Jan 012018
 


As horses, hounds and hunters gather on the busiest day of the year for fox hunting, activists have raised concerns that trail-hunting is being used as a cover for bloodsport more than a decade after it was banned in the UK.

At least 300 hunts are expected to take place across the country on Boxing Day. Riders on horseback gallop behind a pack of hounds directed by a huntsman while terriermen, whose traditional role was to dig foxes out of holes so they could be hunted, follow on quad bikes. Hunt supporters bring up the rear on foot. They all say they’re legally trail-hunting – following an animal-based scent, often fox urine – with hounds for sport.

Engaged in a half-century game of cat and mouse with the hunters are the Hunt Saboteurs, a nonviolent direct action group who attempt to document and prevent the killing of animals. They say these hunts are not obeying the law and that recent videos apparently showing a huntswoman whipping an activist repeatedly and a female saboteur being assaulted requiring hospital treatment are just the tip of the iceberg.

Riders and hounds from the Avon Vale Hunt arrive for their traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock, England, in 2012. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The saboteurs believe hunting for bloodsport is continuing and that trail-hunting is an effective cover.

Before the ban, saboteurs would try to disrupt the hunt using horns and voice calls in an effort to gain control of the hounds. Citronella spray would be used to prevent the hounds getting on to the scent of the animals. Their main tool now is a videocamera and they act as monitors, since they believe filming acts as a deterrent to illegal hunting.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, no genuine trail hunting was witnessed at 98% of the hunts observed in 2015, with trails seen being laid at just eight of the 478 hunts monitored.

The Countryside Alliance, who lobby for the repeal of the Hunting Act, said that since just 27 convictions in relation to registered hunts had been recorded since 2005, “there is no indication from this evidence that hunts continuously break the law as is claimed by IFAW.”

Demonstrators and hunt supporters clash at the Boxing Day hunt in Lewes, East Sussex. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Freedom of information requests made to the Animal and Plant Health Agency revealed they have issued just one import authorisation licence for fox urine or any other related animal by-product that could be used as an artificial scent for trail hunting since 2014. The Countryside Alliance say the majority of hunts use an ethically sourced, animal-based scent. However, significant amounts of the liquid would be necessary for each hunt and the group refused the Guardian’s requests to visit the preparation site.

Hunting foxes with hounds was supposed to have ended in 2005, following the passage of the Hunting Act the year before. But loopholes in the law mean the burden of proof is exceptionally high; to be prosecuted, the huntsman has to be adjudged to have purposefully killed a fox. This may require video footage of the hounds being encouraged once a fox is in plain sight in order for a prosecution to stand a chance.

Although numerous successful prosecutions are brought under the Hunting Act each year, this hasn’t stopped the process of hunting from continuing. The claims by the hunting fraternity pre-ban that hunts would close and be forced to put down all their dogs have come to nothing. Today about 45,000 people regularly take part and 250,000 turned out last Boxing Day for the traditional yuletide meet, according to hunting enthusiasts who claim numbers are higher than ever.

At the last election, the Tories promised a free vote on the Hunting Act. Theresa May reportedly forced the issue into the manifesto against the advice of senior cabinet members, telling a campaign event she has “always been in favour of fox hunting”.

A red fox galloping through grass on open moorland. Photograph: Alamy

The Countryside Alliance, to whom the move was understood to have been an olive branch in return for them getting out the vote, has since congratulated her for not bowing to animal rights groups in the misguided pursuit of “electoral nirvana”. Last year a poll commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports put opposition to hunting at 84% – an all-time high.

Recently, there was a vote on whether to continue trail hunting on National Trust land. The charity used the proxy votes at its disposal to narrowly pass the motion, against the will of the majority of members who cast their votes in person. The Trust, which forbids the use of animal-based scents, publishes details of the meets but does not reveal specific routes, saying it does not want to encourage a climate of confrontation between followers and protesters. Opponents say this allows hunts to trail foxes.

“You’ll occasionally see them pretending to lay a trail,” claims Lee Moon, spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs. “But as far as we’re concerned, trail hunting doesn’t exist. Clearly, the hounds are not trained to hunt trails.”

“You’ll see hunts blatantly breaking the Hunting Act even when we are present. The law needs to be massively tightened to get rid of its multiple loopholes. It’s remarkable that it’s never been amended.”

However, Tory MP and longtime animal welfare advocate Sir Roger Gale disagrees, arguing that although the Hunting Act is imperfect other issues are more worthy of attention.

“My personal view is that, by and large, the majority of hunts embrace the spirit and the letter of the law,” said Gale, a trustee of the Conservatives Against Fox Hunting group. “There are instances where foxes are raised and hunted illegally, but the trouble is that much of the evidence is anecdotal.”

A hunt saboteur holding a hunting horn and home-made whip in Herefordshire. Photograph: Alamy

Labour MP Chris Williamson, a long-serving trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports who previously served on the board of the Hunt Saboteurs Association, questioned where Gale got his information.

“I’m told hunts are fragrantly disregarding the law,” he said. “The truth is that if they were genuinely trail hunting they would use an artificial scent rather than fox urine. The pretence of laying a trail is for show.”

Will the clashes between hunts and saboteurs ever be resolved?

