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28th May 2017

The Magic Of Hares

Hounds Off is grateful to Brigit Strawbridge for her permission to use this 2017 photograph. Hounds Off is grateful to Brigit Strawbridge for her permission to use this 2017 photograph.

The Hare Preservation Trust invited Hounds Off Founder, Joe Hashman, to write the The Magic Of Hares to mark the occasion of their 2017 Annual General Meeting & HareFest which took place at Aldeburgh in Suffolk on Saturday 28 May:

THE MAGIC OF HARES

It’s hard to know how to properly explain what I think about hares.

It’s not enough to say, “They’re amazing creatures, magical, beautiful, I love ‘em, look at their ears, those legs, you wanna see them moving, they’ve got wild eyes.” Words don’t adequately convey my feelings towards hares, or how they pull on my heart strings and stir emotions which always feel deep.

I do love hares. I love hares that I see doing their thing in passing fields beyond the windows of a car, I love hunted hares which I worry about and desperately want to escape, and I love all the hares in between.

My first encounter with a live hare was when I was in my early teens, while travelling on a West Oxfordshire backroad to play an evening tennis match. She was large and upright, poised on the tarmac ahead, then gangly but strong, powerful, poetic as she ran.

It was a straight and open stretch of single track lane so we were treated to an extended view. My Mother slowed to an appropriate speed so we could safely but closely see this almost unbelievable creature. Then, in a bound, she was gone, jinking right-handed into the luxuriant verge.

This hare made quite an impression. In that moment her species lept off the butchers shop meat hooks in Oxford’s Covered Market, out from pages of natural history books in the school library, and into my life.

I was upset to learn that hare hunting with dogs was considered to be good sport by people who did it to keep themselves entertained.

AN INTRODUCTION TO HARE HUNTING

My next hare encounter was with the Oxford Polytechnic Hunt Saboteurs Association. They were an effective and experienced bunch. I was a 14-year old local kid but the student hunt sabs took me under their wing in almost parental fashion. They taught me well.

It was early January 1983. We parked in the middle of nowhere and walked cross-country to a remote Buckinghamshire railway hamlet called Verney Junction to catch the Old Berkeley Beagles by surprise. Elderly folk leaning on sticks and gazing into fields gave us clues where the sharp end of the hunt was, and we caught up.

Strange individuals were in charge, running around, blowing a bugle and cracking whips, wearing breeches and riding hats. They controlled a pack of beagles and quartered the sticky plough fields in search of hares to chase. We shadowed them as best we could, using footpaths and avoiding the supporters who were unfriendly and aggressive.

Sometimes a hare would jump up right in front and sprint away. The dogs erupted into mad, unified barking and set off in hot pursuit, using their noses not eyes to follow an invisible scent. The hunters in their breeches, riding hats and green jackets legged after them, and when this happened I learned what to do.

Sooner or later the beagles would ‘check’. This meant they would lose the hares scent and have to refind it. Maybe the hare had doubled back on herself then run off at a sharp angle, or done a huge leap to the side to make it seem like she had just disappeared, or any number of other tricks her species can employ to throw hounds off their backs.

A check allows the Huntsman to catch up and assist his pack. We tried to disrupt the hunt by shouting at the beagles and clapping our hands to make them lift their heads. When their noses were up they were not actively hunting.

One sab in our group had a hunting horn. If we couldn’t get near then this was blown to imitate the Huntsman and confuse the beagles. I could see it worked. They were excited and could be encouraged to come towards us which was perfect if we knew the hare had gone in another direction.

Whenever we saw the hare running we sprayed citronella oil to cover her scent. We sprayed hedges and field edges, wherever we thought a hunted hare might pass or have passed. All the time we were watching, looking for the movement of a small brown hare against a background of naked, thorny hedges and rich, deep plough, trying to keep one step ahead of the hunters and follow in her footsteps, not theirs.

Next week we were on a hillside, sabbing the Old Berkeley again. Beagles were nose-to-the-ground ahead of the Huntsman, searching after a check. We were well placed, discreetly in front and to the side.

The hunted hare broke cover and we dropped to our knees to appear small and unthreatening. The hare ran without a break of stride right passed us, so close you could hear the patter of her feet on the short turf and see into her big, bright, staring eyes.

We sprang into action, spraying citronella, shouting, clapping our hands to distract the excited beagles and get them to raise their heads. We didn’t stop the hunt completely but we did continually delay and disrupt until it got too dark to keep going.

Hares are also hunted on foot with basset hounds. Bassets are very wilful creatures and can appear almost comical in the hunting field. But don’t be fooled. A basset pack which is in the mood to hunt and kill a hare is relentless and deliberately cruel. Whereas the beagler hopes for an ideal hunt of 90 minutes from find to kill, with bassets the duration can be much longer. Hares are evolved to survive with short sharp sprints, not endurance running.

Hunting hares with hounds by scent demands patience, concentration and skill. Sabs developed and employed tactics designed to test all of these to the limit.

The most effective tactic is to take the pack completely. Beagles especially will happily run after nothing at all. They can be encouraged off the line of a hare when they check with appropriate horn and voice calls. Then it’s important to run as fast and far as possible before the hunters can get them back.

Beagles and Bassets are vulnerable to disruption and by 1986 had gone underground. The Shooting Times ceased advertising hunt meets full stop, and the Horse & Hound ‘Hunting Appointments’ section had reduced to a hard core of mounted fox and stag packs.

Luckily, in September 1986 I was given access to an archive pile of Horse & Hound magazines and noted five seasons worth of Old Berkeley Beagles meets.

There were clear and reliable patterns. October meets were nearly identical and then quite predictable for the rest of the season. One or two, like Monks House Farm outside Evenley near Brackley in Northamptonshire, took a bit of working out, but we got it. Lots of meets were held at pubs so a well-thumbed phone book and ringing around with a fake posh accent confirmed most fixtures with uncanny accuracy.

One Wednesday from Botolph Claydon the beagles picked up the line of their quarry early. The hare they were onto chose not to sit and sprint but kept on the move slower and steadier, way out ahead of hunting beagles. Elderly followers would indicate that they had seen her by raising a stick or holding aloft their caps. These signals informed the Huntsman where and when to gently guide his hounds.

It just so happened that the hunted hare and I crossed paths repeatedly during the early afternoon. Whenever this happened I’d put down some citronella and hope to buy her some time. But conditions that day were unhelpful and her scent was strong. Eventually the hunted hare ran towards me, then turned along a hedgeline with the pack on full cry just seconds behind.

The only way to stop them this time was to break cover. I shouted, sprayed and caused as much distraction as possible. Initially it worked. Beagles burst through the other side then lost momentum, lifted their heads and spread. But there were too many and it was too hot for me to handle. I was assaulted by the Field Master but wriggled free and had no choice but to get away as fast as possible to avoid a beating from him and others.

