On a long walk across the fields and tracks around the local villages, Steve and I were privileged to watch several hares – we counted at least seven – chasing around, boxing and mating. These are the first we’ve seen, in any number, this year. They were enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company and were pretty well ignoring the sight of us and our dog, Ned, whom we kept close by so they wouldn’t be disturbed.
There is something about a hare, which seems to embody an untrammeled wildness, a free soul. There is nothing cute about them. Their faces seem ancient and full of wisdom. Many of the old religions saw hares as representing the circle of life. Some believed that hares could re-incarnate, some suggested that it embodied both masculine and feminine elements. In geographically diverse cultures it has been associated with the moon. In Eyptian hieroglyphs, the verb ‘to be’ was represented by a hare crouching over water, representing life/energy. The Easter bunny is in fact a hare, ‘laying’ Easter eggs or the life force. As modern paganism has begun to make sense to so many people the ancient image of the hare has become treasured again.
Some time ago I wrote a poem for the hares we see around our fields.
O Hare on the field, leap for me,
Leap to the sun – where
She’ll cradle your babies,
Dip them in stardust
And silver their hair.
O Hare on the field, dance for me,
Dance rings in the grass;
Take garlands of hawthorn
To the lad who is missing
His doe eyed lass.
O Hare on the field, skip for me,
Skip down through the lanes;
Call for the girl child
Who’ll pet you and dress you
In white daisy chains.
O Hare on the field, run for me,
Run through the maze
Of the sheaves and the reapers,
With the sun on your paws
In the dust filled days.
O Hare on the field, gaze for me,
Gaze deep in the stream,
Where secrets are swirling
And with a bright trinket
You’ll conjure a dream.
O Hare on the field, stay for me,
Stay on the hillside;
Watch over the cottage
When clouds hide the moon
And the Wild Hunt rides.
O Hare on the field, summon me,
Summon me tonight;
The woods are in darkness
But whisper a welcome
As we pass out of sight.
O Hare on the field, walk with me,
Walk facing the moon
By rowan and ash tree,
Till I see through your eyes
And our shadows are one.
A beautiful hare which Steve drew for me a couple of years ago.
Two things coincided to prompt this blog. One, there has been a petition on Facebook to remove a police officer from the wildlife unit of her police force as she rides with her local hunt and two, the Burton Hunt were out mob handed yesterday.I’ll deal with the first quickly as there’s been a lot written on social media. Clearly being a hunt member is not in itself a crime; nonetheless her involvement will make it hard for her to act impartially if/ when they are reported for actually chasing foxes. How will anyone monitoring animal abuse in the countryside put trust in someone who openly supports hunting?
Which leads to the second point: surely, I hear you ask, hunts don’t really chase foxes anymore? They follow pre-laid trails? Or runners? Or take out hawks because they’re really out . . hawking . . (No – we won’t even talk about that as a serious consideration. That’s a finger up to the law) Now there are trail hunts and that’s fine . . probably really good fun (and if you’re a runner, you presumably volunteered!) but most hunts still chase foxes.
Some of my Fb friends have asked in amazement why we don’t report the Hunt when they come round here (so, so often over the season.) And the reason is: because it’s not illegal to ride a horse whilst accompanied by a dog. It can’t be! Even if you are riding with a few dozen others and have 20 couple of dogs. (40 dogs to you and me. I just wanted to show I’m not ignorant of country traditions!) Nor is it illegal (other than as a fashion crime) to wear red clothes that make you look like a nob. (The Oxford dictionary defines that as ‘a person of wealth or high social position’, by the way!) It isn’t actually illegal for your dog to chase a wild animal; it can’t be because my or your pooch out on its constitutional might unintentionally set up a rabbit or hare (and hopefully we would manage to call it off) and we wouldn’t want to be prosecuted. What is illegal is intentionally chasing foxes. The Hunt gets around this by pleading, even when they’re filmed, that the hounds got away from them and then they chased after to retrieve the hounds. Very few prosecutions stick because it is hard to prove their intention – and I’m sure they can afford good lawyers!
And how do I know that they are not following a trail? Well, when they surround a copse and send in the hounds, they clearly are not on a pre arranged trail. When the hounds go off on their own, running wildly across private land (ours on one occasion) or down the middle of the road, disrupting traffic, (last month) with narry a huntsman in sight for the next 10 minutes, then they are clearly not on a pre arranged trail.
