hunt MP threatened to pull out of participating if I was given a voice. I had to answer to the organiser and he then justified my attendance to Winchester University elders who decided the outcome of this no-platform attempt. We took it as complimentary when the Countryside Alliance joined in.

It’s good to have a voice and be listened to. Hounds Off attended the Winchester Hunting Symposium and, on behalf of hunted animals, our voice was heard.

DORSET DING-DONG

Recently we had a little ding-dong in the Dorset press about the seldom-mentioned issue of Hunts killing healthy but unwanted surplus hounds. For whatever reason, the Blackmore Vale Magazine Editor closed correspondence having given a hound-killing apologist the last, and inaccurate, word.

We used our social media platforms to keep this issue alive and it was latched on to by a troll who, evidently spoiling for an online argument, was particularly prolific about a month ago.

Our troll had been sprinkling mischief here and there. We monitored his presence discreetly but, as stated earlier, are not in the habit of censoring comments. After all, it’s good to talk.

Eventually our troll settled down into a dialogue with a Hounds Off supporter and the nitty-gritty realities of trailhunting aka foxhunting.

PSEUDO-SCIENCE

Eventually, playing his believed trump card, our troll posted a link to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM). The VAWM works towards repeal of the Hunting Act by employing lengthy, convoluted and twisted interpretations of pseudo-science to, incredibly, justify bloodsports. When you hear the likes of Conservative Party Environment Secretary Angela Leadsom say that hunting with hounds is good for animal welfare, this is where she gets her stuff.

Although superficially persuasive, we encourage all who are tempted to look a little deeper and read between the lines. VAWM arguments in support of bloodsports are fatally flawed.

COMMUNICATING & BEING HEARD

It’s good to have a voice, to talk, to be listened to. Via our website and social media platforms, Hounds Off continues spreading news, views and foxy love, giving all-comers a safe place to express themselves and censoring rarely.

In solidarity with people who wish to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass, we offer ongoing support, help, advice and back-up.

In defence of the Hunting Act 2004, Hounds Off will carry on deconstructing the propaganda and exposing the lies of bloodsports apologists who have yet to accept that the cruel pastimes of hunting wild animals with dogs for sport have been ruled as socially unacceptable.

© Joe Hashman

 

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29th August 2016

Make Friends, Save Lives & Influence People

The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable.  This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable. This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk

In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide seemed imminent and, naturally, fears about the future of the Hunting Act occupied much of my mind. The challenge was (and remains) to find a way to stop hunting which can be effective regardless of what the law says. What became Hounds Off was an idea. Or rather, a collection of ideas.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘COUNTRY’

The hunting community knows full well that having land to tally-ho over is essential. “Country” (as they call it) is central to everything they do and having access to it is jealously guarded. Despite hunting with hounds truly being a minority pastime, the unspeakable minority operates a well oiled machine which facilitates their animal abuses of choice even though technically they’re outlawed.

AN IDEA…

Back to the idea.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) used to have a black and white poster with those words on complete with images of deer, fox, hare and otter. It was straight-forward and simple poster but struck a chord the first time I saw it.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. That’s HOWL, the radical, informative, inspirational, ground-breaking, often entertaining voice of the HSA.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife. Hounds Off. This is what we want. Short, sharp, to the point. Does what it says on the tin, kind of thing. Did the HSA object? I asked the Committee. “No,” they said. “Carry on.”

CREATING HUNT-FREE ZONES

After quite a lot of meetings with colleagues and close friends it was decided that a website would be the best vehicle for delivering the Hounds Off message. Our plan was (and remains) to create as many No Hunting nature reserves as possible, including all sorts of land; from whole estates and farms to smallholdings and back yards. We wanted easy, universal access to the information needed to do this effectively, autonomously and with no-strings. The Internet provides an ideal platform and so www.houndsoff.co.uk was born.

