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10th June 2018

Front Lines #foxylove

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

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

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

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

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

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

A long time passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we all the same?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

The Hunting Act is weak but not completely flawed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a massive shift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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28th May 2018

Tall Tales Of Fox Urine & Suicidal Foxes

ifaw-fox-hat

Mysteries surrounding fox scent and how it is (or isn’t) used as a cover for illegal hunting are explored in this Guest Blog by a Hunt Monitor from Surrey…

“Trail hunting is a legal activity and that is what was happening here.  Hounds follow a trail of fox’s urine.”  The Nottingham Post reported these words of Adrian Simpson of the Countryside Alliance in March this year following the successful appeal against the conviction of three members of the Grove and Rufford Hunt.

Mr Simpson added: “It became patently clear in the course of the appeal that a fox jumped out in front of the hounds, which pursued it for a short distance and killed it”.

So let’s get this right:  the hunt’s hounds were following a trail of fox urine when a fox unfortunately jumped out in front of them.  Now I have no way of assessing the likelihood of a fox thinking it would be a good idea to play chase with a pack of foxhounds, beyond stating the obvious that it looks like a bad evolutionary trait, but I can analyse the fox urine part of the story.  I can do so (in part) because I have personally been shown a bottle which I strongly suspect did once contain fox urine – originally.  Here it is:

bottle

I captured this image last hunting season when Mr Jeremy Gumbley, a former Master of and “trail layer” for the Surrey Union Hunt, showed it to me.  He was in a good mood that day.  Whether that was because the police had turned up in force (around 25 officers in five 4×4’s) and had arrested a Hunt Saboteur for alleged criminal damage, I could not say.  But whether for that reason or because he was simply attempting to convince me of the legitimacy of his hunt’s activities, he not only showed me the bottle, but explained a little about it.  He even invited me to smell its contents, though I declined that kind offer, explaining that I really didn’t have a sense of smell which could help me verify what it was.

As you can see, this product is called FoxPee and you can just about read that it also says “100% Fox Urine”.  So far, so good then.

“Where did you get it from?” I asked Mr Gumbley.  His answer?  “A shop that sold it”.

A little coy maybe, but perhaps understandable.  So I asked a long-time Campaigner about it.  He recognised this as having been available from a country store in the exact part of Surrey where Mr Gumbley lives.  So again, so far, so good.  This story is really hanging together.

But wait a second.  Does that bottle look a little old to you?  Funny that, because the Campaigner also told me the product hadn’t been sold in this shop for a decade or more, and certainly it was not listed on-line as being available there when I looked.  And yet the bottle was still half full. Now perhaps things are looking a little less clear cut.

Then you look on the internet and you find that this product cannot be bought anywhere in the UK, but rather is made (if that is the right word – farmed in some horrible fashion one imagines) by a company based in Maine in the north east United States, so it will need to be imported.

Then you do a little more research and find that the importation of this material would require a licence from the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.  You then learn that in response to Freedom of Information requests it has been clearly established that no licences have been granted any time in recent years, the latest request taking the position up to March 2018.

And I should also have mentioned that Mr Gumbley said that he didn’t really think his bottle contained fox urine.

Put all these things together and it really is now looking a lot less clear cut.  A reasonable deduction might be that this is an old bottle which has been re-filled with something.  If so, what’s in it?  Well that’s not really the point.  If its not fox urine, why would the Countryside Alliance spokesperson say hunts use fox urine?

Of course strictly speaking he was only talking about the Grove and Rufford, even if his statement could, perfectly reasonably, be interpreted as meaning that all, or at least many, hunts use fox urine.

So where could the Grove and Rufford have got its fox urine, bearing in mind that it cannot have been imported (at least legally) any time in recent years, which eliminates any foreign source?

One possibility is from “Adrian’s Fox Scent”.  That’s not as in Adrian Simpson’s fox scent – at least I assume not – its apparently a company trading name, the company in question being Harrier Contracting Limited.  It has advertised itself as “the UK’s leading supplier of animal urines” according to these web-page screenshots I came across:

adrinsfox scent advert

And apparently it issued this certificate to the Melbreak Hunt in 2016:

certificate

I am not sure why anyone would need a certificate of supply – an old-fashioned invoice with a VAT number might have been more what one might have expected – but taking it at face value, it seems to lend substance to the claims.  But again there are just a couple of things which make things a little less clear cut.

First, where exactly does Adrian’s Fox Scent “make” its fox urine?  It must be in the UK somewhere, unless those FOI requests were wrong.  Anyone seen a fox-urine farm anywhere?

