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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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24th July 2015

Who Do You Believe? #keeptheban

Photo courtesy IFAW Photo courtesy IFAW

Re: The proposed Hunting Act 2004 (Exempt Hunting) (Amendment) Order 2015, by Statutory Instrument

We think many MPs were aware, had the above (Amendment) Order been passed using an inappropriate parliamentary process, that the Hunting Act would effectively be a dead law. Being complicit in deceiving colleagues either satisfied their own personal leisure preferences, or those of others who helped them to power. We also realise that many MPs do not know much about about hunting with hounds and/or are vulnerable to peer pressure, especially if newly elected.

In English Foxes, James Gray MP (Conservative, North Wiltshire) blogged his take on recent events in his online Weekly Column. We have no problem with him voicing his opinion but we do feel that disingenuous statements must be countered. Two lines in particular caught our attention.

1. The Government was proposing a very modest little Statutory Instrument

Official documents are heavy to read, so we’ve simplified these for all to see and (hopefully) understand. The Statutory Instrument proposed five crippling amendments:

a/ Allowing an unlimited number of dogs to be used to flush wild mammals out of woods and similar places in front of people armed with guns to shoot them (rather than two, as the law currently allows).

b/ Extending the circumstances where Hunting Act exemptions permit dogs to be used underground to hunt wild mammals (so-called ‘terrier work’).

c/ Removing the need for those engaged in terrier work to carry written permission from the landowner with them whilst so engaged.

d/ Broadening exemptions to include permitting hunting of wild mammals which the hunter “believes” may be diseased; surely a gift for any defence lawyer.

e/ Permitting an unlimited number of dogs to be employed in chasing wild mammals for the purposes of “Research and Observation”. Hunting by definition requires that quarry species are observed by someone and this amendment, alongside any pseudo-scientific research that might be invented in conjunction, would open the floodgates to hunting with hounds as practiced before the Hunting Act came into force. We all know how certain nations twist R&O to fit their whale hunting bent.

2. All it effectively did was correct an anomaly and bring the practice in England more in line with that in Scotland

A lot of Government propaganda since the amendments were pulled has centred on assassinating the SNP for interfering with a law which does not affect them. This is disingenuous on two fronts.

Firstly, wild mammals do not recognise national boundaries and in the Borders may be hunted from England into Scotland, and back.

Second, the Scottish equivalent of the Hunting Act is widely acknowledged as being the weaker of the two and very difficult to enforce. So after ten years of cynical subterfuge, false alibis, much criticism but hundreds of successful prosecutions we suggest it’s no wonder that hunting apologists want to weaken English & Welsh law under the guise of becoming more like Scotland! In fact, as we hope you can see, if the amendments had been carried then in reality the Hunting Act would’ve been effectively destroyed from an enforcement perspective. This is why we (and others) have called this an attempt at “repeal by the back door.”

Footnotes

1. Recent Government figures show that in ten years there have been 590 prosecutions under the Hunting Act, with a success rate of 64%. By comparison, Scottish hunting legislation has had 210 prosecutions in thirteen years with a success rate of 35%. There have been no successful prosecutions of registered hunts in Scotland.

2. Interestingly, no mention was made of parity of penalties. Probably because in Scotland you can go to prison for 6 months whereas in England & Wales the worst punishment is a low fine.

3. A commitment to fully review the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 has been given by the SNP in light of recent events.

4. The Government would have lost that vote without any intervention by the SNP. It’s only certain media outlets who made it look as if the SNP stopped the castration of the Hunting Act.

© Joe Hashman

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13th July 2015

The Year Of The Sheep (revisited) #keeptheban

In between cutting his first courgettes and tending the sheep, our Hounds Off poet-in-residence Mick Spreader has been pondering on the latest cynical attempts at creeping repeal of the Hunting Act. He wrote the following especially for SNP MPs, hoping they’ll see that we’re the same side in our opposition to David Cameron’s furthering the narrow interests of “Privilege” and that they’ll vote accordingly.

THE YEAR OF THE SHEEP revisited

At night they came with torch and noise
men mounted all on horse.
They drove you from your Highland croft
by brutal use of force.
Ancestral homes put to the torch
lit up the darkness deep
That year they cleared you off your land
is called “Year of the Sheep”.

And into towns they drove you
or forced to emigrate
You shipped off to a distant land
to an uncertain fate.
No longer did your homeland ring
with gaelic voice or pipe
The only sound that could be heard
– the bleating of the sheep.

Though,
In England it was different
the result was much the same
“Privilege” stole our common land
and did so without shame.
The choices for the labouring man,
when they were narrowed down, were,
Stay upon the land and starve
or slave away in town.

And so, my Scottish brother,
the enemy’s the same.
He’s endured all down the ages
and “Privilege” is his name.
Again he rears his monstrous head
his foul intentions plain
Send Cameron’s red-coat “Privilege” mates
“hameward to think again.”

© Mick Spreader
12 July 2015

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