The concept of creating hunt-free zones is not new. The League Against Cruel Sports started buying sanctuary land in the West Country in the 1950’s, principally to disrupt staghunting. The counter-concept of preserving hunting rights had earlier seen the formation of companies who sole purpose was to support bloodsports. In reality, Royalty has been dictating over hunting preserves for centuries. Today a whole structure exists to exert the power and control of that influential, criminal minority who like to hunt. Not everybody knows about this ‘system’ but it’s real. Anyone who has crossed their line knows about it, that’s for sure; the bullying, the ostracising, the undermining, the dismissing, the evicting. Rural peer pressure can be intense.

TOOL IN YOUR KITBAG

So where does Hounds Off come in? Well, Hounds Off empowers people. We will stand with anyone affected by hunt trespass (or the threat of it). Our motto is, “You Are Not Alone”. www.houndsoff.co.uk provides the information and tools needed to protect property, livestock and pets. Alongside bringing together a community of related minds to stand united on this issue in real life and via social media, the aims and objectives of Hounds Off today genuinely are as simple as this. Looking to the future, if you believe as we do that “available country” is a major factor in deciding whether or not a Hunt can exist, then squeezing them in that area makes perfect sense.

For Hunt Sabs, Monitors and other front-line campaigners, Hounds Off is another tool in your kitbag which can be used to scupper bloodsports and save lives. You’re meeting the outraged public, disgruntled locals, beleaguered landowners and farmers who have had enough. Please use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource where you can suggest folk go to find support and solutions to the problem of hunt trespass. The Action & Advice pages (Warn Off Your Local Hunt) are especially crucial!

IT’S SERIOUS!

Last autumn I was working in a wood which belongs to a Hounds Off landowner. One of my fellow volunteers told me he was living off-grid in a bender under a hedge on land owned by friends who were new to the area. The local Hunt had run their hounds through his encampment and the new owners could do nothing to prevent it. Turns out that, deep within the conditions of sale, rights to hunt over that land were protected. You can be sure similar arrangements are being made elsewhere. Aside from ongoing efforts to repeal the law, I’ve no doubt that anything and everything which could obstruct hunting in the future is being ‘dealt with’ or neutralised, often quietly and behind the scenes. This includes ensuring access to as much land as possible via sporting rights, deeds and covenants. Remember, without available country any Hunt is knackered.

HOUNDS OFF IN ACTION

The best thing we can tell you is that, since launching in September 2010, Hounds Off has helped folk across the UK and thousands of new acres of hunt-free land has been established. Where hunt-related problems persist so our support remains ongoing. The Hounds Off philosophy is simple and based on people power. Hounds Off is about being strong at our roots, resolute, standing with our friends united and, yes, these tactics are effective!

Have a look at the accompanying diagram called “How To Make Friends & Influence People”. It’s not theory – it comes from real-life experiences of how Hounds Off is working on the ground and shows how cultivating relationships between Sabs, Monitors and the public can benefit us all, including (most importantly) abused wildlife. See what you think and how you could make it relevant for your situation. Most importantly, personalise it. Make Hounds Off your own and www.houndsoff.co.uk an asset which you use.

© Joe Hashman

Feel free to reproduce appropriately and, please, always with a link to www.houndsoff.co.uk

This blog first appeared in April 2016 on the Accidental Activist website, More Than Just Badgers, and was entitled, Squeeze Them In The Country.

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24th April 2016

New NO COURSING/HUNTING ‘Hare’ Notices Available Now

Download and display this No Coursing notice to help protect wildlife, your property and livestock from illegal hare coursing. No Hunting version also available. Download and display this No Coursing notice to help protect wildlife, your property and livestock from illegal hare coursing. No Hunting version also available.