Second, how come Companies House records say that Harrier Contracting was dissolved on 7 February 2017, having never traded?

Sorry I don’t have any answers these questions.  Nor do I have any other ideas as to where all this fox urine comes from.  And as you will gather from this blog, I really have tried to find out.

Oh and there’s one final thing.  At least according to my reading, fox urine comes within the scope of The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 implementing European Union Regulation (EC) 1069/2009.  And since these Regulations prevent the introduction of products within their scope into the environment, this seems to mean that it is illegal to use fox urine as a trail.

So the next time your local hunt says it uses a trail of fox urine, can I suggest you ask them two questions:

Where do you get your fox urine?

Why do they think this is legal given Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 and The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013?

Or perhaps next time Mr Simpson gives an interview, someone can ask him…

© A Surrey Hunt Monitor

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26th April 2018

The American Mink In Britain – Time To Think Again?

Huntsman of the Devon & Cornwall Minkhounds taunts his dogs with a live mink, 3rd May 1982. Photo: Mike Huskisson, Animal Welfare Information Service (AWIS) Huntsman of the Devon & Cornwall Minkhounds taunts his dogs with a live mink, 3rd May 1982. Photo: Mike Huskisson, Animal Welfare Information Service (AWIS)

Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana offers a radical perspective on, arguably, Britain’s most maligned wild mammal:

The long and sad story of mink, the forgotten victim. I wish I had done more to help them.

Over the years I have been in the trenches of many animal protection battle fronts, but often I feel that I missed many. We UK wildlife protectionists often go on and on talking about red foxes, some who know a bit more also talk about brown hares, and those really in the know don’t ever forget to mention red deer which are still hunted by the three remaining staghunts in the West Country. But what about mink? Not many animal welfare and conservation organisations stand up for protecting mink, and I think this is very sad. And you will see why in a minute.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who wave the flag of animal lovers but they will not hesitate to tell you that they want to see all mink in the UK killed by any means necessary, be gassing, poisoning, shooting, snaring, trapping, or ripped to pieces by dogs. Others, though, waving the same flag, will say that this is outrageous … but they also want to see them killed though only with one or two of these methods, not the most “barbaric” ones. Well, I want none of them. I don’t want to see any mink killed at all. But by law, if you happen to catch a fox in the UK, you can let it go; if you catch a hare you can let it go; but if you catch mink you have to kill it, or let someone else do it for you.

What has mink done to deserve this? Nothing, other than being mink. Mink are long bodied, dark-coloured, semiaquatic, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae, which also includes weasels, otters and ferrets. The mink that you can find these days in Great Britain is the American mink (Neovison vison). The European mink, which does exist in the continent, apparently never was present in the British Isles. How on earth has the American mink ended up in Great Britain then? If you ask them and they could speak to us, they probably would reply (with a distinct British accent) that they were born here and so were their parents, and their grand parents, and their great grand parents.

Those mink would not really know of course, but what really happened was this: Over 15,000 years ago American mink were just doing their mink thing in America, when a group of descendants from African ape-like primates arrived from the North. As these invaders were alien to the land, and as they had evolved in warm habitats and no longer had thick fur on their bodies, they started looking for animals with fur, killing them, and stealing their fur for warmth. Soon they spotted mink and their beautiful and very dense fur, so started killing them for it. This happened for millennia and these people never seemed to lose their appetite for chasing and killing mink for their skin, even if they did not need it anymore as the world was getting warmer and they had moved South. But some still wanted the mink’s fur because it “look good” on them and made them look important.

So, rather than keep chasing them and killing them someone had the idea of keeping them in small cages so they could kill them without chasing them … and mink farms were created. Across the Atlantic, the people here in Britain (also descendants of African ape-like primates who emigrated there) had already chased and killed most animals with fur to the point of their extinction, so they thought that it would be fun (and profitable) get some of those mink farms over here. And so they did. Britons began farming American mink in the UK from the 1920s. At their peak in the 1950s, there were 400 known fur farms. After a while, though, when people learned about the horrible conditions the mink were kept and killed in in the farms, began losing their appetite for mink coats as wearing one became politically incorrect, so some mink farmers let their mink go free and moved to something else. But the mink, rather than die out, learnt how to adapt to their new habitat. They became wild again and to their merit they survived and thrived. Today mink are widespread in Britain’s mainland, except in the mountainous regions of Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.

