For the second installment of guest contributions to my blog I’m pleased to welcome Joe Hashman, the man behind the hugely successful ‘Hounds Off’. Here Joe will explain everything you need to know about Hounds Off, from concept to fruition.
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.
I’m pretty convinced that 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.
Back to the idea.
“Hounds Off Our Wildlife”. The HSA used to have a black and white poster with those words on complete with images of deer, fox, hare and otter. It was a straight-forward and simple poster but it 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 Hunt Saboteurs Association.
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.
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. The plan 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 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 stag hunting. 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.
So where does Hounds Off come in? Well, Hounds Off empowers people. For anyone affected by hunt trespass (or the threat of it), we really do provide 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 I 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 Sabs 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!
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.
The best thing I can tell you is that, since launching in September 2010, Hounds Off has helped people 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 the my 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 relavent for your group. Most importantly, personalise it. Make Hounds Off your own and www.houndsoff.co.uk an asset which you use.