My moped was parked by the church. It stepped-through first time and I rode home at a top speed of 30 miles an hour. It was a traumatic experience which I recounted to my Mum. She listened and said only that, “Hares can sense when you are there and trying to do good.”

In 1986 I was an estate worker for the Berkshire Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Naturalists Trust, doing practical woodland and other habitat management. I was an excellent worker; punctual, reliable and keen.

It was quite a shock when the Old Berkeley Beagles Huntsman walked in to the office on the evening of our Christmas party. Turned out he was the North Buckinghamshire Regional Chairman. Early in the New Year I arrived five minutes late for work and was sacked on the spot.

RADLEY COLLEGE BEAGLES

A few public schools keep their own pack of beagles and at these institutions, hare hunting is on the curriculum. One, the Radley College, used to access many of its meets by driving right passed the top of our road. Even younger kids from an Oxford prep school called The Dragon were bussed out twice a week to join them in the countryside and learn how to kill for fun.

In late 1989 at a place called Appleford they hunted a hare into private gardens. Locals were outraged. A petition was launched asking the Radley College Beagles to stop meeting at Appleford and 80% of villagers signed it. The Bursar of Radley College publicly promised “to do everything possible to avoid future problems”, but he wouldn’t commit to dropping the meet at Church Farm.

Two sets of severed hares ears were sent to my parents house through the post so clearly our campaigns were touching a nerve and sabbing on the day saved lives. The importance of non violent direct action cannot be underestimated. But looking back it’s worth considering, with these schoolboys especially, did we win hearts and minds or just make them more stubborn and entrenched?

HARE MEMORIAL DAY

On March 6th 1989 a vigil was held at the Martyrs Memorial in Oxford to remember hares killed by hounds. Over 40 people attended, listened to speakers and held a silence. Afterwards some of us went on to sab the Christchurch & Farley Hill Beagles. This is the Oxford University hunt and, as with the school packs, introduces many outsiders to so-called “fieldsports” and the lifestyle that goes with it.

Students who wanted to go beagling met at Oriel Square in one of the colleges, then got a lift. On Hare Memorial Day we had someone at Oriel Square, working undercover. She called in from a phone box to tell us the meet was at East Hanney. No hares were killed but the police were heavy handed.

I was arrested and charged with possessing an offensive weapon – a hunting whip – and threatening behaviour. In May, Wantage Magistrates Court ruled that the case should be discontinued but in early July I received a summons for non payment of outstanding costs. They were holding me liable for £156 because, technically, the case was never formally dropped. I went straight to the press and a week later Wantage Magistrates Court ruled that it was unfair to expect me to pay costs for a case which never got heard.

On another occasion out with this lot, we were set apon by a gang of local foxhunt thugs. Horns and sprays were stolen, we were assaulted, bloodied and bruised.

Be in no doubt that folk who enjoy killing a creature as timid and harmless as the hare will use any means possible, fair foul or violent, to quieten dissenters.

THE WATERLOO CUP

The Waterloo Cup was a three day festival of hare coursing. In coursing, hares are used as a live lure to test the speed and agility of two fast-running dogs like greyhounds. The Waterloo Cup was a sixty-four dog stake which, by process of elimination, whittled down to a grand final and eventual winner. There was prize money, prestige and the bookies loved it.

The hare coursing season ran from September to March. During that time lots of clubs around the country would hold smaller events of one day, sometimes two. The Waterloo Cup was the peak of the season, bringing together all winners and qualifiers. In its heydays of the late 1800s, crowds of eighty thousand would flock to watch.

The National Coursing Club was the governing body for this sport. They advised spectators not to identify with the hare because doing so might spoil their enjoyment. You have to wonder what kind of sub-human gets their kicks from watching hares running for their lives right before their eyes, sometimes even in and around their feet, twisting and turning, often being caught, frequently being savaged in the jaws of both dogs, almost always having to be killed by a coursing official called a “picker up” who would put the pitiful creature out of this totally unnecessary and extended misery by pulling its neck.

In 1985 the Hunt Saboteurs Association organised its annual disruption of the Waterloo Cup. Previously, terrible violence had been dished out to sabs by coursing supporters so on Day One protesters marched the lanes as close to the coursing fields as possible, always with a heavy police escort.

Day Two was different. Sabs were up before dawn, driving to a secluded spot just beyond the northern fringes of Liverpool in an assortment of battered transit vans and old cars.

Ahead was the River Alt. The location had been identified as a suitable fording place to reach the fields opposite. Later that morning hares would be corralled there so they could be released, one by one, into an arena in front of the dogs and jeering, rowdy crowds.

Gamekeepers encouraged unnaturally high numbers of hares around the West Lancashire village of Great Altcar specifically for coursing purposes. Hares were also imported from other places before this and other big coursing events. It was quite likely that some had recently arrived from the Six Mile Bottom Estate in Cambridgeshire. Sixty-three hares were needed to run the Waterloo Cup itself, and many more to complete the Plate and Purse competitions which ran concurrently. The last thing that coursing officials wanted was a shortage of quarry.

Sabs waded across the river and were organised into long lines which stretched across the fields. I was in one of these lines. There were sabs to both sides at close but regular intervals. Our tactic was to move in unison and shepherd hares out of the danger zone. As we walked, hares were jumping up all over the place. Some tried to dodge between the gaps. We had to create a wall of noise to turn them back.

Soon the police arrived. They emerged from the mist mob-handed and all wearing regulation black wellies. I was grabbed and frogmarched to a waiting mobile police cell which soon filled up. Sixteen of us were tried and found guilty at Ormskirk Magistrates Court of causing Criminal Damage to a field of cabbages. We were bound over to keep the peace. Prosecution witnesses included cops, coursers and their lackeys. They all lied through their teeth so we appealed. I was a minor at the time of the arrests. The Judge at Preston Crown Court granted my appeal alone, on the grounds of being led astray by the grown-ups.

The Waterloo Cup ran for another twenty years but 2005 was to be the last. For all it’s faults, the Hunting Act was unequivocal in making hare coursing illegal.

PALMER MILBURN BEAGLES

Beaglers and their like circumvented the Hunting Act by inventing the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’. They claimed to lay a scent themselves then set their dogs on to that. And because rabbits are not protected by the Hunting Act, they would pretend to be hunting these animals whenever it suited.

Rabbits bolt for a hole at the first sign of danger and are never more than a short dash away. I remember reading one post-ban feature article in the Horse & Hound about a beagle pack in Somerset, and the impossible tale of a “rabbit” that led hunters and their hounds a long and merry circular dance around the cider orchards of West Bradley.

The Palmer Milburn Beagles used trail hunting as a cover for illegal hare hunting in Berkshire and Wiltshire. One of their favourite hunting grounds was Salisbury Plain, a huge area used by the Army for training exercises.