Mink live wild in Britain only because humans thought it would be fun & profitable to breed them in battery farms then kill them for their luxurious pelts, as here in Dorset in 1997. Some mink escaped. Photos: Joe Hashman

Mink live wild in Britain only because humans thought it would be fun & profitable to breed them in battery farms then kill them for their luxurious pelts, as here in Dorset in 1997.  Mink have been escaping and breeding in the wild since the 1930s. Photos: Joe Hashman/Respect For Animals

Yes, in the 1990’s some animal liberation activists helped to free some mink at the very end of the demise of the mink farming industry which ended with a ban on mink farming, but the wild population in the UK was already established decades earlier from multiple escapes or deliberate releases of the farmers. In fact, by December 1967, wild mink were present in over half the counties of England and Wales.

You may be forgiven to think this was a happy ending for the sad mink story, but it was not. As they were considered “alien” species and they were predators of “native” species it become acceptable (and legal) to kill any mink found “to save British wildlife”, and any method of killing seemed OK, even being ripped apart by dogs. It didn’t seem to matter if they were helping to keep the population of rabbits down (the other “alien” species many people wanted to exterminate) or that they were partially taking the role of fish predator that the native otters naturally took before they disappeared in certain rivers. They were still wanted all dead.

And as you know the hunting fraternity likes to kill wildlife for fun, so they didn’t waste any time to jump to the opportunity. Otter hunts began to target mink after otters were so depleted in numbers that it became illegal to hunt them in 1978. During a mink hunt, which normally happens throughout spring to autumn, the hounds are followed on foot as they walk or swim along riverbanks while the mink frantically attempt to escape. Unlike otters, mink have small territories (less than a mile of river bank) so once they have been spotted by the hunt they tend not to go far. Eventually they will be caught and ripped to pieces by the hounds, while a crowd of hunt followers amuse themselves with the spectacle.

When the anti-hunting movement celebrated the protection of otters at the end of the 1970s it did not hesitate to continue campaigning when it realised the “otter hunts” just switched to mink from then on, and became the 22 “mink hunts” we still have today. After all, if killing otters with dogs was barbaric, killing mink with the very same dogs was barbaric too. But some people out there disagreed with this compassionate attitude towards mink, vilifying mink as horrible “foreign” vicious creatures that kill all the “British” wildlife they can find, so they deserved to die and be exterminated.

But why kill them? Well, it’s the easy route, isn’t it? If there was an association only for the protection of gazelles in Africa, it probably would advocate for the extermination of cheetahs. If there was one only for protection of ants in South America, it probably would advocate for the extermination of anteaters. If there was a society for the protection of bamboo in Asia, it probably would advocate for the extermination of pandas. It is not the mink’s fault that it predates on critically endangered species such as water voles. That is what predators do – predate on animals they can catch and eat. Mink doesn’t know that the vole it is trying to eat to survive belongs to an endangered species. Many people would not complain if a fox would eat the very same vole (foxes are also one of their common predators). Why are there people that at the same time call for the protection of foxes and the extermination of mink, while water voles are predated by both? Cats often kill wildlife and they certainly can predate on voles too. And domestic cats, like mink, are not native from these islands and were brought up here by humans. Should they all be exterminated too? I don’t think so.

Mink hunting was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act 2004 as it bans the hunting of most wild mammals with dogs (regardless if they are native or not), but sadly most hunts circumvent the law and this includes mink hunts. They still go out killing mink claiming that they are now going after rats (one of the exemptions of the Hunting Act). Some of the methods to kill mink have been banned but they can be legally caught and killed by cage and spring traps and unfortunately many people, including many conservation organisations, do.

Of course we need to do as much as we humanely can to protect the water vole and other endangered species from extinction, but I don’t think we can just accept that the best way to do it is by killing all its predators (mink, foxes, otters, stoats, weasels, owls, herons, Marsh harriers, pike, Brown rats, Golden eagles and cats), or by condemning some and pardoning others, as if we really know which species Natural Selection would have “spared” if we had not been here to mess Nature up. After all, post-war intensification of agriculture, water pollution and the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat that has taken place since that time have contributed to the water vole decline.

Call me a bunny hugger, but I just simply don’t buy the concept of “blind” lethal conservation. People always find an excuse to kill wildlife, don’t’ they? Let’s kill foxes because they eat chickens, let’s kill badgers because they get ill on cattle fields, let’s kill pigeons because they don’t wear nappies, and let’s kill mink because they have the wrong passports. Even if it is true that in the end mink ends up killing the last vole, it will still not be its fault. It will be our fault, and we cannot simply find our way out of it by continuing killing others. How many mink have to die to save the life of one vole? This “critical” approach is one of the basic tenants of what is called compassionate conservation, which I subscribe to and many other animal protectionist do these days.