Our downloadable No Hunting notice has proved popular with people who want to keep hounds off their properties. Until recently Hounds Off provided a fox version. Now we’ve produced one with a hare because a minority of folk still enjoy illegally hunting these magical creatures with packs of beagles, bassets and harriers. For those of you who live in areas plagued by illegal hare coursing, there’s a No Coursing notice too. You can find them all here. We advise downloading, laminating and placing strategically to reinforce your Warning Off email or letter (see Hounds Off Hassle & Cost Free Option or Belt & Braces Approach).

We would like to thank the Hare Preservation Trust for supporting Hounds Off by covering the design and production costs for this development. T-shirts, hoodies and a vehicle window sticker will soon be available too with a credit to that effect.

We’d also like to give a big up to Stu Jones and Anna Celeste Watson aka Boo & Stu Digital Design Studios. They’re part of the Hounds Off team and working closely with them is always productive. We’re pleased with our hare design and hope you approve too.

Hounds Off is about informing and empowering people who are affected by hunt trespass. Please use our No Hunting and No Coursing notices to help protect your property from illegal bloodsports.

Copyright, Joe Hashman – but please share anything here with a credit or link

 

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3rd February 2016

Hunting Across The Scottish/English Border

A review into the Proection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 will take place this year. A review into the Proection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 will take place this year.

Contribute to the Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 here or using the link at the end of this Blog.

Read about and watch an expose of foxhunting in Scotland during 2014/15 by the League Against Cruel Sports here

Do you recall how pro hunt factions within the government tried to sneak changes to the Hunting Act last July? They used a Parlaimentary sleight of hand to introduce amendments which would have totally undermined the spirit of the Hunting Act. In doing so, they claimed to be simply “bringing English law in line with Scotland.” The law in Scotland is different to that in England & Wales and fundamentally weaker. No wonder they fancied the change!

Flagging the ‘English votes for English MPs’ card, hunters and pro hunt politicians also made great play of their belief that SNP MPs should not be allowed to vote on this issue.

To our minds, the idea that hunted foxes and hares don’t cross manmade national boundaries is silly – there is as yet no exclusion fence on the English/Scottish border! Many Hunts operate either side of that invisible dividing line, often on the same day because:

1/ their ‘country’ (ie: the geographic area over which they hunt) encompasses land in both countries.
2/ the English/Sottish border forms the boundary of their ‘country’ but it is not a physical barrier that would prevent hounds “accidentally” chasing a fox (or hare in the case of Beagles) from one side to the other.

WHICH HUNTS AND WHO SAYS?

Bewcastle Hunt
“The country (hunted on foot) is situated on the borders of Scotland, Northumberland and Cumberland.”
Source: Baily’s Hunting Directory 2007-2008, page 15.

Border Hunt
“The country is nearly all hill and open moorland astride the English/Scottish border.”
Source: Baily’s Hunting Directory 2007-2008, page 20.

College Valley/North Northumberland Hunt
“The College Valley and North Northumberland Hunt came into existence in 1982, when The College Valley Hunt amalgamated with the North Northumberland. The Country hunted is in Northumberland and extends from the Kale Water in the north-west taking in the Cheviot Hills to the Harthope Burn and Glendale Valley and on to the coastal strip by Holy Island and then north to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and the Scottish Border.”
Source: http://cvnnh.org.uk (February 3rd 2016)

Jedforest Hunt
“The Jedforest Hunt country is rectangular in shape approximately 15 miles by 7 miles. It lies in the county of Roxburghshire and the hunt boundaries are the River Teviot to the North, the River Slitrig to the West, the Roman Road/Dere Street to the East, and the Scottish/English border to the South”
Source: http://www.jedforesthunt.co.uk/about-us.html (February 3rd 2016)

Other Hunts which have the boundaries of their countries defined at least in part by the English/Scottish national boundary include;

Berwickshire Hunt
Duke of Buccleuch Hunt
Liddesdale Hunt

EVIDENCE OF CROSS-BORDER HUNTING

Further evidence of hunting across the English/Scottish border can be found in hunting reports. These are first-hand accounts of actual hunts written by followers of those hunts and published in the sporting press. The following are three examples from before legislation was brought into force in either country:

College Valley/North Northumberland Hunt
“A large crowd and many visitors came to Hethpool on the 25th, and saw a fine hill hunt…. Hounds persevered over the Schill Rigg to cross into Scotland to circle the Dodd hill, and go up the Cheviot burn. He turned out to the peat on Maillieside but swung back to the Auchope Cairn – 2,300 feet, and thus back into England.”
Source: Hounds Magazine, Volume 5 Number 6 Summer 1989.

