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
5th August 2018
As part of the wider National Dis-Trust campaign which started in Cumbria, we’re adding this to Hounds Off as a reference point for you to learn more about the fell packs, their abuse of wildlife, and why we’re calling for them to be permanently banned from National Trust land. All of the fell packs were either licensed to use Trust land for the 2017/18 season or given free reign to trespass and kill foxes. Here are a few of the ‘highlights’ of their history (click the links to learn more)…
- In November 2017, the Eskdale & Ennerdale Foxhounds were documented trespassing on National Trust land with terriermen, but subsequently received a licence anyway.
- On 06/09/2017, a representative of the fell packs told the BBC that numerous foxes are ‘accidentally’ killed each season.
- At the Peterborough Hunting Festival on 19/07/2017, huntsman for the Blencathra Foxhounds stated that his hounds can sometimes be unsupervised up to five miles away, meaning nobody knows what they are doing or what they might be killing.
- A supporter of the Melbreak Foxhounds attacked a member of Lancashire Hunt Saboteurs on 10/01/2017 who then needed hospital treatment. The hunt supporter was convicted of assault.
- The Melbreak Foxhounds supplied a fake certificate to the Trust dated 23/10/2016 to help gain a licence, and were granted further licences to use Trust land long after the lie was exposed.
- The Melbreak Foxhounds were filmed killing a fox on Trust land by Cumbria Hunt Watch on 05/11/2015.
- On 15/03/2014, the Ullswater Foxhounds were filmed killing a fox before attacking a hunt monitor, resulting in a conviction for assault.
- The Melbreak Foxhounds killed a fox on 09/03/2014 after chasing it across Trust land, resulting in a police investigation resulting in charges and the subsequent intervention of a member of House of Lords trying to defend the huntsman.
- The Blencathra Foxhounds were investigated for illegally hunting & abuse of hunt monitors in 2013.
- On 24/03/2012, walkers witnessed the Coniston Foxhounds killing a fox and police investigated claims that hunt supporters seriously attacked protestors.
- The News & Star reported on 09/01/2012 about hunting forum users allegedly admitting to illegal fox hunting whilst with the Blencathra Foxhounds.
- A supporter of the Coniston Foxhounds attacked a League Against Cruel Sports investigator on 09/03/2010, receiving a police caution.
- The terrierman for the Ullswater Foxhounds was convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 after digging out & beating a fox to death on 26/10/2009, after it had gone to ground. He continued to be employed by the Ullswater Foxhounds, which continued to be licensed by the National Trust.
- The Ullswater Foxhounds huntsman was in court on 17/09/2009 after a fox was killed by his hounds.
- Huntsman for the Coniston Foxhounds was convicted for criminal damage after smashing the windows of a hunt monitor vehicle on 19/02/2008.
- The Blencathra Foxhounds are believed to have killed a fox on National Trust land on 11/02/2006.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
- Ask the Trust’s General Manager for Central & East Lakes firstly why the Melbreak have only been suspended, not banned, and secondly for him to stop offering licences to all fox hunts in Cumbria. His email is email@example.com.
- If you live in Cumbria and want to volunteer for our campaign, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for packs of leaflets specific to Cumbria to deliver/hand out.
- Sign the Keeptheban petition to ban all hunting on National Trust land in England & Wales.
- Grass up the Cumbrian hunts if you see them by emailing Cumbria Hunt Watch on email@example.com.
- Follow National Dis-Trust on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
© National Dis-Trust
28th July 2018
Cheshire Monitors write about hunting and it’s role in the spread of diseases, especially bovine tuberculosis (bTB):
The 2017/18 hunting season in Cheshire was interesting , to say the least. Yes, a number of Cheshire foxes sadly lost their lives to criminal interests but in many other ways it could not have gone better for us. We oversaw leaps forward in many areas as the nets were closing in on Cheshire’s three foxhunts….
