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.
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!
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