Jedforest Hunt
“At Overwells we enjoyed the hospitality of the Fraser family….hounds were hacked to the Batts Moor to draw…. Coming off the hill for Whitton Edge, the pack rejoined and crossed the Roman Road into Border Country.”
Source: Hounds Magazine, Volume 7 Number 3 January 1991.

Bolebroke Beagles at the Northumberland Beagling Festival
(Note: this refers to hare hunting with beagles)
“Again, we journey north of the border for our final day, on Friday, to Mr Bob Tyser’s farm at Chatto.”
Source: Hounds Magazine, Volume 7 Number 1 November 1990.

Hounds Off contends, therefore, that MPs from all parties deserve a voice and parity with the strongest of the two pieces of legislation should be the aspiration (ie The Hunting Act – bringing Scotland in to line with England, not the other way around).

There is currently a Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 taking place. This Review will ascertain whether current legislation is providing a sufficient level of protection for wild mammals, while at the same time allowing effective and humane control of these animals where necessary. Would you like to know more about it or maybe make a contribution? Written submissions are invited between 1 February and 31 March 2016 and can be sent either by post or email using the link below:

http://www.gov.scot/About/Review/protection-wild-mammals

Read about and watch an expose of foxhunting in Scotland during 2014/15 by the League Against Cruel Sports here

© Joe Hashman

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19th January 2016

Death Knell Sounded For Stag Hunting?

Run to exhaustion, alone, being savaged by hounds and shot - this is the reality of stag hunting before the Hunting Act and what we will return to if it gets repealed. Tiverton Stag Hounds, 26 February 1982. Photo courtesy of Mike Huskisson Run to exhaustion, alone, being savaged by hounds and shot - this is the reality of stag hunting before the Hunting Act and what we will return to if it gets repealed. Tiverton Stag Hounds, 26 February 1982. Photo courtesy of Mike Huskisson

During the late 1990’s, National Trust (NT) members expressed concerns  about stag hunting on NT properties. As a result of these concerns the NT commissioned and financed a study into the welfare implications of hunting with hounds.

The study was carried out by Professor Patrick Bateson, Professor of Ethology (animal behaviour) at the University of Cambridge, and his his assistant, Elizabeth L Bradshaw.

Bateson and Bradshaw conducted their study with the full and active co-operation of officials, staff and followers from two stag hunts: the Devon & Somerset Stag Hounds and the Quantock Stag Hounds.

Bateson and Bradshaw studied 64 red deer that were subjected to hunting with hounds. It was the first time ever that scientific and observational evidence of the state of red deer at their time of death had been taken. Blood and muscle samples obtained immediately after death were compared with similar samples from 50 non-hunted red deer that had been shot cleanly with rifles.

On March 11th 1997 Bateson and Bradshaw published a report, entitled Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer. The National Trust responded by banning stag hunting on their properties the next day. It should be noted that the two hunts involved, and the Tiverton Stag Hounds, continued to hunt deer in their traditional way right up until the Hunting Act (2004) came in to force. Subsequently, exemptions under the Hunting Act permit a modified form of stag hunting to this day.

Bateson and Bradshaw open their Report with ‘Summary Comments’ as follows:

– When red deer (Cervus elaphus) were hunted by humans with hounds the average distance travelled was at least 19km.

