15th March 2019
On 23.02.19 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were forced to call their hounds off a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard by Monitors who were at the scene. Responsibility for disturbing and hunting the fox rests completely with the hunters. © Somerset Wildlife Crime/Hounds Off
Regarding the recent incident involving the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard, a member of the public contacted the Hunt and asked them to explain why they were hunting a fox when foxhunting is illegal. She received the email we reproduce, below:
From: B&SV Secretary <bsvsecretary@XXXXXXXXX>
Sent: Fri, 8 Mar 2019 19:10
Subject: Re: Recent footage of vixen being chased in graveyard
Dear Mrs XXXXXXXX,
Thank you for your email. The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale is committed to hunting within the law and does so through laying trails by people on horseback, on foot and on quad bikes. Occasionally as we progress through the countryside foxes and deer jump out in front of the hounds and if they deviate from the laid trail then we stop them at the earliest moment. We also have to contend with a number of anti-hunting activists watching us and trying to intimidate. Their tactics employed include spraying other scent on the ground, blowing horns and shouting to distract our hounds, which in turn confuses our hounds and renders our ability to control them that much more challenging. We believe that the film taken is not genuine and is deliberately constructed to discredit us, however clearly we would not normally be hunting anywhere near a graveyard and regret that the actions by the anti-hunting activists caused some hounds to go through the church grounds.
Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) was one of the Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime team who witnessed and filmed the Charlton Horethorn incident. Kevin is one of the most experienced Hunt Monitors in the country with nearly 40 years under his belt. We asked him to comment on the excuses made by the Hunt:
- As demonstrated in the video from the Charleton Horethorne churchyard, Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt staff seem to exercise selective control over their hounds. They can control hounds very effectively when it suits them.
- Monitors present witnessed the hounds being hunted on to a fox under the supervision of hunt staff. There were no attempts to draw them out of the cemetery or away from the fox which was clearly visible and holloa’d by several hunters and supporters.
- Hunt staff only exercised adequate control over their hounds when asked by one of the Monitors present to call them off the hunted vixen. When faced with two video cameras the Whipper-In (second in command to the Huntsman) was left with little choice but to comply. This proved to be the vital moment that saved the vixens life.
- We do not accept that the presence of any anti hunt Monitors would prevent hounds from being controlled efficiently. This is especially true when hounds are in close proximity to the Huntsman or Whipper-In, as was the case in this incident.
- No hunt saboteurs were present in the cemetery or immediate area on the 23rd February, when this incident happened.
- Footage is available that shows the Monitors present made no attempt to disrupt hounds with any calls, voice or horn and no scent dulling sprays were utilised. Claims to the contrary are merely an attempt by the hunt to dilute the validity of any allegations against them.
- We invite the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale to comment in detail as to exactly what the allegations laid against the Monitors who were present are. We would be most interested to see any footage to support any claims that hounds were called into the cemetery.
- As Monitors we maintain a passive presence with the hunt throughout the day and film proceedings. This can be useful on an evidential basis of any trespass or illegal hunting. As proven on the 23rd February in Charlton Horethorne, filming can often serve to save life when the hounds would otherwise be permitted to continue hunting unhindered. Our footage is available to be viewed here. It is worth noting that a member of hunt staff in a red coat is seen observing the hounds in the cemetery from the road side and makes no efforts to call them out.
Read our original Press Release here.
Footage of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a fox at Folke Church in Dorset on 22.12.18 can be viewed here.
Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime, without prejudice
13th March 2019
The Weston and Banwell Harriers are a furtive bunch of hunters operating southwest of Bristol. The way they carry on is suspicious to say the least. For instance, why would a legal hunt be involved with blocking badger setts? Consequently, local residents have been trying to persuade the National Trust to withdraw their permission for so-called trailhunting on land which by definition should provide a sanctuary for wildlife.
Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers met with National Trust staff on Friday March 1st. Afterwards, we asked them to let us know their thoughts;
“We attended with Maria Burt who started a petition against so-called trailhunting on National Trust land and set up the meeting, and Jac Freeman from the League Against Cruel Sports. We knew going into the meeting that there was a big likelihood that the licence wouldn’t be revoked but we wanted to give our best shot anyway for the wildlife that calls Wavering Down its home.