Salisbury Plain mostly comprises vast tracts of open, uncultivated grassland with scattered woods which stretch as far as the eye can see. There are few metalled roads. It can be a desolate and wild place.

In this habitat hares thrive. They are big, wily creatures who enjoy sheltering amid the dips and folds of rough vegetation and dining on an unrivalled selection of naturally occurring seasonal herbs and grasses. For hunters, these hares are prime quarry and for that minority of people who are thrilled by such things, Salisbury Plain is an ideal place for pitting a pack of beagles against hares which are in the peak of physical condition.

For a couple of months during Winter 2006/07 I followed the Palmer Milburn Beagles with my colleague, Shely Bryan. Shely and I worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Our job was to gather evidence of Hunting Act offences for prosecutions.

We had a source for meets on Salisbury Plain so decided to take a look. First time out we pretended to be four-wheel drive enthusiasts who enjoyed muddy rides along the numerous tank tracks and green lanes. Then we pretended to be interested in watching the beagling but were too lazy to get out and walk. Instead we followed in our vehicle. Nobody objected so we spent many days tagging along.

Shely and I used the cover of being in a vehicle to discreetly gather loads of evidence. Our films showed that people were using a pack of beagles to find, chase and kill hares on Ministry of Defense land just as they had before hare hunting was banned. We showed that this was being done repeatedly and deliberately. We got footage of hares being chased by beagles, hunt staff and supporters in that order. We identified the people involved and evidenced other behaviour that was specific to beagling.

One piece of footage showed a hunted hare running below a supporter, then changing direction. A minute later the beagles came along the same line as the hare. Where the hare turned, they checked. The supporter who had seen the hare running below them raised his cap on a stick to show the Huntsman where she had gone and he, in response, got his hounds on the line again.

On one occasion we filmed the beagle pack in full cry some way off. They hunted fast and hard then stopped and sniffed about. We could see the Huntsman nearby in the same area of long grass. Suddenly the beagles all converged really quickly in one place and the Huntsman blew his horn to signal a kill. This was confirmed to Shely and myself by the Whipper-In, who was standing close to our four-wheel drive as we all watched.

“That’s a kill,” she said, then, “Don’t tell anyone I said that, it doesn’t happen.”

We prepared all our evidence properly and handed it to the Military Police in person. We gave them everything they needed for justice to be done, but there were no charges.

At a meeting with the Investigating Officer, he told us that the Huntsman had been called in for interview and claimed that what we said was film of a kill actually showed the beagles pouncing on a packet of biscuits which he had hidden for them in the long grass.

We suspended our disbelief and told the Investigating Officer that it’s illegal to chase hares, you don’t just have to kill them.

But it was too late. The six month window for charges to be brought was just about to elapse and all our cases were effectively dead.

YORKSHIRE ‘GREYHOUND TRIALLING’ (aka HARE COURSING)

The Hunting Act Enforcement Team at IFAW was aware that the coursing community had adopted cosmetic changes to their sport which they hoped would enable them to defeat the law as well. When we received information that a post-ban version of the Waterloo Cup was to be run near Malton in Yorkshire in March 2007, Shely Bryan and I were sent to investigate.

For this job we used a camera hidden in binoculars and a pinhole camera worn on the lapel. I was on the binoculars. They were a brilliant piece of kit which allowed targeted, covert filming to take place whilst standing in the thick of it.

The evidence we gathered over two days of competition secured convictions of two landowners plus celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright and hare coursing officianado Sir Mark Prescott.

The landowners claimed that they were hosting a new sport called Greyhound Trialling. In reality the only difference between this and pre-ban hare coursing was that the dogs wore muzzles and a length of orange barrier netting was staked up some distance opposite to where the hare and dogs started from. It was no barrier. More often than not hares would flee to either side. If they could keep going long enough the greyhounds would tire and stop. Sometimes the hare ran out of sight, followed by greyhounds and then their puffing, blowing, lumbering trainers.

With the binocular camera we shot film of a hare being pinned down against a wire fence and pummelled by the muzzled jaws of the dogs before the picker-up got there, wrestled the hare and killed it by grabbing the ears and feet and pulling in opposite directions.

These convictions at Scarborough Magistrates Court in July and September 2009 augmented those achieved by us in partnership with the the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports at Kings Lynn Magistrates Court in December 2008, following a Joint Operation on an event at Great Massingham in Norfolk.

We exposed Greyhound Trialling as a sham, well and truly. Word on the rural grapevine was that we had finished organised club coursing with these court cases.

I’d like to believe that this is still the situation. But we would be unwise to take such things for granted. History shows that bloodsports fanatics should never be trusted.

HOUNDS OFF

In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide at the upcoming General Election seemed imminent and I was really worried that this would jeopardise the future of the Hunting Act. I was determined to find a way of stopping hunting which would work effectively, regardless of the state of the law.

The idea of creating a network of wildlife sanctuaries, where landowners prohibited hunting on their property, made a lot of sense. I was familiar with League sanctuaries in the West Country and the way these once worked to scupper hunting.

I also remembered how hard the bloodsports community fought in the mid 1990s to overturn County Council bans because these had a real and negative effect on hunting across the country.

And I was inspired by locals from Elcombe in Gloucestershire. There, the Cotswold Hunt was once a frequent and unwelcome visitor. In 2006 residents organised themselves. They engaged with Stroud Council and the Police to try and get an ASBO against the hunt. Matters didn’t get quite that far but the Cotswold Hunt did receive an official warning under the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act and the problems stopped.

The fact is that if you take away land you take away hunting opportunities.

Friends, family and colleagues at IFAW helped to crystallise this thinking and in September 2011 a campaign was launched called Hounds Off.

The original mission was two-pronged;

First, to provide online resources specifically designed to help people to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass.

Second, to support the 2004 Hunting Act.

During the 2011/12 hunting season Hounds Off dealt with twenty-six complaints of hunt trespass. In 2016 this had risen to ninety-four cases of trespass and havoc by seventy-three different Hunts across the UK.

Last November a woman contacted Hounds Off. She had experienced a pack of beagles chasing a hare through her garden. She was upset about illegal hunting and also that a fence had been damaged. She told us the Beagle Master visited after the incident to reassure her that they were not hunting illegally. Apparently the hares they were chasing were “already injured” so the dogs were being used to execute mercy killings. The woman who had her Saturday afternoon ruined by hunt trespass and lies was seeking advice and support.

The first thing we did was help her to secure her property against future hunt trespass incidents using the ‘Hounds Off Belt & Braces Approach’. This is the standard action which we have encouraged and supported hundreds of people like this woman to do. It’s part of a suite of resources to be found on our website and can be implemented by anyone.

The next matter to address was the broken fence. We were able to provide the information needed so this hunt could be contacted and asked to pay the bill for damage repairs.

