Hunt trespass and wildlife crime proves trail hunting excuse is wearing thin

UPDATE - 29th March, 2018:  Initial reports on this incident indicated the Vale of The White Horse Hunt were responsible. Further intelligence has since been brought to the League's attention, that suggests it was the Old Berkshire Hunt that were hunting in the area that day.

A hunt from Oxfordshire has been caught damaging wildlife habitats and trespassing on private land, putting paid to any claims that ‘trail’ hunting is a legitimate activity.

Hounds belonging to a hunt were seen trespassing in residents’ gardens and hunt riders damaged an active badger sett, while the hunt were out in a village near Abingdon recently.

A member of the public who witnessed the incident, said: “We were absolutely horrified when the hunt let their hounds trespass into our gardens and run around uncontrolled. The hunt also went through a wood and trampled over a badger sett, causing some real damage.” 

The incident calls into question the legitimacy of ‘trail’ hunting and highlights the poor behaviour of hunts, many of which are frequently seen trespassing on private property, chasing pets and livestock, causing traffic disruption and damaging wildlife habitats.

Chris Pitt, Deputy Director of Campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The hunts claim they’re trail hunting and acting within the law, but this line is wearing pretty thin. Our evidence has already shown that genuine trails are hardly ever laid and this episode proves just that. The hunt won’t have laid a trail in someone’s garden or over a badger sett, so what exactly were they doing there?”

The hunt is believed to be one of 24 licensed to ‘trail’ hunt on National Trust land. A vote to ban 'trail' hunting on National Trust land was narrowly defeated at the organisation's AGM last autumn. League evidenceshows that trail hunting is being used as a cover for illegal hunting activity and that wildlife is still being persecuted more than ten years after the hunting ban came in.

“Incidents like this, where unsuspecting residents have their property invaded and where a protected species becomes yet another victim of the hunts, show just how important it is for all landowners, including the National Trust, to put an end to trail hunting on their land,” Chris Pitt added. 

Despite the hunts trying to legitimise ‘trail’ hunting by referring to it as a ‘legal activity’, the reports of illegal hunting and hunt havoc incidences being witnessed by League investigators, members of the public that many of who report into the League’s Animal Crimewatch line, and hunt monitors and hunt saboteur groups, are in stark contrast to their claims. 

“Until the Hunting Act is strengthened and hunts stop being able to use trail hunting as a loophole to circumvent the law, they’ll simply continue chasing and killing wildlife, because for them it’s a ‘sport’ and because the law enables them to pass off their questionable behaviour as ‘accidental’,” said Chris Pitt. 

badger sett damage

The active badger sett showing extensive damage caused by the Vale of The White Horse Hunt.

The behaviour of the Oxfordshire hunt follows a pattern of poor behaviour observed by several other hunts this season. The Warwickshire Hunt – also licensed by the National Trust – has been filmed chasing foxes and are regularly accompanied by terrier men, whose purpose is to put terriers below ground to flush foxes, but who have no place on a genuine trail hunt. Terrier men have also been seen with the West Somerset Vale Hunt, a hunt that have trespassed twice on Trust land and regularly hunt across land designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Terrier men are 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 have observed that the blocking of badger setts increases dramatically during the hunting season.

The Oxfordshire incident has been reported to Thames Valley police and the local wildlife crime officer, but despite badgers being a protected species and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 stating that badger setts cannot be disturbed, the hunt are unlikely to face any penalty for their crime. The League is calling for the Hunting Act to be strengthened, including introducing a reckless clause to stop hunters using the false alibi of ‘trail’ hunting. 

85% of the public are in support of keeping the ban on fox hunting, opposition to legalising deer hunting, hare hunting and coursing is even higher. A petition calling for people to help stop the killing of animals by hunts in the UK can be signed here.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

1. The League looked at more than 4,000 hunt monitoring reports from over 30 hunt monitors from different organisations covering the majority of hunts in England and Wales (157), since the Hunting Act 2004 was enacted, these hunt monitors have reported witnessing someone laying a possible trail only in an average of around 3% of the occasions they monitored hunts, but they believed that only on an average of around 0.04% of the occasions they may have witnessed a genuine trail hunting event, rather than a fake one.

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