“With all our evidence in hand we explained to Nick Droy (National Trust Trailhunting Manager) and the National Trust Wavering Down Team that we didn’t believe the Weston & Banwell Harriers would stay in the rules of the trail hunting licence as they had already sett blocked once this year.
“But sadly and frustratingly this went over their heads and they used the usual excuse that a lot of money had been invested into trail hunt monitoring on their land.
“Giving a hunt notice that they will be monitored just means that they will behave when being monitored by the National Trust.
“How a conservation organisation can support hunting that can and will damage our ecosystem baffles us.
“But our determination to make Wavering Down and Somerset a safe haven for wildlife will continue.
“Hunting is a cruel out of date past time that has no place and is not welcomed. And neither are the Weston and Banwell Harriers, who have been terrorising our wildlife for years unchallenged. Our main aim is to bring an end to this and show them some resistance. We will do all we can to stop them needlessly killing wildlife for sport and fun!
“A big thank you again to everyone that came Friday your support was amazing! And a big thank you to the National Dis-Trust for all the advice and guidance!
“For our wildlife always.”
Hotline number: 07946663765
© Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers
3rd March 2019
March 1st is when Spring Staghunting starts on the Quantock Hills and Exmoor. ‘Spring’ stags are the young adults, the stags with most energy and va-va-voom. These are a staghunters favourite quarry because they run hard, fast and long. For those who delight in chasing then killing fit and healthy Red deer then March and April are the most exciting months of the year.
Two years ago Teresa, a Quantock Hills resident, contacted Hounds Off and told us her story.
Teresa was in her kitchen. It was just after lunchtime. She could hear the Quantock Stag Hounds hunting really close and then saw out the window a hound by her garden pond. She grabbed her iPad to and went outside to take some film. The noise was suddenly deafening. There was a stag in her garden, up by the summerhouse. Other hounds were in the garden too and the stag moved towards the compost heap.
A huntsman was just beyond the garden fence. He asked Teresa for permission to shoot the stag and she said, “No”. She asked the man his name and what he was doing. He said that she didn’t need to know. More hounds came in to the garden. Teresa reckoned there were about seven but they were hard to count because of so much movement.
By now the stag had climbed on top of the compost heap. There were riders looking down from the hill up above and conversations could be heard between unseen hunters on walkie-talkies. Numerous vehicles were parked on her private entrance drive with people standing and watching.
Suddenly there were four burly men at close quarters. The man who wanted to shoot the stag warned Teresa not to interfere in case the dogs attacked her. She was frightened because, as she told us afterwards, “I was outnumbered and could see that their blood was up.”
The dogs had chased the stag off the compost heap but he returned and was again at bay.
Teresa said, “The stag was surrounded by hounds and huntsmen and was clearly exhausted and petrified. I felt I needed to protect it. I felt strongly that it was not just right that I protect it, but it was my right to protect it. Not just because I don’t agree with hunting with dogs, but because it was in my garden and I should have been able to save it. My garden was its sanctuary.”
Again, she told the hunters to call their hounds off. One young, thick-set individual threatened to call the police because he said she was “harbouring a deer.” He also threatened to call the RSPCA, shouting that the stag was injured and had to be killed. But they did manhandle their dogs over the fence and remove themselves as well.
Another man who Teresa didn’t know or recognise appeared. He also refused to identify himself and joined the other hunters. They huddled together and then, right in front of Teresa, stormed into her garden, ran towards the stag and physically pushed it off the compost heap, over the fence and away towards private farmland. The men and their dogs, the riders and the people in cars all followed in different directions as fast as they could.
Teresa was totally shocked and shaken. She immediately called the police to report the incident.
A couple of hours later two huntspeople called at the house. Only one of them would give his name. He said that they were “trailhunting” with eleven hounds when unfortunately this young, injured stag jumped up in front and caused a distraction. They decided to kill it because, apparently, it was injured. Their excuses were not believed and apologies not accepted.
“A day later the Huntsman left a message to tell me the stag had been previously shot by a .22 rifle. I learnt later from the police it was in the chest,” Teresa recalled, “But this exposed them as liars. I was stood ten feet away from the stag for some time. There was no injury to the chest, old or new, but it was exhausted. I didn’t realize it then, but subsequently I found out that they have used this excuse before to exploit a loophole in the Hunting Act. I thought at the time that it was a really odd thing to say that they would call the police because ‘I was harbouring a sick deer’, but I later realized that they worked out which angle they were going to use to get out of this, hence why they didn’t care about me filming.”
