Witnessing hunting on Ministry of Defence land

I have witnessed hunting with hounds on Ministry of Defence (MoD) land. I have witnessed the hounds in cry, and I have seen animals flee for their lives. One thing I have not seen is trails being laid.

The Ministry of Defence is licensing hunts to use its land under the guise of ‘trail’ hunting. You and I both know that trail hunting is nothing more than a smokescreen for chasing and killing animals, something that has been very widely reported in recent times. But despite the reports, the news and the evidence, this government department is content to let animal abusers roam public land.

As Head of Field Operations, I have first-hand experience of what the hunts get up to on MoD land, and they are not to be trusted. I have witnessed a full pack of hounds in pursuit of a hare, fleeing for its life across Salisbury plain. I have seen hunts stray from the land for which they are licensed, I have seen them ride through military camps and hunt in areas where no trails could possibly laid.

Where possible, we set up cameras at least a day before a hunt. We’re looking for trail layers. Surely if they are trail hunting, a trail will be laid before the hunt set off? On one occasion in Friday Woods near Colchester, me and an accompanying investigator were confronted by a hunt master, who was very keen to show us the ‘fox broth’ that the hunt was using. Of course, we knew this to be a lie. We had seen no evidence of a trail being laid before the hunt left. The trail layer did, however, show up on the morning of the hunt - he went out just after the hunt had already left! How was he going to lay a trail for the hunt to follow after they had already gone?

This is not the first hunt we have seen set off without a trail, and given that trail hunting is nothing more than a smokescreen, it won’t be the last.

But we are not just confronted by the hunts. MoD staff don’t seem too keen to see us either. Despite us having permission from the MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which administers and maintains defence land, to monitor the hunts , we’re often told to leave. On one occasion a DIO officer told us we were breaching byelaws, to stick to public footpaths and not the tracks, which were also being used by dog walkers and cyclists, and that we were there illegally. Again, we have permission from the MoD to monitor the hunts. The next time we monitored the same hunt, the DIO officer told us that he warned the hunt that we were coming.

We have routinely seen licence breaches: three support vehicles when there should have been two, no trail layer present, using land that they are not licensed to use. Have the hunts been penalised? No.

As always, we see terrier men present at the hunts, atop quad bikes with their dogs kept in little boxes. Their only purpose to dig out foxes when they go to ground. A clear indication of illegal hunting. How has the MoD responded to their presence at a hunt? Updated the licence to allow them to be there.

We will be out again this season, on the lookout for licence breaches, signs of licence breaches and illegal activity, but I don’t hold out much hope for the MoD to take them seriously. The only option is to ban hunts from MoD land altogether.

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