– In response to Mike Amesbury MPs enquiries, Cheshire Police & Crime Commissioner announced a review of how foxhunting is policed in the county, as reported here by the Cheshire Chronicle.
– Cheshire’s Conservative MPs are abandoning their traditional support for foxhunting, mirroring the national stance of their party.
– Foxhunts are losing their land. Estates have recently revoked permission for access to their land in Cheshire.
Cheshire landowners would be wise to note this trend and get ahead of it by stopping hunts from entering their properties, especially those who have a stake in keeping disease at bay. Foxhounds have been recorded with bTB in a number of places, most notably within the Kimblewick Hunt where a large number of dogs were culled after picking up the disease in December 2016, and in Ireland where post-mortem results revealed bTB in foxhounds.
Biosecurity and foxhounds do not go well together. One report says they are at risk of a wide range of parasites and diseases including bTB when breaking up fox carcasses. Yes, foxes do carry bTB; just look at this research from France. Yes, foxhounds do break up foxes that they’ve caught; look at what Andrew German allowed to happen on Boxing Day 2017.
Conversely, the badger cull has found a very low rate of confirmed bTB in badgers across the country (a mere 4.87%) after testing 861 badger carcasses that were culled in High Risk Areas. A recent Freedom Of Information request to Nottingham University* pointed out that the tests can’t distinguish between ‘infected’ or ‘infectious’. It’d be charitable to describe the badger cull as a farce, and an expensive one at that (£831,093 in policing costs in Cheshire alone) …. and don’t the three Cheshire foxhunts employ people specifically to tamper with badger setts**? Not very biosecure, is it?
Foxhunters know about their role in the spread of bTB but hide it, as evidenced by the absolute stonewall at DEFRA that was erected after the Kimblewick Foxhounds outbreak. Did you know that the DEFRA Minister for Animal Welfare is a member of the Kimblewick and a former Master of one of the hunts which amalgamated to form the Kimblewick?
Foxhunters have known about the risk that hunting with hounds poses in the spread of bTB for decades. Just have a read of this quote from ‘To Hunt A Fox’ (1937) by foxhunter David Brock, page 187;
“There is in this country a great move on foot for the establishment of more and more Tuberculin Tested herds. To establish such a herd is an expensive and troublesome affair and, once he has established it, the farmer is not going to risk incurring infection from outside. It is at present believed that this infection can be carried on the boots of human beings and the feet of animals. What more likely than that it will be carried from an infected farm to a pure one by horses and hounds?”
We’ll leave these thoughts with you. If you’re a landowner in Cheshire (or anywhere) who wants to stop hunting on your land then please contact Hounds Off for specialist help, support and advice.
* Hat-tip to Cheshire Wounded Badger Patrol for this
** No, they are not there to mend fences
© Cheshire Monitors
13th June 2018
The police would not tell a suspected burglar that they’ll be calling round a week on Saturday at 11am to check their house for stolen goods. Clearly, any dodgy stuff would be moved elsewhere and everyone would be on best behaviour.
Equally, plans by the National Trust to monitor the activities of so-called trailhunting on their land are flawed – because each hunt will be looked at only once and this will be by prior arrangement.
We are not seeking to deride the National Trust. Quite the contrary. We seek only to be positive.
By its own admission, reports of unlicensed and illegal hunting were rife even before last autumn, winter and spring. The Ruling Council wrote these off as “transgressions” due to “uncertainty“. That’s not really good enough but, given who we’re dealing with, we understand. However, employing someone to conduct one visit per licensed hunt per season by arrangement will reveal no wrong-doing and ensure only that the status quo continues.
We wish that the National Trust would follow the lead of the Woodland Trust and simply forbid rampaging packs of hunting dogs and people to enter their nature reserves, but we know that some at the top of this charity are not yet ready for doing that. So, may we politely suggest that to avoid the whole plan being seen as a dodgy fudge, any monitoring of hunts by National Trust staff is done randomly, without warning and with no limit on frequency?
