28th Nov 2015
People-power ended 900 years of deer hunting in the New Forest. Six years before the Buckhounds disbanded, hunt saboteurs were protesting against the cruelty, as shown here. Eventually it was video cameras and an alliance of campaigning groups who made the positive change permanent.
On Saturday 28 November 2015 Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman was invited to speak at the Winchester Hunting Symposium. The Symposium was hosted by the Centre for Animal Welfare and the Institute for Value Studies at Winchester University and organised by Professor Andrew Knight, to whom we extend our sincere thanks.
On behalf of Hounds Off, Hashman gave an adress entitled The People’s Campaign Against Hunting. Here is the text:
I understand that hunting with hounds stirs emotions in people that run deep. I understand also that human beings are complicated creatures. Although we have domesticated ourselves in many ways, wild animal instincts lie within us all.
I also completely get it that we are all motivated by different things. Hunting with hounds stirs emotions in people in different ways and on different levels. For some it’s a thrilling recreation. For others the whole concept of hunting with hounds is no more than an excuse for animal abuse.
My mother was a badminton player of some repute long before professionals and money entered that sport. One of her prizes was a tea tray which hung above our fridge. It had fancy wooden edges and depicted a colourful hunting scene. The picture on the tray fascinated me. Mounted riders stood in semi-circle around a pond, all looking down at hounds and a dismounted redcoat who held in one hand a flashing blade and in the other, by the tail, the slightly curled body of a fox. In this painted picture one of the gentlemen on horseback was leaning forward and raising his hat.
My eureka moment was during a TV show called Nanny. The main character was looking after a boy who went out on his first hunt. When a fox was killed it’s tail was cut off and the bloody end smeared on the boy’s face. It shocked me. I asked my mum if such things happened in real life and she confirmed that, yes, they did. Thus, I made the connection between the blooding ritual portrayed on telly and the sporting art above our fridge.
On the first hunt I attended, two foxes mysteriously appeared from the same field corner where terriermen were gathered and digging. Hunters unleashed their pack of hounds on the second fox. I ran with others into the fray, screaming and shouting at the hunt to stop. Later investigations revealed an artificial fox earth at the location on Upper Circourt Farm, Denchworth near Wantage in Oxfordshire. The artificial earth was constructed as advised and described in famous hunting literature. It was clear to me that the foxes I saw flushed for the hounds to chase in 1982 had been loaded by hunt servants in advance to guarantee some Boxing Day sport.
Over 22 years later a minor miracle happened when the Hunting Act became law. The cruel and abusive nature of foxhunting and related bloodsports had been exposed repeatedly and beyond doubt. The majority Labour Government acknowledged the will of the people by legislating against it. That should have been an end to the matter. Enough scope was built in to the legislation to provide for non live animal hunting to continue, and therefore all the pomp and ceremony, but unfortunately much surrounding the Hunting Act has been confused ever since.
I say “ever since”. Actually, confusion has reigned for longer than that. The Hunting Act should have been clear to understand and straightforward to enforce. Alas, during the journey through Parlaiment to statue book, it suffered constant tactical tinkering by pro-hunt forces. Now, although the spirit of the law is clear, it’s application can be problematic. A combination of cynical subterfuge, false alibis, legal loopholes and institutionalised reluctance from law enforcement agencies to engage with the Hunting Act ensures that wildlife is still illegally hunted and killed for amusement.
When it was revealed two months ago that David Cameron himself had personally intervened in stopping a Hunting Act case during 2008, I wasn’t surprised. He’s part of the ‘untin’ minority which refuses to accept the will of the people and is unashamedly committed to repealing a law they hate.
In July this year, with a Conservative Party promise to repeal the Hunting Act yet to be kept, with a majority of Tory MPs in the Commons at last and with nearly seven weeks of summer holidays just days away, cunning and crippling amendments were introduced via something called a Statutory Instrument. Although technically doing nothing wrong, I believe the intention was to circumvent due process and fast-track amendments to the Hunting Act which would have completely castrated it. If passed, these amendments amounted to repeal by the back door.
I strongly suspect that the Countryside Alliance was in cahoots with pro-hunt Government forces in the drafting of the amendments and the way they were marketed as “a minor change to bring English law into line with Scotland.” Actually the amendments proposed far more than that.
But hunt supporters underestimated how much most people still dislike ritualised animal abuse. If they thought they could undermine the Hunting Act (and democracy) quietly, unnoticed and with little resistance, they were spectacularly wrong.