Avon & Somerset Constabulary completely failed to take Teresa’s allegation of illegal hunting seriously and it appears that there was a deliberate block put on conducting even a cursory investigation. The Quantock Stag Hounds got away with it. But we helped call the police failures to account. Crucially, over a year later their own Professional Standards Department upheld six out of nine points of complaint.
Teresa said, “When I reflect back with the knowledge I have gained over the last two years, I know that the Hunting Act has to change. Any reasonable person looking at the facts knows exactly what these hunts are up to. But the legal system is choosing to ignore the test of the reasonable person. As it stands today it is almost impossible to prove illegal hunting and get a conviction.”
Her immediate neighbours are the National Trust and she feels let down by them, too. Despite receiving all the evidence and her witness statement, and despite the fact that they themselves banned deer hunting with dogs on their land in 1997, the Quantock Stag Hounds frequently hunt across forbidden land. As recently as January 28th this year they held a fundraising meet and then hunted on National Trust land. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are in dialogue with the Trust to work out how to prevent future arrogant flouting.
Rural residents have turned to us in desperation and we answered their call. Our tactics are simple; in partnership with Somerset Wildlife Crime and individuals, groups and organisations who want to work with us, we’re shining a light on modern day staghunting. Please see the following links for more details:
- Your Membership (of the National Trust) And Voice Matters
- Staghunting On The Quantock Hills 08.10.18
- Press Release: Staghunting In Somerset, October 2018
- Nowhere To Hide
- Another Wretched day With The Quantock Stag Hounds
- Quantock Stag Hounds Meet Fundraise Hunt On National Trust Land 28.01.09
- How To Report Hunt Incidents To The National Trust
- Stag Hunters Break Convention To Ensure Valentines Day Sport
- Quantock Stag Hounds After Another One
Please consider making a donation to our campaign. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
© Joe Hashman. Founder; Hounds Off
25th February 2019
Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt hounds hot on the trail of a nursing vixen in St Peter & St Paul's Churchyard, Charlton Horethorne, Somerset on 23.02.19 Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime
HOUNDS OFF PRESS RELEASE MON 25 FEBRUARY 2019
- Hunters in Somerset were forced to call their hounds off a female fox because anti hunt monitors recorded the whole incident on film.
- At about 2pm on Saturday 23 February 2019 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chased the vixen through private gardens and the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul’s in Charlton Horethorne, just a stones throw from the hunt kennels. But Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors, equipped with video cameras, were at the scene and recorded it.
- Wildlife rescue expert Penny Little (tel: 07702 565598) reviewed their footage. She said, “I am confident this hunted fox is a vixen that has recently given birth to cubs as her teats are visible and show clear evidence of lactation.”
- WATCH SOMERSET WILDLIFE CRIME / HOUNDS OFF FILM HERE
- Footage shows a fox being hunted through gravestones and into bushes where by some miracle it gives chasing dogs the slip. Campaigners film also documents the moment when the nursing vixen tries to steal away unseen and is “hollered” by a member of the hunt (a loud, high-pitched yell to inform the Huntsman and his hounds that the fox has been spotted).
- Bobbie Armstrong (tel: 07572 495309) from Somerset Wildlife Crime said, “When the fox crossed in front of us we told a red-coated hunter to call hounds off. At this point they were right on her and it looked grim but the red-coat knew we had it all on film. He had little choice but to call hounds back and let the fox get away. It was all a bit tense for a while but we were pleased to be in the right place at the right time.”
- Foxhunting has been illegal in England and Wales since 2005 but hunts continue, claiming to chase a trail which they lay in advance. The “accidental” hunting and killing of foxes during so-called ‘trail hunts’ is commonplace and the law remains powerless to prevent this.
- Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) said, “It seems pretty obvious that the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were cheerfully and deliberately chasing foxes on Saturday and if we had not been there then they’d have got away with it. Think about it for a second. Who in their right mind would lay a trail through private gardens and a churchyard?”
- Bobbie Armstrong said she had spoken to the Reverend Sarah Godfrey, the Vicar at Charlton Horethorne. According to Ms Armstrong, “She wasn’t aware of the events of yesterday and was keen to see our evidence. The Vicar was grateful to be informed.”
