Fox hunting supporters like to conjure up an image of cheerful red coated riders on horseback and a pack of hounds enjoying a day out in the countryside. But there is a much darker side involving terrible cruelty to British wildlife as animals are still literally being torn apart by those packs of hounds. And following the riders are men on quadbikes with terriers in cages - the sinister terrier men.

Terrier men traditionally accompanied hunts and encouraged their dogs to find, fight and flush out foxes that had gone underground.

Their mission was to either kill animals or drive them out from underground, so the hunt could continue with their chase and their 'sport'.

So the big question that now needs to be asked is why are they still operating alongside hunts 13 years after fox hunting was banned? And what does this mean for the hunts' claims that nowadays they are not targeting animals but simply following an animal scent based trail? Trail hunting is the term they have christened to describe their activities.

The answer can only be that the hunts are still targeting and killing animals despite the fox hunting ban of 2004 and that trail hunting is a lie being used to cover their activities.

Fox terrier with the face covered in blood held by a chain

Contracted by the hunts to accompany them, terrier men, usually on quad bikes, are ever present at hunts, sometimes masked, and notorious for their violence towards anyone brave enough to question their activities - terrier men have been convicted of a series of offences, including assault. They carry spades to dig down to the terrified fox which is either shot or mauled by the terriers they keep in boxes on their quad bikes or flushed out to the hounds and literally ripped to pieces.

Reports from monitors after the hunting ban was brought in indicated that nearly 80 per cent of 'trail' hunts were seen to be using terrier men.

Terrier men are also paid to illegally block up badger setts on the day of a hunt to ensure foxes can't go to ground during the chase. Investigators from the League Against Cruel Sports have observed that the blocking of badger setts increases dramatically during the hunting season.

They have also found artificial earths made from clay pipes which have been built by terrier men who rear foxes in them which are driven out on the day of the hunt to provide a ready supply of animals for the hunt to chase.

I spoke with Darryl Cunnington, a former policeman who heads up the League Against Cruel Sports team of investigators in the field, has monitored hunts more than 150 times and seen trails laid in less than half a dozen occasions. He's recently been observing hunts across England which are followed by terrier men and hunt followers on quad bikes.

He told me that "The terrier men are hired heavies wearing masks which indicates to me that they are up to no good. They are ever present, but they should be of no use whatsoever if the hunt was simply laying a trail."

He added: "The terrible cruelty they inflict on foxes would horrify the British public and no doubt bring many to tears. We need to bring an end to the barbaric acts being perpetrated by the hunts and terrier men."
Terrier man holding a dead fox and an injuried terrier

Terrier men, now also labelled 'countrymen' by hunt supporters, are also known to engage in badger baiting, a horrific 'sport' banned for over 180 years in the UK - terriers are sent into badger setts where they both inflict and suffer from terrible injuries in the ensuing brutal fight to the death.

Only last month, a terrier man and the master of the Dwyryd Hunt, were both convicted and imprisoned for badger baiting and other animal welfare abuses at a hunt kennel, in a high-profile court case in north Wales.

Terrier men also operate independently of hunts with individuals and gangs sadly enjoying using their dogs to attack foxes and badgers. Terrible injuries are sustained by both the wildlife and terriers. The poor terriers' injuries often go untreated with scars from battles seen by their owners as proud trophies from their fights.

Ultimately any wild animal can be the victim of terrier work, but the fox is the most common animal affected.

Sadly, it is still legal in some cases. When the hunting ban was introduced, lobbying by the shooting industry led to a 'gamekeepers exemption' in the Hunting Act 2004. This permitted the use of a dog underground to protect 'game' birds as long as certain conditions are met and a code of practice, created by the shooting industry, is followed.

The League Against Cruel Sports is looking for this loophole to be closed and the Hunting Act to be strengthened.

All the evidence suggests that putting dogs underground to chase and fight foxes - terrier work - leads to some of the worst cruelty associated with hunting. The use of dogs underground should be prohibited as part of the new, strengthened and effective anti-hunting legislation which we are currently calling for.

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