Sunday, 13 March 2016

Fox hunting again - lines are crossed

Before I begin: Pest control is perfectly legal, and that's fine. Foxes are regarded as pests and can therefore be killed, and that's fine too. I am not against the killing of foxes in a quick, humane manner. It has to be done, so just shoot 'em. Full stop.

What I am against is the jolly old British tradition of hunting foxes with packs of hounds, which is quite rightly against the law of this land.
I think it's a cruel, torturous way for a terrified fox to die as it is chased relentlessly through the undergrowth then literally torn limb from limb the moment it makes a mistake. I don't care what the Countryside Alliance thinks and I don't care about what legalisation would do for rural economies, hunting foxes with hounds is wrong.

Deadly serious: me and Dawn yesterday
That said, I uphold another British tradition by protesting quietly under my breath and not actually doing anything about it. I don't lay false trails, I don't protest at meets with a crackly loudhailer turned up to 11 and misspelled placard and I don't drag bugling horsemen off their trusty steeds and beat seven shades out of them, using their blood as warpaint in front of the world's media and gaggles of baton-wielding police officers.
I pretty much just keep it to myself.

I'm telling you this so you don't go thinking that I'm a sandal-wearing, yoghurt-weaving type of tree-hugging, handcuffed-to-railings nutjob - I'm just a regular bloke who can't see any justification whatsoever for hunting foxes with hounds.

So, now I've told you that, go and read my post from November about the first time our local hunt barreled through unannounced and my reaction to it...

...welcome back. The quick update is that we had our suspicions confirmed that there was nothing we could really do about the hunt coming through, so we decided to let them get on with it. Nobody said we couldn't try though either - it was more a case of shrugged shoulders and vaguery.
As promised, the Hunt Master dropped by a few days before the next hunt was due just to give us fair warning, and we (Dawn, too) had a chat and a bit of polite laughter while making it clear that while we don't condone the activity we're prepared to be civil for the sake of peace. This has happened three or four times over the last few months and sometimes we hear or see the hunt running past the end of the front garden or don't catch them at all. They haven't entered the estate through our gates again.

In retrospect - and I was kind of aware I was doing this at the time while deliberately not dwelling on it - I had somehow convinced myself that the hunt was just following pre-laid scent trails and the dogs were getting a good run out. A bit of fresh air. In the back of my mind I knew differently, of course, but it was the only way I could stay calm about it all.

Yesterday's hunt turned everything on its head, though, and for perhaps the first time in my life I have consciously decided to stick up for my principles instead of rolling over and pretending they're not there because it's less hassle. Such was the significance of the occasion that I forgot to get any proper photos, so CCTV screenies will have to do. Sorry about that.

It all started normally, with the Hunt Master forewarning us a few days ago that they might be around on Saturday.
Yesterday afternoon came about, somewhere around half four, and we were both outside when we heard bugling from the woods so we stood at the top of the trail leading away from The Lodge to watch. I have to admit that the sight of a full hunt powering through is one to behold if you put aside any moral objections.

The hunt was pretty scattered, which is seemingly normal, and one huntsman appeared at the bottom of the track and plodded his horse up to stand with us while the rest of his group sorted themselves out.

The arrival of the cavalry
We're stood in the top right corner - you can just see a pair of feet

We did the polite chatter thing again, then a few minutes later two quad bikes came along another track and joined us. Four people were aboard the quads, two older blokes, one younger bloke and an older woman. Every one of them a pig-squealing redneck.
When they motored off down the track and in to the trees, we asked the huntsman what part they played on the hunt. His answer was vague at best and he didn't really commit. Maybe something to do with dogs... maybe not... nice day, isn't it?

Right then a fox came running like hell through the undergrowth, crossing the track right in front of us and crashing off in to the trees.

Caught on our front garden cheapo NatureCam CCTV, this is what a petrified fox looks like when it's running for its life.
It crossed the track in front of us a few seconds later, followed 30 seconds after that by a hound.
And I'm not sorry to say this, but I lost the plot.
There was no time for me to consider my reaction, no time to think about what to say - I lost it in an instant.

All of a sudden I effing hated the man on the horse beside us and I hated everything he represented. Never in my life have I experienced such a sudden surge of... what? Revulsion? I literally started to feel sick and developed a pain right across my stomach. All of a sudden my passive compliance was out the window. In fact I was so angry that I was close to tears - do you get that? You're not sad or scared but you're suddenly so furious that your unconscious reaction is to blub? That's me. I hate it. I'd be a terrible professional boxer.