- Hounds Off specialises in giving help, support and advice to farmers, landowners and rural residents affected by hunt trespass. Joe Hashman, Founder, said, “We can help the Reverend Godfrey if she wants to make the churchyard into a hunt-free wildlife sanctuary. All she needs to do is visit the Action & Advice pages of our website or ask us. The same goes for anyone else, anywhere in the country.”
- Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors did not see anyone laying trails, or even pretending to lay trails, at any time throughout the day.
In recent weeks the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt;
- was supposedly ‘trailhunting’ beside and across the busy A352 until after dark on February 19 2019.
- killed a fox ‘accidentally’ on February 9 2019.
- carried on hunting with horses and hounds two days after equine flu was confirmed at a local riding stables.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT OUR WORK PLEASE BUY US A KO-FI;
21st December 2018
On Wednesday I observed the Portman Hunt blatantly chasing foxes in Dorset.
At about 11.30am I saw two quad bikes and some riders appear over the brow of a low hill, then the Huntsman with his pack of hounds at heel. He took them to foxy-looking bit of rough ground and let them go off and sniff around. His voice calls encouraged them and he rolled his tongue in a way which has been practiced by generations of foxhunters and is designed to rouse their quarry.
After a while one hound started to bark. “Speaking,” hunters call it. Then another and another and within seconds all the twenty-odd hounds were on, actively hunting and speaking in unison, running in and out of thick hedges and undergrowth, back and fore between a woodyard and scrubland in pursuit of a fox who was, unseen, twisting and turning in front and trying to shake them off.
The Huntsman was cunningly wearing a black coat so as to blend in with other riders. Once things got going he stood back to make it look like he wasn’t in full control and could claim to a policeman or a Judge that any illegal foxhunting was accidental. Additionally, there were people scattered around in all directions on foot and no doubt some of them would claim they were “laying a trail”.
I knew they were illegally hunting but hadn’t seen the fox so didn’t report the crime.
Hounds hunted locally for well over half and hour. There was a quiet interlude before the noise started again. Can’t be certain what happened there but likely the fox had found a refuge and before the hunt could continue he had to be flushed out with smaller, specialist dogs. That’s why blokes follow on quad bikes equipped with terriers and spades. They deny it, of course they do, but actually it’s a fact.
Then I could see and hear, from my vantage, that the hunt had gone away. Before they disappeared from view they turned left-handed and after that I was unable to keep track.
I was with friends standing on guard on a piece of land where hunting is forbidden. At 12.50pm I saw a small dot moving, left to right, across a field in the distance and lifted my binoculars to have a closer look. It was a fox. I watched him for a few seconds until he ran out of view.
Sure enough, less than a minute later the whole pack poured through a hedge into that same field and followed precisely the same line as I had just seen the fox take. They disappeared from view in exactly the same place too. And following the hounds were the riders. Doubtless they were having a fine old time. “Just like the good old days,” you could almost hear them think.
That’s when I called the police on 101 and reported the illegal hunting as a wildlife crime. I explained exactly what I’d seen. I couldn’t stop the hunt and even if I had captured the scene on film (which I didn’t) the evidence wouldn’t have stood up to dishonest cross examination in a court of law. But at least it’s recorded and has become a statistic (Crime Log Number I19-186), which is important.
Modern day policing is statistics-led. This means that resources are allocated where, statistically, there is deemed to be most need.
My Sister-in-Law wrote the following short letter to the local paper after she witnessed and reported illegal foxhunting recently too (Crime Log Number 8-224), which we publish here because they didn’t.
“Standing in a back garden last Saturday (8 December) I was blessed with the scene of a fox running across the field beyond, its body full stretch as it sped over the grass underfoot. My awe was quickly broken as only a few seconds later a pack of hounds emerged hot on the fox’s tail. To my shock I was witnessing the local hunt in full motion.
“Fox hunting has been illegal for many years so to see the hunt chasing a fox was a shock and deeply saddening. There was nothing to suggest the hunt was going to call the hounds off, which is what I’ve since been told is supposed to happen.
“I am not naive in thinking that what I saw was anything other than what was intended … the chase … the kill and whatever it is that the people who take part in this type of sport get from doing this.
“I didn’t choose to see or be part of what happened just a few metres away from me that day, but it left me feeling distressed and angry.