– The effects on deer of long hunts were (i) depletion of carbohydrate resources for powering muscles, (ii) disruption of muscle tissue, and (iii) elevated secretion of B-endorphin. High concentrations of cortisol, typically associated with extreme physiological and psychological stress, were found.

– Taken together, the evidence suggests that red deer are not well-adapted by their evolutionary or individual history to cope with the level of activity imposed on them when hunted with hounds.

Bateson and Bradshaw finish their Report with a ‘Discussion’, which includes the following concluding comments:

– the exertion associated with hunting with hounds resulted in marked physiological disturbances of red deer, including muscle damage and pronounced intravascular haemolysis [rupture or destruction of red blood cells]. We do not believe that these changes merely occurred at the end of the hunts. The evidence suggests that haemolysis occurred early in the hunt, resulting perhaps from upsets in ionic balance, extreme plasma acidity or hyperthermia.

– Other evidence points to the cumulative effects of hunting: for instance, leakage of muscle enzymes into the bloodstream was greater in more excessive hunts.

– this study provides the first quantitative evidence that the physiological effects of hunts of even a relatively short distance and duration are severe, while longer hunts are characterised by signs of extreme exhaustion. Physiological changes of this nature are uncommon in both human and non-human athletes, and would not be expected to result from the typically short chases of red deer by wolves in natural conditions.

Patrick Bateson and Elizabeth L Bradshaw Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Culling Red Deer (full report):
http://royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royprsb/264/1389/1707.full.pdf

Further reading:

THES, Deer Hunters Must Call Off The Dogs, 11 April 1997
https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/deer-hunters-must-call-off-the-dogs/101360.article

© Joe Hashman

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28th November 2015

The People’s Campaign Against Hunting

People-power ended 900 years of deer hunting in the New Forest. Six years before the Buckhounds disbanded, hunt saboteurs were protesting against the cruelty, as shown here. Eventually it was video cameras and an alliance of campaigning groups who made the positive change permanent. People-power ended 900 years of deer hunting in the New Forest. Six years before the Buckhounds disbanded, hunt saboteurs were protesting against the cruelty, as shown here. Eventually it was video cameras and an alliance of campaigning groups who made the positive change permanent.

Audio version of The People’s Campaign Against Hunting available here.

On Saturday 28 November 2015 Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman was invited to speak at the Winchester Hunting Symposium. The Symposium was hosted by the Centre for Animal Welfare and the Institute for Value Studies at Winchester University and organised by Professor Andrew Knight, to whom we extend our sincere thanks.

On behalf of Hounds Off, Hashman gave an adress entitled The People’s Campaign Against Hunting. Here is the text:

I understand that hunting with hounds stirs emotions in people that run deep. I understand also that human beings are complicated creatures. Although we have domesticated ourselves in many ways, wild animal instincts lie within us all.

I also completely get it that we are all motivated by different things. Hunting with hounds stirs emotions in people in different ways and on different levels. For some it’s a thrilling recreation. For others the whole concept of hunting with hounds is no more than an excuse for animal abuse.

My mother was a badminton player of some repute long before professionals and money entered that sport. One of her prizes was a tea tray which hung above our fridge. It had fancy wooden edges and depicted a colourful hunting scene. The picture on the tray fascinated me. Mounted riders stood in semi-circle around a pond, all looking down at hounds and a dismounted redcoat who held in one hand a flashing blade and in the other, by the tail, the slightly curled body of a fox. In this painted picture one of the gentlemen on horseback was leaning forward and raising his hat.

My eureka moment was during a TV show called Nanny. The main character was looking after a boy who went out on his first hunt. When a fox was killed it’s tail was cut off and the bloody end smeared on the boy’s face. It shocked me. I asked my mum if such things happened in real life and she confirmed that, yes, they did. Thus, I made the connection between the blooding ritual portrayed on telly and the sporting art above our fridge.

