With the main hunting season just over a month away and a General Election not too far off either, the chairman of the British Hound Sports Association (BHSA) William Waldorf Astor III (that’s Viscount Astor to you) has written a piece for Horse and Hound on ‘trail hunting’.
The HSA takes a look at some of his claims.
The Viscount kicks off with the ridiculous assertion that there are “strict protocols” governing so-called ‘trail hunting’. In fact, one of the founding principles of this activity is that it would not be codified or regulated in any way. The hunters correctly understood that the vaguer the rules of ‘trail hunting’, the harder it would be to verify what was going on. Almost twenty years on from the Hunting Act, there is still no definitive guide to ‘trail hunting’.
11,000 Legal Days?
The Viscount then goes on to make the absurd statement that “more than 11,000 days of legal or exempt hunting” took place last year. Such a claim is completely unverifiable, not least because all forms of hunting have gone underground since the Hunting Act. It cannot be argued that this extreme secrecy is to prevent hunt sabs turning up as, prior to the Hunting Act, legal hunt meets were widely advertised in magazines such as Horse and Hound and Countryweek Hunting.
Hunts stopped advertising in February 2005 because, overnight, their activities became illegal. Indeed, in 2023 your average foxhunt is as secretive as the local crew of badger baiters. Both rely on WhatsApp groups or telephones trees to arrange their meets; both greet any members of the public they encounter with suspicion and aggression. Just try joining a hunt these days – you will need to produce references from at least three people who have known you for two years.
Terriers and Terrier Men?
The Viscount then claims that terrier work is now banned from taking place in the “vicinity” of all 242 BHSA-registered hunts. Perhaps the Viscount is unaware that the HSA has already documented multiple breaches of this edict at both mink hunts and fox hunts this summer. If the BHSA is a serious organisation with robust sanctions, why are its member packs openly defying its instructions?
A Tough New Approach To Regulation?
The Viscount then goes on to claim that the BHSA “sanctioned two hunts last season.” This is presented as evidence of a tough new line on hunting regulation. Again, his claim does not stack up.
One of these two hunts – the Seavington – were filmed tipping a ‘bagged’ fox from a sack in front of the hounds – the most serious offense in fox hunting and one that was illegal long before the Hunting Act. The Seavington were supposedly “suspended” from the BHSA in August 2022 pending an investigation.
However, the HSA has established that – despite the conviction of the huntsman and the fact that the five terriermen present escaped justice – the Seavington are today still a member pack of the BHSA. Not only that, the BHSA has been enthusiastically promoting the Seavington’s activities in regular posts on their Facebook page (including on 17th April, 25th April, 3rd June 2023). So much for tough new regulation of illegal hunting.
Making An Exhibition of Themselves?
The Viscount then announces that the BHSA is hosting a three day “trail hunting exhibition” in the autumn and spring. They hope to invite gullible police chiefs, police and crime commissioners and even the League Against Cruel Sports to attend these events.
Here the Viscount appears to be parroting the advice of Hunting Office webinar presenter Paul Jelley who specifically recommended that hunts hold a pre-season ‘trail laying’ display for the benefit of local police.
Jelley advised that:
“Something we used to do with the beagles when I was in charge, hold a trail laying session right at the start of the season. No other reason, do it as part of a fund raiser, a social event or something, lay a trail around a couple of fields, let your hounds go, hunt it, record it but ideally have a few independent people, not necessarily hunting folk. Invite the local policemen along, you know, local farmers who aren’t hunting folk. You can use them in evidence if you happen to go to court later on in the year.”
However, Jelley was careful to warn his audience to use different phones when recording these events and when they were actually out hunting:
“So something for you hunt staff and terriermen, trail layers and everybody to consider, if you’re recording evidence for the Hunting Act, trail laying, whatever, don’t use the same phones or anything you’ve been using for social media and bragging about what you’ve been doing out hunting.”
As Jelley makes clear, the public, performative laying (and filming) of exhibition trails is a tactic designed to fool observers into thinking that trail hunting out in the hunting field is real, legitimate activity.
We trust that any police chiefs or PCCs invited to these BHSA events will not make fools of themselves by attending. Instead, we suggest they demand a full list of hunt meets so they can turn up unannounced on hunting days – though we confidently predict that any such request will be ignored.
Scent To Deceive You?
The Viscount ends his article by listing the differences between drag hunting and trail hunting – the key one being the claim that trail hunting supposedly involves the use of an “animal-based scent” because “that is what hounds are trained over many generations to follow.” The Countryside Alliance’s Hunting Handbook (still available on their website) puts it more clearly, stating that “The hounds will continue to hunt the scent of their normal quarry during the temporary ban so that they remain focused on their normal quarry.”
The HSA rejects the claim that any trails are laid, except those overt ‘smokescreen’ trails designed to fool police or sabs as advised by Mark Hankinson in the Hunting Office webinars.
However, it is interesting that both the Countryside Alliance and the BHSA accept there will never be a repeal of the Hunting Act yet continue to push the idea that “quarry-based” scents are laid so hunts “remain focused on their normal quarry.” Why do they want their hounds to “focus on their normal quarry” in a political landscape where traditional hunting will never return? Such a statement only makes sense in the context of trail hunting being an alibi for traditional fox hunting.
Perhaps the most laughable claim of the whole article is the Viscount’s final assertion that the BHSA is making “great progress” in defending hunting. In fact, his organisation has been widely ridiculed from within and without the hunting community. Many hunters – never mind antis – have pointed out that the BHSA is basically the discredited Hunting Office under another name. It operates from the same office at Overley Barn near Cirencester, it is run largely by the same overpaid people, and even the contents of its website have been lazily copy-and-pasted over from the Hunting Office.
We’ll leave the final word to one frustrated hunter who renamed the Viscount’s BHSA as the Bluddy Hopeless S##ds Association [sic]! We couldn’t agree more.