“Why is it okay to flout the law in this cruel way?”
C Fawcett, Shaftesbury
© Joe Hashman
14th December 2018
Who in their right mind could approve of the so-called "sport" of hare coursing, where hares are forced to run for their lives in front of greyhounds (or similar fast running dogs) while spectators gawp, bookies profit and officials judge and award points for every twist, turn, trip and kill? Photo credit: Ed Maynard.
Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
Mr Barrington and the Countryside Alliance keep saying it’s a myth that the majority of the population is against hunting (Horse & Hound, 11.10.18). They often refer to particular attendance of anti-hunting or pro-wildlife events as evidence. The truth is that in the last two decades there has not been any single poll that has not shown a majority of a UK population being against hunting. This must be quite hard to swallow for Mr Barrington because, despite all his efforts, the percentages of people against hunting keep rising. It’s well over the 80% mark now.
Of course he will now claim that polls undertaken by reputable polling companies using big random samples don’t show the reality of public opinion, suggesting instead we should just count how many people have attended a particular hunting protest or Parliamentary reception, then conclude those are the only people opposing hunting. And, of course, if he continues to ignore science it would not be surprising if he said that if no “antis” have attended a packed hunting ball or a pro-hunting countryside event, this must mean the anti-hunting sentiment has vanished and people in the UK now wants hunting back (which is kind of what he implies in the Horse & Hound article).
Mr Barrington also must be very frustrated when again and again attempts to repeal or weaken the Hunting Act 2004 have failed because a dwindling number of pro-hunt MPs, even during Conservative Governments.
I am sure he will not give up, though, as he has a job to do, so he will continue trying to deceive on-the-fence MPs (or MPs that are secretly pro-hunt) into believing that he can offer a supposedly “middle way” between the two sides of the hunting debate (as he did during the debate for the passing of the Hunting Act 2004).
Some MPs may fall into this as he will do that by disguising the repeal of the hunting ban with a new “Wild Mammals Protection Bill”, which will sound good, as will talk about protection of mammals and banning some horrible practices … but in the end it will introduce a licensing system which will allow only a “select” group of “experts” to undertake wild mammal “lethal” control … and you know who he will be referring to, don’t you? Yes, registered hunts, of course.
Fortunately, it would not take that much for those deceived politicians to realise the trap they were about to fall into. But it is important we keep vigilant and help them to avoid falling and persuade them instead to support any initiative to strengthen the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, to eliminate all the loopholes (such as the “flushing to guns” or the “observation and research” exemptions) and false alibis (such as “trail hunting”) which hunts constantly use to circumvent the law.
It’s not surprising that the rejection of hunting by the UK population, both rural and urban, in any constituency in the UK, is denied by Mr Barrington and colleagues. This is classic “denial”, which I am sure he has to do as part of his job … but he must know by now that there is no way back, for hunting, and for him.
If Mr Barrington is indeed “hunting‘s most valuable asset” we just need to be sure he doesn’t get away with false claims and sneaky political manoeuvres and keep him “at bay” every time he surfaces. Hunting with dogs is an obsolete cruel activity and eventually will be completely abolished, no matter which “assets” are used to derail this unstoppable social progress.
© Jordi Casamitjana
Hunting Myths Pt 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Hunting Myths Pt 2: They Only Go For The Sick Old & Weak
Hunting Myths Pt 3: Hunting Is Efficient & Humane
Hunting Myths Pt 4: Hunting Is Natural
Hunting Myths Pt 5: Hunting Conserves The Countryside
Hunting Myths Pt 6: Hunting Is Wildlife Management
7th December 2018
OPINION: Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana writes exclusively for Hounds Off
PREVIOUSLY: Hunting Myths Part 1: The Snakeoil Salesman
Mr Barrington often repeats the classic claim that hunts only go for weak, diseased or old animals. This is completely untrue and there is no need to find any scientific research to prove it. We simply have to understand what hunting with hounds is and how it differs from shooting, lamping or snaring, which are other methods people use to kill wildlife.
Foxhunts, hare hunts, stag hunts and mink hunts use packs of hounds which locate a prey (“quarry”) and begin chasing it following its scent trail. Then, people on horse, motor vehicles or on foot follow the hounds through the countryside. This is the “fun” of the activity. The longer the chase, the better the hunting day. Weak or ill quarry animals would not run but hide as they don’t have the energy to flee, so there would not really be a chase if the hunts targeted those … and without a chase, there is no hunting.