“The legislation absolutely needs tightening to remove loopholes,” says Williamson. “Only an unambiguous law will stop these practices.”

This article was first published by The Guardian on 26 Dec 2017.


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Should fox hunting legislation be repealed in the UK?

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Maria Anna Mavromichalis

YES & A HELL YES!!!!!!!!!!!!

Loll Douglas

No, its an out dated cruel blood sport. The ban should be enforced, why do our police and government turn a blind eye ?

Iain Gibson

The question “Should fox hunting legislation be repealed in the UK?” is clearly ambiguous and could be easily misinterpreted. After much deliberation I voted NO, with my fingers crossed that I was making the right choice!

Valérie Raynaud

vote “no”, la question est malformulée, méfiez-vous !

Ama Menec

The law should be tightened and made effective as they are doing in Scotland. Likewise the legal system should remove all in the legal profession who have an interest, including judges, from any ability to decided sentencing of huntsmen for illegal hunting or of attacking hunt monitors. The miscarriages of justice in the UK recently, letting off huntsmen who have used their horses as a weapon, ridden at women hunt monitors from behind, and then whole hunts blocking access to the emergency services to get her to hospital, is a national disgrace.

Tomislav Krantic

MONSTERS and Bandits the same as JIHADIST’S AND NAZI’S ADOLF HITLER!

Jess Anderson

I have always thought this was a barbaric act, not unlike bullfighting, where the hunted animal has no chance at all, and the pompous rich hunters on their mighty steeds with droves of hounds, feel it is a sport. It makes me sick to my stomach. How sad that they themselves can’t see who they are.

Helga Scholte

the wording irritated me as well… I may have voted WRONG .. (for the first time..)

Nancy Nett

The question was very confusing for me. I do not support this horrendous hunt and want to end. I think that I voted the wrong way.

Wendé Anne Maunder

Did you vote No? If so, that was correct.

Eugene Stewart

Yes

Kathleen Fessmann

Yes

Nancy Jo Baker

YES!!!

NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS CAN THIS DISGUSTING DESPICABLE TORTURE OF FOXES BE OK !! PSYCHO SCUMBAGS !

Barbara G Baggs

DONE..

Ausra Dwyer Gasilioniene

HANDS OF FROM ANY ANIMALS AND ALL ALIVE CREATURES …ALL THESE ARE BLOODY MURDERERS, THIRSTY FOR INNOCENT BLOOD. DIE FROM YOUR OWN BULLET, DAMN KILLERS.

Ausra Dwyer Gasilioniene
I agree with Sue Lesmond…came to vote to protect foxes and can’t vote because the question is total nonsense…it imposible to understand it will be voted for foxes to save or to kill them…I read article and don’t understood anything. FOX BEEN CHASED BY HUNDREDS DOGS …WHO WANTS THAT ???? ARe any alive creature want to be chased by hundreds DEATHS….when the dogs gets fox they tearing it apart …there is no escape for poor animal …insane fear follows all hunt till the killers put in a pile all these poor dead furry bodies…I HATE HATE HATE all these MURDERERS…PLEASE… Read more »
Wendé Anne Maunder

Vote NO, if you are opposed to fox hunting.

Ray McMillan

I think fox hunting should be banned outright!!

Nancy Raymond

YES – end this outdated cruelty!

Melissa Savage

Hell yes!!!!

Yorka Ines Moen

Yes yes yes yes yes yes

Wendé Anne Maunder
The intolerable, physical, thuggish behaviour of the hunting fraternity towards non-violent hunt saboteurs is clearly evidenced in the footage shown here, as is the fact that the huntsmen and women are wilfully breaking the law. The clip showing the female saboteur being beaten is beyond horrifying – it’s atrocious and is obviously an illegal act. As for the injury above her eye; if the blow had landed a little lower, she would almost certainly have lost the sight of that eye. Of course the Hunting Act should not be repealed. It’s not perfect; there are too many loopholes that need… Read more »
Lindsay Leclair

Yes

Lloyd Edwards

Hi Sue. I agree very confusing to the extent that it makes the poll invalid. I was uncertain as to whether the poll was asking for more restrictions or less. Public polls are, by a large majority, in support of retaining bans on foxhunting. This poll, & pollsters here are more sympathetic to animals, is currently is 50% / 50%. But, this is a great site & deserves more “readers”.

Judith Cavey

So much for Fox hunting to be banned when people flagrantly disregard the ban!
Make it illegal and fine those who disobey.

Sue Lesmond

This article has been worded very badly.Many people with be confused by the way tha the question ie SHOULD FOX HUNTING LEGISLATION BE REPEALED IN THE UK? has been worded.

Sue Lesmond

Marilyn,I agree with you.This may be deliberate tricking by the opposition.This is not going to be an accurate poll.This poll most definitely needs to be withdrawn,rewritten and then placed insitu again for voting.

Marilyn Ashman

I was confused as well and clicked the yes button..grrrrr!!!. Sometimes I wonder if we’re deliberatly being tricked by the opposition! That’s why it’s important to read carefully!

Sirena Green

that is how i felt even though i read the article.

Kaz Horrocks

No!!!

Florence Windfall

Take fox hunting off this planet! Look at this picture, what the fox has to face. Is this sportin… https://t.co/bwt99Pk7EV

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