Why I was shocked to experience my first hunting season

I had no idea hunting was still going on until late last year. And I really had no idea of the scale of the problem until I joined the League Against Cruel Sports and had the opportunity to talk to its professional investigators who monitor the hunts’ activities. I was quite simply staggered by what I learnt.

The sheer scale of the killing. The barefaced lying of the hunts and their deception of the British public. Their invention of the term ‘trail’ hunting after the hunting ban, to describe a new practice intended to mimic traditional hunting as much as possible; so closely in fact that it’s become clear it is just a cover-up for the hunting and killing of British wildlife. The hunt havoc which sees the horsemen and hounds rampaging down busy roads, through people’s gardens, killing people’s pets, crossing railway lines and chasing wild animals.

This isn’t the work of hunts laying trails, it’s the work of criminals determined to carry on their bloodthirsty activities as if the ban had never come into force. The presence of terrier men on quad bikes with their dogs in cages, preparing to dig out foxes that have gone to ground, lays bare the lies being perpetrated by the hunts.

So as this hunting season comes to an end and before the hunts swing back into action and continue with their grisly crimes against wild animals in the autumn, the League determined to identify the scale of this season’s illegal hunting across the country.

The good news is that the world is changing, and technological advances mean the public can now both monitor and report wildlife crimes. Advances in smartphone video technology make it easier to capture illegal hunting on film. Facebook groups have sprung up detailing evidence from monitors and hunt saboteurs being gathered on a daily basis during the hunting season.

The League Against Cruel Sports runs Animal Crimewatch, a confidential hotline which the public can use to report cruelty to animals in the name of sport, by phone, email or an online form. League investigators also catalogue everything they witness while monitoring hunts.

By pulling together the figures from Facebook, Animal Crimewatch and our professional investigators, we established that a total of 550 reports of illegal hunting activity and hunt havoc had been received by the League since the beginning of the hunting season last autumn.

This figure included more than 400 reports of illegal hunting and nearly 150 of hunt havoc incidences. More than 40 were reports of ‘cub hunting’, an abhorrent practice in which huntsman surround small patches of woodland and flush their hounds through to attack young foxes and get the hounds used to killing.

Sadly, these reports are just the tip of the iceberg – with more than 300 hunts on the British mainland still in existence and actively targeting wildlife, we estimate that thousands of animals are still being killed every year.

One example of an out-of-control hunt shocked animal lovers everywhere. The East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt tore into an 80-acre cat sanctuary run by the Celia Hammond Animal Trust near Hastings, earlier this year. The rampaging pack of hounds split in two, with one half chasing a deer and the other half pursuing a fox. Cats scattered everywhere and 60 disappeared. Thankfully the vast majority survived but sadly four elderly cats never returned, feared killed.

Elsewhere, the Warwickshire Hunt exemplified what is going on across the country. A dozen separate cases of the Warwickshire hunting illegally or causing hunt havoc were reported in only a matter of months, with the hunt being witnessed in people’s gardens, spilling on to busy A roads and operating right next to the M40, presenting a very real risk to the public and the hunt’s hounds and indicating that any claims of ‘trail’ hunting were absurd.

So what needs to happen now to address the problem these hunts pose to British wildlife? A year ago, animal welfare campaigners were putting their energy into defending the hunting ban. Now the political environment has changed.

During the General Election, hunting became the second most talked about subject online and Conservative Party plans to hold a vote on the repeal of the Act, proved politically toxic and were subsequently dropped.

Recent polling showed 85 per cent of the public support the hunting ban. It also indicated that 81 per cent of people in rural areas supported the ban, dispelling the myth that the whole issue was just about people in towns and cities not understanding the countryside.

With such widespread public support to keep the hunting ban, and the scale of illegal hunting becoming ever more apparent, animal welfare campaigners are now calling on the hunting legislation to be strengthened. In order to act as a proper deterrent and to prevent hunts from killing animals, custodial sentences need to be introduced. It’s time to bring the hunts to task. It’s time to get the hunts, not the animals, on the run.

Our precious wildlife deserves the right to live without the fear of being hunted. Please sign our petition to stop the killing of animals by hunts.


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