So, American mink have been shot and trapped for their fur, kept captive in farms to be killed in horrible conditions, then taken captive to other countries to continue breeding them, then released but persecuted by everyone trying to kill them in all sorts of ways, and still today they are illegally hunted, and legally trapped, snared and shot dead by many people. None of these mink asked for this. We humans are the demons that are inflicting this unsolicited Hell on them since we first encountered them about 15,000 years ago.

But not all is bad in the mink story. Hunt saboteurs have not abandoned mink. And thanks to the ban the population of otters is now increasing and it seems that this is helping to keep the population of mink down, which could persuade mink “controlling” conservationists that perhaps they should stop persecuting mink and let Nature find its own balance, as it always has done.

You see, in these islands I am also considered a “foreigner” by some, so I cannot help to feel a special connection with the unfairly vilified mink. This is why it makes me feel good to see a mink image joining the fox, the stag and the hare on anti-hunting campaign material.

Mink are one of these hunting victims too, you know.

It’s simply not their fault.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

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1st April 2018

But….They Say They Only Hunt Trails

Huntsman of the Eggesford Hounds waves sarcastically at landowners who want to keep him and his hounds off Wheatland Farm in Devon (who took this pic on 30.03.18). Huntsman of the Eggesford Hounds waves sarcastically at landowners who want to keep him and his hounds off Wheatland Farm in Devon (who took this pic on 30.03.18).

Hunts do not always respect landowner wishes. Often people ask the local hunt to keep staff, followers and hounds off their property but then it happens – again. You need patience, stamina and strong support to stand up for yourself.

Sadly hunt trespass is all too common still.  Hounds Off currently supports loads of people who are bemused at the attitude and arrogance of repeat offenders. In the instance below we are also asking ourselves, “But if they chase man-laid trails with dogs that are under control,  like they say they do, then how come the Eggesford hounds were running all over forbidden land for the second time this year?”

Eggesford Hunt on Popehouse Moor Again: Wheatland Farm, Devon 30 March 2018

Are you troubled by the hunt? Contact Hounds Off

© Joe Hashman

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26th February 2018

Trail Hunting – A Nationwide Criminal Conspiracy

Campaigners continue to expose #TrailHuntLies & lobby the National Trust to stop issuing licences to kill fox, hare, deer & mink on their land for so-called 'sport'. Here, at Stourhead in Wiltshire on 25 Feb 2018 as part of a day of similar protests at NT sites around England, co-ordinated by the National Dis-Trust. Pic: Hounds Off Campaigners continue to expose #TrailHuntLies & lobby the National Trust to stop issuing licences to kill fox, hare, deer & mink on their land for so-called 'sport'. Here, at Stourhead in Wiltshire on 25 Feb 2018 as part of a day of similar protests at NT sites around England, co-ordinated by the National Dis-Trust. Pic: Hounds Off

Trail hunting is a myth, a ruse invented by the hunting community to enable them to continue abusing wild mammals with dogs for sport.

Trail hunting was invented on the day the Hunting Act (2004) came in to force. It has been used as a false alibi to cynically subvert the law ever since. There is no trail hunting governing body, there are no written rules and regulations to which participants must abide. How to conduct a so-called trail hunt is left up to each individual hunt to decide.

Trail hunting is billed by the Countryside Alliance and their allies as a temporary activity which sustains the infrastructure of hunting until such time as the law banning bloodsports is repealed. One of the main tenets of this charade is the principle that the scent which is laid for hounds to follow is based on their traditional quarry. They say that this will enable them to switch back to fox, hare, deer and mink hunting at the drop of a hat because their hounds won’t need retraining. We say that this pretence enables them to “accidentally on purpose” harrass and kill live animals. Nobody, not even the National Trust, is denying that “accidents” happen.

In 2017 the National Trust introduced some changes in the rules they claim hunts must obey in return for a licence to trail hunt on NT land. The first of these is banning the use of animal-based scents as a trail for hounds to follow.

“This will reduce the risk of foxes or other wild animals being accidentally chased,” the NT tells us. Alas, it’s a nonsense.

Hunts continue to train their hounds to hunt the scent of their traditional quarry, not something else. You cannot have a situation where a hunt goes after a fox-based scent on private land on Monday, then an artificial scent on NT land on Wednesday. Hunting a pack of hounds doesn’t work like that. Training a them to be steady and reliable on one thing takes time and effort. And who’s checking anyway? Not the NT. They’re happy to let hunts self-regulate.

