Posts Tagged ‘Gamekeerpers Exemption’

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.

 

As with most laws the majority of people that once something is made illegal then that’s it, it’s done with. Unfortunately with laws like the Hunting Act that’s far from the case and also explains why so many hunts are continuing to circumnavigate the law by cynically using the loopholes which are written into the legislation in its current form. What I’ll try to do here is outline the main points so its possible to get a better understanding of how things stand. In this part I’ll highlight what I feel are the most relevant points of the act and this will follow in part 2 with the problems in enforcing it and the requirements needed to gain a conviction.

The full act can be found here.

1

The main statement of the act reads as follows

A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless his hunting is exempt”.

The important part here is the mention of exempt hunting. This is covered by Schedule 1 of the act. The act then covers various situations where the hunting will be considered exempt however the most important part here is that all of these exemptions are covered by Part 5.

“The third condition is that the stalking or flushing out does not involve the use of more than two dogs”.

This was the part which was supposed to put an end to the hunting of foxes, hares and stags (amongst other species) with full packs of hounds. However when the act came into force the CA and hunts got together and invented “trail hunting”. I think most people are now fully aware that trail hunting is nothing more than a cover for real hunting, that is, hunting live quarry, however as the law stands there is no written part of the legislation banning this.

The next import point to note is Part 6 – “Use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting” – This is commonly known as the “Gamekeepers Exemption”. This is covered further in Section 2

This part of the act is to enable gamekeepers to be able to kill foxes and protect their precious game birds. They can put a terrier down a hole where foxes thought to be present with the purpose of flushing them so they can be shot by a competent person. Only one dog can be used and these are supposed to be “soft” terriers, that is a terrier which will not engage with the fox and fight it underground. This has to comply with a code of practice but as well all know this is often roundly ignored with both terriers and foxes suffering injuries consistent with fighting underground.

OHTM

The person conducting this operation must have written permission from the land owner if not the owner themselves and this must be made available to any constable who requests it. It has to be proven that the activity is for the protection of livestock, most notably bird which are being raised to be shot (Game birds).

Falconry

This is where the act has an inconsistency. There is no limit on the number of hounds which can be used to flush the mammal for the bird of prey to then hunt. The same restrictions apply with regards to permissions however as you well know this particular exemption has been used by several hunts in order for them to continue hunting as normal. However the recent conviction of the now retired Fitzwilliam Huntsman George Adams (see full story here) has put the use of this exemption by the hunts seriously into question.

Exempt Species

Not all mammals are covered by the act. Those species which are considered vermin have no protection under the act and this include both rats and rabbits. Provided once again that all permissions are satisfied these species can hunted regardless of the number of hounds or the methods used.

There are some quite bizarre exemptions which include Recapture of a Wild Mammal, Rescue of a Wild Mammal and Retrieval of Hares (which have been shot) but these, by and large have no real bearing with regards to the hunting we see in our countryside through the hunting season.

Research  and Observation

This is another odd one as I’m not sure what there is to learn about a mammal from a scientific point of view by hunting them. I’m told the stag hound hunts in the west country use this exemption although it clearly states in the act that the number of hounds is limited to 2.

Section 4 Hunting Assistance

Quite an interesting one this and something, as far as I’m aware that has yet to be enforced. “A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under section 1″.

This would appear to be a little like vicarious liability. It is possible for the land owner to be prosecuted if they were knowingly allowing an illegal activity to take place on their land. When out in the fields we’ll often be approached by angry people claiming to be land owners and telling us to leave. When you quote them chapter and verse of this part of the act its amazing how quickly they will shut up and make themselves scarce. We’ll always ask for their names and proof of ownership if they continue to press the point. It is without doubt that a large number of land owners who permit their land to be used by hunts know exactly what’s going on and are probably fairly active themselves in the hunting community however it would seem that proving this is nigh on impossible as the police and CPS never seem to go after these people. Perhaps if a successful prosecution could be gained more land owners would have second thought about allowing the criminal hunters to use their land.

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Section 5 – Hare Coursing

We will often hear of how rural police officers spend a lot of their time tackling hare coursing (and rightly so), particularly in the east of the country (the last stronghold of the Brown Hare) and the public will often ask the question why these forces don’t put the same resources into tackling organised hunting with hounds. The hunting act has a section all of its own for hare coursing and this of course makes it a lot easier for the police and CPS to gain successful prosecutions. The people that undertake coursing are often trespassing and damaging property so this is another justification for a more robust police response which will also include seizure of vehicles and dogs.

So these are what I believe to be the most important points to note. Obviously there is a level of interpretation however from personal experience I don’t believe I’m far off the mark. In the next blog I’ll look at the reality of the act in the fields and what is required to to bring these criminals to justice.