The truth is that hounds do not “decide” to go for the weakest animals as they just follow a scent and have no idea of the condition of the animal they are chasing. This is why the Hunting Act 2004 – that was meant to ban hunting in England and Wales – outlawed the chase of the wild mammal with dogs, not actually the killing. Indeed, it makes it an offence to “engage or participate in the pursuit of a wild mammal with dogs”.
Incidentally, the hounds have been selectively bred over generations to run slower than their quarry but with superior stamina. This is one way to deliberately prolong the hunt and provide good “sport”.
And as far as the claim of chasing “old” animals is concerned, it is important to realise that in autumn each foxhunt engages in cub hunting to train their hounds to kill foxes. They go to woods, copses, fields of standing crops and other places where they know there is a fox den, they surround them so they cannot escape, and then they send the pack of hounds in to kill them. These are “cubs”, not old foxes, and every year an estimated 10,000 fox cubs are hunted by the UK hunts, even now.
Despite the claim of doing “trail hunting” (actually just a cover for illegal hunting) the hunts still need to train their hounds to chase and kill foxes, and they can only do that with the secretive and clandestine activity of “cub hunting” (which they have re-named “autumn hunting”).
Part 3 of this series will be published here tomorrow.
© Jordi Casamitjana
18th October 2018
GOVERNMENT DEFENDS WILDLIFE CRIME IN PUBLICLY OWNED FORESTS
Yesterday, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs responded to a petition calling for an end to the licensing of so-called ‘trail hunts’ on the Public Forest Estate, which is owned & managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the public. The response is pretty much a paraphrased Countryside Alliance press release and there are a couple of things they’ve either overlooked, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not:
– The petition specifically doesn’t call for an end to licences given to hunts which have agreements formed under a general agreement with the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association (MDBA), as drag hunting & clean boot hunting are not covers for wildlife crime.
– DEFRA’s response omits that licences are also granted to hunts under a general agreement with the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles (AMHB), such as the New Forest Beagles.
Most importantly, though, they’ve regurgitated one of the most worn out lies in the country and they’ve done so without scrutiny. This is, of course, that fox & hare hunts have stopped hunting live quarry and started to ‘trail hunt’.
‘Trail hunting is a legitimate activity … Many hunts have since turned to trail hunting as an alternative to live quarry hunting…’ – DEFRA, 17th October 2018.
Here’s a couple of brief reasons why this is rubbish:
– In 2014, a review of RSPCA prosecuting activity was published by Stephen Wooler CB, a former Chief Inspector for the Crown Prosecution Service. On P109/s9.1 it stated that: ‘The evidence reviewed leaves no room for doubt that, despite the 2004 legislation, traditional fox hunting remains “business as usual” in many parts of the country.’
– Both before & after the Wooler Review, hunts that have been licensed to use public land by the Forestry Commission have been convicted; the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 based on footage from Derby Hunt Saboteurs and the Cottesmore Hunt were convicted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 based on footage from the League Against Cruel Sports.
DEFRA have rejected the requests of the petition on a completely false premise. It remains open & ongoing to gain signatures, and needs 100,000 signatures before 18th March 2019. If you haven’t signed this already, please do so here!
© Jack Riggall
13th October 2018
HOUNDS OFF OPINION
The National Trust has started issuing licences for foxhunt packs to carry out so-called trailhunting on their land. But this season the business-as-usual status quo has changed slightly. Licences will now be open to public scrutiny and a small team has been appointed to oversee this activity. For many this is not enough, for others it’ll be too much.
Myself, I’m a realist. I know the National Trust is a huge chuntering juggernaut of a conservation charity which must cater for a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. I know how frustratingly slow it can be to effect positive change but I also recognise that the National Trust has a history of being led by its Members and it is always worth using your voice and your vote.
So it was that on Friday 12 October I travelled to Birmingham and, with Jack Riggall from National Dis-Trust, met with Nick Droy and Rob Rhodes from the National Trust. Nick is five weeks into his role of Trailhunting Manager and Rob (who attended via telephone) is the Head of Countryside Management & Rangers.
Trailhunting Manager is a new post, created by the National Trust in response to concern from Members and the public that trailhunting is nothing more than a false alibi used to provide a cover for illegally chasing and killing wild mammals with dogs.
