After the lows of the Christmas break it was good to get back to winning ways by messing up the Bicester hunt with Whaddon Chase last weekend, eight of us did a fine job against a big and nasty hunt (including stopping a dig out) although I shall never get used to the sound of hounds in full cry. It sends a shiver down my spine every time, knowing that, at any moment an animal could be about to lose it’s life in the most grisly of fashions.

I’ve had some very interesting conversations with those concerned with law enforcement as well as investigators from LACS and a Barrister who’s prosecuted those breaking the Hunting Act in the past. My neighbours must be wondering what the hell is going on, the last two weekend have seen the boys in blue in my front room taking statements and discussing hunting on several occasions. The New Years Day incident certainly gained a lot of media attention including national newspapers as well as coverage on local BBC and ITV. This has put pressure on the police to investigate properly and I’m hopeful that we can gain a conviction. Obviously I can’t say too much for legal reasons but the feedback has been positive so far.

Eagle

This bird wasn’t very happy at all.

The officer from Boxing Day (PC Pete Mills) has also taken a statement and while this is unlikely to proceed any further it certainly highlighted failings within the system as to how hunts are policed. We had an open and frank discussion and he’s going to suggest several options to his senior officers, most notably regarding the presence of terrier men which obviously begs the question, why do trail hunts need them? Of course well all know the real answer but it seems the message is getting across to the boys in blue.

Another interesting point to note regarding one of the loopholes used by hunts is the Bird of Prey exemption. Lots of hunts went out and purchased birds when the ban came in to force which they could them claim to be using to hunt the fox once it had been flushed by the hounds. There are several major issues with this, lets take a look.

Type of bird used, is it fit for purpose?

I’ve seen various types of birds being used including Eagle Owls and Steppe Eagles but realistically there is only one that’s available that would be capable of hunting a fox, and even then this is questionable. The Golden Eagle is native to the UK and has a huge international range and is an impressive creature. Northern European birds tend to be larger than their southern cousins and the females can be up to 30% larger than the males. This would make them the only option however they’re also much more desirable as a hunting bird so therefore command a much higher price. The weight of a male bird averages about 8lb but females can go up to 15lb (11-12lb average) with the largest recorded female weighing in at a hefty 17lb. Every eagle I’ve seen at a hunt has been a male, and some in quite a poor state.

In the wild their natural prey would be rabbits, hares, game and sea birds. They’d also scavenge on the carcasses of deer and have been seen attacking them in the hope the fall and injure themselves as they have no hope of killing such a large animal outright. Highland farmers blame them for predating on lambs and while I have seen them with lambs the numbers taken are fairly small. A fox however is a completely different ball game. While a large bird does have the capability it would chose a prey species that wasn’t capable of fighting back. In the wild the risk of injury would be too great.

bird on quad 2

Do you think it’s legal to drive on public roads with a BoP on your arm?

Has there even been a recorded case of a BoP catching a fox after it has been flushed?

Simple answer – No.

Not once, ever. Certainly not that I’m aware of. Now you’d think with all those hunts using birds there’d be at least one occasion but it just hasn’t happened. We can only deduce from this that they are in fact merely for show and they’re hunting as they did before the ban.

So what do the Hawk Board say about this?

For an organisation with strong links to the Countryside Alliance you’d think they’d be on side however the reality is quite different. Back in 2005 the then chairman, Jim Chick gave this quote:

“This is bringing the sport into disrepute.

Many of the hunts are using people to handle the birds who have just been on a short course. You are not competent to handle a large bird of prey after a short course.

Secondly, a fox is not a recognised quarry for a bird of prey. It is a large animal and cannot be easily subdued so there is a big ethical issue over whether they should be used.

An eagle is possessive and once it has caught a fox it will not let go. If the hounds are then brought in they could attack the eagle and a hound could be blinded or killed.”

In 2008 the Hawkboard spokesman Nick Kester said this:

“The Hawk Board is vehemently opposed to the use of birds of prey for fox hunting. We disapprove entirely. Birds of prey and hunting with hounds are not compatible.”

I’m sure their feelings haven’t changed over the years especially when the organisation is also deeply concerned with the welfare of birds which spend long hours in a box on a quad bike or being driven round the countryside at speed on the arm of their handler.

bird on quad

Is this any way to treat a majestic eagle?

Is it practical to use a BoP in conjunction with hounds?

Obviously the Hawk Board don’t think so but let’s look beyond the ethics and discuss the actual hunting.

To use the BoP exemption effectively the bird has to be unhooded and in a position to hunt. This would mean in front of the hounds in an area where the quarry is most likely to break cover. The very fluid and dynamic nature of fox hunting means this is almost impossible. Throw in a whole gaggle of riders with no experience of a BoP and you’ll start to get the picture.

There’s also the issue with the environment. Eagles need a lot of space to hunt effectively. Their preferred method in the wild is to stoop on their prey from height, gaining the speed and necessary power to surprise and overwhelm their prey. A clever prey animal will also use this against them, turning at the last minute to throw off the angle of attack. Many attacks will in fact be unsuccessful.

Flying from the falconers arm will mean the bird will have to generate it’s own speed without gravity to assist them. Any fox making for wooded areas will find safety as no eagle would follow them in as they simple wouldn’t have the space to maneuver and risk potential injury.

Just imagine for a moment that a fox is flushed and the bird is release and it catches the fox. Can you imagine the absolute carnage when the hounds caught up with the eagle and the fox, which would no doubt be putting up quite a struggle? I’ve yet to see a huntsman that can call off hounds once they’re in full cry and close behind a fox. It really doesn’t bear thinking about.

Should the BoP exemption be removed from the Hunting Act?

Yes, no question.

It’s pointless. The whole purpose of the exemption has been used for nefarious means and those who practice falconry within the spirit of it’s original aims think the same. The use of BoP in conjunction with hunting with hounds should never be allowed, it’s a disaster waiting to happen but ultimately a disaster that will never happen due to the fact that no hunt will actually use a BoP in the manner that it was intended, they’re there just for show and nothing more. I have a feeling a case will come to light that will render this exemption obsolete when it comes to a point of law. This will effectively mean every BoP purchased by hunts will then become redundant along with the people who handle them.

Lets hope the birds don’t end up the same way most hounds do after they’re past their hunting best.

 

 

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