We believe that everybody who follows so-called trail hunts, save newcomers, children and the terminally naive, knows that trail hunting doesn’t really exist. Sure, somebody might trot around with a duster on the end of a whip as lip service to a ‘trail’ for the benefit of show, or if the press or cameras are present. But away from outsiders, out of public gaze, hunting wild mammals with dogs for sport continues much as it did in the last century. There is, we suggest, a nationwide criminal conspiracy to facilitate this animal abuse. It’s tragic that the National Trust Ruling Council chooses to collude.

© Joe Hashman

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19th February 2018

National Trust: “Talk To The Hand……..”

The Portman Hunt all over Hod Hill in North Dorset on 6 November 2017. Hod is owned by the National Trust. Hunting is only permitted under licence. No licence existed. Photos: Hounds Off The Portman Hunt all over Hod Hill in North Dorset on 6 November 2017. Hod is owned by the National Trust. Hunting is only permitted under licence. No licence existed. Photos: Hounds Off

Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, reports:

It’s no wonder that so many people have lost faith in the National Trust. The vote rigging debacle at their 2017 AGM and their attitude to what we call #TrailHuntLies has been documented on these blog pages and elsewhere. It’s not something which just became an issue recently. The campaign to stop hunting on National Trust land has been going on for decades and is unlikely to disappear any time soon. I believe that to influence change within an institution like the NT, albeit a charitable one, you need a voice and a vote. That’s why I’m a Member. It’s just a shame that Members who highlight broken promises, breaches of licences and/or the law are currently being stonewalled with cut-and-paste platitudes.

On 6 November 2017 the Portman Hunt went onto Hod Hill, an Iron Age hill fort in North Dorset which is owned by the National Trust. I was there, turned my video camera on and recorded what happened. Hunt staff, followers and hounds were on Hod for 33 minutes between 3.16 and 3.49pm. There is a public bridleway across the site which anyone is free to use unfettered, but the Portman Hunt was not on this. They were all over the place. I understood the Portman was only allowed onto National Trust land if granted a licence and that, on 6 Nov ‘17, no such licence existed. That evening I contacted the landowners.

My initial email simply asked, “Please could you tell me if the Portman Hunt has a licence from the National Trust to do so-called trail hunting on Hod Hill, Stourpaine, North Dorset?”

There was no response so I resent it five days later. Oliver Silvester of the National Trust Supporter Services Centre answered by return. He redirected me to Amy Middleton at National Trust West Dorset. She’s the Estate Manager and Hod is on her patch.

Amy wrote back very candidly, “I can confirm that the Portman Hunt does not have a trail hunting licence for Hod Hill.”

I thanked Amy for confirming that this was an unlicensed activity and therefore not permitted by the National Trust. I informed her that I had GPS-verified evidence on film.

My email closed with this question, “In view of the fact that they were on National Trust land without a licence I would, as a Member, like the National Trust to take this matter further. Please could you advise me what action the National Trust will be taking and what I can do to assist the process?”

Three days later came the reply.

“The matter has been raised directly with the Master of the hunt,” said Amy in her email, plus, “We take any reports of hunts acting illegally or outside the terms of any licence very seriously.” I wondered how seriously they took hunting on their land with no licence at all!

Five days later I sent another email just to confirm that I was not reporting illegal hunting but specifically, “unlicensed trail hunting”. I wanted to know what was being done to ensure that it didn’t happen again.

Next day Amy Middleton, National Trust Estate Manager for South Somerset, West Dorset & Knightshayes, replied, “We are treating any report of trespass on a case by case basis and endeavouring to establish the facts. At this stage I am unable to comment any further.”

A day later I opened an email from Oliver Silvester of the National Trust Supporter Services Centre. Oliver wrote, “We have raised your enquiry with our Specialist Team who should respond in due course.”

They did. On 24 November 2017 Sophie Novelli dropped me an email. Apparently she works on the Specialist Team who were looking into the details of my “query”. Apparently it had been forwarded to the Estate Manager of their Regional Office, a person called Amy Middleton. Sophie ended her missive, “I am sorry that we cannot be of any further help as we specialise in membership and donations.”

And that’s the last I’ve heard of it.

There has been a related development….

The Portman Hunt Huntsman appeared at Poole Magistrates Court on the 12 and 13 February charged under Section 1 of the Hunting Act (Hunting a Wild Mammal with Dogs) in March 2017. What came out under cross examination was that the alleged offence occurred on the National Trust-owned Kingston Lacy Estate. The case was not concluded and the District Judge set a further date of 14 March 2018, at Poole, to deliver his verdict.

