The Hunt Saboteurs Association can reveal the awful conditions at one of the UK’s largest game farms. At Hy Fly, located in the Lancashire town of Preesall near Fleetwood, tens of thousands of pheasants and partridges used for breeding are confined to tiny wire cages to supply the shooting industry with birds to be used as live targets. The scale of the cruelty is hard to comprehend with Hy Fly boasting of producing up to 1.5 million pheasants, partridges and mallards per week. Thousands of red legged partridges are held in barren cages around the size of an A2 piece of paper, with two birds in each.
The pheasants have cruel plastic ‘masks’ clamped onto their beaks, in an attempt to stop the birds pecking at each other caused by the extreme stress of captivity in a wire cage. The female birds also have brails fitted to their wings to restrict movement and make it impossible to fly any real distance should they escape. As well as this, many of the female pheasants have their back feathers ripped out due to the fact that they are unable to escape the constant mating attempts by the males in their cage.
In 2017, Hy Fly culled a staggering 10,000 pheasants at their farm following an outbreak of bird flu. In December that year, the HSA exposed the International Gundog League Retriever Championship taking place at the factory farm at which intensively reared birds were gunned down to ‘test’ the dogs.
The shooting industry is in huge turmoil due to the coronavirus crisis, with 30% of shoots cancelling their 2020/21 season completely and only 17.5% of shoots planning to operate a full schedule next season. The shoots that are continuing are reducing the number of birds they release by an average of 35%. Despite this, however, huge numbers of pheasants and partridges are currently suffering within game farms and the HSA is committed to seeing an end to this horrific industry.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association can reveal that one of West Mercia Police’s wildlife crime officers, PC Gerry Plant, is a keen hunter and his Facebook friends list contains many animal abusers. Among them is Tony O’Brien (also known as Tony Smith). O’Brien is a well known fox digger and a serving police officer’s association with such a person is deeply concerning. O’Brien is pictured below (right) with a bloodied terrier whilst another man torments a fox who is barely still alive.
Plant, based at Telford, also owns Staffordshire Game Hawks and breeds peregrines to sell to hunters. The falconry industry has grown considerably over recent years, driven by wealthy hunters from the Middle East purchasing birds from the UK. With such a disregard for suffering to animals, it’s deeply worrying that West Mercia Police saw it fit to allow him the position of wildlife crime officer.
Gerry Plant is by no means the first wildlife crime officer involved in the persecution of the UK’s wildlife. In October 2017, Leicestershire Police’s wildlife officer, PC Rob Cross, was recorded advising the Atherstone Hunt on which laws to use against hunt saboteurs. In 2016, PC Sharon Roscoe, another wildlife officer for Leicestershire police, was outed as an active member of the Belvoir Hunt. In 2013, PC Sarah Ward was forced to step down from her position as wildlife crime officer for North Yorkshire Police after the HSA exposed her links to the Badsworth & Bramham Moor Hunt.
The Hunt Saboteurs Association’s spokesperson, Lee Moon commented: How West Mercia police believe such a man is suitable to be a wildlife crime officer is beyond comprehension. His attitude towards animals is clear from his ownership of Staffordshire Game Hawks and his list of facebook friends is a catalogue of animal abusers. The public can surely have no faith that such a man would investigate any hunting crimes or indeed any crimes against wildlife. The animal abusers of Telford and surrounding areas must be delighted to have one of their own on the inside and will be carrying out unspeakable acts against animals with complete impunity.
The pheasant and partridge shooting industry is suffering a severe blow due to the current lockdown and social distancing guidelines issued by the government.
The HSA has received reports of shoots across the UK cancelling shoot dates, with many even writing off their whole upcoming seasons as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The threat of further restrictions on movement later in the year and the likelihood of an economic downturn is forcing shoots to not take the huge financial risk of purchasing gamebirds and instead simply not continue this year.
