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27th April 2018

Overview Of April 9th Meeting With National Trust

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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vote to ban so-called trailhunting on NT land with regard to new trailhunting guidelines that were promised but then rescinded upon.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  • Rescinded guidelines, such as the advance publication of trailhunting routes, resulted from decisions made by Trustees, and not third parties such as the police.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

Petition to Natural England against hunting on Long Mynd Site of Special Scientific Interest by the South Shropshire and United Hunts

Petition calling for the National Trust to withdraw a licence for so-called trailhunting by the Warwickshire Hunt

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26th April 2018

The American Mink In Britain – Time To Think Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s simply not their fault.

© Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist

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24th April 2018

Members Meeting With National Trust: Statement By Helen Beynon

Helen Beynon, Jack Riggall and Will Morton prior to meeting with National Trust Director Hilary McGrady in Swindon on April 9th 2018. Helen Beynon, Jack Riggall and Will Morton prior to meeting with National Trust Director Hilary McGrady in Swindon on April 9th 2018.

On 9th April a group of National Trust members met with the organisation’s new Director General to discuss the ongoing concerns over hunting on Trust land. Helen Beynon, Jack Riggall, Will Morton and Joe Hashman attended as members. Hilary McGrady (Director General) and Mark Harold (Director, Land & Nature) represented the Trust.

The meeting came after the narrow defeat of the motion to ban hunting on National Trust land at its AGM in October 2017 as a result of the Chair’s use of discretionary votes allocated to him, and at the end of the latest hunting season which was characterised by the misbehaviour of hunts and the failure of the Trust to adequately implement even the limited measures promised to members ahead of the vote. While we welcomed the opportunity to meet Hilary McGrady, the need to do so simply reflected the lack of robust action taken since the AGM.

We were told Ms McGrady wanted to hear from all sides, so she could get up to speed with the issue of hunting. Given the track record of many of the previously licensed hunts and those licensed last season, we looked to hear an explanation of why the Trustees would continue to persist in their illogical and callous position of maintaining hunts are responsible and trustworthy whilst disregarding the huge raft of evidence supplied to them by National Dis-Trust, other Trust members, animal welfare charities, hunt monitors and saboteurs.

It was confirmed at the meeting that the licensing system will be reviewed before next autumn’s AGM but will not revisit the decision to allow hunting on Trust land. Describing its ambition to reach a place where it can trust hunts, the Trust does not appear to accept that its view, that the majority of hunts behave responsibly, is fatally undermined by the extensive evidence provided to it at all levels prior to the vote and by the experience of this season, and maintained that it requires its own evidence of irresponsible or illegal behaviour.

The Trust’s failure to live up to the limited promises made to members ahead of last year’s vote has been deeply disappointing and the explanations for this remain unsatisfactory. The granting of licences to hunts with a poor track record, including trespassing and even killing foxes on National Trust land, is the clearest example of the deficiencies of the current system. While the Trust has accepted in some instances that the Board of Trustees reversed its position on some elements of its statement on which members based their vote, it has failed to recognise the lack of respect this represents for the democratic process and for those members who participated in it in good faith.

When asked why the Trustees had decided to change the wording of license requirements, leaving members in the same position as prior to the vote, we were told they changed their minds. It seems they did not consider the implications of the statement prior to the AGM or had another motive for doing so, this in the full knowledge that advising members to vote against the resolution would have a significant impact on how they would vote.

Although we were told the Trustees took this subject very seriously, there was no new system in place to monitor the hunts who were hastily granted licenses last season. We were told that staff had kept an eye on things, but couldn’t be everywhere. It seemed that the Trust are unwilling or unable to address the number of hunts who have trespassed and yet then rewarded them when applying for licenses.

Having not meaningfully taken account of the track records of the hunts it has licensed and not even attempted to monitor their activity on Trust land, it is difficult to imagine that the upcoming Review will be fully informed or effective. The most we have been given to expect is that the Trust may finally adhere to some of the conditions it promised its members and that it will begin to monitor the activity of hunts on its land. However, the potential monitoring system as described to us is unlikely to be credible and there is little reason to expect much improvement elsewhere considering these are the same issues we have been highlighting over and over to no avail since last year.

