25th August 2019
Deer Hunting With Dogs On The Quantock Hills In Somerset 2018/19; A Report by Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off
Click/tap the cover image below, or click here to download and read a PDF version of our groundbreaking Report.
22nd August 2019
Jack Riggall writes:
With the 2019/20 fox hunting season now beginning I thought I’d reflect again on the Forestry Commission’s role in this. Throughout the previous hunting season, I was calling on the Forestry Commission to ban the fox hunts they licence (see here, here & here) leading to responses from DEFRA and Ian Gambles, the Forestry Commission’s CEO, on Mark Avery’s blog (see here). Both of these responses downplayed the criminality of hunting (or ignored it fully, in the case of DEFRA). Where hunt employees had wildlife crime convictions (such as the Cottesmore Hunt) these apparently are not grounds for refusing hunting licence applications, according to Ian Gambles.
One of the main points in Ian Gambles’ article about how proactive he considers the Forestry Commission to be on fox hunting is that:
- “Over the last three seasons we have: (1) suspended 2 hunts during our investigations of alleged breaches of permission; (2) refused a permission request due to previous trespass and (3) revoked a permission due to the hunt repeatedly going near a visitor site.”
Freedom of Information requests reveal more about these hunts.
- The two suspended were the Staintondale Hunt, who had their permission temporarily revoked for just one meet after killing a fox on Forestry Commission land, Sneaton Forest, on Tuesday 13th February 2018 (they were licensed again in the 2018/19 season, including for Sneaton Forest where they killed a fox) and the Derwent Hunt, who had their permission temporarily revoked for just one meet for hunting through a site where the Forestry Commission were working in the 2017/18 season. They were licensed again in the 2018/19 season.
- The hunt who, according to Ian Gambles’ had its permission request refused, was the Bilsdale Hunt. Curiously, the Forestry Commission’s letter to the hunt shows that due to the previous trespass referred to above they only had one meet refused whilst being approved for a number of other meets (‘refused a permission request’ is a pretty sneaky way for Ian Gambles’ to describe that one, and you guessed it, they were licensed in the 2018/19 season).
- Finally, the revoked permission was for the Cheshire Bloodhounds (who don’t hunt foxes).
The petition I started last year, which called for a full ban of fox hunts, actually had nothing to do with hunts who had agreements with the Forestry Commission under the Master of Bloodhounds & Draghounds Association, and was only calling for a ban of fox & hare hunts.
In short, the amount of fox hunts that have actually been banned by the Forestry Commission is zero.
The Forestry Commission met with the Master of Foxhounds Association on Thursday 15th August 2019 to update their agreement for yet another season of hunting on public land. They appear to have changed nothing in their endorsement of so-called ‘trail hunting’. But we can change that ourselves, even if only a little.
The Forestry Commission could at the very least show some transparency on hunting, as the National Trust began to do almost two years ago, and publish their hunting licences with maps & dates.
Given that the Executive Board of the Forestry Commission are meeting on 3rd September, now is a good time for everyone to sign this petition, and politely ask the Executive Board to commit to publishing these licences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org . Remember to tell them that you’ve signed the petition!].
When you write to them, you can point out that:
- Ian Gambles has previously stated that “evidence should be given to one of our local offices if there is suspicion that someone may be breaking the terms or conditions of an agreement, permission or licence from the Forestry Commission.” The Forestry Commission itself provides no information at all on the written agreement with hunts, which hunts are licensed and which areas they are licensed for (unless forced to under the Freedom of Information Act 2000) and so we have no way of knowing if hunting licences are being breached!
- The Forestry Commission (a public department, by the way) is often subject to Freedom of Information requests over its licensing of hunting. This is clearly something the public are interested in and so the Forestry Commission should be more open about this activity without being made to by legal requests.
- The Forestry Commission’s ‘Transparency & Freedom of Information Releases’ includes none of the information relating to hunting previously requested on many occasions under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (such as the FoI requests referenced above and additional FoI requests asking for hunt meets) and so are not publicly available. Their explanation for this is that they only consider adding FoI requests to that transparency page if they’ve received three or more on the same subject. They’ve received more than three requests regarding fox hunting and so must have made a conscious decision to keep the information hidden.
Other wildlife campaigners elsewhere in the country are challenging the Forestry Commission on hunting.
- For example, in Gloucestershire where the Cotswold Vale Farmers Hunt are being challenged. A petition calling for this hunt to be banned from Forestry Commission land continues to grow (you can sign it here).