The third aspect we considered was the illegal hunting of hares. You see, it’s true that the Hunting Act does include an exemption which allows for the use of two hounds in dispatching genuinely wounded quarry. But if this exemption is claimed then it’s a condition that no more than two dogs are used and that those dogs must be under control.

Make no mistake, I’ve no doubt that this beagle pack was deliberately hunting healthy hares.

But who is going to pursue this? Who’s going to hold the hunters to account? The police are mostly indifferent and the big anti hunting charities have their own agendas.

Sadly at the moment, Hounds Off doesn’t have the resources to do it. We operate with volunteers, in personal time and with minimal funds. But we are always learning, always growing, always developing. And we have vision. Right now, we are establishing a specialist legal team which can advocate for the woman who contacted us to ask for help, and for the hare.

Last year the Hare Preservation Trust got in touch. They wanted to see hare hunting and coursing represented on the downloadable No Hunting poster which is available on www.houndsoff.co.uk . We agreed it was a great idea and if they stumped up the neccasary pence, we would make it happen.

The ‘Hounds Off Our Hares’ logo was launched last Spring. We made No Hunting & Coursing posters available and promoted a limited edition offer on merchandise which engaged lots of people, raised awareness and helped us to cover costs.

Once again, the Hunting Act is in danger. As in 2010, there is the very real prospect of a big Tory majority in the House of Commons after the upcoming General Election, and subsequent move by bloodsports apologists at Repeal.

I’m aware that here in Suffolk you have ongoing issues with illegal hare hunting by harrier packs and a brick wall of institutional corruption within Suffolk Police.

In darker moments it can all feel too much, too heavy, too painful. But these dark moments pass. The hunted hare must remain alert and strong if she is to survive and see tomorrow, and so must we.

There has never been a more important time to stop hunting where you live. Every farm, every field, every garden, every backyard, every community greenspace, everywhere counts. Please please please, use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource to help you do this. Share this website with your family, colleagues and friends.

Hounds Off is the people’s campaign against hunting and the beauty is that, to succeed, we need rely on no-one but ourselves.

“THE STAG OF THE STUBBLE”

I would like to finish by reading a piece I wrote on August 12th 2009;

“Harvests are coming in from the fields. The shape and texture of our landscape is changing again.

“I travelled back from the other side of Salisbury at dusk. In the expansive flats east of Fovant, combines were working under the gaze of their own bright lights. Great chuntering machines, spewing chaff in a continual jet of solids funnelled out sideways, gobbling vast swathes of rape, whose aroma filled the air as I passed through, windows down, enjoying the freshness of the Summer evening breeze.

“Somewhere betwixt front cutting blades and the stream of waste, somehow within that huge state-of-the-art monument to human invention and beneath the tiny seated driver, what needed to be done to render a crop useful in the factory was done.

“The combine I saw was literally on the final strait. A single remaining column of standing arable almost swallowed up.

“And so the earth is laid bare again. A naked spread of soil and stalks to be picked over by small birds and, in waxing moonlight, that lolloping, nose-twitching, wide-eyed, ever cautious, perfectly proportioned, ears keen, harming none, built-for-speed, always ready to run, stag of the stubble – the hare.”

© Joe Hashman
May 2017

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23rd May 2017

HareFest 2017 – Saturday May 27 @ Aldebugh, Suffolk

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Organised by the Hare Preservation Trust, the 2017 HareFest takes place this Saturday (May 27) at Jubilee Hall, Crabbe Street, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, from 10am-5pm. Please come along and celebrate this most amazing of wild animals.

Alongside hare-related art and serious craft, animal welfare and wildlife stalls from a diverse range of charities and organisations, Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman will be speaking about some of his experiences from 35-years of hare conservation work in the fields and courtrooms of Britain.

Copies of Outfoxed Take Two and Outfoxed Again will be available, with a chance to meet author Mike Huskisson and discuss his incredible undercover investigations over the last four decades.

If you are moved by hares and other wild animals, this is an event not to be missed!

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7th March 2017

Bucks-based Kimblewick Hunt Hounds Infected With Bovine Tuberculosis – OFFICIAL

Staff College & RMS Sandhurst Draghounds helping the Kimblewick Hunt out on 210217. This was the day when Hounds Off volunteers learnt that the Buckinghamshire-based Kimblewick Hunt hounds had been infected with bovine tuberculosis. Staff College & RMS Sandhurst Draghounds helping the Kimblewick Hunt out on 210217. This was the day when Hounds Off volunteers learnt that the Buckinghamshire-based Kimblewick Hunt hounds had been infected with bovine tuberculosis.

It has just been confirmed that the Kimblewick Hunt hounds have contracted bovine tuberculosis. Hounds Off now calls for the immediate blanket suspension of all hunting by all packs of hounds pending further information and enquiries.

That hunting with hounds poses a biosecurity risk, especially in relation to spreading bovine tuberculosis, comes as no surprise. We have been raising this issue for some time now. Confirmation that a pack of registered foxhounds in Buckinghamshire has contracted the disease should set alarm bells ringing. The question marks surrounding hunting and biosecurity, the risks which hunting with hounds pose to farm animal health, just got real and serious.

It is surely inconceivable that the self-styled “Guardians of the Countryside” can carry on like normal – or is it? As this scandal unfolds we will all be able to judge for ourselves who has the best interests of animal welfare and wildlife conservation at heart.

Hounds Off learned of the Kimblewick Hunt hounds contracting bovine tuberculosis on February 21st 2017. Here is how it happened:

Acting on information received, a small Hounds Off team recently monitored two meets of the Kimblewick Hunt in Berkshire near to where, last season, their hounds ran through a private garden. Our job was to protect this land forbidden to hunting.

On Valentines Day the meet was near Compton, a village not far from Junction 13 of the M4. It was a poorly attended hunt. We counted less than twenty riders, half a dozen car followers and three quad bikes. Twice hounds found a scent and went on cry, both times the chase ended inconclusively after five minutes with us in close attendance, cameras ready, at the sharp end. The second time hounds were running all over the road at Applepie Hill in a dodgy combination with narrow, undulating bends and fast traffic. They packed up mid afternoon and, from a monitoring perspective, we were pleased. The property we set out to protect was never in danger. One thing confused us though. The Kimblewick Hunt jacket is mustard coloured but the Huntsman on this day was wearing green. We asked around our contacts but nobody could explain.

On February 21 we returned to the Kimblewick who were hunting between Compton and Streatley. From the meet hounds took off after some deer, ran over the hills and far away. There was much hanging around and waiting. We were parked on a by-way near the village of Aldworth, watching through binoculars. A hunter wearing the Kimblewick mustard jacket disappeared after the hounds but the man in charge, the chap trying to gather hounds by calling with his voice and horn, was wearing green. Through the binos we recognised him from the week before.