Sadly this new system will involve each hunt being monitored just once a season, with binoculars! The non-animal scent will be sampled at the same time. Hardly a robust system, particularly as hunts will be prewarned. To choose such an ineffectual approach is a slap in the face to members who still hoped to see signs that the statement by the Trustees was in good faith.

We welcomed the opportunity to place salient facts before Hilary McGrady, including a huge body of written and video evidence. However, we remain extremely sceptical that those supposedly hunting a fox-based scent with purpose-trained hounds when off Trust land will hunt an artificial scent whilst on it. Hilary McGrady agreed that without close monitoring none of us can be really sure how hunts operate on the more remote estates. The nature of the scent supposedly used by hunts on Trust land is frankly irrelevant if we cannot ascertain the hounds are trained to pursue anything but fox.

The hunts are as aware as we are that animals continue to be killed by hounds “accidentally”, surprising no one apart from the Trustees it seems. We await answers to several written questions, which we look forward to receiving from the Trust. Those members who are rapidly becoming more familiar with the barbaric realities of hunting with hounds continue to look forward to an era when the Trust genuinely takes note of those who are expert in the field of monitoring illegal hunting and advising on trespass. We hope for a time when the governance process reflects a genuine desire to respond to member opinions, rather than a situation where members have no opportunity to speak to the Trustees directly other than after they have decided their way forward and with resolutions, whatever their outcome, being considered as simply indicators of opinion, which could easily have been ascertained by the number of petitions and member demonstrations we have seen and which will continue until the Trust stop supporting savagely cruel and outdated activities.

© Helen Beynon 24.04.18

NOTE: We will be publishing an Overview of this meeting at the end of this week.

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1st April 2018

But….They Say They Only Hunt Trails

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

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

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

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

Are you troubled by the hunt? Contact Hounds Off

© Joe Hashman

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14th March 2018

Huntsman Claims Fox Hunted On National Trust Land ‘Inadvertently’ And Is Acquitted

Hunt Monitors Peter White & Kevin Hill with Joe Hashman from Hounds Off outside Poole Magistrates Court today (14.03.18) where Portman Hunt Master Evo Shirley was acquitted of illegally hunting a fox, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004). Hunt Monitors Peter White & Kevin Hill with Joe Hashman from Hounds Off outside Poole Magistrates Court today (14.03.18) where Portman Hunt Master Evo Shirley was acquitted of illegally hunting a fox, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004).

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DORSET HUNTSMAN ADMITS HE ALLOWED HOUND PACK TO CHASE FOX ON NATIONAL TRUST LAND BUT CLAIMS IT WAS ACCIDENTAL AND IS ACQUITTED

A Dorset huntsman was today acquitted of illegally hunting a fox with hounds, contrary to Section 1 of the Hunting Act (2004).

District Judge Stephen Nicolls, presiding over the case brought by Dorset Police at Poole Magistrates Court, had previously heard eye-witness evidence from volunteer hunt monitors Peter White and Kevin Hill. Film taken by Peter White showed the Portman Hunt hounds chasing a fox on land owned by the National Trust near Wimborne Minster. However, District Judge Nicolls was not satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that this was deliberate and contrary to the Hunting Act as he interpreted it so he cleared Mr Evo Shirley, Master of Fox Hounds and Huntsman for the Portman Hunt, of the charge.

In evidence Mr Shirley told the court that he had allowed his pack of hounds to hunt a fox which they had flushed from a small wood on 8 March 2017, rather than try to stop them, because he could not control them while they were in hot pursuit and needed to let the events “play out.”

Reflecting on the case, Peter White said, “Dorset Police deserve full credit for listening to myself and Kevin Hill when we approached them and said that we had film of what we believed was illegal foxhunting.”

Regarding the verdict, Mr White said, “The Portman Hunt want people to think that they go after trails of fox urine and not live foxes. Unfortunately on this occasion they have persuaded the Court that the fox was hunted by accident and, as the Hunting Act stands, this is a defence in law.”

With regards to the National Trust, the landowners who allow so-called trail hunting to take place on the Kingston Lacy Eastate, Mr White said, “Despite this verdict, I believe that the Portman Hunt can no longer be trusted. In evidence, Mr Shirley admitted that foxes have been ‘inadvertently’ hunted on numerous occasions. Members and visitors might be shocked to learn that the National Trust is well aware of this too.”