Nick told us that his professional background is in practical countryside management at both regional and national levels and it started eighteen years ago when he was himself a National Trust volunteer. He explained that he has no hunting in his background and is approaching this complex issue with a fresh eye and open mind.
Nick will lead a team of three; an office-based co-ordinator and a worker who will assist in carrying out face to face engagements, checks in the field and monitoring of so-called trailhunting on National Trust land.
This season, the Trailhunting Team will be conducting one pre-arranged inspection of each Hunt which is granted a licence by the National Trust. My problem with this is that it provides an easy way for #TrailHuntLies to avoid detection because when Nick is about Hunts will temporarily change the way they behave.
I told Nick and Rob this and referred them to a 2015 report called Trail Of Lies. It is a fantastically complete and in-depth exposé of how Hunts have used trailhunting to circumvent the law, to carry on abusing and killing. The only problem with Trail Of Lies is that it was complied and produced by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and so hunters consider it to be propaganda.
What happened was the RSPCA had grasped the nettle in terms of taking private Hunting Act prosecutions and landed seminal convictions against the prestigious Heythrop Hunt in 2012. The Countryside Alliance went ballistic and set out to destroy their opponents.
Their criticism reached a crescendo in January 2013 when former Countryside Alliance head honcho Simon Hart MP initiated a debate in the House of Commons about prosecutions brought by the RSPCA and in response Her Majesty’s Attourney General suggested that an independent review could be advantageous. The RSPCA Council took heed and appointed Stephen Wooler CB to do this. Wooler is a Barrister and former Chief Inspector to the Crown Prosecution Service.
During our meeting I read a passage from the Wooler Review and asked Nick to think of his Trailhunting Team as being the police officers to which Wooler refers;
“Securing the evidence neccasary to mount effective prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 in respect of mainstream foxhunting therefore requires far more than sending a team of police officers to take the names and addresses of those at a hunt gathering. The evidence required is such that it is unlikely to be achieved through police presence and observations alone since behaviours would then be likely to change.” (1)
In fact, Wooler goes on to describe a “cat and mouse game between hunting participants and supporters and those endeavouring to gather evidence through observations and recordings.” (2)
I concur with Wooler (2014) and Trail Of Lies (2015): giving hunters a heads-up when they’ll be monitored on National Trust land is rather like the police telling a burglar when they’ll be round to look for stolen goods.
As Trailhunting Manager, it is part of Nick Droy’s job description (and background research) to meet with the likes of Jack and myself. I found him to be friendly, open and likeable. That’s a good start, but I do believe that there are fundamental flaws in how the National Trust have instructed him to carry out his duties. We agreed to keep lines of communication open and meet again next summer. Doubtless much will happen between now and then.
© Joe Hashman
(1) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 5.
(2) The independent review of the prosecution activity of the RSPCA, Stephen Wooler CB, 2014. Page 110, paragraph 6.
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Costs incurred on 12 October 2018;
Return travel by road from Dorset to Oxford (179 miles at 44 pence per mile) = £78.76; Oxford to Birmingham New Street return, by train (Adult Standard Class) = £79.20; Total = £157.96
2nd September 2018
One of the most extraordinary photos Surrey Hunt Monitors has taken is of Morestead Road, near Winchester. It’s an unremarkable road, but at about 2.15pm on Saturday 27 January 2018 it looked like a canine racetrack.
Of course it wasn’t actually the case that a trail was laid in any of these places. In each case the hounds had been following animal scents. In the Morestead Road case, the scent was of two deer which had been chased by the hounds and had crossed the road a short while before.
What happened next was referred to on Twitter as #HuntHavoc. It’s a very appropriate term. It risks lives, not just of the animals being chased and the hounds doing the chasing, but also the people driving on the roads who, at any moment can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the driver of this car who had to make an emergency stop and swerve to avoid one of the Morestead Road hounds as it emerged from the undergrowth along the side of the road and into his path:
For a video of this on Twitter see here.
A driver cannot help his or her instincts. See a dog run out in front of you, and you will do as he did and swerve as well as brake. If a car had been coming the other way, a very nasty collision could well have occurred.