- Action Against Foxhunting in Hampshire & Wiltshire are gathering support for their campaign against the New Forest Hounds using the Forestry Commission’s land, and you can support them by emailing email@example.com.
- Finally, a petition created by the League Against Cruel Sports calls for, amongst other things, an end to landowners allowing access to hunts – this includes the Forestry Commission, and the petition has been signed by over 124,000 people (you can sign it here).
© Jack Riggall
17th August 2019
“Look to the rock whence thou wast hewn.” Isaiah, Old Testament prophet.
A peronal reflection by Mick Spreader
I hope that you didn’t let Friday 16th August 2019 pass without marking it as the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre. On that day 60,000 working people and their families gathered on St Peter’s Field in Manchester to protest peacefully at a political system that concentrated power in the hands of the few, the wealthy and priviledged; they were calling for reform.
For decades the enclosing of common land upon which rural village way of life depended had been proceeding, but in the early half of the eighteenth century this accelerated resulting in rural clearances to the towns and cities. In other words, by act of a parliament of the privileged, the common land belonging to the various manors up and down the country, upon which the rural inhabitants were able to support themselves, was enclosed and added to the estates of the wealthy. Rural people could continue to live, almost certainly in dire circumstances, in the countryside as the paid labourers of wealthy landowners or move to the towns and cities to labour in the factories and mills. Either prospect was bleak, but for the privileged, who had added the enclosed commons to their estates, life was great.
“All classes above the poor adopted a more extravagant and ostentatious style and scale of living.”
About this period there was a general undercurrent of discontent in the country generated by a feeling of utter helplessness that the system could not be changed by parliamentary means. The system was rotten. Serious trouble broke out in the Royal Navy at the end of the previous century. In the countryside the Swing rioters were burning hayricks and smashing up threshing machines and in the urban areas protest gatherings such as met at St Peters Field were indicators of the demands for change.
For us it is interesting to note that “Foxhunting dates from this century,” that is the beginning of the 1800’s.
Prior to this, the aristocrat hunted the stag and the squire the hare, both quarry, almost certainly for human consumption. But killing wildlife for fun, as entertainment, emerged in this period amongst those who had the leisure time and the newly-enclosed estates to allow it.
But, I am digressing. Peterloo.
In this period the wealthy landowning class ( I was trying to avoid that word) were scared ****less of a French-style revolution in this island and were resolved to hold on to the extravagant lifestyle that they had appropriated to themselves by a crooked electoral system. Cavalry, even cannon, were brought to St Peters Field. As the speeches began at the meeting, the local magistrates ordered the cavalry to charge into the peaceful crowds, trampling, bayonetting and sabre-slashing. When it was over, at least 14 were dead, 15 if you include the unborn infant of its slain mother and 600 needed hospital attention.
There is good reason for us to look to the Peterloo martyrs as our spiritual forebears. We want change. We want a privileged class* to cease from hunting and killing wildlife, to cease from illegally pursuing the hare and the fox, the stag, the otter and the mink. We want that particular, privileged strata of our society who hunt to hounds to abide by the Hunting Act. But, because they are resolved to hang on to what they believe is their right, although the law of the land says “nay” and the overwhelming proportion of our society say “nay,” we, in our various ways, will put ourselves into the vulnerable position of confronting them as they go about their murderous ways.
On the 200th anniversary of Peterloo we salute those ordinary folk who suffered in the cause of suffrage.
“Quotes in italics” from The Village Labourer 1760-1832 by Hammond and Hammond unless otherwise stated.
© Mick Spreader
*Editors note: …and their minions.
14th July 2019
The newly designed League Against Cruel Sports website homepage bears a striking resemblance to our own. We take this, and their recent announcement outlined in the blog below, as a nod to our effectiveness and wish them well.
We welcome an announcement made this week by the League Against Cruel Sports that they are instigating a campaign to help people stop hunting on their land. Many years ago they were good at this and then, for reasons which never made sense to us, they stopped. In fact, that’s precisely why Hounds Off was formed and this website created.
Our Founders have long known that the most effective way to stop hunting, and the associated animal cruelty, is to create wildlife sanctuaries. From the outset we have had repeated meetings and conversations with League staff up to the highest level, asking them to come on board and work with us. Sadly this has never really happened. Even now, despite our intimate specialist knowledge and decades of experience in the field, we only learned of their new direction thanks to social media.