On the first hunt I attended, two foxes mysteriously appeared from the same field corner where terriermen were gathered and digging. Hunters unleashed their pack of hounds on the second fox. I ran with others into the fray, screaming and shouting at the hunt to stop. Later investigations revealed an artificial fox earth at the location on Upper Circourt Farm, Denchworth near Wantage in Oxfordshire. The artificial earth was constructed as advised and described in famous hunting literature. It was clear to me that the foxes I saw flushed for the hounds to chase in 1982 had been loaded by hunt servants in advance to guarantee some Boxing Day sport.

Over 22 years later a minor miracle happened when the Hunting Act became law. The cruel and abusive nature of foxhunting and related bloodsports had been exposed repeatedly and beyond doubt. The majority Labour Government acknowledged the will of the people by legislating against it. That should have been an end to the matter. Enough scope was built in to the legislation to provide for non live animal hunting to continue, and therefore all the pomp and ceremony, but unfortunately much surrounding the Hunting Act has been confused ever since.

I say “ever since”. Actually, confusion has reigned for longer than that. The Hunting Act should have been clear to understand and straightforward to enforce. Alas, during the journey through Parlaiment to statue book, it suffered constant tactical tinkering by pro-hunt forces. Now, although the spirit of the law is clear, it’s application can be problematic. A combination of cynical subterfuge, false alibis, legal loopholes and institutionalised reluctance from law enforcement agencies to engage with the Hunting Act ensures that wildlife is still illegally hunted and killed for amusement.

When it was revealed two months ago that David Cameron himself had personally intervened in stopping a Hunting Act case during 2008, I wasn’t surprised. He’s part of the ‘untin’ minority which refuses to accept the will of the people and is unashamedly committed to repealing a law they hate.

In July this year, with a Conservative Party promise to repeal the Hunting Act yet to be kept, with a majority of Tory MPs in the Commons at last and with nearly seven weeks of summer holidays just days away, cunning and crippling amendments were introduced via something called a Statutory Instrument. Although technically doing nothing wrong, I believe the intention was to circumvent due process and fast-track amendments to the Hunting Act which would have completely castrated it. If passed, these amendments amounted to repeal by the back door.

I strongly suspect that the Countryside Alliance was in cahoots with pro-hunt Government forces in the drafting of the amendments and the way they were marketed as “a minor change to bring English law into line with Scotland.” Actually the amendments proposed far more than that.

But hunt supporters underestimated how much most people 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 people roared their disapproval and lobbied their MPs. The masses 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. It has been claimed that the Scottish National Party scuppered the amendments but that’s not wholly true. Fact is, an irresistible coalition was built which consisted of MPs from across political parties and the Home Nations who were committed to protecting the law.

With the writing on the wall, the amendments were withdrawn a day before voting – a tactical move to allow for regrouping and future reintroduction, and avoid conclusive final defeat.

So why do most normal people hate hunting with hounds?

Hunt supporters and their representatives love to accuse people who are against bloodsports of being driven by prejudice, of jealousy, class war, hatred of people or any other mud they can sling. I would say that, without doubt, folk are sick of being obstructed on the roads by arrogant riders, of having their property invaded, pets killed and livestock worried by out of control hounds, of seeing beauty spots and ancient monuments trashed by inconsiderate hunt followers, of blatant criminal behaviour by hunts who have been sticking two fingers up at the rest of us for over a decade. But actually what most people object to is animal cruelty – the practice of chasing wild mammals with dogs until they are physically incapable of outrunning the pack, then killing them in various different, cruel and unnatural ways.

The British Field Sports Society formed in 1930 to, quote, “keep watch on all legislation which might adversely affect Field Sports”. The clue as to the real reason most people go hunting is in the name Field Sports. It’s fun, they love it, it’s the thrill of the chase. In 1997 the British Field Sports Society rebranded itself as the Countryside Alliance. A more user-friendly name, slicker, snazzier, more ambiguous, a name which disguises killing-for-fun.