Explaining how trail hunting can be easily used as a convenient cover for illegal bloodsports, Kevin Hill said, “Trail hunting is set up for accidents to happen. In evidence it was admitted that the Portman Hunt hounds are trained to go after a fox-based scent so clearly live foxes are constantly at risk. It was revealed that the whereabouts of man-laid trails was unknown to the Huntsman so he had no idea if his hounds were chasing that or a live fox, until he actually saw it. We were told that the hunting pack numbered thirty to forty hounds and, because they were hard onto the fox, the Huntsman could not stop them.”

Explaining how crying “Accident” allows for a defence in Hunting Act cases and how this loophole could be closed, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman said, “To succeed with prosecutions, the law demands we prove that hunting wild mammals is intentional. In this case the Defence was able to persuade Judge Nicolls that the fox was hunted inadvertently. For thirteen years hunters have exploited this loophole to escape conviction. I suggest that using a large pack of hounds trained to hunt a fox-based scent in areas where foxes are known to live is reckless behaviour. It is now time to clearly define Section 1 of the Hunting Act so that to ‘hunt’ means ’cause or permit a dog to seek out, pursue, attack, injure or kill a wild mammal’.”

For the acquitted defendent, former Royal Air Force pilot Mr Bruce Cook had previously told the Court that he was responsible for laying trails that day for the Portman Hunt. Despite telling District Judge Nicolls that he had recorded his movements with GPS readings on an iPhone, he was unable to provide any verifiable evidence of this. Mr Cook admitted that the maps he provided as proof had not been prepared by himself, were inaccurate and that additional photographs claiming to have been taken on 8 March 2017 were “indicative of every photo I take on a hunt” and therefore it was not possible or him to definitively pin them to that date and place.

A spokesperson for the National Dis-Trust said, “The result of this case simply reinforces what we have been saying for years, namely that the National Trust faith in and defense of hunts is utterly misplaced & unjustifiable. Their licence system, for permitting hunting with hounds on National Trust property, should be revoked before the next season begins.”

Notes for Journalists:

For more information or interview requests please contact the Hounds Off Press Office on 07711 032697 or email help@houndsoff.co.uk

About Hounds Off:

Hounds Off helps homeowners, landowners and tenants to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass. Hounds Off also supports the Hunting Act (2004). We seek to enforce and reinforce this legislation in partnership with the public, wildlife crime investigators, legal professionals and politicians.

Website:

www.houndsoff.co.uk

shirley mug shot

Huntsman and Master of Fox Hounds for the Portman Hunt on 8th March 2017, when the hounds under his control “inadvertently” hunted a fox on the National Trust-owned Kingston Lacy Estate in Dorset. He faced charges under Section 1 of the Hunting Act but was found Not Guilty at Poole Magistrates Court on 14.03.18. Credit: Peter White / Hounds Off

 

fox and hounds

Portman Hunt hounds (top right) chasing the fox (centre). Huntsman Evo Shirley admitted that foxes are hunted “inadvertently from time to time” and told the District Judge at Poole Magistrates Court that his “best chance of stopping them was to allow what was happening to play out.” Credit: Peter White / Hounds Off

 

fox

The hunted fox. Accident or on purpose, the fox is still forced to run for its life or face an ugly end in the jaws of up to 40 rampant foxhounds. Credit: Peter White / Hounds Off

 

ENDS

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26th February 2018

Trail Hunting – A Nationwide Criminal Conspiracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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19th February 2018

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

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

Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three days later came the reply.

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s the last I’ve heard of it.

There has been a related development….

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

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

To be continued….

© Joe Hashman

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

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23rd January 2018

Providing Support For Those In Pain & Distress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Joe Hashman

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12th January 2018

You Are Not Alone

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Please use the Action & Advise pages of this website to protect your property, livestock & pets from hunt trespass.

If you’re a student please use the information and resources here to further your studies.

Hounds Off is administered and delivered by volunteers. You can use the Donate page to contribute towards our costs or go to our Shop page and support us by making a purchase.

If anything is unclear have any questions use to Contact Us page to make enquiries.

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5th January 2018

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

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

 

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