The Hole Truth: The Scandal Of Artificial Earths

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Fox cub held captive by the Pytchley Hunt.

As spring arrives and the foxhunting season comes to an end, we might hope for some reprieve for foxes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. The ‘off’ season is, in fact, one of the busiest times for the hunt as they prepare a new set of victims for the autumn.

Fox hunting has never been about the random pursuit of foxes across the countryside. Instead, it is a highly organised activity, carefully designed to ensure that there is always a fox for the hunt’s paying subscribers to chase.

Artificial Earths

Essential to this process are artificial earths. These are structures built by the hunt to encourage foxes into hunting areas. Typically, they consist of an underground chamber connected to two or more tunnels made of 9 “plastic piping. The exit points are often restricted with stone to prevent habitation by badgers. Hunt saboteurs have documented hundreds of artificial earths at dozens of hunts.

Of course, the existence of artificial earths immediately demolishes any ‘pest control’ argument for fox hunting and, since 2005, has provided obvious evidence of illegal activity.

Artificial Earth entrance.
Artificial Earth entrance.

How Are They Used?

A litter of cubs is taken from their mother in May or June and placed in an artificial earth. The orphaned animals are held captive there and fed a diet of chickens or crows. At the age of about twelve weeks, they will be released and are likely stay in the vicinity of the earth.

Fox cub held captive by the Pytchley Hunt.
Fox cub held captive by the Pytchley Hunt. 

All this effort is simply to provide ‘good sport’ for the paying subscribers the following autumn. When the huntsman needs a fox to hunt, he sends the terriermen into a wood containing an artificial earth. The terriermen will then bolt the fox using terriers or drainage rods … and the hunt begins. The HSA recently exposed precisely this process at the criminal Kimblewick Hunt.

Kimblewick Hunt bolt a fox on New Year's Day, 2019.
Kimblewick Hunt bolt a fox on New Year’s Day, 2019.

Where Are They Found? 

Artificial earths are found anywhere that fox hunting takes place: from lowland areas to the high fells of the Lake District.

They are usually located in woods planted by the hunt. These are almost always named Covert, Spinney, Furze, Halt/Holt, Gorse or Rough and are square or rectangular in shape. The earths are often sited close to the edge of the wood which allows easy access for the terriermen and ensures a bolted fox will run into the open to provide ‘sport.’ 

Artificial earths can be hard to find. However, quad bike or human tracks, animal bones or flesh, feeding bowls and breeze blocks – used to seal the entrance – are all signs that one is close by.

Typical fox covert.
Typical fox covert. 

What Can I Do? 

The Covid 19 pandemic has meant many more of us spending time in our local countryside. If you are out and about, please keep your eyes open for any evidence of artificial earths. If you find an one, please make a note of its exact location (what3words is ideal for this) and call the HSA Tip Off Line: 07443 148426.

Remember, fox hunting may take a break from March…but the abuse of foxes never really stops.

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