The fallout from the Hunt Saboteurs Association’s exposé of Hunting Office webinars is ongoing. However, one of the most immediate results was the suspension of “trail hunting” licenses on over 2.3 million acres of land owned by the National Trust, United Utilities, and other bodies.
An HSA supporter who lives in one of these areas has sent us this moving account of what it means to them.
Something extraordinary happened today: I went for a walk, where I wanted, when I wanted, for as long as I wanted. That might not sound extraordinary, but when you live in an area dominated by illegal hunting for more than half the year, being able to choose where and when to take a walk in winter, without fear of running into the hunt, is amazing. Since the local landowner suspended hunting, due to the leaked Hunting Office Webinars, it’s like an enormous, oppressive weight has been lifted.
I’ve got back control of other parts of my life too. I can choose to stay in, if I want to, instead of suddenly having to drop everything and go out for the day to avoid the sights and sounds of the hunt rampaging outside. Nothing is quite so distressing as being in your own home, listening to the hounds in cry, quads tearing around and people shouting with excitement – knowing that in among all that, a small, terrified animal is running for its life, and there is nothing you can do to help it. Worse still is knowing that it is not some terrible, unavoidable accident that will lead to the fox’s death, but a deliberate act by grown men and women who can think of no better way to spend their day than illegally torturing wildlife. And when all that is taking place with the blessing of the local landowner, you feel utterly helpless and hopeless.
Another difference this year is that I’m not spending hours trawling through Right Move, looking for somewhere else rural and remote to live, but without the hunting. And despite being a country girl to my core, in the depths of the season I even start thinking how lovely it must be to live in a city, and not have all this killing for fun going on around you. I know two families who moved away because of the hunt. One now lives in a city with foxes living happily in their garden. I confess that at the height of the season, despite loving where I live, I envy them.
At the moment I am also choosing if and when to have my windows open. Throughout the season, whatever the weather, I always have them open just a bit, so I can hear the hunt coming, after I once looked out just in time to see hounds pouring over the back fence into the garden, while my neighbours frantically scrambled to find their pets and get them safely back inside.
But for now, I don’t have to worry about things like that. Life, at the moment, feels normal. I get to choose what I do and when, and my anxiety levels are far, far lower. I’m not in a constant battle with the landowner to try and get the dates – dates that until the Hunting Act 2004 came in, were published weekly in the local paper. My day doesn’t start with going outside to check the roads for hunt vehicles, while straining to hear any hint of hounds or horn in the distance. And my nights are not haunted by the thought that in the nearby woods and fields, wild foxes are going about their normal foxy business, completely unaware that their life is about to end in one of the cruellest ways imaginable and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
Being constantly on guard for the hunt is a hard habit to break. Even though I know they aren’t here at the moment, any distant high-pitched sound puts me on edge, until I can be sure it’s not the horn or hounds. A mountain biker with squeaky brakes had me in a panic the other day, until I finally located him coming down a steep track at the far end of the valley. And while it’s wonderful to be able to gaze at the horizon without trying to spot signs of the hunt, I still find myself drawn to any sudden movement, expecting it to be the pack coming into view – something which would mean having to leave quickly or risk getting caught in among them.
Of course, other people use this land for recreation, but I have never been scared of running into a school field trip, a group of orienteers, or the mountain rescue on a training exercise. But then none of those people mind if you see what they are doing. They won’t get abusive if you get too close, try to steal your camera if you take a few photos, or block the path or road to stop you seeing what’s going on up ahead. And none of them do something you would never want to see; something that drives most right-minded people to want to intervene. It is beyond harrowing to see an animal in danger and not be able to help it, and even worse to witness it being killed – something you can never get out of your mind and that haunts you forever.
And I think it’s true to say that if members of a school field trip were abusive and threatening, if orienteers stole your camera, or if the mountain rescue blocked a public road so you couldn’t get past, it simply would not be tolerated. Indeed, the landowner once told me that just leaving litter after an event would be enough for a group to be told to come back and clear it up, or they would never be allowed back.
But everyone else is held to a higher standard than the hunts. Everyone else is expected to show consideration for local residents and other land users. And anyone else following a trail has to provide a detailed route map prior to the event. But these so called ‘trail hunters’ don’t. They just go anywhere the fox takes them.
The frustration and anger you feel, having your life so affected by a group of criminals, with no recourse whatsoever, is overwhelming at times. You report the hunt to the landowner, and they refer you to the police, refusing to take any responsibility for what they are unleashing on the local community. You report the hunt to the police, and they tell you there isn’t enough evidence to convict. You try to get the dates, so you can at least plan your life around the hunt, but you find yourself dealing with a landowner who is more concerned that the dates don’t fall into the hands of sabs than they are about the huge amount of disruption and distress the hunts cause local residents. Throughout the season you run through a whole range of emotions – fear, anger, frustration, rage, despair, anxiety, and hopelessness; trapped in a situation you are powerless to change, except by the extreme measure of moving away altogether.
But I don’t want to move away. I don’t want to give up my lovely home, in a beautiful part of the world. I just want to be able to enjoy it every day, on my own terms, as I’m doing so now, while the hunts are suspended. Surely that’s not too much to ask.