Presently a blue Suzuki pulled up behind our vehicle and a lady hunt follower came over to say hello. Her name was Mary and we chatted. Mary was clearly unaware of who we were or why we were there. First thing we asked was who is the Huntsman wearing green? Mary informed us that he was Luke Chatfield from the Staff College & RMA Sandhurst Draghounds. Then she told us the reason why he was hunting and it was hard to believe!

According to Mary, the Kimblewick hounds had contracted bovine tuberculosis and the whole season “has been a write-off.” Their scheduled meets, she said, have been taken by visiting packs. On Feb 21 she said it should have been one of the Devon hunts but they pulled out at the last minute so the Draghounds, who are quite local anyway, filled in. Mary let slip that twenty-six of the Kimblewick hounds had been put down just last week.

Draghounds do genuinely hunt an artificial scent so we asked Mary what exactly was being hunted on this day; an artificial drag, fox-based trail or live quarry? She said that “accidents happen” and that she intended to stay out well into the afternoon. We know a bit about hunting and observed that things often hot up around 3pm. “Ah yes, the Three O’Clock Fox,” purred Mary with a knowing smile.

Mary said that the Duke of Beaufort Hunt was guesting on Saturday 25 Feb at Kingston Blount to finish this disastrous season, which normally runs into April. We chatted a bit more then, with the lull ongoing, she returned to sit in her car.

Efforts were still being made in the distance to gather scattered hounds and resume hunting. Presently an elderly chap walked into view and stopped to compare observations too. He was called John and, independently, confirmed that the Kimblewick hounds had contracted bovine tuberculosis. He said how they contracted bTB was “a mystery” but reckoned the “Ministry” were looking in to it.

“It’s all new,” conceded John, “the first time ever.”

Realising the profound implications for hunting if what we had just been told was officially confirmed but playing it cool, we talked about the poor show so far and wondered why the hounds were allowed to get away on the deer. Then John walked to Mary’s car and they wagged chins for a bit.

After that we were pleased to confirm that it was genuine draghunting, not fox hunting, which ensued. Apart from a dodgy five minutes when we were surrounded by estate workers, lads on quad bikes and one who sat on our bonnet to obstruct legitimate passage along a by-way (which diffused when an actual by-way sign right next to us was pointed out), it was all very half-hearted.

Immediately after the hunt had finished we put in a Freedom Of Information request to DEFRA regarding the Kimblewick revelations, then got stuck in to investigating. We soon discovered that in 2011 Irish hunting hounds were found to have been found infected with bTB.

Three days later, on Friday February 24, Hounds Off received information of an anonymous email sent to an anti hunting campaign group which, we were told, contained three salient points:

1. The Kimblewick Hunt hounds contracted bTB from eating infected cattle flesh.
2. 40 hounds have been destroyed in the last 10 days.
3. The Masters Of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) is covering the whole thing up.

Since then we have worked with the League Against Cruel Sports and Daily Mirror journalist Ben Glaze to verify as much of the above as possible. This is not our ‘story’ nor theirs. It belongs to all of us who care about wildlife conservation and animal welfare. If you are reading this and have a question, ask it. One thing is for certain – there is much more which remains unclear and needs to be found out!

© Joe Hashman

Staff College & RMS Sandhurst Draghounds helping the Kimblewick Hunt out on 210217. This was the day when Hounds Off volunteers learnt that the Buckinghamshire-based Kimblewick Hunt hounds had been infected with bovine tuberculosis.

Staff College & RMS Sandhurst Draghounds helping the Kimblewick Hunt out on 210217. This was the day when Hounds Off volunteers learnt that the Buckinghamshire-based Kimblewick Hunt hounds had been infected with bovine tuberculosis.

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28th February 2017

Calling Residents Of Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield & Surrounding Area

Huntsman gathers hounds from private gardens on Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire 25.02.17 Huntsman gathers hounds from private gardens on Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire 25.02.17

You may have read seen the news from last Saturday of hunters and a pack of hounds chasing a fox from open countryside into the edge of town, trashing property and gardens, then cornering the exhausted creature and biting it to death in a private back garden with the shocked residents terrified, upset and powerless to do anything? If not, read it here or watch it here.

I’m glad there were no Saboteurs or Monitors out with the Cheshire Forest Hunt on Saturday 25th February because you can be certain that, had there been, they would have been blamed for the pandemonium caused by the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. As it is, the hunters cannot shift responsibility for hunting a terrified fox which sought sanctuary in the gardens and patios of a residential street on the edge of Macclesfield. Even before that fox was caught and killed the shocking reality of foxhunting was laid bare. Well done to everyone who has spoken up and not swept this outrageous animal abuse under the carpet.

Incidents like this have happened before and experience suggests will happen again. We will have to wait and see if Cheshire Police have the appetite to meaningfully investigate Saturdays events but whatever happens there is positive, practical action which every resident of Penningtons Lane can take to stop hunting in the future and it is this: make your farm, field or garden a hunt-free zone by following the simple Hounds Off formulas here.

DO ‘HOUNDS OFF’ IN CHESHIRE

Hounds Off exists precisely to support and advise anyone who wants to protect their property from hunt trespass. This website is a resource so please use it. Employ the Cost & Hassle Free Option for Warning Off your local hunt, or the Belt & Braces Approach if you want to be doubly sure. If anything at any stage is unclear then contact the Hounds Off team direct and we will help – that’s what we do.

If you live on or around Penningtons Lane, Macclesfield, Cheshire (or know someone who does) please forward this blog to them and encourage them to warn the Cheshire Forest Hunt off their property.

DO ‘HOUNDS OFF’ ANYWHERE

In fact, wherever you are you can do this. There are at least 200 hunts in the UK and we suspect most of them to be engaged in illegal activity. We know that if you want to keep hounds off our wildlife, Hounds Off really works.

© Joe Hashman

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11th January 2017

The £5 Money Shot – Making Evidence Of Illegal Hunting Count

Cheshire Forest Huntsman being questioned by police, 2nd January 2017. Photo credit: Cheshire Monitors Cheshire Forest Huntsman being questioned by police, 2nd January 2017. Photo credit: Cheshire Monitors

Did you hear about the bang-to-rights evidence of illegal hunting which the police and/or CPS weren’t interested in? Apparently it happens all the time…

It’s beyond doubt that there’s an institutional disinterest in Hunting Act cases and the authorities seek any excuse not to proceed with matters. In court, experience shows Defence teams seizing any opportunity to subvert evidence or witnesses against them. If you want your evidence to withstand close and vindictive scrutiny you need The Money Shot and, for fox sake, make it a £5er;

£1; The fox (hare, deer or mink) fleeing….

With no quarry in the frame, the Defense will argue that there is no chasing of a live animal. Establish the identity of the quarry species with your camera. You’ll need much more than film of fleeing quarry to get the offenders into court but without this you have nothing.

£2; …being chased by a pack of hounds….

