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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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5th January 2018

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

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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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5th August 2017

Outfoxed Again by Mike Huskisson; a book review

Quorn Foxhounds, 4 Oct 1991. A fox cub is evicted from its underground refuge and forced to run for its life. Seconds later the hounds, standing back but waiting for this moment with the Huntsman, are unleashed.
Still from video taken by Mike Huskisson, featured in Outfoxed Again (AWIS, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9933822-1-5) Quorn Foxhounds, 4 Oct 1991. A fox cub is evicted from its underground refuge and forced to run for its life. Seconds later the hounds, standing back but waiting for this moment with the Huntsman, are unleashed. Still from video taken by Mike Huskisson, featured in Outfoxed Again (AWIS, 2017. ISBN 978-0-9933822-1-5)

Mike Huskisson’s latest book, Outfoxed Again, is an important read for anyone interested in the animal rights movement between 1984 and 2005 – a radical period in terms of campaigning and investigative strategies. It was Huskisson’s work (with others) on numerous front lines which, via printed media, photographs and film, brought the nightmare realities of hunting with hounds and other bloodsports especially to the attention of an animal loving nation. The resulting shock, horror and public roars of disapproval pushed forward, then achieved, real social, political and animal welfare changes during these years.

Huskisson has dedicated his life to fighting and exposing animal abuse. Outfoxed Again details his efforts, achievements, seminal scoops and exposés along the way. As in life so in animal cruelty investigations; here are 528 pages containing stomach-turning accounts of mans calculated, deranged and thoughtless inhumanity to other creatures; of roller-coaster moments, passages, chapters and also (much less glamorous) the slog – countless early starts, miles travelled, vehicle breakdowns, days in the field ‘on the job’ which turned up nothing and, yes, time in prison spent reflecting and preparing.

Huskisson is studious in crediting his backers, partners, colleagues (and opponents). Part Two of an intended trilogy, Outfoxed Again is a chronicle of Mike’s work and how he used the resources made available to him thanks to the vision and generosity of his supporters. It’s a weighty tome but vital in keeping the memory of animal suffering alive and teaching us all valuable lessons as we strive for a more compassionate future.

Buy a copy of Outfoxed Again from the Hounds Off shop. Scroll to the bottom.

Please follow this link to Mike Huskisson’s YouTube channel.

Please follow this link to Mike Huskisson’s ACIGAWIS website.

© Joe Hashman

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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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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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19th March 2012

The Reality Of Repeal

Before the ban on hunting with hounds, abuse of wildlife in the name of sport was widespread and serious. Nowadays, although the abuse sadly still continues, I’ve detected a scaling down of the worst excesses when the hunting fraternity think they’re being watched.

For instance, reports from a Hunt in the south-east are typical; a pack of foxhounds is taken for a glorified dog walk on Saturdays but it’s in the week that hunting live quarry occurs. According to sources, they’ve even resorted to the formerly common practice of ‘bagging’ foxes. This means that a fox is captured beforehand and tipped out of a sack for the dogs to chase. Such an unfortunate fox was referred to as a Bagman. Often a Bagman would have his paws cut first. It made the scent stronger and easier for hounds to follow. A kill was assured, thus keeping the pack ‘in blood’ (meaning, familiar with and keen for the taste of fox).

I believe that the ban on hunting with hounds is a good thing even though the law is definitely not perfect. Some Hunts pack up and go home as soon as anyone they don’t trust pulls out a camera. Others move off to remote land which is difficult for outsiders to access. There are Hunts that carry on regardless but I promise you that what I see nowadays is far less free & easy compared with the couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude of the tally-ho brigade when hunting was still legal pre-February 2005. The Hunting Act is a radical step in the right direction which needs enforcing and reinforcing.

However, as long as the bloodsports community remains “ready for repeal” no one should be complacent.

News of a horrific incident filtered back to me recently on the rural grapevine;

A hunted fox had taken shelter in a hollow between some big tree roots. The hounds were unable to scratch him out and the hunters couldn’t dig him out either. So a noose was fashioned out of barbed wire, hooked around the terrified animal and used to drag him into the open. To save on bullets the live fox was thrown into the air and landed amid the scrum of hungry dogs. A landworker, not actually following the hunt, witnessed this. He’s too afraid to speak out in public for fear of losing his job.

An ex-plumber friend of mine became so incensed when he learnt the shocking truth behind hunting’s glossy façade that he infiltrated Westcountry stag hunts to document and film this so-called sport. Being hunted with hounds is horribly demanding for the deer.