Of course, in law a person is innocent until proven guilty. We make no assertions one way or the other at this stage. But, depending on the outcome of this case, it will be interesting to see how the National Trust responds as a consequence.

To be continued….

© Joe Hashman

You can join a peaceful protest at a National Trust property near you this Sunday, 25th February. See this link to the National Dis-Trust for details.

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23rd January 2018

Providing Support For Those In Pain & Distress

Hounds from the Warwickshire Hunt running out of control in Oxhill near Banbury. Pic credit: West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs Hounds from the Warwickshire Hunt running out of control in Oxhill near Banbury. Pic credit: West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs

Last week we met a woman who had a foxhunt invade her property. She was still raw from the experience and visibly upset when telling us about it.

The local hunt was in the area and had let their hounds run loose on the scent of a fox. The fox ran into private woodlands with the hounds in hot pursuit. A herd of deer in the woods distracted the hounds and they split up to chase the deer in all directions, then cats, a dog and a goat. The woman and her friends were minding their own business just getting on with their day. Then this bedlam descended, literally, upon them. There weren’t enough broom handles or people to cope and anyway, the hounds were only interested in hunting.

This was no fleeting stampede. It took over an hour for the Huntsman to gather and remove his dogs. By then the police had turned up and were also helping. Two weeks later and six cats are still missing, presumed dead. The others are nervous, shy, frightened. It will take time and tlc to recover their confidence.

The woman was traumatised. She shook as she talked. Her eyes welled up when she described how the peace and tranquillity of her sanctuary exploded with animals running left, right and centre when about twenty-five foxhounds in full cry descended the valley with no warning. She expressed surprise at how big the dogs were and shock at seeing a fox flash past at great pace, running for its life. We explained that, actually, hunts across the land are breaking the law. All the hunters have to do is claim it was an “accident” and they get away with it. She now knows first hand the reality of #TrailHuntLies.

Hunt trespass can have a profound effect on people. It traps some in their homes, fearful to go out on certain days of the week in autumn and winter because they never know if the hunt is going to come crashing through their place. That is no way to live.

Imagine stepping out of your back door and being almost knocked over by rampaging hounds, then having someone sat high up on a horse shouting down at you and gesturing to open your gate so they can come in and fetch them. This actually happened in Dorset and now we keep in close contact with the woman and local police. She is clear and so are we – there must never be a repeat of this.

A young mother who had foxhounds come into her kitchen told her local newspaper, “I am shaken and beyond furious. I can’t bear to even speak to the hunt master who obviously thinks that my home, a haven for my children, is fair hunting ground for their hounds to come and go freely with complete disregard for the safety of my children.”

We watched with interest the evidence of terriermen following a hunt in Devon digging out a fox which hounds had run to ground on Saturday. To most right-minded people it’s an open and shut case but we’ve noted the terriermen’s excuse that they did not intend to kill the fox and were merely rescuing their dog. Without doubt they’ll lay that on as thick as possible and trust in the police to do less than a proper job. It grieves us to write that Devon & Cornwall Police have form. Despite this we’ve helped a number of disgruntled locals who have reported trespass and intimidation by the self-same hunt this last fortnight. We always advise involving the police at the outset, firstly by reporting anything which makes you feel concerned or unsafe and secondly, by cc-ing them in to all correspondence. We always live in hope to be pleasantly surprised.

We’ve been having a conversation with woodland owners in Somerset since December. They’re fed up to the back teeth of having the local hunt ripping through their land and terrorising its human and non-human inhabitants. We’ve arranged to meet later this week. So it was wonderful to receive an email from our contact this morning with details of three neighbouring farms who want to keep hounds off their vast acreages too.

January is always a busy month. We believe this is because it’s the fox mating season. Dog foxes are on the move in search of love. Their wanderings frequently take them far away from of their familiar, home patches. A hunted fox will instinctively bolt down a hole but hunts block all underground refuges and so the fox is forced, against its natural instincts, to keep running. Hunts deny this, of course, but we know the truth.

The above is just a snapshot of what we have going on right now. If you’re affected by hunt trespass or know someone who is then please, contact us. Hounds Off will support you. You are not alone.

You can support our work by making a donation or buying some Hounds Off merch. Please consider it. We are all volunteers and cannot survive on goodwill and fresh air alone!

© Joe Hashman

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5th January 2018

The Politics Of Hunting (free event): Tues 9 Jan, Alton, Hants

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Questions & queries via our Contact Us page or social media platforms. Thankyou.

