Exposing the soft underbelly of the fox hunting world

The ‘soft underbelly’ of the hunting world has been exposed again after Paul O’Shea, 49, terrier man for the East Essex Hunt, was sentenced pleading guilty to offences under both the Animal Welfare Act and the Hunting Act 2004.

The case followed footage obtained by North London Hunt Saboteurs of O’Shea in December 2021 using his terrier dog to drag a fox from an artificial earth. He was then filmed stabbing the fox repeatedly with a garden fork.

This display of violence was conducted in Great Monks Wood, the territory of the East Essex Hunt, which has denied links to O’Shea. However, as of November 2021 – less than a month before the footage was captured – O’Shea was listed in Horse & Hound magazine as being their countryman, which is another term for terrier man.

Artificial earths are clay or plastic pipes that are built to provide a home for foxes so hunts have a ready supply of wildlife to chase. That a terrier man would know of this artificial earth and visit to obtain a fox during the hunting season is highly suspicious and points towards the hunt chasing foxes.

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An artificial earth found in Great Monks Wood in 2016.

We first found the earth in 2016, when it was not in use. But we received intelligence in summer 2021 that it had been rebuilt ready for the coming cub and fox hunting seasons.  

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An artificial earth found in 2021 in Great Monks Wood used by hunts to create a home for foxes they will later attempt to chase and kill.

The East Essex hunt is no stranger to this area as we monitored them there in October 2020 when they met to chase and kill fox cubs.

Focusing their activities on Great Monks Wood, their morning culminated with their hounds ‘going into cry’ – a sign they are on the scent of a fox – within the wood which we now know is home to foxes and which contains this artificial earth.

Only the week before we had recorded the hunt cub hunting by surrounding small areas of woodland while slapping their saddles and shouting to scare the fox cubs and prevent them from escaping.

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Followers of the East Essex hunt surrounding an area of cover to prevent fox cubs from escaping while hounds are being let loose and trained to kill.

Cub hunting takes place between August and the end of October and involves hunts training their hounds to kill by setting them upon the cubs.

The East Essex Hunt was also on our radar that year after we received multiple reports of badger sett interference coinciding suspiciously with their meet locations. Badger setts are routinely blocked up by hunts to prevent foxes escaping underground during the chase, again ensuring the hunt has ready ‘sport’.

We also found a blocked badger sett with clear spade marks visible next to a small piece of woodland they had surrounded, giving any fox trying to escape even less of a chance and potentially suffocating any badgers within the sett. Traditionally, this was how terrier men operated before the fox hunting ban which came into force in 2005.

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A badger sett found in 2020 which has been blocked by terrier men to prevent foxes escaping underground during a chase.

While hunts would like to distance themselves from cases like that of Paul O’Shea, and claim that their days of using artificial earths, hunting fox cubs at dawn and blocking badger setts are behind them, these are things that we see and hear of regularly occurring across the country.

In recent years, these practices have been shown repeatedly to still be part of the hunting world:

  • The Kimblewick hunt course case in 2019 saw two hunt members convicted under the Animal Welfare Act for causing suffering to a fox at an artificial earth.
  • The Meynell and South Staffordshire hunt court case in 2019 saw the huntsman and joint master of the hunt both pleading guilty to Hunting Act offences after we filmed them cub hunting. This hunt had also previously been convicted for cub hunting at this same location in 2012. This shows the hunt’s wilful disregard for the law.
  • In 2021, we released footage from our hidden cameras of the Grove and Rufford hunt followers discussing what to do if they saw a fox during cubbing and how they would shout ‘tally ho back’ to alert the huntsman and scare the fox back towards the hounds.

With these incidents showing the widespread harm still caused to our wildlife by hunts, our work has never been more important to expose these illegal practices and to campaign for stronger laws and more robust sentencing.

We have entered the start of the next cub hunting season with defenceless cubs already being chased by hunts. Artificial earths can be found in woodlands across the country and as we have seen they can be the site of some of the most horrific acts of violence.

If you have any information about the location of artificial earths, cub hunting meets or any other intelligence about hunt activities anywhere in the country you could really help our team to continue its vital work.

Please report any information to our Animal Crimewatch line by calling us on 0300 444 1234, emailing us at crimewatch@league.org.uk or via our website..

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