This was the end of one stag hunt which the ex-plumber told me about; “An exhausted stag ran into a private garden. I was on foot and could see flashes of the huntsman’s red coat through a hedge. He had a gun and was looking for the stag to shoot it. All of a sudden, crashing through the hedge, came this stag. He ran for about 25 feet and stood in a clump of overgrown brambles. He was very tired at this stage and couldn’t really move much more. Half a dozen people suddenly appeared and somebody was shouting for the gun. Eventually the man with the gun turned up and the stag was shot. The stag dropped to the ground right in front of me.

“Then, after a second, it stood up again. Very, very slowly. Almost like a cat which has been in a deep sleep and is waking up, it arched its back and stretched its legs deliberately. I thought they’d have to shoot it again but they didn’t. Instead, the stag was led by hands on its antlers and body up a slope. Somebody actually said, ’Let it walk.’ And do you know why they did this?

“The reason they let it walk up and out was so they didn’t have to carry the body up the slope. When they got close to the road they crushed it to the ground again and shot it a second time.

“One of the men turned to me and said, ’That wasn’t right.’ I thought he had also been shocked by this incident, but that wasn’t what he meant. You see, there were anti-hunt monitors out that day with cameras who were nothing to do with me. The man said that he meant this sort of thing should be done carefully and out of sight.”

Legalising this kind of depraved cruelty would be the reality of repealing the Hunting Act. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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8th March 2012

Why The Hunting Ban Is So Important To Our Society

I’ve a friend in her fifties and she once told me about her first experience of fox hunting.

The local Hunt was gathering in the farmyard opposite her home. The spectacle was one to see; all those dressed up riders, the sounds and smells of horses, hounds and gathered assembly. She was a girl and naturally curious.

My friend told me that after a long afternoon running around the countryside and getting plastered with mud, she found herself in a place close to home where the woods opened out into fields. An exhausted fox was afoot in broad daylight, struggling to climb the steep hill where, halfway up, she stood. My friend said she also saw the dozens of hounds which were in full cry right behind.

She witnessed this sinking fox being crushed, bitten to the ground and torn apart. My friend has been quietly but firmly anti-hunting ever since.

My introduction to bloodsports was different. My parents brought me up to care about the feelings of animals and, to cut a long story short, on Boxing Day 1982 I found myself in the middle of the countryside with a group of Hunt Saboteurs. We were challenging two blokes who, with spades and terriers, were about to flush a fox from a drain towards expectant riders and hounds from the waiting hunt.

Actually there were two foxes underground. In the scuffle which took place one popped out the other end and made a dash for freedom unseen by the terriermen. The other did break cover in full sight of the hounds. I was with about ten ‘sabs’ who physically put themselves inbetween the hunters and their quarry. We caused chaos and, amazingly, the fox did escape.

How we relate to animals is important to how we develop as a society in relation to our treatment of them. Once, I watched a mother at the end of a stag hunt in Somerset. She stood her toddler atop the neck of the fallen beast and clasped her child’s hands to the magnificent antlers, one on each like riding a motorbike. I thought that was an appalling lesson in disrespect for animals.

As parents we’re at pains to teach our children the importance of honesty. Yet arguments put forward by lovers of bloodsports are, I believe, fundamentally dishonest. Much pro-hunting propaganda is downright contradiction. It has always been so. I remember the days when foxhunters claimed to be controlling a dangerous pest (“The fox ate my chickens”) whilst simultaneously preserving their numbers (“England has the highest fox population in Europe”).

Nowadays, seven years after this cruel bloodsport was banned, the country sports lobby continue their cynical subterfuge. On the one hand they say the Hunting Act (2004) – which prohibits hunting with hounds – is rubbish and doesn’t work. On the other they claim that foxhunters and their like are, apparently, not arrogant criminals because up and down the country Hunts are operating within this Law.

I know what I think.

When hunting with hounds was prohibited seven years ago, what this political outcome represented was simply society recognising in itself that these forms of ritualised animal sacrifice for pleasure and entertainment are unacceptable.

This view is shared by most decent people. Despite the erection of obstacles which have been hard to fathom and overcome, in terms of prosecutions the Hunting Act (2004) has been far and away the most successful piece of wildlife protection legislation in recent decades. Where loopholes do exist there are compelling reasons to close them and reinforce the Act.

I believe that this is what we, as a civilised society, both need and want.

Posted by Joe Hashman

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