A kill is not essential for an offence to be committed under the Hunting Act (2004). Chasing with dogs is illegal. Once evidence of the quarry has been secured, pan back to the hounds to show what they’re doing and how many are involved.

£3; …in view of the Huntsman or Whipper-In….

These days hounds are often allowed to range way ahead of the Huntsman. If quarry is found and chased then those responsible can claim to either not know or that it was an “accident”. Evidence which shows somebody in charge of the hounds was well able to view events makes it harder to cry “accident”.

£4; …who is not trying to stop them….

Film the behaviour of anyone at the scene including body gestures (such as pointing) and any use of horn and voice. “Accident” is far less plausible if hunt staff can be shown to have done nothing to stop the hounds. If hunt staff are filmed actively encouraging the chase (such as by cheering hounds on or doubling the horn), or by taking and acting upon information communicated to them by others then even better. This will show an intent to break the law which is hard to deny.

£5; …for a considerable time or distance.

It’s not possible to state what constitutes “considerable” but obviously the longer the chase goes on with nothing being done to stop it, the stronger the evidence of illegal hunting being an intentional thing.

Identification

When filming either Huntsman or Whipper-In take the earliest opportunity to zoom in as close as possible because identification is absolutely essential for proving who did what. Hunting Act cases will fail due to weak ident even if the actual illegal hunting is obvious. These days hunt staff often wear anonymous matching jackets and ride horses with similar colouring and features; tactics which conspire to make evidence gathering even more difficult. The smallest detail could be a clincher so be alert to capturing on film anything, anything, which could help with positive identification.

Other things: keep cameras running as long as possible; use GPS readings to verify time, date, location; don’t commentate or remonstrate whilst filming (bite your tongue if you have to – let your film do the talking); guard good evidence with your life until instructed otherwise by a professional person you trust.

The £5 Money Shot is intended to provide helpful guidance for property owners and individuals involved with law enforcement. It’s one of many wider conversations around the Hunting Act (2004). If  further debate and discussion about evidence gathering of illegal hunting is prompted then good. If anyone finds it useful, applies it in the field and succeeds in court then even better!

Recommended further research:

The Hunting Act, a website for enforcement professionals
Trail Of Lies Report by IFAW and explanation of the false alibi of ‘trail hunting’

© Joe Hashman
Founder, Hounds Off

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1st December 2016

The Devil’s In The Detail (But Who’s Looking?)

Evidence of illegal hare hunting by the Easton Harriers. Photo courtesy Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs Evidence of illegal hare hunting by the Easton Harriers. Photo courtesy Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs

HUNT TRESPASS IN WILTSHIRE

A message came to Hounds Off that hare hunting beagles breached a fence and ran into a Wiltshire garden last Saturday. Apparently the Hunt Master muttered an excuse about hunting “wounded hares”. Our Wiltshire contact said she thought hunting with dogs was banned. Something about the wounded hare excuse just didn’t ring true to us either. We asked a friend for his thoughts. He pinged them back to us in quick time.

Under the Hunting Act, there is an Exemption that allows hunting an injured hare lawfully, “for the purpose of relieving the wild mammal’s suffering” (1). However, and these are salient points in this instance, no more than two dogs may be used (2), it’s done on permitted land only (3) and the dogs must be kept under control (4).

We already know a pack was used, the hunters did not have permission to hunt in the garden and clearly they were running out of control when they did. Illegal, doncha think?

Our friend reckoned that the trespass aspect was interesting too. If the beaglers were claiming the wounded hare Exemption then they must admit to having control of their hounds – which makes the trespass deliberate. Getting to the truth would help our Wiltshire contacts should they take civil action to protect their property in future.

And here’s the frustrating bit. Why do we have to resort to civil actions? Whichever way you look at it, in 2016 hunt trespass isn’t something the anti hunting rural dweller should have to endure.

EVIDENCE OF ILLEGAL HUNTING IN SUFFOLK

As to what’s occurring with recent and ongoing allegations of illegal hare hunting in Suffolk, you might well despair. Compelling evidence gathered by Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs raises serious questions about the Easton Harriers and their hunting activities. Their false alibi is tenuous too. Are they claiming “rabbit hunting” or, like the Wiltshire beaglers, going after wounded hares (BBC Suffolk News online, 29 November 2016, see below)?

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Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-38146564

When Brian May tweeted that Law and Order had broken down in Suffolk, he joined a chorus calling out the blatantly obvious. We all hope the police and prosecuting authorities find a hitherto vacant will (and the expertise) to fully and forensically investigate these allegations of illegal hunting.

Two facts we suggest that detectives unpick early on:

1/ The dogs used are purpose-bred, specialist hare hunting hounds (ie harriers).

2/ The habitat and habits of hares and rabbits differ in basic ways which make it easy to establish what is the true quarry just by simple observation.

If, under proper scrutiny, the Easton Harriers claim the wounded hare Exemption then immediately they are guilty of illegal hunting for running more than two hounds. We could go on…

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton of Suffolk Police has appealed for information and background intelligence. We ask her to treat this blog as both, take it seriously and positively investigate. Honestly, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work this all out!

REFERENCES

(1) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (3).
(2) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (4).
(3) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (6) (b).
(4) Hunting Act (2004), Schedule 1 Exempt Hunting, 8 (7) (b).

ACTION TO TAKE

Request Suffolk Police investigate allegations of illegal hunting by the Easton Harriers, here

Contact Suffolk Police & Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore with your concerns, here

Make your property into a nature reserve from which hunting is forbidden, here

Write to your MP and ask them to support the Hunting Act (2004), here

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© Joe Hashman

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5th November 2016

One Landowners Ongoing Struggle To Keep Hounds Off His Land

Foxhounds running out of control across roads and gardens in Childe Okeford, near Sturminster Newton, Dorset, 5 Nov 2016. Foxhounds running out of control across roads and gardens in Childe Okeford, near Sturminster Newton, Dorset, 5 Nov 2016.

Hounds Off exists because words from hunters can rarely be trusted. And so it is that, for decades sometimes, people are negatively affected by hunt trespass. The thread reproduced here tells the tale of one landowner who has sought to protect his property, livestock and pets since well before we struck up a friendship in 2010.

—-Original message—-
From : *****
Date : 04/11/2016 – 08:23 (GMTST)
To : *****@*****.PNN.Police.uk
Subject : Re: RE: RE: ***** Hunt NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED

*****,

Thank you for what you have tried to do on our behalf and that of our livestock.

I am sure that when you are out of uniform, at home with your family, your view on this matter, where one section of the community can, in the pursuit of their own questionable, often illegal, enjoyment, trample over the lives, livelihood and livestock of the elderly, in-firmed, vulnerable and exposed, seemingly without laws to stop them, may be different.

The Police and Crime Commissioner was very interested in our plight last year and I shall be contacting him.