If the League replicate and then develop our work in positive ways, to the benefit of hunted wildlife, then brilliant. This is what we want. But they have justifiably received a lot of negative publicity in recent years which makes it natural to retain some cynicism. However, we’re always hopeful.
It’s business as usual here, with Hounds Off extending free help, support and advice to all – individual, business or charity – who need us.
© Joe Hashman: Founder, Hounds Off
15th March 2019
On 23.02.19 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were forced to call their hounds off a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard by Monitors who were at the scene. Responsibility for disturbing and hunting the fox rests completely with the hunters. © Somerset Wildlife Crime/Hounds Off
Regarding the recent incident involving the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a lactating vixen in a Somerset churchyard, a member of the public contacted the Hunt and asked them to explain why they were hunting a fox when foxhunting is illegal. She received the email we reproduce, below:
From: B&SV Secretary <bsvsecretary@XXXXXXXXX>
Sent: Fri, 8 Mar 2019 19:10
Subject: Re: Recent footage of vixen being chased in graveyard
Dear Mrs XXXXXXXX,
Thank you for your email. The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale is committed to hunting within the law and does so through laying trails by people on horseback, on foot and on quad bikes. Occasionally as we progress through the countryside foxes and deer jump out in front of the hounds and if they deviate from the laid trail then we stop them at the earliest moment. We also have to contend with a number of anti-hunting activists watching us and trying to intimidate. Their tactics employed include spraying other scent on the ground, blowing horns and shouting to distract our hounds, which in turn confuses our hounds and renders our ability to control them that much more challenging. We believe that the film taken is not genuine and is deliberately constructed to discredit us, however clearly we would not normally be hunting anywhere near a graveyard and regret that the actions by the anti-hunting activists caused some hounds to go through the church grounds.
Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) was one of the Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime team who witnessed and filmed the Charlton Horethorn incident. Kevin is one of the most experienced Hunt Monitors in the country with nearly 40 years under his belt. We asked him to comment on the excuses made by the Hunt:
- As demonstrated in the video from the Charleton Horethorne churchyard, Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt staff seem to exercise selective control over their hounds. They can control hounds very effectively when it suits them.
- Monitors present witnessed the hounds being hunted on to a fox under the supervision of hunt staff. There were no attempts to draw them out of the cemetery or away from the fox which was clearly visible and holloa’d by several hunters and supporters.
- Hunt staff only exercised adequate control over their hounds when asked by one of the Monitors present to call them off the hunted vixen. When faced with two video cameras the Whipper-In (second in command to the Huntsman) was left with little choice but to comply. This proved to be the vital moment that saved the vixens life.
- We do not accept that the presence of any anti hunt Monitors would prevent hounds from being controlled efficiently. This is especially true when hounds are in close proximity to the Huntsman or Whipper-In, as was the case in this incident.
- No hunt saboteurs were present in the cemetery or immediate area on the 23rd February, when this incident happened.
- Footage is available that shows the Monitors present made no attempt to disrupt hounds with any calls, voice or horn and no scent dulling sprays were utilised. Claims to the contrary are merely an attempt by the hunt to dilute the validity of any allegations against them.
- We invite the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale to comment in detail as to exactly what the allegations laid against the Monitors who were present are. We would be most interested to see any footage to support any claims that hounds were called into the cemetery.
- As Monitors we maintain a passive presence with the hunt throughout the day and film proceedings. This can be useful on an evidential basis of any trespass or illegal hunting. As proven on the 23rd February in Charlton Horethorne, filming can often serve to save life when the hounds would otherwise be permitted to continue hunting unhindered. Our footage is available to be viewed here. It is worth noting that a member of hunt staff in a red coat is seen observing the hounds in the cemetery from the road side and makes no efforts to call them out.
Read our original Press Release here.
Footage of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chasing a fox at Folke Church in Dorset on 22.12.18 can be viewed here.
Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime, without prejudice
13th March 2019
The Weston and Banwell Harriers are a furtive bunch of hunters operating southwest of Bristol. The way they carry on is suspicious to say the least. For instance, why would a legal hunt be involved with blocking badger setts? Consequently, local residents have been trying to persuade the National Trust to withdraw their permission for so-called trailhunting on land which by definition should provide a sanctuary for wildlife.
Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers met with National Trust staff on Friday March 1st. Afterwards, we asked them to let us know their thoughts;
“We attended with Maria Burt who started a petition against so-called trailhunting on National Trust land and set up the meeting, and Jac Freeman from the League Against Cruel Sports. We knew going into the meeting that there was a big likelihood that the licence wouldn’t be revoked but we wanted to give our best shot anyway for the wildlife that calls Wavering Down its home.
“With all our evidence in hand we explained to Nick Droy (National Trust Trailhunting Manager) and the National Trust Wavering Down Team that we didn’t believe the Weston & Banwell Harriers would stay in the rules of the trail hunting licence as they had already sett blocked once this year.
“But sadly and frustratingly this went over their heads and they used the usual excuse that a lot of money had been invested into trail hunt monitoring on their land.
“Giving a hunt notice that they will be monitored just means that they will behave when being monitored by the National Trust.
“How a conservation organisation can support hunting that can and will damage our ecosystem baffles us.
“But our determination to make Wavering Down and Somerset a safe haven for wildlife will continue.
“Hunting is a cruel out of date past time that has no place and is not welcomed. And neither are the Weston and Banwell Harriers, who have been terrorising our wildlife for years unchallenged. Our main aim is to bring an end to this and show them some resistance. We will do all we can to stop them needlessly killing wildlife for sport and fun!
“A big thank you again to everyone that came Friday your support was amazing! And a big thank you to the National Dis-Trust for all the advice and guidance!
“For our wildlife always.”
Hotline number: 07946663765
© Locals Against the Weston and Banwell Harriers
3rd March 2019
March 1st is when Spring Staghunting starts on the Quantock Hills and Exmoor. ‘Spring’ stags are the young adults, the stags with most energy and va-va-voom. These are a staghunters favourite quarry because they run hard, fast and long. For those who delight in chasing then killing fit and healthy Red deer then March and April are the most exciting months of the year.
Two years ago Teresa, a Quantock Hills resident, contacted Hounds Off and told us her story.
Teresa was in her kitchen. It was just after lunchtime. She could hear the Quantock Stag Hounds hunting really close and then saw out the window a hound by her garden pond. She grabbed her iPad to and went outside to take some film. The noise was suddenly deafening. There was a stag in her garden, up by the summerhouse. Other hounds were in the garden too and the stag moved towards the compost heap.
A huntsman was just beyond the garden fence. He asked Teresa for permission to shoot the stag and she said, “No”. She asked the man his name and what he was doing. He said that she didn’t need to know. More hounds came in to the garden. Teresa reckoned there were about seven but they were hard to count because of so much movement.
By now the stag had climbed on top of the compost heap. There were riders looking down from the hill up above and conversations could be heard between unseen hunters on walkie-talkies. Numerous vehicles were parked on her private entrance drive with people standing and watching.
Suddenly there were four burly men at close quarters. The man who wanted to shoot the stag warned Teresa not to interfere in case the dogs attacked her. She was frightened because, as she told us afterwards, “I was outnumbered and could see that their blood was up.”
The dogs had chased the stag off the compost heap but he returned and was again at bay.
Teresa said, “The stag was surrounded by hounds and huntsmen and was clearly exhausted and petrified. I felt I needed to protect it. I felt strongly that it was not just right that I protect it, but it was my right to protect it. Not just because I don’t agree with hunting with dogs, but because it was in my garden and I should have been able to save it. My garden was its sanctuary.”
Again, she told the hunters to call their hounds off. One young, thick-set individual threatened to call the police because he said she was “harbouring a deer.” He also threatened to call the RSPCA, shouting that the stag was injured and had to be killed. But they did manhandle their dogs over the fence and remove themselves as well.
Another man who Teresa didn’t know or recognise appeared. He also refused to identify himself and joined the other hunters. They huddled together and then, right in front of Teresa, stormed into her garden, ran towards the stag and physically pushed it off the compost heap, over the fence and away towards private farmland. The men and their dogs, the riders and the people in cars all followed in different directions as fast as they could.
Teresa was totally shocked and shaken. She immediately called the police to report the incident.
A couple of hours later two huntspeople called at the house. Only one of them would give his name. He said that they were “trailhunting” with eleven hounds when unfortunately this young, injured stag jumped up in front and caused a distraction. They decided to kill it because, apparently, it was injured. Their excuses were not believed and apologies not accepted.