© Joe Hashman
10th June 2018
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
28th May 2018
Mysteries surrounding fox scent and how it is (or isn’t) used as a cover for illegal hunting are explored in this Guest Blog by a Hunt Monitor from Surrey…
“Trail hunting is a legal activity and that is what was happening here. Hounds follow a trail of fox’s urine.” The Nottingham Post reported these words of Adrian Simpson of the Countryside Alliance in March this year following the successful appeal against the conviction of three members of the Grove and Rufford Hunt.
Mr Simpson added: “It became patently clear in the course of the appeal that a fox jumped out in front of the hounds, which pursued it for a short distance and killed it”.
So let’s get this right: the hunt’s hounds were following a trail of fox urine when a fox unfortunately jumped out in front of them. Now I have no way of assessing the likelihood of a fox thinking it would be a good idea to play chase with a pack of foxhounds, beyond stating the obvious that it looks like a bad evolutionary trait, but I can analyse the fox urine part of the story. I can do so (in part) because I have personally been shown a bottle which I strongly suspect did once contain fox urine – originally. Here it is:
I captured this image last hunting season when Mr Jeremy Gumbley, a former Master of and “trail layer” for the Surrey Union Hunt, showed it to me. He was in a good mood that day. Whether that was because the police had turned up in force (around 25 officers in five 4×4’s) and had arrested a Hunt Saboteur for alleged criminal damage, I could not say. But whether for that reason or because he was simply attempting to convince me of the legitimacy of his hunt’s activities, he not only showed me the bottle, but explained a little about it. He even invited me to smell its contents, though I declined that kind offer, explaining that I really didn’t have a sense of smell which could help me verify what it was.
As you can see, this product is called FoxPee and you can just about read that it also says “100% Fox Urine”. So far, so good then.
“Where did you get it from?” I asked Mr Gumbley. His answer? “A shop that sold it”.
A little coy maybe, but perhaps understandable. So I asked a long-time Campaigner about it. He recognised this as having been available from a country store in the exact part of Surrey where Mr Gumbley lives. So again, so far, so good. This story is really hanging together.
But wait a second. Does that bottle look a little old to you? Funny that, because the Campaigner also told me the product hadn’t been sold in this shop for a decade or more, and certainly it was not listed on-line as being available there when I looked. And yet the bottle was still half full. Now perhaps things are looking a little less clear cut.
Then you look on the internet and you find that this product cannot be bought anywhere in the UK, but rather is made (if that is the right word – farmed in some horrible fashion one imagines) by a company based in Maine in the north east United States, so it will need to be imported.
Then you do a little more research and find that the importation of this material would require a licence from the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. You then learn that in response to Freedom of Information requests it has been clearly established that no licences have been granted any time in recent years, the latest request taking the position up to March 2018.
And I should also have mentioned that Mr Gumbley said that he didn’t really think his bottle contained fox urine.
Put all these things together and it really is now looking a lot less clear cut. A reasonable deduction might be that this is an old bottle which has been re-filled with something. If so, what’s in it? Well that’s not really the point. If its not fox urine, why would the Countryside Alliance spokesperson say hunts use fox urine?
Of course strictly speaking he was only talking about the Grove and Rufford, even if his statement could, perfectly reasonably, be interpreted as meaning that all, or at least many, hunts use fox urine.
So where could the Grove and Rufford have got its fox urine, bearing in mind that it cannot have been imported (at least legally) any time in recent years, which eliminates any foreign source?
One possibility is from “Adrian’s Fox Scent”. That’s not as in Adrian Simpson’s fox scent – at least I assume not – its apparently a company trading name, the company in question being Harrier Contracting Limited. It has advertised itself as “the UK’s leading supplier of animal urines” according to these web-page screenshots I came across:
And apparently it issued this certificate to the Melbreak Hunt in 2016:
I am not sure why anyone would need a certificate of supply – an old-fashioned invoice with a VAT number might have been more what one might have expected – but taking it at face value, it seems to lend substance to the claims. But again there are just a couple of things which make things a little less clear cut.