Millions of people roared their disapproval and lobbied their MPs. The masses spoke, wrote, tweeted, retweeted, shared, liked, favourited, pinned, posted, demonstrated, reported, advertised, sang, shouted and dreamed about defeating these amendments and the dark forces behind them.
Key to saving the Hunting Act was MP support. It has been claimed that the Scottish National Party scuppered the amendments but that’s not wholly true. Fact is, an irresistible coalition was built which consisted of MPs from across political parties and the Home Nations who were committed to protecting the law.
With the writing on the wall, the amendments were withdrawn a day before voting – a tactical move to allow for regrouping and future reintroduction, and avoid conclusive final defeat.
So why do most normal people hate hunting with hounds?
Hunt supporters and their representatives love to accuse people who are against bloodsports of being driven by prejudice, of jealousy, class war, hatred of people or any other mud they can sling. I would say that, without doubt, folk are sick of being obstructed on the roads by arrogant riders, of having their property invaded, pets killed and livestock worried by out of control hounds, of seeing beauty spots and ancient monuments trashed by inconsiderate hunt followers, of blatant criminal behaviour by hunts who have been sticking two fingers up at the rest of us for over a decade. But actually what most people object to is animal cruelty – the practice of chasing wild mammals with dogs until they are physically incapable of outrunning the pack, then killing them in various different, cruel and unnatural ways.
The British Field Sports Society formed in 1930 to, quote, “keep watch on all legislation which might adversely affect Field Sports”. The clue as to the real reason most people go hunting is in the name Field Sports. It’s fun, they love it, it’s the thrill of the chase. In 1997 the British Field Sports Society rebranded itself as the Countryside Alliance. A more user-friendly name, slicker, snazzier, more ambiguous, a name which disguises killing-for-fun.
In reality, foxhunting is pre-meditated and ritualised. I call it animal abuse. Foxes are frequently bred specifically for hunting; they’re given a head start at the beginning to ensure good sport; hounds are bred deliberately to run slower than a fresh fox and thus prolong the chase; followers on horseback, foot and car all combine to keep tabs on ‘their’ fox; holes are blocked beforehand to keep the hunted fox on top and running; if he does get down a hole the agony is usually far from over. The fox may be baited with terriers who kill it in a bloody underground fight; he may be dug out and shot; dug out alive and thrown to the hounds; or flushed out and forced to run again.
The Ullswater Hunt in Cumbria wrote a report in the local paper detailing a 1996 hunt where the same fox was chased to ground then forced to run four times in succession before being killed. Or, as they say, “accounted for.” Lake District hunts always claim pest control is their reason to be. If this is true, why did they prolong the foxes agony? Do you think the hunters enjoyed themselves?
Beagling is hare hunting. This quote from the Horse & Hound magazine of November 7 1980 illustrates that a quick, clean kill is not the hare hunters preferred option either:
“It is probably better to have a good hunt of an hour or 90 minutes, rather than over match the hare and pull her down in 20 min.”
Numerous times over the years I’ve seen so-called “good hunts” and “well-hunted” hares. They’re stiff-legged and hunched, a far cry from the coiled-spring of muscle and heart which characterises these handsome beasts of the field when they are not being relentlessly hounded under pain of death. Oh, and hares cry like babies in pain when being torn apart by hounds (but beaglers won’t tell you that). Listen to this from Hounds Magazine, April 1990:
“North Staffs Moorland Beagles
Hounds had never run so fast…it took a good three hours to roll their hare…clever she was too; ran along a disused railway, the hedge of an extremely busy road, through sheep and plough, only to meet her end while nesting in long grass.”
Often hares elude the beagles only to be betrayed by the people who enjoy an active role in this game of life and death. In a quote from the same edition of Hounds Magazine, “fresh find” describes a hunted hare that has escaped the Pevensey Marsh Beagles but is spotted afterwards by hunt followers who put the dogs back on. Here it is:
“…useful information helped them to fresh find the hare and kill near Church Farm ditch at 5.10pm.”
Hounds Magazine of November 1988 reported on the Britannia Beagles and Colne Valley Beagles hunting the same area morning then afternoon. The report details the Britannia failing to kill but, quote, “leaving several tired hares which the Colne Valley set about in the afternoon.” According to Hounds Magazine, two of these hares were then hunted and killed.
