Fox Hunting In Free Fall Since ‘Smokescreen’ Webinars

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It’s been two years since the hunting world was rocked when the Hunt Saboteurs Association publicised the now infamous leaked Hunting Office webinars, in which key figures in the hunting world were seen discussing ‘trail laying’ as a smokescreen for fox hunting, dealing with sabs and the police, and a host of other topics they would prefer to have kept secret.

It didn’t take long for the story to hit the mainstream media, with hunting’s post-ban facade slipping and the public seeing the deception of ‘trail hunting for what it really is.

This poor fox was ripped to pieces on the 15th anniversary of the Hunting Act.
This poor fox was ripped to pieces on the 15th anniversary of the Hunting Act.

The fallout was huge. Major landowners that had previously allowed ‘trail hunts’ on their land suspended this activity. Within the hunting community, many blamed an out-of-touch leadership at the Hunting Office for damaging hunting and ruining things for those who enjoy it.

In October 2021, Mark Hankinson – director of the Hunting Office and star of the leaked videos – was hauled before court and found guilty of intentionally encouraging or assisting others to commit an offence under the Hunting Act 2004. Although the conviction was eventually overturned, the damage to hunting was done. One of the most obvious measures of this damage is the number of hunts that have merged, ‘gone legal,’ or have simply ceased to exist since the webinars.

Loss of huntable country is a major contributing factor. Whether it’s changing land use, creeping urbanisation, or landowners no longer wanting wildlife criminals on their land, hunts are being hit hard – and right across the country.

And when big landowners, such as the National Trust, Forestry England, or Natural Resources Wales stop allowing hunts on their land, as they have since the webinars were released, this can be a big problem!

Chaos and cruelty: hunters remove hound killed on busy A road. © Peterborough Hunt Sabs
Chaos and cruelty: hunters remove hound killed on busy A road. © Peterborough Hunt Sabs

The New Forest Hounds, a long established and well supported fox hunt whose country was almost entirely in the New Forest (most of which is managed by Forestry England), this year became a bloodhound pack – hunting a human runner.

The Banwen Miners Hunt have taken a similar decision, after losing Natural Resources Wales land, with other Welsh packs – the Ystrad Taf Fechan Hunt and the Tanatside Hunt – both disbanding.

The Tetcott Hunt in Devon have also disbanded, while the North Ledbury, North Herefordshire and Clifton-on-Teme Hunts have amalgamated to become the Herefordshire & Clifton Hunt. Another notorious hunt – the Crawley & Horsham – have all but disbanded after decades of being sabbed.

Sick: Easton Harriers hunter attempts to conceal a dead hare.
Sick: Easton Harriers hunter attempts to conceal a dead hare.

And it isn’t just fox hunts. A number of hunts who traditionally hunt hares have also gone the same way.

The North Norfolk Harriers have folded, the Easton Harriers in Suffolk have become the Hamilton Bloodhounds hunting a human runner and, on the opposite side of England, the Ross Harriers in Herefordshire have opted to hunt a drag.

In 2020 the Palmer Marlborough Beagles (formed from a merger of two hunts in 2007) amalgamated with the Clinkard Meon Valley Beagles (another hunt born from a merger), essentially rolling four hare hunts into one!

This summer, the Blean Beagles in Kent, who have come under major pressure from hunt sabs over the years, have merged with the Brighton, Storrington, Surrey & North Sussex Beagles – forming a huge country that encompasses much of the southeast!

The Albany & West Lodge Basset Hounds in eastern England threw in the towel completely in 2021, as did Scotland’s Barony Bassets and Norfolk’s Eastern Counties Mink Hounds.

On top of that, the Cheshire Beagles WANT to close down, but the higher-ups in the hare hunting world won’t let them, with the outsiders attempting a hostile takeover to keep the pack going.

Hunters trespass on Forestry England land.
Hunters trespass on Forestry England land.

And while the new ‘British Hound Sports Association’ – born from the demise of the Hunting Office but headed up by the same arrogant Eton set – will make a big deal of trying to persuade landowners to reinstate hunting on their land, a host of other hunts are set to bite the dust this season, and hunt sabs will be there to help them along – good news for hunted wildlife.

A HSA spokesperson commented, “The last two years have been disastrous for hunting, but even under close scrutiny they cannot get their house in order. Just a month into this year’s hunting season we have already seen hunt masters convicted of grotesque cruelty and illegal hunting, multiple hounds killed on a railway line, a much-loved cat savaged by hounds, and a hunt saboteur mown down by a hunt supporter’s car. No wonder landowners and others want nothing to do with them.”

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