First, where exactly does Adrian’s Fox Scent “make” its fox urine? It must be in the UK somewhere, unless those FOI requests were wrong. Anyone seen a fox-urine farm anywhere?
Second, how come Companies House records say that Harrier Contracting was dissolved on 7 February 2017, having never traded?
Sorry I don’t have any answers these questions. Nor do I have any other ideas as to where all this fox urine comes from. And as you will gather from this blog, I really have tried to find out.
Oh and there’s one final thing. At least according to my reading, fox urine comes within the scope of The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 implementing European Union Regulation (EC) 1069/2009. And since these Regulations prevent the introduction of products within their scope into the environment, this seems to mean that it is illegal to use fox urine as a trail.
So the next time your local hunt says it uses a trail of fox urine, can I suggest you ask them two questions:
Where do you get your fox urine?
Why do they think this is legal given Regulation (EC) 1069/2009 and The Animal By-product (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013?
Or perhaps next time Mr Simpson gives an interview, someone can ask him…
© A Surrey Hunt Monitor
27th April 2018
National Trust Director General, Hilary McGrady, met with National DisTrust and others in Swindon on April 9th 2018 to hear about ongoing concerns regarding so-called ‘trailhunting’ over the conservation charities’ 618,000 acres.
Key points arising from the meeting include:
- From the outset, the Director General stressed that whilst she wanted to listen and learn, so-called trailhunting would continue to be permitted on NT land under licence.
- For the National DisTrust, Helen Beynon said that Trustees had misinformed Members in advance of the 2017 Members Resolution vote to ban so-called trailhunting on NT land with regard to new trailhunting guidelines that were promised but then rescinded upon. Helen said that Trustees advice did influence how many Members voted.
- Many hunts which would usually have applied for a trailhunting licence from the NT did not do so for the 2017/18 season due to “uncertainty” on how new guidance would be applied following the narrowly defeated Members Resolution at the 2017 AGM.
- Consequently, there was a higher than normal incidence of “transgressions” by unlicensed hunts.
- Rescinded guidelines, such as the advance publication of trailhunting routes, resulted from decisions made by Trustees, and not third parties such as the police.
- Trustees will complete an internal Review of licence structures and procedures before the 2018 AGM in October.
- Next season NT staff will undertake observation of trails being laid and followed at one pre-arranged monitoring session for each hunt granted a licence.
- Monitoring by NT staff will be by vehicle and from hills through binoculars.
- Based on a wealth of evidence gathered from observing hunts on NT land and elsewhere, we raised concerns that hunts would seek to mislead NT observers and that this could be easily done.
- While we welcome NT guidelines prohibiting the use of animal-based scent to lay trails, we flagged the implausibility of hunts training hounds to chase artificial trails on NT lands and animal-based trails elsewhere.
- Until recently, many hunts claim to use fox urine lures sourced from America to lay trails. We raised concerns that two Freedom Of Information requests to the Governments own Animal & Plant Health Agency regarding fox urine imports spanning from the beginning of 2014 to the 22nd March 2018 reveal that no import licences were granted.
- We cited an example being the Duke Of Beaufort’s Hunt, which is licenced for so-called trailhunting on NT property. Their Joint Master told Somerset Live (20.03.18), “We use a liquid substance imported from the USA, that gets put on a rag at the end of a whip.” We suggested this was not true.
- We informed the Director General that staff and supporters with some hunts granted a licence by the National Trust for permission for trailhunting on their properties carry Hunting Act and other criminal convictions.
- We explained our belief that trailhunting is a false alibi used by hunts to cynically con law enforcement professionals, misinform the public and provide a cover for illegally hunting wild mammals with dogs.
- Regarding “terriermen”, we were told that people carrying paraphanalia used for digging out foxes would not be allowed on NT property.
National DisTrust and Hounds Off would like to thank Hilary McGrady and Mark Harold (NT Director, Land & Nature) for meeting and engaging with us in these discussions.
