So last week I summed up what I thought were the most relevant points in the hunting act (see here). What I’ll do here is explain how the hunts are circumnavigating this legislation and what any monitor or sab would need to do to gain a conviction.

We’ve already established that the wording of the act limits the number of hounds to 2 for the act of stalking and flushing out. However as most people are already aware this part of the act was largely made irrelevant by the creation of “trail hunting”. There have been thousands of words written about this in the past (most notably the IFAW report Trail of Liesfull report can be found here) and don’t want to cover old ground again however it is the most common excuse that hunts use because, it seems, it is the most difficult to gain a prosecution against.

The fine people at Hounds Off produced a great list of requirements for gaining a prosecution against hunters using this alibi. It can be found here. What I will add to that is the expansion of point 4 on the list – Proving intent. This cannot be stressed enough. If the hunt staff are aware they are hunting live quarry (you need to prove this) then the addition of them using either horn or voice calls to hunt the hounds on should be enough to secure a conviction provided all the other criteria are met. Learn what these calls are and memorise them. In the fields we have however noted that some hunt staff are remaining quiet if sabs or monitor are present and filming their activities. NOT calling the hounds off the line of the hunted animal may not be enough to prove intent.

Essentially in the video evidence you’ll need: Quarry running – Hounds chasing quarry – Huntsman aware of live quarry and showing intent.

If you intend to monitor you need to learn to recognise the set of circumstance which could lead to a conviction as quick as you can. And herein lies the problem. Hunts have themselves learnt to avoid those situations, either that or they simply don’t care because they know the police (for one reason or another) won’t investigate and prosecute. I covered this in a previous blog which can be found here.

Although the recent conviction we achieved against the Fitzwilliam related to the Falconry Exemption in the Act many of the situational points were similar. The fox killed by the Thurlow last Boxing Day is a different matter and they are claiming to have been following a trail although have already set out their defence by claiming the fox was turned into the hounds by the sabs present. Although this is an ongoing case and as I such I can’t elaborate on the exact details (we’re currently waiting on a decision from the CPS) their claims are quite common and were similarly made by the Fitzwilliam. Needless to say this is complete nonsense (as it was in the previous case) and we hope the truth will come out in court. We have compelling video evidence from 2 separate sources and believe we have fulfilled all the relevant criteria for a successful outcome.

Beagling

Of course the hunting act doesn’t just relate to fox hunting. There are other forms of hunting which may also include Stag/Hind hunting and Mink/Otter hunting but Beagling (hunting the Brown Hare with a pack of Beagles) is the most likely to be encountered, certainly in my locality which is one of the last strongholds of this fast disappearing majestic animal.

packing up for the day

Packing up for the day.

Beagling runs in a very similar way to fox hunting except the hunters are on foot (but still wearing daft outfits). The hounds will be put into a field to search for hares. This will initially be done via scent but once the quarry is flushed the beagles will act more like sight hounds. The usual hangers on will be present to watch and some may be stationed around the edges of the open field to be hunted. Their purpose is to turn the hare back into the field and to prolong the chase. A hare will easily outrun a beagle however it doesn’t have the stamina and they tend to run in large circles. Eventually they will be caught and killed.  A pack of beagles can kill a lot of hares in an afternoons hunting.

Due to their less obvious nature and smaller following field beagle packs can be hard to find, they are very secretive for obvious reasons. The handy point from a monitoring and sabbing point of view is that once found they are effectively scuppered! Merely entering their hunting field with a running camera should be enough encouragement for the hunter to gather their hounds and head back to the meet but once again the criteria for any attempted conviction remains the same.

Falconry Exemption

I’ve written a lot about this recently so won’t cover it all again but needless to say this part of the act is now being seriously called into question as an alibi for hunters since the prosecution of the Fitzwilliam. whether those hunts that still using a bird of prey continue to do so remains to be seen. Next season could be interesting . . .

Gamekeepers Exemption

This is a tricky one and the greyest of grey areas. The simple fact is there is no place for terrier men in a trail hunt and yet all hunts still employ at least 1 terrier man with the usual tools of his trade. The Countryside Alliance might like to claim they are fence menders and call them “Countrymen” but I don’t think anyone really believes that nonsense as terriers aren’t terribly good at mending fences.

I know some sources will disagree but I have always believed that in certain circumstances terrier work would be in breach of the hunting act. I’ve had long discussions with various police forces and their wildlife crime officers over the presence and indeed use of terrier men during a trail hunt. My personal experience of these particularly awful humans would also suggest that once an animal has gone to ground sabs/monitors arriving on the scene will see the terrier men making themselves scarce pretty quickly. The fact they will almost always be masked in some way suggests their need to hide their identity and thus reducing the chance of prosecution.

OHTM

Oakley terrier men.

The gamekeepers exemption was never intended to be used in conjunction with a mounted hunt. If a hunt was to chase and mark their quarry to ground and then call in the terrier men to dig out or bolt the animal they are in effect admitting to hunting in breach of the act. Obviously proving this might be nigh on impossible but it will certainly call into question their activities. My local force actually advised me prior to a hunt meet that if we witnessed dogs being used below ground we should call them immediately. A WCO from a different force suggested he would stop the use of terriers if used in conjunction with a hunt however could not stop them if they came back for the hunted animal later on when the hunt has ceased.

Hunted foxes will know their surroundings and look for the quickest route to safety within their territory. This will often be a badger sett – provided the terrier man hasn’t already blocked the entrances of course. This is a traditional job of the terrier man and still regularly takes place. Again evidence of this should be gathered and passed on the the authorities as interference with a sett is an offence under the Protection of Badgers Act. Should a fox go down a badger sett then the protection of the fox becomes a little easier. The sett would need to be proven to be active. This can be done by photographing the entrances. Are they clear of detritus which suggests regular use? Can badger prints be seen in earth? Are there large and fresh spoil heaps or bedding outside the entrances? Further evidence of activity can be gained by the used of a trail cam showing actual footage of the badgers using the sett.

There have been several instances where terrier men have been caught red handed digging into badgers setts in an attempt to get to a fox. They have even left their terriers in the sett in their haste to escape!

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Finally if in doubt call the police. They may be reluctant to attend but call them (on 101) and report it anyway. The more people who start calling the police the better. Don’t get fobbed off, get a crime reference number and chase it up after the event if you don’t get a satisfactory response. Cite your safety concerns if hounds are running around the roads, complain of followers driving dangerously, being aggressive or blocking the highway. Ultimately hunts rarely want the police to attend, it can be a pain in the arse for them to explain themselves and it could save a life.

 

Comments
  1. Catherine Deering says:

    Very helpful, thank you

  2. Lou says:

    Thanks for this. Something that occurred to me recently is the gamekeeper’s exemption: usually hunts are only allowed on shooting land after the shooting season has ended (February onwards) because of the fact that there are barely any gamebirds left, the vast majority having been shot. Obviously there would be carnage were hounds allowed to run around whilst hundreds of birds were wandering loose.
    How then can the gamekeeper’s exemption be used to ‘protect gamebirds’? There aren’t gamebirds around by the end of the shooting season:how can you protect birds that don’t exist? They could of course argue that it’s to prevent future losses because they’ll be releasing a load of new birds in late summer but I wonder if legally the point could be challenged? The very fact that the hunts aren’t welcome on shoot land during the shooting season proves that it’s disruptive and that there are birds to ‘protect’. By the end of the season in my neck of the woods there are barely any birds left to ‘protect’ by the time the hunt thugs rock up. Yet again it’s a story of contradiction and changing the story to suit them by the hunters and their forked tongues

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