With the ‘cub hunting’ part of the hunting season coming to an end and opening meets of the main season about to get underway, let’s take a look at what we’ve seen so far this year.
When the Hunting Act came into force and (should have) banned the hunting of live animals with hounds in 2005 – the Countryside Alliance and others in the hunting community invented ‘trail hunting,’ a convenient smokescreen to cover illegal hunting and a stop gap measure to keep hounds fit and following the scent of their target animal until they overturned what they saw as a ‘temporary ban.’
Now, nearly 20 years later, and with the Hunting Act likely to be strengthened rather than overturned, hunting’s governing body is all of a sudden keen to show the world the joys of ‘trail hunting’ in a series of carefully organised, stage-managed, public (and MP) friendly events.
But the reality of what we’ve seen over the last few months, since the cub hunting season began, does not fit this narrative of so-called ‘trail hunting.’
During this time hunts up and down the country have been observed (and documented) using the age-old cub hunting tactic of ‘holding up’ – a practise that has absolutely no place or purpose in any legal ‘trail hunting.’
The reasoning behind ‘holding up’ is quite simple – to keep fox cubs in a covert so young hounds have a better opportunity to chase, catch and kill them. Cubbing is after all a training period, to get hounds working in a pack and used to killing ready for the main hunting season.
As explained by J P N Watson in the book of Foxhunting – “… it will be difficult to kill the desirable tally of cubs and to provide blood unless we ‘hold up’, that is to say, during the draw, we keep the covertsides under close observation, and, by voice and crack of the whip, we head any cub that breaks covert and turn it back in.”
Hunt staff, supporters and followers will surround a wood, copse or corn field, with the intention of scaring any escaping fox cubs back in to be hunted by hounds. The presence of a human is usually enough, but just to make this tactic more effective they will often use the noise made by hitting the saddles on their horses, the running quad bike engines and use of voice.
It is effective, and that’s why it is used. More foxes are killed during this part of the hunting season than any other.
This isn’t isolated, and has been witnessed far and wide this year. Here’s just a small snapshot of what we’ve documented…
In the Midlands, West Midlands Hunt Sabs have perfectly shown the Warwickshire Hunt up for their illegal hunting. As well as documenting a number of clear examples of cub hunting and ‘holding up’ (here, here and here), they and Three Counties Hunt Sabs also filmed the horrifying moments when a fox was hunted and killed by this hunt.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE
Three Counties Hunt Sabs also caught a member of the North Cotswold Hunt perfectly demonstrating ‘saddle slapping’ on camera, one of the tactics used to scare foxes back into a wood.
In the north, Sheffield Hunt Sabs provide a perfect example of the Grove and Rufford Hunt holding up, filming this from both the ground and the air.
In Devon, sabs documented the Eggesford Hunt holding up a patch of scrub – resulting in a kill.
In the west, Bristol Hunt Sabs filmed some classic ‘holding up’ of a wooded copse by the Berkeley Hunt, with quad bikes and foot followers also involved.
A spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association said,
“We would like to see the British Hounds Sports Association, hunting’s supposed governing body, try to explain away the examples of ‘holding up’ that have been documented in recent months.
The inconsistencies between the above-board image that the hunting community is trying to portray and what really happens on a hunting day are laid bare for all to see. The 2023 cub hunting season has looked little different to any other over the past century – with ‘holding up’ to ensure hounds can kill foxes a key feature.
It’s clear that the BHSA is powerless over even its member hunts. This perfectly demonstrates why self-imposed regulations by and for the hunting community do not work. The next Government needs to bring forward the necessary changes to protect hunted wildlife and implement a proper ban on the smokescreen of ‘trail hunting.”