As always with sudden adrenaline rushes, I don't really remember what I said shouted in his general direction but I strode off down the track at the same time ready to take on every hound with my bare hands before it got past me. Fortunately the main pack was crossing the track further down, but one hound was right on the fox's scent and followed in its wake 30 seconds later only to be faced by a mental version of me, screaming and waving my arms at it. It ran off in a different direction.

I continued shouting and gesticulating wildly at the huntsman while fending off a confrontation-hating Dawn as she tried to calm me down and he quickly left the scene without another word, presumably before I could locate a weapon. I managed to inform his firmly-turned back that I'd had enough of being polite and I'd be closing and locking the gates whenever I know they're out from now on.

Then, in something of a surprise move, Dawn left too.
She wandered straight ahead in to the trees without saying a thing and vanished for 20 minutes. She didn't even look back. It was like a preamble to a bad psychological thriller.

It turned out that whereas my lovely wife was in full agreement with the sentiment of my message, the range of words I chose to use from my otherwise pretty extensive vocabulary was somewhat limited and, often, too 'specialist'. And loud. The delivery was perhaps a little off too. She wasn't terribly pleased with me for that, but that wasn't why she wandered off - she wanted to give me time to settle down while she looked for fox remains in order to justify blasting a blunderbuss at the hunt next time it passed through.
She didn't find any, but she did hear suspicious human noises coming from the undergrowth a short distance away... so we went to investigate.

The noises were at the end of the quad bike tracks in the grass, off the path in a secluded part of the woods behind thick rows of rhododendron. Voices, chopping, snapping branches... manual labour sounds. But there was no way to find out what was going on without being totally obvious about it and putting ourselves at potential risk. Anecdotal accounts that I've heard over the years from people who actually know these things suggest that hunt participants can be just as... er... defensive and unpredictable as their saboteur counterparts.
Then, as luck would have it, we heard the quad bike engines start up so we did what any fully-grown adults would do and ran away to hide in the trees with our hoods up as they drove on by.

Pictured from inside the enclosure looking out, the
only pathway to and from the den was crudely hidden
from view with pulled-over foliage
The area of rhododendron they had been in was kind of horseshoe-shaped, with one way in and one way out, which the people had tried to hide by pulling foliage across the entrance. Beyond the 'barrier' (being careful not to step in any traps) we found five large entrances to what appeared to be a reasonably-sized earth. Four of the fox holes had been dug out but there was no blood, no bodies and no signs of anything violent having taken place.
So we took some photographs then went back home.

Now here's the thing: Which, if any, laws have been broken?

Organised hunts like this aren't allowed to specifically target foxes with hounds, but by digging out an earth while hunting with hounds is going on in the immediate area thanks to a group you're clearly with, isn't the Hunt Master blatantly ignoring the law?

But here's the other thing: I know what they were up to and Dawn knows what they were up to, but everything can be easily explained away by the hunt if it came down to it. They were just out for a run with the hounds. Maybe the quads weren't part of it. Maybe the quad people had guns to shoot anything they found - it's not illegal. Maybe they thought they'd do a little ad-hoc pest control while they were out... all of that easy, indisputable bullshit which hunts no doubt rely on up and down the country all year round as they deliberately circumvent the Fox Hunting Ban.

I don't exactly know the purpose of digging out fox holes
without doing anything else. My thought was that they'd be
back later with terriers. Either way, doing it as part of an
organised hound hunt has to raise some questions, right?
I know that there are bigger things to fret about than what effectively amounts to simple pest control, but they've pushed my buttons and I want to do everything I can to disrupt them now. I want to get the police involved, lay false trails, dig a pit for the quads to fall in to, shoot stuff... but I'm not going to, no matter how angry it has made me.

Nevertheless I'll still unleash my tiny anarchic side next time they pass through - I'll not only be closing the gate but I'll lock it this time, too. Even if the horses don't always come through that way, it'll still mess things up for the quads and other hangers-on.

EDIT (March 19) - The word 'Terriermen' has been mentioned to me. Not being a country boy I had never heard of them. Terriermen. Apparently it's a real word.
That's what they were.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with your response to the hunt. If I'd been there I'd probably have done the same as your good self... or worse! Well done, Muz. I'm absolutely 100% behind you!! :thumbsup:


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