All the best,

*****

—-Original message—-
From : *****@*****.PNN.Police.uk
Date : 03/11/2016 – 17:30 (GMTST)
To : *****
Cc : *****@*****.PNN.Police.uk
Subject : RE: RE: ***** Hunt NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED

*****
I have spoken today with the master of the ***** hunt and again re-iterated your concerns. The master stated that they would endeavour to do as they did towards the end of last season and try and keep away from the boundary to your property and place personnel to contain the hounds. Unfortunately as the hunt has permission to use the land adjoining yours there is very little that can be done to stop them.
I am not on duty on Saturday (05/11/2016) when the hunt should next be in your area but I have asked PC***** to visit you and monitor the hunts activities. Should you see anything that you believe is illegal or in relation to illegal activity please call it in and PC***** will hopefully be able to attend and investigate.
I am sorry that there is not anything more I can do but we will continue to monitor the situation and deal with any issues that arise as best we can.
Regards
PC*****
***** Rural Neighbourhood Policing Team Officer

From: *****
Sent: 29 October 2016 11:09
To: *****@*****.PNN.Police.uk
Subject: Re: RE: ***** Hunt NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED

Thank you, *****, for your reply to my email of 12 October.

I see that you had the meeting with the ***** Hunt master and that he said that the ***** Hunt will endeavour to do as “they did towards the end of last season.”

The hunting starts today and next Saturday will be the anniversary of the horrendous trespass, harassment and distress to livestock inflicted on us. Comprehensive details of this together with maps were forwarded to yourselves at ***** Police and to the Police and Crime Commissioner. Prior to last years events, the master of the ***** had given an undertaking to stay a fields distance away from us. In the event he led a triumphal parade along our boundary and later led the field to hunt ***** Copse right up to our boundary. It was only after 7th November that he maintained a fields distance away and we suffered no harassment.

Your email 13/10/2016 says that your “understanding is that the ***** Hunt will endeavour to do as they did towards the end of last season” – a fields distance away from us. Despite this assurance on 8th October just gone, the master of the ***** led the hunt into the field next to us, a distance of 50 m away from our livestock. (There is no doubt in my mind that a fox is released in ***** copse which is then chased. There is a high probability that this animal will chose to enter our land, through our flock with hounds following.) On that occasion it was ***** and I recording events that prevented the terrier man entering the copse to release the fox and the field trooped off back to ***** Farm.

Last year, *****, I made the point that ***** Farm where we live seems not to be a part of *****, where the laws on harassment and animal welfare don’t apply, where the ***** Hunt in pursuit of its own pleasure ride rough-shod over the elderly, weak, and vunerable having done so over a period of in excess of two decades and there’s none to prevent them. I said to you that I believed that the powers of ***** Police did not extend to us and, on that occasion, you corrected me. But yet again they’ve given an assurance to you which has proved to be utterly without foundation. They have no intention of abiding by a fields distance away.

Quite honestly, we are desperate for some peace in our lives without being terrorised by the ***** on a yearly basis.

Sorry to sound so gloomy, *****. Nothing personal; towards us you’ve always been a good and even-handed policeman. But it does seem that the ***** Hunt can can do just as it pleases and there is none to say nay.

—-Original message—-
From : *****@*****.PNN.Police.uk
Date : 13/10/2016 – 18:28 (GMTST)
To : *****
Subject : RE: ***** Hunt NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED

*****
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you I have been away on other wildlife related issues. We did have the meeting with the hunt masters and I have spoken with the Master of the ***** hunt in relation to you and your land. My understanding is that the ***** Hunt will endeavour to stay away from your land, as they did towards the end of last season. I will be speaking to the Master again shortly with regards to other matters and will re-iterate your position.
Again sorry for the delay in getting back to you
Regards
PC*****

From: *****
Sent: 12 October 2016 13:12
To: *****@*****.PNN.Police.uk
Subject: ***** Hunt

Dear *****,

On the last time we met we said that we’d be sending our customary letter to The ***** Hunt requesting them not to trespass on our land. We said we would send you a copy and that we would send one to Insp *****. You said that you would be meeting the hunt masters and inform us of the outcome as it affects us.
Last year the meeting was at the end of August

It has become urgent to know what the ***** intend. Please could you let us know.

Many thanks,

*****

 

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22nd October 2016

It’s Good To Talk

Debating fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair 2016. Photo credit: Oli Melzack Debating fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair 2016. Photo credit: Oli Melzack

From the moment we had a social media presence we’ve had trolls. Online abuse is inevitable when you’re standing up to be counted. We don’t support it or partake. Hounds Off fundamentally disapproves of antisocial behaviour from anyone on any side.

We accept our own advice regarding trolls which is to, with a very rare exception, ignore them. That’s why their type always quieten down and, mostly, go away.

SPREADING FOXY LOVE

The news is often appalling. Human beings can inflict the most heinous crimes against their kind and fellow creatures. God knows, often the horror is very hard to understand or absorb. However incensed or outraged, we encourage folks in our Hounds Off community to spread foxy love instead.

To achieve the dream, foxy love must reach beyond its comfort zone and into what might be described as enemy territory. Foxy love seeks also to find common ground with people who, by whatever inclination, are practitioners of or apologists for foxy hate – folks who are not our natural bedfellows. That’s why it was great to represent Hounds Off in a debate about fox hunting and the Hunting Act at The Game Fair in July. There’s no doubt that we challenged negative stereotypes and made a few die-hard hunt supporters think, however briefly, about the cruelty which is central to the pleasure they feel from participating in ‘country sports’.

We advertised our attendance in advance so that all our trolls were informed and aware of their chance to discuss the rights and wrongs of killing for sport face to face and in the comfort of their home turf. For reasons known only to themselves, our trolls didn’t grasp their opportunity, or if they did decided to keep quiet.

NO-PLATFORM ATTEMPT

A year ago Hounds Off was represented at the Winchester Hunting Symposium. There were all sorts of smear campaigns from hunt supporters beforehand. One of our then-regular trolls even published a rubbishing blog full of lies and misinformation designed to scupper the event (it has since been removed). Additionally, as the Hounds Off representative, I was personally besmirched and accused of supporting violent protest. A pro hunt MP threatened to pull out of participating if I was given a voice. I had to answer to the organiser and he then justified my attendance to Winchester University elders who decided the outcome of this no-platform attempt. We took it as complimentary when the Countryside Alliance joined in.

It’s good to have a voice and be listened to. Hounds Off attended the Winchester Hunting Symposium and, on behalf of hunted animals, our voice was heard.

DORSET DING-DONG

Recently we had a little ding-dong in the Dorset press about the seldom-mentioned issue of Hunts killing healthy but unwanted surplus hounds. For whatever reason, the Blackmore Vale Magazine Editor closed correspondence having given a hound-killing apologist the last, and inaccurate, word.

