Image credit: @caldervalleyhuntsaboteurs

The month began with a sharp frost that resulted in a number of hunts deciding it was too cold to go out. Some remained committed to killing wildlife however but were successfully prevented, as seen by Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs who forced the Broomhead Beagles to give up on their plans to hunt mountain Hare. Foot packs have previously been advised by their governing body that they should pack up if confronted by saboteurs and is testament to their lack of confidence in their ability to protect themselves legally and their diminishing public image. In this case, wildlife protection can come as a result of simply turning up. The group’s efforts were dedicated to a colleague from Staffordshire who had sadly lost their life recently. Severn Vale Hunt Sabs also continue to utilise Hare hunting’s vulnerability, as seen in a recent report which saw them shutting down both the Royal Agricultural College Beagles and Dummer Beagles in the same day.

Unfortunately, not all efforts in hunt sabotage can be successful due to a variation of factors that can work heavily against the hunted animal. North Dorset Hunt Sabs reported that at least one fox was killed during a meet of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt. In addition to this, despite the best efforts of Beds and Bucks Hunt Sabs and Peterborough Hunt Sabs, who successfully prevented multiple foxes being killed by the Fitzwilliam Hunt, hounds rioted and killed a Muntjac Deer. These outcomes can be hard on those who take action against hunting, but the fact remains that many more wild animals would suffer if not for their continued efforts. Evidence of this can be seen in an abundance of reports published by sabotage groups across the UK and Ireland.

The festive period includes some of biggest calendar dates for hunting and comes with increased violence and hostility to saboteurs and members of the public who oppose bloodsports. Tensions are much higher and are often fuelled by excess alcohol consumption and backed by higher numbers of hunt supporters who are in attendance. On the 23rd December, the windows of Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs vehicle were smashed in a premeditated attack. Devon County Hunt Saboteurs also had a window smashed during a meet of the Eggesford Hunt, while Northants Hunt Sabs had their tyres slashed at a Cottesmore Hunt meet. Suffolk Action for Wildlife also reported that the Essex and Suffolk Hunt killed a fox.

Boxing Day is arguably the busiest day in hunting. Traditionally, hunts will celebrate by parading hounds to members of the public in a town or village and is followed by hunting. Historically this attracts large amounts of supporters and acts as a way of raising money. Since hunting was banned under the Hunting Act 2004, the celebration is also utilised as a way of cleaning up the image of hunting, with some spectators unaware that the hunting of wildlife does in fact continue.  Opposition to hunting has had, and continues to have, a presence however, with protests being held during the parades and saboteurs on hand to disrupt hunting activity.

The vast majority of sabotage groups, if not all, were active on Boxing Day with too many to mention in this report. However, despite the challenges, efforts against were largely successful with many hunts unable to kill wildlife. Some were even reduced to stick to trail hunting; a sight unthinkable in the past and testament to their changing landscape. It is, however, important to not get ahead of ourselves and remember the challenges that remain against wildlife defence. Violence against saboteurs continued, including against the Wight Saboteurs who suffered an extremely serious eye injury during the meet of the Isle of the Foxhounds. Brighton Hunt Saboteurs also reported that protesters were arrested following violence they had received by supporters of the South Down and Eridge Hunt. Unfortunately, Glasgow Hunt Sabs also reported that a fox was killed after being shot by The Jedforest Hunt who were hunting on the Scottish borders.

Other tactics are utilised in the run-up to Boxing Day meets. For traffic and crowd control reasons, hunts usually apply in advance to the local authorities and/or councils to secure permission for a parade and other such logistics such as road closures. Campaigns to ban these parades, therefore, becomes a logical step in the demise a hunt due to how this will affect their public image and fundraising efforts. An example of this can be seen by Action Against Foxhunting who, in advance of the Southdowns and Eridge Hunts attempts to apply for permission to parade hounds through Lewes, applied for a charity wheelbarrow race in support of Lewes Food Bank. The application was successful and proved how there could be a fun alternative which would also be beneficial for the local community.  However, due to increasing threats of violence from hunt supporters as well as the hunts defiant intention to parade regardless, which organisers feared would result in premediated confrontation from hunt supporters, the charity event was cancelled. In a statement, Action Against Foxhunting made it clear this decision came at prioritising safety of the general public and the participants of the event. In effect, the Southdowns and Eridge Hunt sabotaged a food bank and should serve as a reminder that hunting not only has contempt for wildlife but also for human life as well.

Though some may see the hunt as victorious, it is important to recognise how important this event is to a hunt and, therefore, the need to continue pressure against it. Campaigns to permanently ban hunts from parading takes time, requires patience and continued pressure from the community; something that is clearly gaining momentum in Lewes. Historically, these campaigns have been won and will no doubt be achieved again. Some may question the impact of small victories but it is important to recognise that hunts operate by maintaining a support structure. Each victory is an attack on that structure and, with fewer structural elements to rely on, a hunt will inevitably collapse.

The festive period is seen as a middle point for the fox and hare hunting season. As the vast majority of sabotage groups have remained consistently active for months (not including cub and leveret hunting), it is understandable that some are feeling tired. Messages of support, donations and purchases of merchandise go a long way in showing appreciation for what they do. Tip-offs are also vital and can directly result in wildlife protection.


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