Monday, September 25, 2017

Day of the Hunters

A few Saturdays ago, residents of the village where I live were woken early in the morning by the roar of 4 x 4 engines and the clatter of horses’ hooves. Not unusual sounds in the countryside but it was the multiplicity of the vehicles and the mounts that disturbed the sleep of so many: the hunt had arrived. By the time I was out walking my dogs, members of the East Sussex and Romney Marsh (ESRM) hunt were gathered on local farm land, with hounds, preparing to hunt. They were not alone: a group of protestors from the South Coast Hunt Saboteurs were there to monitor their activities.

When hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2005, hunt associations invented trail hunting as a means of continuing to operate. Trail hunting involves hounds - still trained to follow live quarry - following an animal-based scent in areas where the presence of live quarry is likely. In its 2015 report, Trail of Lies, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) concluded that trail hunting is overwhelmingly being used as a smokescreen to continue illegal hunting. Detailing evidence from over 4,000 field reports by hunt monitors, the report said that most hunts were not even bothering to lay a trail and were encouraging hounds to hunt live animals and claiming any kills as accidents. The IFAW report concluded that “trail hunting is primarily a false alibi to avoid prosecutions of illegal hunting, rather than a harmless temporary simulation of hunting before the ban.” At its Annual General Meeting next month, the National Trust will vote on a resolution to end the practice of granting licences for trail hunting on its land. The proposers cite evidence that illegal hunting is taking place on the Trust’s land under the guise of trail hunting. You do not have to attend the AGM to support the resolution; I have just supported it by returning my postal proxy vote and all National Trust members can do the same by 13th October.

It goes without saying that fox hunting is ritualistic cruelty and this anachronism was rightly outlawed by The Hunting Act 2004. However, it seems that it is still taking place and the South Coast Hunt Saboteurs claim that the ESRM were cub hunting when they were in my village earlier this month - the riders were certainly wearing the tweed jackets associated with this type of hunting. Cub hunting is particularly barbaric: young foxes are flushed out of woodland coverts and hunted down by young hounds as part of their training. Even in the hunting world cub hunting is a sordid secret and is given the sanitised title of ‘autumn hunting.’

There was much discussion on our village social media forum after the visit of the ESRM. Of the comments criticising the hunt, some were from principled opponents of hunting but many were from villagers who were simply put out by the inconvenience of the hunt’s arrival in the village: noise, traffic and disruption. But hunting was always about authority and asserting the right to ride roughshod over ordinary folk. However, there was support for the hunt on the forum; people spoke of upholding tradition and the threat to long-established rural ways. And then things got nasty and the administrator closed and deleted the thread as comments from some of the hunt supporters had become abusive and aggressive; well, there you go.

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