In reality, foxhunting is pre-meditated and ritualised. I call it animal abuse. Foxes are frequently bred specifically for hunting; they’re given a head start at the beginning to ensure good sport; hounds are bred deliberately to run slower than a fresh fox and thus prolong the chase; followers on horseback, foot and car all combine to keep tabs on ‘their’ fox; holes are blocked beforehand to keep the hunted fox on top and running; if he does get down a hole the agony is usually far from over. The fox may be baited with terriers who kill it in a bloody underground fight; he may be dug out and shot; dug out alive and thrown to the hounds; or flushed out and forced to run again.

The Ullswater Hunt in Cumbria wrote a report in the local paper detailing a 1996 hunt where the same fox was chased to ground then forced to run four times in succession before being killed. Or, as they say, “accounted for.” Lake District hunts always claim pest control is their reason to be. If this is true, why did they prolong the foxes agony? Do you think the hunters enjoyed themselves?

Beagling is hare hunting. This quote from the Horse & Hound magazine of November 7 1980 illustrates that a quick, clean kill is not the hare hunters preferred option either:

“It is probably better to have a good hunt of an hour or 90 minutes, rather than over match the hare and pull her down in 20 min.”

Numerous times over the years I’ve seen so-called “good hunts” and “well-hunted” hares. They’re stiff-legged and hunched, a far cry from the coiled-spring of muscle and heart which characterises these handsome beasts of the field when they are not being relentlessly hounded under pain of death. Oh, and hares cry like babies in pain when being torn apart by hounds (but beaglers won’t tell you that). Listen to this from Hounds Magazine, April 1990:

“North Staffs Moorland Beagles
Hounds had never run so fast…it took a good three hours to roll their hare…clever she was too; ran along a disused railway, the hedge of an extremely busy road, through sheep and plough, only to meet her end while nesting in long grass.”

Often hares elude the beagles only to be betrayed by the people who enjoy an active role in this game of life and death. In a quote from the same edition of Hounds Magazine, “fresh find” describes a hunted hare that has escaped the Pevensey Marsh Beagles but is spotted afterwards by hunt followers who put the dogs back on. Here it is:

“…useful information helped them to fresh find the hare and kill near Church Farm ditch at 5.10pm.”

Hounds Magazine of November 1988 reported on the Britannia Beagles and Colne Valley Beagles hunting the same area morning then afternoon. The report details the Britannia failing to kill but, quote, “leaving several tired hares which the Colne Valley set about in the afternoon.” According to Hounds Magazine, two of these hares were then hunted and killed.

Deer hunting is a particularly cruel affair. In the West Country I’ve seen stags escape hounds but not the army of followers who are determined to prevent their quarry resting and betray its whereabouts at every opportunity with whistles and shouts. I’ve seen the look of fear in a hunted stags eyes as he turns his head left and right at a road lined with cars, wondering where to run with the hounds in cry behind. They have big, emotional eyes. God knows, I’ve bourne witness to the end of staghunts and the almost orgasmic frenzy which unites the human mob on foot and horseback; when a once proud beast is beaten and bewildered, standing at bay in a pond or river, waiting to be savaged by the hounds, wrestled to the ground by hunters or shot, sometimes all three in that order.

In 1996 I tracked a stag on the Quantocks who was chased until it lay, exhausted, in some heather. Only its antlers were visible. Riders and hounds stood back. The huntsman dismounted and crept forward to get as close as possible. He took a shot which was clearly botched because the wounded stag jumped up and ran on, leaving a trail of blood from heather to woodland and then deep into the trees before being accounted for with another, point blank, gun shot.

I was there, with others, during the time that Professor Bateson conducted his ultimately damning research into the welfare of hunted deer. Hunting with hounds is a bloodsport which reduces a noble beast to a weak and pathetic remnant. Without an ology, with just our eyes and instinct, we knew Bateson would reveal that deer hunting causes unnatural suffering which is severe and extreme, even for those that get away.