We used our social media platforms to keep this issue alive and it was latched on to by a troll who, evidently spoiling for an online argument, was particularly prolific about a month ago.

Our troll had been sprinkling mischief here and there. We monitored his presence discreetly but, as stated earlier, are not in the habit of censoring comments. After all, it’s good to talk.

Eventually our troll settled down into a dialogue with a Hounds Off supporter and the nitty-gritty realities of trailhunting aka foxhunting.

PSEUDO-SCIENCE

Eventually, playing his believed trump card, our troll posted a link to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM). The VAWM works towards repeal of the Hunting Act by employing lengthy, convoluted and twisted interpretations of pseudo-science to, incredibly, justify bloodsports. When you hear the likes of Conservative Party Environment Secretary Angela Leadsom say that hunting with hounds is good for animal welfare, this is where she gets her stuff.

Although superficially persuasive, we encourage all who are tempted to look a little deeper and read between the lines. VAWM arguments in support of bloodsports are fatally flawed.

COMMUNICATING & BEING HEARD

It’s good to have a voice, to talk, to be listened to. Via our website and social media platforms, Hounds Off continues spreading news, views and foxy love, giving all-comers a safe place to express themselves and censoring rarely.

In solidarity with people who wish to protect their property, livestock and pets from hunt trespass, we offer ongoing support, help, advice and back-up.

In defence of the Hunting Act 2004, Hounds Off will carry on deconstructing the propaganda and exposing the lies of bloodsports apologists who have yet to accept that the cruel pastimes of hunting wild animals with dogs for sport have been ruled as socially unacceptable.

© Joe Hashman

 

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29th August 2016

Make Friends, Save Lives & Influence People

The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable.  This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk The Hounds Off way of thinking is based on decades of experience. It's realistic and doable. This diagram shows how it can work (there are other ways). Use in conjunction with the resources on www.houndsoff.co.uk

In Spring 2010 a Tory landslide seemed imminent and, naturally, fears about the future of the Hunting Act occupied much of my mind. The challenge was (and remains) to find a way to stop hunting which can be effective regardless of what the law says. What became Hounds Off was an idea. Or rather, a collection of ideas.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘COUNTRY’

The hunting community knows full well that having land to tally-ho over is essential. “Country” (as they call it) is central to everything they do and having access to it is jealously guarded. Despite hunting with hounds truly being a minority pastime, the unspeakable minority operates a well oiled machine which facilitates their animal abuses of choice even though technically they’re outlawed.

AN IDEA…

Back to the idea.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) used to have a black and white poster with those words on complete with images of deer, fox, hare and otter. It was straight-forward and simple poster but struck a chord the first time I saw it.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife“. That’s HOWL, the radical, informative, inspirational, ground-breaking, often entertaining voice of the HSA.

Hounds Off Our Wildlife. Hounds Off. This is what we want. Short, sharp, to the point. Does what it says on the tin, kind of thing. Did the HSA object? I asked the Committee. “No,” they said. “Carry on.”

CREATING HUNT-FREE ZONES

After quite a lot of meetings with colleagues and close friends it was decided that a website would be the best vehicle for delivering the Hounds Off message. Our plan was (and remains) to create as many No Hunting nature reserves as possible, including all sorts of land; from whole estates and farms to smallholdings and back yards. We wanted easy, universal access to the information needed to do this effectively, autonomously and with no-strings. The Internet provides an ideal platform and so www.houndsoff.co.uk was born.

The concept of creating hunt-free zones is not new. The League Against Cruel Sports started buying sanctuary land in the West Country in the 1950’s, principally to disrupt staghunting. The counter-concept of preserving hunting rights had earlier seen the formation of companies who sole purpose was to support bloodsports. In reality, Royalty has been dictating over hunting preserves for centuries. Today a whole structure exists to exert the power and control of that influential, criminal minority who like to hunt. Not everybody knows about this ‘system’ but it’s real. Anyone who has crossed their line knows about it, that’s for sure; the bullying, the ostracising, the undermining, the dismissing, the evicting. Rural peer pressure can be intense.

TOOL IN YOUR KITBAG

So where does Hounds Off come in? Well, Hounds Off empowers people. We will stand with anyone affected by hunt trespass (or the threat of it). Our motto is, “You Are Not Alone”. www.houndsoff.co.uk provides the information and tools needed to protect property, livestock and pets. Alongside bringing together a community of related minds to stand united on this issue in real life and via social media, the aims and objectives of Hounds Off today genuinely are as simple as this. Looking to the future, if you believe as we do that “available country” is a major factor in deciding whether or not a Hunt can exist, then squeezing them in that area makes perfect sense.

For Hunt Sabs, Monitors and other front-line campaigners, Hounds Off is another tool in your kitbag which can be used to scupper bloodsports and save lives. You’re meeting the outraged public, disgruntled locals, beleaguered landowners and farmers who have had enough. Please use www.houndsoff.co.uk as a resource where you can suggest folk go to find support and solutions to the problem of hunt trespass. The Action & Advice pages (Warn Off Your Local Hunt) are especially crucial!

IT’S SERIOUS!

Last autumn I was working in a wood which belongs to a Hounds Off landowner. One of my fellow volunteers told me he was living off-grid in a bender under a hedge on land owned by friends who were new to the area. The local Hunt had run their hounds through his encampment and the new owners could do nothing to prevent it. Turns out that, deep within the conditions of sale, rights to hunt over that land were protected. You can be sure similar arrangements are being made elsewhere. Aside from ongoing efforts to repeal the law, I’ve no doubt that anything and everything which could obstruct hunting in the future is being ‘dealt with’ or neutralised, often quietly and behind the scenes. This includes ensuring access to as much land as possible via sporting rights, deeds and covenants. Remember, without available country any Hunt is knackered.

HOUNDS OFF IN ACTION

The best thing we can tell you is that, since launching in September 2010, Hounds Off has helped folk across the UK and thousands of new acres of hunt-free land has been established. Where hunt-related problems persist so our support remains ongoing. The Hounds Off philosophy is simple and based on people power. Hounds Off is about being strong at our roots, resolute, standing with our friends united and, yes, these tactics are effective!

Have a look at the accompanying diagram called “How To Make Friends & Influence People”. It’s not theory – it comes from real-life experiences of how Hounds Off is working on the ground and shows how cultivating relationships between Sabs, Monitors and the public can benefit us all, including (most importantly) abused wildlife. See what you think and how you could make it relevant for your situation. Most importantly, personalise it. Make Hounds Off your own and www.houndsoff.co.uk an asset which you use.

© Joe Hashman

Feel free to reproduce appropriately and, please, always with a link to www.houndsoff.co.uk

This blog first appeared in April 2016 on the Accidental Activist website, More Than Just Badgers, and was entitled, Squeeze Them In The Country.

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