 

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27th August 2017

Calling All National Trust Members #TrailHuntLies

National Trust members will be voting whether or not to properly prohibit illegal hunting on its land at the AGM on Oct 21st 2017. Hounds Off urges all members to vote against bloodsports and false alibis. National Trust members will be voting whether or not to properly prohibit illegal hunting on its land at the AGM on Oct 21st 2017. Hounds Off urges all members to vote against bloodsports and false alibis.

If you belong to the National Trust then you may be aware that there’s a big vote coming up for members to decide whether or not to stop illegal hunting on NT lands. The vote takes place at the AGM in Swindon on October 21. It’s important because after twelve years of hunts riding roughshod over the law and public opinion, and decades of hunts abusing our wildlife and damaging delicate habitats, you’ve a chance to cast a vote which says “No hunting, enough is enough”.

The reason why you’re able to vote now is because of a resolution before NT members. According to our sources, this is it:

“That the members agree that The National Trust will not permit trail hunting, exempt hunting & hound exercise on their land, to prevent potential illegal activity in breach of The Hunting Act 2004 & The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and to prevent damage to other flora & fauna by hunts, their hounds, and their followers.”

Don’t be confused by terms like trail hunting, exempt hunting or hound exercise. These are just false alibis for illegal fox, hare, deer and mink hunting. It’s what the hunters say they’re doing so they can cynically circumvent the law and carry on killing on the sly. Your vote for the resolution will create hundreds of thousands of hectares of land where wild mammals can find safe sanctuary away from a minority of cruel and/or ignorant people who want to hunt them with dogs and kill them for fun.

Trail hunting is the commonest false alibi. It’s been used by most fox and hare hunts around the country for the last twelve years. Having been complicit in the whole trail hunting charade, or maybe just not being aware, the NT recently changed the conditions it imposes for licensing so-called trail hunting on its land. We think this a move in the right direction but fundamentally misses the point, which is that trail hunting doesn’t really exist. The International Fund for Animal Welfare published a complete exposé of trail hunting in a report called Trail Of Lies (Casamitjana, 2015). If you’re in any doubt about what you’re reading here then please, take a look.

Exempt hunting is how staghunters in the West Country get away with continuing their sport. They supposedly use two hounds running in relays, plus an army of people with vehicles and horses, to chase deer to an exhausted standstill so they can kill them and then conduct bloodthirsty celebration rituals.

Under certain conditions it is legal to stalk and flush wild mammals with two dogs. But staghunters abuse both word and will of the law and, as if to poke their tongues out as well as two fingers, often claim to be conducting simultaneous ‘scientific research’.

Back in 1997 the NT actually banned staghunting on its land and for a very good reason – staghunting causes extreme and unnecessary suffering. In response to concern from members, the NT commissioned an independent scientific study into the welfare implications of hunting red deer with hounds. From this it was concluded that the negative effects of hunting on deer were so severe that the NT banned it the day after publication. However, there is much evidence to suggest that, to this day, in parts of Devon and Somerset deer are still hunted on ground where they should be able to live in peace.

Hound exercise is a pretence for a particularly barbaric and sick practice, originally called Cub hunting (later sanitised to Autumn hunting). Hound exercise is a ruse for when foxhounds are trained to find, hunt and kill foxes as a pack. You’d be forgiven for reading the words “hound” and “exercise” and not thinking of fox families being split up and massacred by people with packs of dogs in the countryside, but that’s the idea.

The hunting community has been skilfully using words to create smokescreens and disguise their illegal intentions since the Hunting Act passed into law twelve years ago. Now it’s time to call time on their deceptions, confusions and #TrailHuntLies.

Members, your AGM/voting packs will be with you by mid-September. Please vote by proxy, online or in person on Oct 21 for the National Trust to prohibit trail hunting, exempt hunting and hound exercise on their land.

To be continued….

© Joe Hashman

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9th July 2017

Beware The ‘Middle Way’

Foxhunt supporters argue their case at a meet before the Hunting Act (2004) came into force. Foxhunt supporters argue their case at a meet before the Hunting Act (2004) came into force.

It’s official – the Government is not planning any attempts to bring back fox, hare, deer and mink hunting with hounds for at least two years. This assurance was given by Dr Thérèse Coffey MP when she answered Parlaimentary Written Question 943. Coffey wrote, “The governments manifesto includes a free vote on the Hunting Act (2004), but we are not planning to bring forward a free vote during this session.”

These are indeed strange political times. A couple of months ago it was all very different. So what happened?

Rewind to 2014. Discreet but determined efforts to weaken the Hunting Act by Tory ministers were afoot. They were scuppered by Liberals within the Coalition Government. In fact it was Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who we have chiefly to thank for objecting, standing his ground and refusing to budge.

