Hunting Season 2023-24: A Brief Review

oakley hunt

A piece like this can never do justice to the week-in, week-out efforts of sabs who venture out in all weathers to face down the hunters. We can’t cover, for example, the 58 hunt meets that Nottingham sabs have attended this season, nor the 55 times Salisbury Plain sabs went out to protect the wildlife of their beloved Plain.

What we can do is focus on just a few highlights from the last full hunting season before a much-anticipated General Election.

Hunt sabs catching up with the news. © EYC Hunt Sabs
Hunt sabs catching up with the news. © EYC Hunt Sabs

And the season certainly got off to a strong start with Scotland’s Hunting with Dogs Act finally becoming law! This replaced the deeply flawed Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and closed the loopholes which had allowed hunts to continue to kill wildlife. The Scottish government wisely included a ban on so-called “trail hunting” to ensure that this smokescreen for illegal hunting cannot take hold in Scotland, as it has in England.

While most Scottish fox hunts have now folded or converted to drag hunting, Glasgow sabs and friends have trained their fire on the Jed Forest Hunt who are stupidly trying to carry on killing under the new law.

Scottish sabs celebrate in style! © Glasgow Hunt Sabs

Similar amendments are desperately needed in England. This fact was reinforced following a series of coordinated police raids at hunt kennels, which meant that the criminality of fox hunters has rarely been out of the news this season. From Kent to Berkshire to Wiltshire, hunters have been convicted of a litany of stomach-churning crimes – throwing live foxes to hounds, using terriers to torture young foxes, and even supergluing the open wounds of terriers that had been forced to fight badgers.

Three days before the pageantry of the Boxing Day meets, the HSA highlighted this cruelty by releasing previously unseen footage of Avon Vale Hunt staff members whooping with delight as they dug a fox from her earth and threw her to the frenzied pack.

Avon Vale dig out: the cruelty behind the pageantry.
Avon Vale dig out: the cruelty behind the pageantry.

Just a few days after Boxing Day, Leicestershire’s Cottesmore Hunt became the latest pack to imagine they could deter sabs by using “stewards”. Their particularly vicious gang of drug-addled thugs launched repeated hammer attacks on sabs and their vehicles – often in full view of the police! Needless to say, courageous Northants sabs stood firm in the face of this intimidation and were rewarded with the sight of the Cottesmore Cokeheads finally getting nicked at the end of the season.

The face of the Cottesmore Hunt, 2024.
The face of the Cottesmore Hunt, 2024.

The Oakley Hunt are another pack who have resorted to violence against sabs on many occasions. This could not stop them bowing to the inevitable this season: after a decade of attritional sabbing by Beds & Bucks Hunt Sabs, the Oakley have finally thrown in the towel and disbanded. Result!

East and West Kent sabs have pulled off a similarly spectacular feat, reducing the four once-powerful fox hunts on their turf to a single, incompetent outfit imaginatively named the ‘Kent Hounds’. As the sole target for the highly-experienced Kent sab groups, you have to wonder how long they will last.

The sun sets on the Oakley Hunt.

There’s been great success, too, for Cumbria and Lancaster sabs who deal with the seven notorious fell packs of Lakeland. Despite the challenging mountain terrain, this season must count as one of their best, with almost all the fell packs being sabbed several times over. These hunts used to have an intimidatory iron grip on local Lakeland communities and could trespass at will. Not anymore – sabs are now inundated with information from local people no longer afraid to speak out against these criminal gangs.

Sabs stop murder in the mountains. © Lancashire Hunt Sabs

Away from the fox hunts, the beagle and basset packs – who hunt hares on foot – have continued to see sabs on a regular basis, despite being more secretive than your average gang of badger baiters. These packs are feeling the pressure as never before, with the Leadon Vale Bassets and the Ecclesfield Beagles both disbanding this season.

Catching up with the Catterick Beagles. © Calder Valley Hunt Sabs

The stag hunting packs of Devon and Somerset are also feeling the heat. Following decades of sab-free hunting, they are now into a third year of sustained anti attention. After a couple of vicious pre-planned ambushes failed to deter brave North Dorset and Mendip sabs – and led to the arrest of perpetrators on serious charges – the stag hunters are having to accept that sabs are here to stay.

Sabs continue to take on the stag hunters. © North Dorset Hunt Sabs

Away from the killing fields, the HSA has worked with Channel 4 News to bring the horrific reality of “trail hunting” into the nation’s living rooms. Channel 4 aired footage of foxes being thrown to hounds, reported on North Dorset Hunt Sab’s inspirational work against the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt, and highlighted West Mids Hunt Sab’s relentless campaign to expose the disturbing secret “protocol” drawn up between the Warwickshire Hunt and the police. Having backed themselves into an indefensible corner, the police have now dropped the protocol – a clear victory for West Mids Hunt Sabs.

These broadcasts were also notable for the comments of Chief Superintendent Matt Longman – the lead police officer on Fox Hunting Crime in the UK – who said that drones and other technology used by sabs had “lifted the lid on what is fast becoming possibly one of the most farcical eras in criminal justice history, because hunts are still offending. We are seeing it regularly.”

Channel 4 News expose the criminality of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt.

Towards the end of the season, naturalist Chris Packham gave sabs a massive morale boost by joining them on the Mendip Farmers Hunt. This was an act of both solidarity and personal courage: Chris, like many sabs, has had his home attacked by hunting extremists on several occasions. Predictably enough, the hunters singled Chris out for abuse and threats; equally predictably, Chris refused to be intimidated.

Top work: Chris discusses tactics with a local sab.
Top work: Chris discusses tactics with a local sab. © Wiltshire Hunt Sabs

All in all, it’s been a very positive season with the hunters repeatedly showing themselves up as the Organised Crime Groups that they are. As we count down to a crucial General Election for the issue of hunting, the HSA and hunt saboteurs everywhere will continue to highlight the widespread cruelty and illegality of “one of the most farcical eras in criminal justice history.”

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