National DisTrust & Hounds Off, 18 April 2018
26th April 2018
Zoologist Jordi Casamitjana offers a radical perspective on, arguably, Britain’s most maligned wild mammal:
The long and sad story of mink, the forgotten victim. I wish I had done more to help them.
Over the years I have been in the trenches of many animal protection battle fronts, but often I feel that I missed many. We UK wildlife protectionists often go on and on talking about red foxes, some who know a bit more also talk about brown hares, and those really in the know don’t ever forget to mention red deer which are still hunted by the three remaining staghunts in the West Country. But what about mink? Not many animal welfare and conservation organisations stand up for protecting mink, and I think this is very sad. And you will see why in a minute.
Unfortunately, there are people out there who wave the flag of animal lovers but they will not hesitate to tell you that they want to see all mink in the UK killed by any means necessary, be gassing, poisoning, shooting, snaring, trapping, or ripped to pieces by dogs. Others, though, waving the same flag, will say that this is outrageous … but they also want to see them killed though only with one or two of these methods, not the most “barbaric” ones. Well, I want none of them. I don’t want to see any mink killed at all. But by law, if you happen to catch a fox in the UK, you can let it go; if you catch a hare you can let it go; but if you catch mink you have to kill it, or let someone else do it for you.
What has mink done to deserve this? Nothing, other than being mink. Mink are long bodied, dark-coloured, semiaquatic, carnivorous mammals of the family Mustelidae, which also includes weasels, otters and ferrets. The mink that you can find these days in Great Britain is the American mink (Neovison vison). The European mink, which does exist in the continent, apparently never was present in the British Isles. How on earth has the American mink ended up in Great Britain then? If you ask them and they could speak to us, they probably would reply (with a distinct British accent) that they were born here and so were their parents, and their grand parents, and their great grand parents.
Those mink would not really know of course, but what really happened was this: Over 15,000 years ago American mink were just doing their mink thing in America, when a group of descendants from African ape-like primates arrived from the North. As these invaders were alien to the land, and as they had evolved in warm habitats and no longer had thick fur on their bodies, they started looking for animals with fur, killing them, and stealing their fur for warmth. Soon they spotted mink and their beautiful and very dense fur, so started killing them for it. This happened for millennia and these people never seemed to lose their appetite for chasing and killing mink for their skin, even if they did not need it anymore as the world was getting warmer and they had moved South. But some still wanted the mink’s fur because it “look good” on them and made them look important.
So, rather than keep chasing them and killing them someone had the idea of keeping them in small cages so they could kill them without chasing them … and mink farms were created. Across the Atlantic, the people here in Britain (also descendants of African ape-like primates who emigrated there) had already chased and killed most animals with fur to the point of their extinction, so they thought that it would be fun (and profitable) get some of those mink farms over here. And so they did. Britons began farming American mink in the UK from the 1920s. At their peak in the 1950s, there were 400 known fur farms. After a while, though, when people learned about the horrible conditions the mink were kept and killed in in the farms, began losing their appetite for mink coats as wearing one became politically incorrect, so some mink farmers let their mink go free and moved to something else. But the mink, rather than die out, learnt how to adapt to their new habitat. They became wild again and to their merit they survived and thrived. Today mink are widespread in Britain’s mainland, except in the mountainous regions of Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.
Yes, in the 1990’s some animal liberation activists helped to free some mink at the very end of the demise of the mink farming industry which ended with a ban on mink farming, but the wild population in the UK was already established decades earlier from multiple escapes or deliberate releases of the farmers. In fact, by December 1967, wild mink were present in over half the counties of England and Wales.
You may be forgiven to think this was a happy ending for the sad mink story, but it was not. As they were considered “alien” species and they were predators of “native” species it become acceptable (and legal) to kill any mink found “to save British wildlife”, and any method of killing seemed OK, even being ripped apart by dogs. It didn’t seem to matter if they were helping to keep the population of rabbits down (the other “alien” species many people wanted to exterminate) or that they were partially taking the role of fish predator that the native otters naturally took before they disappeared in certain rivers. They were still wanted all dead.