“A day later the Huntsman left a message to tell me the stag had been previously shot by a .22 rifle. I learnt later from the police it was in the chest,” Teresa recalled, “But this exposed them as liars. I was stood ten feet away from the stag for some time. There was no injury to the chest, old or new, but it was exhausted. I didn’t realize it then, but subsequently I found out that they have used this excuse before to exploit a loophole in the Hunting Act. I thought at the time that it was a really odd thing to say that they would call the police because ‘I was harbouring a sick deer’, but I later realized that they worked out which angle they were going to use to get out of this, hence why they didn’t care about me filming.”
Avon & Somerset Constabulary completely failed to take Teresa’s allegation of illegal hunting seriously and it appears that there was a deliberate block put on conducting even a cursory investigation. The Quantock Stag Hounds got away with it. But we helped call the police failures to account. Crucially, over a year later their own Professional Standards Department upheld six out of nine points of complaint.
Teresa said, “When I reflect back with the knowledge I have gained over the last two years, I know that the Hunting Act has to change. Any reasonable person looking at the facts knows exactly what these hunts are up to. But the legal system is choosing to ignore the test of the reasonable person. As it stands today it is almost impossible to prove illegal hunting and get a conviction.”
Her immediate neighbours are the National Trust and she feels let down by them, too. Despite receiving all the evidence and her witness statement, and despite the fact that they themselves banned deer hunting with dogs on their land in 1997, the Quantock Stag Hounds frequently hunt across forbidden land. As recently as January 28th this year they held a fundraising meet and then hunted on National Trust land. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are in dialogue with the Trust to work out how to prevent future arrogant flouting.
Rural residents have turned to us in desperation and we answered their call. Our tactics are simple; in partnership with Somerset Wildlife Crime and individuals, groups and organisations who want to work with us, we’re shining a light on modern day staghunting. Please see the following links for more details:
- Your Membership (of the National Trust) And Voice Matters
- Staghunting On The Quantock Hills 08.10.18
- Press Release: Staghunting In Somerset, October 2018
- Nowhere To Hide
- Another Wretched day With The Quantock Stag Hounds
- Quantock Stag Hounds Meet Fundraise Hunt On National Trust Land 28.01.09
- How To Report Hunt Incidents To The National Trust
- Stag Hunters Break Convention To Ensure Valentines Day Sport
- Quantock Stag Hounds After Another One
Please consider making a donation to our campaign. We couldn’t do what we do without you.
© Joe Hashman. Founder; Hounds Off
25th February 2019
Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt hounds hot on the trail of a nursing vixen in St Peter & St Paul's Churchyard, Charlton Horethorne, Somerset on 23.02.19 Photo: Kevin Hill/Hounds Off/Somerset Wildlife Crime
HOUNDS OFF PRESS RELEASE MON 25 FEBRUARY 2019
- Hunters in Somerset were forced to call their hounds off a female fox because anti hunt monitors recorded the whole incident on film.
- At about 2pm on Saturday 23 February 2019 the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt chased the vixen through private gardens and the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul’s in Charlton Horethorne, just a stones throw from the hunt kennels. But Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors, equipped with video cameras, were at the scene and recorded it.
- Wildlife rescue expert Penny Little (tel: 07702 565598) reviewed their footage. She said, “I am confident this hunted fox is a vixen that has recently given birth to cubs as her teats are visible and show clear evidence of lactation.”
- WATCH SOMERSET WILDLIFE CRIME / HOUNDS OFF FILM HERE
- Footage shows a fox being hunted through gravestones and into bushes where by some miracle it gives chasing dogs the slip. Campaigners film also documents the moment when the nursing vixen tries to steal away unseen and is “hollered” by a member of the hunt (a loud, high-pitched yell to inform the Huntsman and his hounds that the fox has been spotted).
- Bobbie Armstrong (tel: 07572 495309) from Somerset Wildlife Crime said, “When the fox crossed in front of us we told a red-coated hunter to call hounds off. At this point they were right on her and it looked grim but the red-coat knew we had it all on film. He had little choice but to call hounds back and let the fox get away. It was all a bit tense for a while but we were pleased to be in the right place at the right time.”
- Foxhunting has been illegal in England and Wales since 2005 but hunts continue, claiming to chase a trail which they lay in advance. The “accidental” hunting and killing of foxes during so-called ‘trail hunts’ is commonplace and the law remains powerless to prevent this.
- Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill (tel: 07971 633182) said, “It seems pretty obvious that the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt were cheerfully and deliberately chasing foxes on Saturday and if we had not been there then they’d have got away with it. Think about it for a second. Who in their right mind would lay a trail through private gardens and a churchyard?”
- Bobbie Armstrong said she had spoken to the Reverend Sarah Godfrey, the Vicar at Charlton Horethorne. According to Ms Armstrong, “She wasn’t aware of the events of yesterday and was keen to see our evidence. The Vicar was grateful to be informed.”
- Hounds Off specialises in giving help, support and advice to farmers, landowners and rural residents affected by hunt trespass. Joe Hashman, Founder, said, “We can help the Reverend Godfrey if she wants to make the churchyard into a hunt-free wildlife sanctuary. All she needs to do is visit the Action & Advice pages of our website or ask us. The same goes for anyone else, anywhere in the country.”
- Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors did not see anyone laying trails, or even pretending to lay trails, at any time throughout the day.
In recent weeks the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt;
- was supposedly ‘trailhunting’ beside and across the busy A352 until after dark on February 19 2019.
- killed a fox ‘accidentally’ on February 9 2019.
- carried on hunting with horses and hounds two days after equine flu was confirmed at a local riding stables.
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16th February 2019
Hunted by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Valentines Day 2019. With no female deer (hinds) in the area, hunters told us this animal was selected because it had a "displaced hip". We question the honesty of their claim because this stag ran for miles across open country and escaped to see another day. Read more, below. Photo: © Kevin Hill/Hounds Off
Hunters claims that a Red deer stag chased by the Quantock Stag Hounds on Valentines Day was suffering from hip displacement have been seriously questioned by observers. The creature was chased for over two miles as the crow flies, many more as they ran, between 1.30pm and 3.30pm. In the moments before the hunt ended, huntsman and hounds were seen to be fruitlessly trying to find the stag in field hedges near the West Somerset village of Clatworthy.
Experienced Hunt Monitor Kevin Hill, who was part of a team of volunteers from Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off, filmed the allegedly injured stag in the old slate quarry woods below Brompton Ralph. He said, “The stag looked in good shape to me. He travelled through the woods jumping felled trees!”
The claim that the stag was injured was made to Mr Hill by hunt followers when he asked them why a male Red deer was being pursued at a time of year when females are the traditional target.
Somerset Wildlife Crime and Hounds Off Monitors believe that this was just an excuse because the hunt couldn’t find any females to chase. They only saw stags, roe deer and a fox roused into flight by hounds. That hinds are quarry from November through February is just hunting convention and, on this occasion, in order to get some ‘sport’ it had to be broken.
© Joe Hashman
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10th February 2019
About 70 riders followed the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt from their meet at Marsh Court in Dorset on 09.02.19, contrary to biosecurity advice from The Hunting Office with equine flu at large. Photo © Hounds Off
Horse racing was suspended last week after an outbreak of equine flu at a Cheshire stables. Equine flu is a highly contagious and unpleasant viral infection which affects the respiratory system in horses. Explaining its decisive action, the British Horseracing Authority said (7 Feb), “The health and welfare of our horses must be a priority.”
It is unfortunate that some of the hunting world has chosen to carry on regardless.
Despite Horse & Hound reporting (8 Feb) advice from The Hunting Office*, “Where there are training yards in the area it may be sensible not to hunt this weekend,” it was actually business as usual for many mounted foxhound packs across the British Isles (9 Feb).
One such hunt was the Somerset-based Blackmore & Sparkford Vale, where about seventy riders turned out on horseback to gallop behind dogs chasing the scent of foxes. Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt country is known for having some big stables, including Paul Nicholls Racing at Ditcheat, Colin Tizzard Venn Farm Racing Ltd at Milborne Port and Millfield School at Street where equine flu was confirmed on 8 Feb.
Hounds Off Founder Joe Hashman said, “If the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt genuinely cared about the health and wellbeing of horses they’d have suspended all mounted hunting immediately. The fact that they have chosen to carry on hunting demonstrates how prepared they are to put horses at risk rather than lose a days play.”
© Joe Hashman; Founder, Hounds Off
* The Hunting Office is the administrative hub for the Council of Hunting Associations. The Hunting Office exists to help and advise Masters and its member Hunts. It represents and supports packs of hounds from fourteen hunting associations in England, Scotland and Wales, providing advice on all matters regarding hunting activities, hunt management and hound health & welfare.