Most telling, however, was the statement to me from a local when hunting foxes became illegal: ‘We won’t take any notice. We don’t agree with the law so we’ll carry on as before. What’s it got to do with others if we want to hunt.’ Well, I don’t recall that anyone asked me if I wanted to comply with certain laws. I have the option to campaign against them, not to ignore them.
The trouble is that many of these huntsmen (certainly the top nobs – oops, there now, I’ve said it again) are the ‘entitled’ who are used to making/ enforcing the laws. Many are of the ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade’ who would happily send you down to ‘make an example’ or ‘maintain standards’.
Entitlement and arrogance: that is what I see when I see the red suits out, the four by fours of their followers blocking the road; when I’m told that it’s not their fault that their hounds ran across our land terrifying our livestock because they ‘lost control of them’; when they park their cars or ride their horses down the verges and trample the daffodils; when I’m told that it would probably be best if I didn’t walk my dog down the lane at the moment as the hounds are down there. (‘Why? Are the hounds out of control again?” Dirty look from her.)
Frequent responses are a) it’s a class thing: apparently we are envious. Or b) it’s a lack of understanding of the countryside. Or c) it’s necessary to keep fox numbers down and they’re vicious predators anyway.
Well it ain’t a) or b) as I am lucky enough to own a country property and for a long time a beautiful horse. And c) frankly reeks of cattle manure. The greatest number of foxes are urban – and I don’t see the Hunt heading down Scunthorpe High Street at night (though that might be amusing!) They don’t actually kill a huge number each season anyway: that not the point. The point is terrorizing a wild animal with the intention of ripping it to pieces. (There I’ve finally got onto the emotive bit.) They do it for SPORT – not to protect my chickens. In fact some of our chickens were killed a few years back by two abandoned hounds.
As for the fox being a predator, of course it is! Vicious? Well, if we want to anthropomorphise, it does like killing because killing means food! The fox doesn’t think of your chucks as Betty and Cynthia, it thinks FOOD. Like you do when you shop at Tesco and pick up your roast. Does it kill everything in the coop even though it can only take one? Yes. Do you buy a weekly shop even though you can only eat one meal at once? Yes. And if there’s a few bargains, then you fill the freezer. The fox doesn’t know that it can’t get back to collect the rest so when it sees all those lovely calories sitting on their perches, it dispatches them in a frenzy of shopping for next week.
The Hunt isn’t even killing for food: it’s sport. (Definition of sport in the OED: An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.) Entertainment?
Well our entertainment is watching these foxes, learning their ways, being amused by their antics, shooting them . . . with a camera. This is entertainment, this is education, this is skill. When I look forward to seeing a fox on our wildlife camera, I anticipate its beauty, its grace, its colour, its agility; what the Hunt looks forward to is a mangled pelt.
I am sad and angry.
Catkins and pussy willow dancing in the wind on the bank by Saxonhouse. A pair of great tits exploring a nest box (no-oo: no babies yet, please!) Daffodils, violets and primroses in the garden. Nature seems determined to make a very early start this year.
Saxonhouse too has its new beginning: the Kickstarter campaign. We’ve always been of a very independent mindset and have not previously accepted funding as we wanted to retain complete control over what goes on here. We were put off funding when one would-be sponsor insisted that, if we were to open publicly, we should have a children’s play area, as children ‘would not be interested’ in the history!
However we have asked for help recently, as Saxonhouse’s thatching needs some TLC: the ridge on the thatch needs replacing and the thatch itself some attention. This is essential if the building is to remain waterproof and not disintegrate in the weather. It has done very well so far: this level of care is to be expected.
To this end we launched our Kickstarter campaign.
We have been delighted with the response. I had half thought ‘Why would anyone donate?’ Well, we have been told why: many people love the place! Whether they have visited with a friend or in a group, to research the history or to relax in the tranquility of the site, to attend a ritual or a seasonal bonfire – or even not visited in person at all, but followed our news on Facebook - people have gone to the Kickstarter site and pledged money. We are overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, ex students and strangers.
Now can we ask you to share our campaign with anyone who you think would love to visit us in the real or internet world - or who might think to do so in the future and would like to find Saxonhouse still in good health.
Much joy to you all in this (almost) Spring of 2016!
Jude Jones is a co-founder of Saxonhouse with husband Steve. For many years a teacher of English and Drama, both in mainstream secondary schools and in specialist schools, she is now semi-retired. The new venture with Demeter House School means she does not yet completely have to give up teaching!
wildlife, early history, events, celebrations, bonfire, pagan,