Fallow deer buck were hunted with hounds in the New Forest for at least 900 years before a halt was called in 1997. So how did that come about?

In 1991 a group of hunt saboteurs decided to dedicate attention to the New Forest Buckhounds. We used non violent direct action tactics to stop them from hunting and killing deer. Initially it worked. Fewer kills were made but after a season or so we noticed that hunters behaviour changed. Large numbers of people were drafted in to obstruct us and, meanwhile, the hunters resorted to what I can only describe as ‘cowboy tactics’ and started to catch more deer.

A few of us decided to put down our sabotage equipment of scent dulling sprays, whips and hunting horns. We purchased video cameras instead. For four seasons we literally ran with the hounds and filmed exactly what happened without any intervention from us.

Our evidence was groundbreaking. We filmed gruelling chases of five hours or more, exhausted buck being wrestled then held under water by huntsmen while they waited for the gun and, crucially, we exposed an oft-repeated lie that a deer at bay never gets bitten by hounds. I forget how many times we filmed buck being savaged while the hunters played catch up.

We worked with other anti hunting groups and took our evidence to the streets via stalls and information days. We engaged the media outlets of those times – TV, radio and newspapers. Coverage of New Forest Buckhounds atrocities went national. We attended virtually every hunt during the mid-Nineties. We were relentless in our creative campaigning and stood with banners on Cadnam Roundabout in the rush-hour each Monday and Friday to inform the public what was going on, mostly hidden from view, in the Forest.

The Forestry Commission, over whose land the Buckhounds hunted under licence, suspended them occasionally when we proved the terms of their licence had been breached. We looked to the Commission to withdraw the licence altogether and, in this respect, owe massive thanks to John Denham MP who was a terrific ally.

In July 1997, with the Bateson Report pending, Labour in power, the public up in arms and hunting looking vulnerable, the New Forest Buckhounds disbanded. This preceded a decision by the Forestry Commission four months later not to issue deer hunting licences on its land.

The Buckhounds saga illustrates the power which normal people like us have to effect positive change, and also the importance to hunting of having land to tally-ho over.

Hounds Off was born in 2010 in order to support landowners affected by hunt trespass and help anyone who wants to ban hunting, illegal or otherwise, from their property. We’re following in the footsteps of the League Against Cruel Sports, who started purchasing sanctuary land in the West Country in the nineteen-fifties, and numerous landowners who have forbidden hunting with hounds over the last more than a century. Our team knows that, regardless of legislation, without country to ride or run across, hunting with hounds is doomed.

We’re under no illusions. The minority landowning establishment is powerful and rich. But we believe we’re providing the tools and support which ordinary people need to make wildlife sanctuaries of their gardens, paddocks, small-holdings, farms and estates.

So all over the country today, tomorrow and in the future, while politicians politicise and pressure groups pressurise, Hounds Off is empowering the compassionate majority to make a practical and peaceful anti-hunting stand.

Please visit our website, www.houndsoff.co.uk , where you will find a wealth of tools and information. And engage with our community on social media where you can keep up to date on the latest news and views from around the country.

Listen to Joe Hashman presenting this text at the 2015 Winchester Hunting Symposium here.

© Joe Hashman

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24th August 2015

The Fox Hunting Season Has Begun #keeptheban

Hunt riders holding-up maize in Dorset 22.08.15 pic: Dorset Wildlife Protection Hunt riders holding-up maize in Dorset 22.08.15 pic: Dorset Wildlife Protection

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).

WHEN

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).

WHY

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.

‘HOLDING-UP’

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:
http://www.conservativesagainstfoxhunting.com/2012/08/huntsman-fined-3000-after-being-convicted-of-illegal-fox-cubbing/

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:
http://www.huntsabs.org.uk/index.php/news/press-releases/549-secret-footage-shows-hunt-feeding-hunting-foxes

On behalf of hunted wildlife, thank you for reading this and for caring.

© Joe Hashman

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