And as you know the hunting fraternity likes to kill wildlife for fun, so they didn’t waste any time to jump to the opportunity. Otter hunts began to target mink after otters were so depleted in numbers that it became illegal to hunt them in 1978. During a mink hunt, which normally happens throughout spring to autumn, the hounds are followed on foot as they walk or swim along riverbanks while the mink frantically attempt to escape. Unlike otters, mink have small territories (less than a mile of river bank) so once they have been spotted by the hunt they tend not to go far. Eventually they will be caught and ripped to pieces by the hounds, while a crowd of hunt followers amuse themselves with the spectacle.
When the anti-hunting movement celebrated the protection of otters at the end of the 1970s it did not hesitate to continue campaigning when it realised the “otter hunts” just switched to mink from then on, and became the 22 “mink hunts” we still have today. After all, if killing otters with dogs was barbaric, killing mink with the very same dogs was barbaric too. But some people out there disagreed with this compassionate attitude towards mink, vilifying mink as horrible “foreign” vicious creatures that kill all the “British” wildlife they can find, so they deserved to die and be exterminated.
But why kill them? Well, it’s the easy route, isn’t it? If there was an association only for the protection of gazelles in Africa, it probably would advocate for the extermination of cheetahs. If there was one only for protection of ants in South America, it probably would advocate for the extermination of anteaters. If there was a society for the protection of bamboo in Asia, it probably would advocate for the extermination of pandas. It is not the mink’s fault that it predates on critically endangered species such as water voles. That is what predators do – predate on animals they can catch and eat. Mink doesn’t know that the vole it is trying to eat to survive belongs to an endangered species. Many people would not complain if a fox would eat the very same vole (foxes are also one of their common predators). Why are there people that at the same time call for the protection of foxes and the extermination of mink, while water voles are predated by both? Cats often kill wildlife and they certainly can predate on voles too. And domestic cats, like mink, are not native from these islands and were brought up here by humans. Should they all be exterminated too? I don’t think so.
Mink hunting was banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act 2004 as it bans the hunting of most wild mammals with dogs (regardless if they are native or not), but sadly most hunts circumvent the law and this includes mink hunts. They still go out killing mink claiming that they are now going after rats (one of the exemptions of the Hunting Act). Some of the methods to kill mink have been banned but they can be legally caught and killed by cage and spring traps and unfortunately many people, including many conservation organisations, do.
Of course we need to do as much as we humanely can to protect the water vole and other endangered species from extinction, but I don’t think we can just accept that the best way to do it is by killing all its predators (mink, foxes, otters, stoats, weasels, owls, herons, Marsh harriers, pike, Brown rats, Golden eagles and cats), or by condemning some and pardoning others, as if we really know which species Natural Selection would have “spared” if we had not been here to mess Nature up. After all, post-war intensification of agriculture, water pollution and the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat that has taken place since that time have contributed to the water vole decline.
Call me a bunny hugger, but I just simply don’t buy the concept of “blind” lethal conservation. People always find an excuse to kill wildlife, don’t’ they? Let’s kill foxes because they eat chickens, let’s kill badgers because they get ill on cattle fields, let’s kill pigeons because they don’t wear nappies, and let’s kill mink because they have the wrong passports. Even if it is true that in the end mink ends up killing the last vole, it will still not be its fault. It will be our fault, and we cannot simply find our way out of it by continuing killing others. How many mink have to die to save the life of one vole? This “critical” approach is one of the basic tenants of what is called compassionate conservation, which I subscribe to and many other animal protectionist do these days.
So, American mink have been shot and trapped for their fur, kept captive in farms to be killed in horrible conditions, then taken captive to other countries to continue breeding them, then released but persecuted by everyone trying to kill them in all sorts of ways, and still today they are illegally hunted, and legally trapped, snared and shot dead by many people. None of these mink asked for this. We humans are the demons that are inflicting this unsolicited Hell on them since we first encountered them about 15,000 years ago.