Just over a year later, in July 2015, pro hunt supporters within the newly elected majority Conservative government proposed amendments to the Hunting Act which would have rendered it unenforceable. After a frantic seven days of campaigning, the proposed amendments were withdrawn. Tactically for the bloodsports lobby it was best to avoid losing the vote because a second chance would be highly unlikely.

Then in April this year Prime Minister Theresa May called a surprise snap General Election. Her lead was unassailable, according to the polls. “The biggest Election win for decades” was widely predicted. And Brexit wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds….

The Daily Mirror published news of a leaked email from Conservative Peer, Lord Mancroft on May 8th. Mancroft, who is also Chairman of the Council of Hunting Associations, urged Hunt Masters across the land to mobilise their supporters and campaign for pro-hunt Conservatives in marginal seats. His reckoning was that an increased House of Commons majority of 50 would be enough to overturn the Hunting Act.

To be fair, the leaked email only told us what we already knew. Ever since the Hunting Act was enshrined as law in February 2005, bloodsports organisations have been working hard to get sympathetic MPs elected. Politically speaking, it’s all a numbers game.

Vote OK is one of these pro bloodsports lobby groups. Despite an innocuous sounding name and equally nondescript website, Vote OK specifically targets manpower and resources into marginals and by-elections where they think they can get a pro-hunt candidate elected. They channel the energies of local Hunt Supporters Club members and offer them up to be foot soldiers. With a promise by the candidate to accede to their single-issue fanaticism, the foot soldiers are willing.

“This is the chance we have been waiting for,” Lord Mancroft wrote in his leaked email.

***

When Theresa May took questions from factory workers in Leeds on May 9th it was unusual. Up to then the questions to her on the campaign trail had been screened in advance and her answers prepared. In Leeds she was speaking ‘on the hoof’ as it were. When a man asked if there was truth in rumours that the Conservatives would make bloodsports legal again she replied, “As it happens I have always been in favour of foxhunting,” and reinforced her commitment to facilitate a free vote on repeal by MPs in Parliament.

What else could the Prime Minister say? In polling, her huge lead was, arguably, wobbling slightly. On the streets in marginal and targeted constiuencies she needed to fuel the resolve of bloodsports supporting foot soldiers who were on a promise. In Leeds on May 9th she was doing what she does worst – engaging in unscripted dialogue with the general public.

Theresa May’s comment made headlines and played an important part in the 2017 General Election result. In the end, the predicted landslide didn’t happen. The Conservative majority was actually reduced and the Prime Minister stooped to buying agreements with hitherto unlikely political bedfellows to enable her Government to retain a Parliamentary majority. In a delayed Queens Speech it was announced that Parliamentary session would last for two years instead of the usual one. Hence, the Hunting Act has grace until at least 2019.

***

Between now and then the bloodsports community will be plotting and planning. The struggle to reinforce or repeal the Hunting Act continues even behind closed doors. Dangers are not helped by Brexit. It could be that European Union Habitat Directives and other environmental laws are replaced by legislation which will include sneaky opportunities for hunting with hounds to return. We need to be alert to anything which repeals the Hunting Act by the back-door.

This will entail reading between the lines, interpreting carefully the words and phrases used in all post-Brexit Bills which have anything to do with farming, the countryside or wildlife. Any talk of licensing agreements, codes of conduct or self regulation should be treated as dodgy because they echo noises made for many years now by the pro hunting Middle Way Group (another innocuous sounding name, note).

Equally, beware talk of “wildlife management”, of hounds hunting quarry in “their wild and natural state”, plus claims that foxhunting et al is humane with only the weak and injured getting caught. As a starter for ten, ask yourself which predator blocks holes to force a healthy fox to run from hounds above ground when it’s natural defence strategy is to bolt down a hole? Don’t get us started on the use of mobile phone technology, motorised transport, radio collars and other tools utilised in the hunting field, or selective breeding of hounds which are produced and tailored to fit exactly the requirements of their ‘country’ and human masters.

And remember – recently elected MPs who are not familiar with the lies, propaganda and peer pressure of pro hunt types are susceptible to their spin and schmoosing and ‘gentle persuasion’. From the ridiculous claim that “if the fox didn’t enjoy it he wouldn’t join in” to pseudo-scientific arguments that chasing a wild mammal to exhaustion with a pack of dogs is humane so-called ‘wildlife management’. This nonsense all has to be countered. If it’s been said before, it needs to be said again. The other side has two years to prepare and rest assured they are on it. So are we.

© Joe Hashman

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