As the pheasant and partridge shooting seasons begin in October and September respectively, shoot days are booked well in advance, with each spot costing upwards of £1,000. However, very few have managed to sell any days so far due to the uncertainty ahead. As many shoots rely on this income now to purchase birds from game farms to be shot later in the year, this also crucially means that many farms are also severely struggling.
One game farm in Devon even resorted to giving away their pheasant eggs to a local shop, who in turn offered them to their customers for a donation due to shoots not having the money to purchase and rear on the birds.
The owners of Meadowlands Game Farm in Leicestershire went one further and decided to exit the industry altogether, selling off every piece of equipment relating to the farm.
Around 50 million pheasants and partridges are intensively reared and released to be shot each year, around half of which are imported into the UK from Europe. With importation logistics likely being affected as well, the shooting industry in the UK is teetering on the edge of collapse.
Mark Vincent and Ian Parkinson have been given 12 week prison sentences, suspended for 1 year, and community service after being found guilty of keeping a fox captive and inflicting suffering upon it in breach of the Animal Welfare Act. Both men were employed by the Kimblewick Hunt at the time of the offence on 1st January this year.
The prosecution came about after footage was passed to the Hunt Saboteurs Association by the Covert Film Unit showing the two men releasing a captive fox to be chased and killed by the Kimblewick hunts hounds. Their actions not only cause unnecessary harm to the fox but are also carried out to facilitate illegal hunting.
The footage was filmed on New Years Day when the hunt met at Moreton, Thame, Oxon. It shows the hunt terrier men using draining rods to force the fox, that they’ve been holding captive, out of a drainage pipe then being thrown into the wood for hounds to chase. The terriermen can clearly be heard communicating with the huntsman agreeing when the best time is to release the fox which is given a brief head start so that the hunt riders experience a chase rather than a quick kill.
In her summing up the judge stated that it was high level, premeditated animal cruelty that had been done to facilitate illegal acts. In mitigation she said the two men were clearly acting under instruction from those higher up in the hunt.
Lee Moon, Spokesperson for the Hunt Saboteurs Association, stated: “We're pleased that justice has been done and the two hunt employees have been punished for their part in this shocking incident. However lets be perfectly clear, what's shown in this footage is not an unusual act in the world of organised fox hunting but rather a common place, every day action carried out by hunt terrier men week-in week-out across the country. The only difference is that these two have been caught due to the actions of the Covert Film Unit who passed their footage onto the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
It's vital that this situation isn't passed off by the hunting community as a couple of bad apples ruining it for everyone else. The footage clearly shows the whole hunt were complicit in the events that took place in January this year and therefore should all pay the penalty for this inexcusable cruelty. We again ask the Masters of Foxhounds Association, who regulate fox hunts in the UK, why they haven't suspended the Kimblewick's membership and carried out their own investigation of this criminal conspiracy? Their lack of action appears to give tacit approval to this behaviour and again suggests how commonplace it is within the hunting world.”
The HSA can reveal that Tory MP and Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has recently cancelled his membership of a controversial hunt group.
Rees-Mogg has been a paying subscriber to the Chilmark & Clifton Foot Beagles for about a decade, but has recently decided not to renew his subscription. Like all beagle packs, the Chilmark & Clifton Foot continue to hunt hares under the guise of “trail hunting.” The HSA believes that Rees-Mogg is trying to sever his links with hunting before the general election in a few weeks time.
HSA Press Officer, Lee Moon commented, “When even a fanatical hunt supporter like Jacob Rees-Mogg is distancing himself from a hunt you have to ask what is going on. If the Chilmark & Clifton Foot are really engaged in trail hunting then why is Rees-Mogg turning his back on them?”
Rees-Mogg also has close family ties to the neighbouring Mendip Farmers Hunt and regularly hosts them at his Somerset home. Hunt sabs have frequently had to intervene when this hunt have chased foxes and blocked badger setts.
Notes to editors:
(1) The Chilmark & Clifton Foot Beagles are one of about sixty beagle packs that hunt hares on foot.
(2) Footage of the Mendip Farmers Hunt chasing a fox can be seen here :https://www.league.org.uk/