But not all is bad in the mink story. Hunt saboteurs have not abandoned mink. And thanks to the ban the population of otters is now increasing and it seems that this is helping to keep the population of mink down, which could persuade mink “controlling” conservationists that perhaps they should stop persecuting mink and let Nature find its own balance, as it always has done.
You see, in these islands I am also considered a “foreigner” by some, so I cannot help to feel a special connection with the unfairly vilified mink. This is why it makes me feel good to see a mink image joining the fox, the stag and the hare on anti-hunting campaign material.
Mink are one of these hunting victims too, you know.
It’s simply not their fault.
© Jordi Casamitjana
1st April 2018
Hunts do not always respect landowner wishes. Often people ask the local hunt to keep staff, followers and hounds off their property but then it happens – again. You need patience, stamina and strong support to stand up for yourself.
Sadly hunt trespass is all too common still. Hounds Off currently supports loads of people who are bemused at the attitude and arrogance of repeat offenders. In the instance below we are also asking ourselves, “But if they chase man-laid trails with dogs that are under control, like they say they do, then how come the Eggesford hounds were running all over forbidden land for the second time this year?”
Are you troubled by the hunt? Contact Hounds Off
© Joe Hashman
26th February 2018
Campaigners continue to expose #TrailHuntLies & lobby the National Trust to stop issuing licences to kill fox, hare, deer & mink on their land for so-called 'sport'. Here, at Stourhead in Wiltshire on 25 Feb 2018 as part of a day of similar protests at NT sites around England, co-ordinated by the National Dis-Trust. Pic: Hounds Off
Trail hunting is a myth, a ruse invented by the hunting community to enable them to continue abusing wild mammals with dogs for sport.
Trail hunting was invented on the day the Hunting Act (2004) came in to force. It has been used as a false alibi to cynically subvert the law ever since. There is no trail hunting governing body, there are no written rules and regulations to which participants must abide. How to conduct a so-called trail hunt is left up to each individual hunt to decide.
Trail hunting is billed by the Countryside Alliance and their allies as a temporary activity which sustains the infrastructure of hunting until such time as the law banning bloodsports is repealed. One of the main tenets of this charade is the principle that the scent which is laid for hounds to follow is based on their traditional quarry. They say that this will enable them to switch back to fox, hare, deer and mink hunting at the drop of a hat because their hounds won’t need retraining. We say that this pretence enables them to “accidentally on purpose” harrass and kill live animals. Nobody, not even the National Trust, is denying that “accidents” happen.
In 2017 the National Trust introduced some changes in the rules they claim hunts must obey in return for a licence to trail hunt on NT land. The first of these is banning the use of animal-based scents as a trail for hounds to follow.
“This will reduce the risk of foxes or other wild animals being accidentally chased,” the NT tells us. Alas, it’s a nonsense.
Hunts continue to train their hounds to hunt the scent of their traditional quarry, not something else. You cannot have a situation where a hunt goes after a fox-based scent on private land on Monday, then an artificial scent on NT land on Wednesday. Hunting a pack of hounds doesn’t work like that. Training a them to be steady and reliable on one thing takes time and effort. And who’s checking anyway? Not the NT. They’re happy to let hunts self-regulate.
We believe that everybody who follows so-called trail hunts, save newcomers, children and the terminally naive, knows that trail hunting doesn’t really exist. Sure, somebody might trot around with a duster on the end of a whip as lip service to a ‘trail’ for the benefit of show, or if the press or cameras are present. But away from outsiders, out of public gaze, hunting wild mammals with dogs for sport continues much as it did in the last century. There is, we suggest, a nationwide criminal conspiracy to facilitate this animal abuse. It’s tragic that the National Trust Ruling Council chooses to collude.
© Joe Hashman