Deer hunting is a particularly cruel affair. In the West Country I’ve seen stags escape hounds but not the army of followers who are determined to prevent their quarry resting and betray its whereabouts at every opportunity with whistles and shouts. I’ve seen the look of fear in a hunted stags eyes as he turns his head left and right at a road lined with cars, wondering where to run with the hounds in cry behind. They have big, emotional eyes. God knows, I’ve bourne witness to the end of staghunts and the almost orgasmic frenzy which unites the human mob on foot and horseback; when a once proud beast is beaten and bewildered, standing at bay in a pond or river, waiting to be savaged by the hounds, wrestled to the ground by hunters or shot, sometimes all three in that order.
In 1996 I tracked a stag on the Quantocks who was chased until it lay, exhausted, in some heather. Only its antlers were visible. Riders and hounds stood back. The huntsman dismounted and crept forward to get as close as possible. He took a shot which was clearly botched because the wounded stag jumped up and ran on, leaving a trail of blood from heather to woodland and then deep into the trees before being accounted for with another, point blank, gun shot.
I was there, with others, during the time that Professor Bateson conducted his ultimately damning research into the welfare of hunted deer. Hunting with hounds is a bloodsport which reduces a noble beast to a weak and pathetic remnant. Without an ology, with just our eyes and instinct, we knew Bateson would reveal that deer hunting causes unnatural suffering which is severe and extreme, even for those that get away.
Fallow deer buck were hunted with hounds in the New Forest for at least 900 years before a halt was called in 1997. So how did that come about?
In 1991 a group of hunt saboteurs decided to dedicate attention to the New Forest Buckhounds. We used non violent direct action tactics to stop them from hunting and killing deer. Initially it worked. Fewer kills were made but after a season or so we noticed that hunters behaviour changed. Large numbers of people were drafted in to obstruct us and, meanwhile, the hunters resorted to what I can only describe as ‘cowboy tactics’ and started to catch more deer.
A few of us decided to put down our sabotage equipment of scent dulling sprays, whips and hunting horns. We purchased video cameras instead. For four seasons we literally ran with the hounds and filmed exactly what happened without any intervention from us.
Our evidence was groundbreaking. We filmed gruelling chases of five hours or more, exhausted buck being wrestled then held under water by huntsmen while they waited for the gun and, crucially, we exposed an oft-repeated lie that a deer at bay never gets bitten by hounds. I forget how many times we filmed buck being savaged while the hunters played catch up.
We worked with other anti hunting groups and took our evidence to the streets via stalls and information days. We engaged the media outlets of those times – TV, radio and newspapers. Coverage of New Forest Buckhounds atrocities went national. We attended virtually every hunt during the mid-Nineties. We were relentless in our creative campaigning and stood with banners on Cadnam Roundabout in the rush-hour each Monday and Friday to inform the public what was going on, mostly hidden from view, in the Forest.
The Forestry Commission, over whose land the Buckhounds hunted under licence, suspended them occasionally when we proved the terms of their licence had been breached. We looked to the Commission to withdraw the licence altogether and, in this respect, owe massive thanks to John Denham MP who was a terrific ally.
In July 1997, with the Bateson Report pending, Labour in power, the public up in arms and hunting looking vulnerable, the New Forest Buckhounds disbanded. This preceded a decision by the Forestry Commission four months later not to issue deer hunting licences on its land.
The Buckhounds saga illustrates the power which normal people like us have to effect positive change, and also the importance to hunting of having land to tally-ho over.
Hounds Off was born in 2010 in order to support landowners affected by hunt trespass and help anyone who wants to ban hunting, illegal or otherwise, from their property. We’re following in the footsteps of the League Against Cruel Sports, who started purchasing sanctuary land in the West Country in the nineteen-fifties, and numerous landowners who have forbidden hunting with hounds over the last more than a century. Our team knows that, regardless of legislation, without country to ride or run across, hunting with hounds is doomed.
We’re under no illusions. The minority landowning establishment is powerful and rich. But we believe we’re providing the tools and support which ordinary people need to make wildlife sanctuaries of their gardens, paddocks, small-holdings, farms and estates.
So all over the country today, tomorrow and in the future, while politicians politicise and pressure groups pressurise, Hounds Off is empowering the compassionate majority to make a practical and peaceful anti-hunting stand.
Please visit our website, www.houndsoff.co.uk , where you will find a wealth of tools and information. And engage with our community on social media where you can keep up to date on the latest news and views from around the country.
© Joe Hashman
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