Behind the scenes – monitoring a cub hunt
In early October the League was approached by ITV News following up on a press release we’d sent and asking to film a fox hunt in Gloucestershire during the cub hunting season.
We spoke to Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch, which had been recently posting multiple reports of illegal hunting by the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, to which some had clearly shown kills of foxes.
As a result, we decided to take ITV to Hawkesbury Common, South Gloucestershire on 28 October for a cub hunting meet.
The hunt met in large numbers just before 9am along with terrier men on two quad bikes, carrying all the tools of terrier work. This begs the question of why, if this hunt purport to act within the law and lay trails, would they possibly need terrier men present and all the tools of the trade for “digging out”?
From a good vantage point at the top of Hawkesbury Knoll, the investigators saw the hunt move off at speed heading south towards Horton Bushes. There was a huge field of riders who had no visible social distancing, hand wash facilities or masks and were bunched together when passing through gates from field to field.
According to the local hunt monitors, Horton Bushes is a favourite wood for the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt and always manage to find a fox in this dense covert.
When we arrived at Horton Bushes it was no surprise to hear the huntsman encouraging his hounds and them speaking as they picked up scents. A fox was seen by the monitors.
The ITV reporters were spotted by a hunt supporter and the hounds were very quickly gathered and the hunt left Horton Bushes heading north east. In his hurry to leave us and the ITV film crew, the huntsman left three bewildered hounds behind. The hunt was long gone, and the three hounds were still running all over the road in front of cars. The investigators managed to catch one young hound in danger of being run over and returned it to a local hunt supporters’ farm.
We converged on Hawkesbury Common at 11:30 for ‘second horses’ and met up with monitors from Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch. Before the hunt returned to change horses, we saw them hunting on the ridge to the east of the common and filmed deer running from the hunt. Later on, we heard that a deer had been shot by the hunt at Hawkesbury Church at around this time. It was witnessed by workers who were renovating the church who subsequently reported it to the police.
At ‘second horses’ the hunt returned to Hawkesbury Common for a breather, the huntsman arriving on a bicycle with the hounds.
After a brief respite, the huntsman took the hounds on foot towards Newhouse Farm, closely followed by the terrier men. The investigators followed on foot and were then joined by the ITV news crew.
They then witnessed and recorded the hounds being allowed to run through an area of thick scrub and rusting farm machinery, while the huntsman, foot supporters and riders looked on.
The hounds then went into cry and a fox bolted just a couple of metres in front of the investigators and crew closely pursued by the hounds. This was filmed by League investigators.
The hounds went through woodland and residential properties after the fox and spent quite some time looking for it. No attempts were seen to stop the hounds or retrieve them from the private gardens. This was all filmed by the League and ITV.
In the words of the ITV reporter Caron Bell: “Those hounds are chasing a fox; I’ve just seen it with my own eyes. A trail might have been laid but right now they are chasing a live animal.”
No trails were seen being laid and what we witnessed and recorded was fox hunting exactly as it was carried out before the Hunting Act was introduced.
Their trail laying excuse is really just a smokescreen for live quarry hunting, as was seen by us and the unbiased reporters from ITV.
Martin Sims, Director of Investigations and Mark Collings, Head of Field Operations