So whose fault would it have been? Not the driver’s, but the owner of the hound. And that’s because dogs on roads are inherently dangerous that the Road Traffic Act 1988 contains a provision – Section 27, subsection (1) – which makes it a criminal offence to cause or permit a dog to be on a road without the dog being held on a lead.
So isn’t it obvious then, that the owners of hounds which go on roads are committing an offence? Actually, no. As with all legal issues connected with hunting, its not so simple as that. The hunting lobby had powerful friends in Parliament when this Act was passed and they ensured an exception for hunts. It reads: “subsection (1) … does not apply to dogs proved … to have been at the material time in use under proper control for sporting purposes”. Hence it is perfectly legal, whilst out hunting, for a pack of well-behaved hounds to trot along a country lane with the hunt in the classic picture-postcard image hunts like to portray.
But the key words for this purpose are “under proper control”. In what possible sense is a hound under proper control if it is on a public road chasing a fox or deer? In the Morestead Road case, it was such a clear cut situation that the local (Hampshire) police investigated and interviewed the relevant hunt, the Hursley Hambledon Hunt. The matter appears to be nearly resolved with a Community Resolution Order, meaning that the hunt accepts responsibility and writes a letter of apology. Whilst not a conviction, it is a step on that road (if the pun will be forgiven) and the Hursley Hambledon Hunt will have to be much more careful in this coming season, since the next offence would likely mean a caution, and the one after that a court appearance.
However, there can be other cases where it is arguably not so clear. The hounds may not be on the road for so long, for example, with the hunt arguing the hounds were in fact under control. This is when what lawyers like to call a “squeeze” can be brought into play.
Consider a case where a hunt is accused of unlawful hunting under Section 1 of the Hunting Act 2004. The defence is invariably of “accident”: the hounds were following a trail when they just happened to come across a fox and chased it. The recent Grove and Rufford and Portman Hunt cases are just two examples. Hounds could not be called back (despite best efforts, of course). Or the huntsman was not sufficiently close to the hounds to be in control and hence responsible. But if the huntsman was not close enough to control his hounds, or was close, but not able to control them, and they cross a road, the Section 27 offence surely cannot be avoided: there is a “squeeze” between the two offences. In order to escape the Hunting Act offence, the hunt is inescapably admitting (indeed positively claiming) a lack of control and hence the commission of an offence under the Road Traffic Act.
Another activity undertaken by hunts is “hound exercise”. This is in principle an unobjectionable behaviour in as far as the hounds are simply taken out for a run. If only hunting were replaced entirely by hound exercise! However, hounds need exercise every day and it must be a significant effort to put them in a van and drive them to somewhere safe to get this. Hence it’s not surprising that some hunts use roads to access nearby fields.
The question is, does the hunting exemption then apply? The clear answer is “no”. To repeat, the relevant language of the defence is (emphasis added): “subsection (1) … does not apply to dogs proved … to have been at the material time in use under proper control for sporting purposes”. The fact the hounds are used three times a week for hunting is of no relevance to the other four days of the week. There is no blanket exemption for foxhounds. When hounds are being taken out for exercise and use a road they must, like any other dog, be on a lead, or else an offence under Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act will be committed.
Some hunts are worse again and do not even bother to take the hounds to a field. One example local to Surrey Hunt Monitors is the Hampshire Hunt. They’re based in a quiet village called Ropley and here one can often see the entire pack being led around the village roads by three cyclists causing chaos:
… not to mention depositing a large amount of dog mess …
Two sample incidents have recently been reported to Hampshire police, and we await hearing from them as to if and how they intend to proceed.
Advice for Campaigners and the Public
Convictions under the Road Traffic Act are distinctly second best to Hunting Act convictions, but given the difficulty of the latter, they represent a way forward in controlling the reckless behaviour of hunts. So we offer two bits of advice;
1. If you are out early one morning hoping to catch your local hunt cubbing and only see them exercising their hounds on the local roads, dial 101 and report them under S.27 Road Traffic Act 1988. If the police say hunts are exempt, put them straight.
2. On hunt days, when hunt hounds cross a road in pursuit of a fox or deer, report both illegal hunting and the RTA offence and the chances are the hunt will walk straight into the “squeeze”. Let’s at least stop #HuntHavoc before an innocent person is killed in addition to the thousands of innocent foxes who die every year in so-called trailhunting “accidents”. After all, there is #NoExcuse.
© A Surrey Hunt Monitor