Artificial Earths: A Year Round Deception

The use of artificial earths by hunts has been well documented by the Hunt Saboteurs Association. This is the practice of building underground chambers for foxes and in particular fox cubs, so that the hunt can keep a regular supply of quarry to hunt. Like so many other hunting traditions, this did not stop when hunting with hounds was banned in 2005.

Indeed, hunts are still creating and managing artificial earths and continue to feed and breed foxes. Even pre-ban this blew their excuse of ‘pest control’ out of the water. A clear admission of this can be found in the 2010 book An Obsession by Nick Stevens, terrier man with the Beaufort Hunt in the 1990s. In it Stevens boasts that “Over the years I have made a great many artificials (earths)… I would put six or seven in a year and it was funny how often they were used”.

Artificial Earths, images via Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs.
Artificial Earths, images via Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs.

With most fox hunts finishing for the season around March or April, you may think the artificial earths are left alone over the summer months. But this is not the case. The work by the hunt staff continues, mostly the terrier men, so that there is a ready supply of foxes come the start of the next hunting season.

In this two part article, we’ll be looking into the year-round management of artificial earths, starting here with the season ending in Spring, then preparing for the next season over the Summer.


The vast majority of fox hunts end in early Spring: this is the time that the preparation starts for the next season. A typical artificial earth consists of an underground chamber, which can be constructed with bricks. It has two or more tunnels leading to the chamber; 9” plastic piping is generally used today. The tunnels lead out to the entrances, which are usually constructed of bricks or stone. The entrances are often restricted by rocks, paving slabs or logs, known as a faggot, to prevent the habitation of badgers when not already habited by foxes, and also to prevent fox cubs from fleeing.

So Spring, with the season over, is the ideal opportunity for the terrier men to carry out any repairs to the artificial earth, or even construct new ones. Now is also a good time to clean out the main underground chamber, which typically has a lid – often concrete slabs – for easy access.

Typical layout of an artificial earth.
Typical layout of an artificial earth.

Come May or June, fox cubs are seen to be old enough to be taken from their mothers. Terrier men will relocate the cubs into the artificial earths, and hold them captive, either by blocking the entrance tunnels, or by being kept in a cage in the chamber. The Pytchley Hunt were exposed doing this back in 2016 after uncover footage was handed to the HSA.

The captive cubs will be fed, usually with chickens and shot crows. Once the cubs have reached around twelve weeks old, they are released in the hope they’ll remain in the vicinity of the earth and provide an easy supply of quarry come hunting season.

Artificial earth entrance tunnels. Calder Valley Hunt Saboteurs.
Artificial earth entrance tunnels. Calder Valley Hunt Saboteurs.

If you are out enjoying the footpaths of the British countryside in March or April there is not much overgrowth so you may come across the tell-tale signs of artificial earths. They are usually located in larger woodlands, in and around hunt meets. The terrier men will ideally want easy access, so they can feed the foxes in Spring, then maintain the earth in Summer, meaning they’ll often be situated near the outskirts of the woodland or cover, or even near to a route the hunts horses will take on a hunting day.

The hunt will want to bolt a fox from the earth, therefore the entrances will be facing in the direction the hunt want foxes to run. You may also find quad tyre tracks, well-worn paths made by the terrier men feeding foxes, animal bones, feeding bowls, and – the big give away – breeze blocks, bricks or logs used for blocking the entrances.

Artificial earths are an obvious indication of illegal activity. If you find one, if possible take a What3Words (W3W) location, or an Ordnance Survey (OS) Grid Reference if you have the OS App on your phone, or even a Google pin – but please try and take the pin, or grid, or W3W as you are at the artificial earth rather than try and work it out later. Try and take images if you can and send them to your local group, they can help or advise further on monitoring.

If you don’t know who your local group is, you can find your local group here or you can tip us off on 07443 148 426.

Look out for part two this article on Autumn and Winter, which is coming soon.

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