This is a report from Devon County Hunt Sabs, originally posted on their Facebook page. Hunt sabs do some of the most valuable eco-defence work in the UK, so please support them in their work in any way you can.
Yesterday was one of the most stressful days we’ve had all season, but also one of the most rewarding. It’s a long one, but there’s a lot to report.
Together with our friends from Somerset Hunt Saboteur Group we showed up to the Taunton Vale Foxhounds closing meet at Long Grove Farm, north-west of Ilminster. With a field of about 30 riders the hunt set off south into the River Ding valley. Sabs positioned themselves downwind of the hunt, just in time to spot a fox running away from the hounds. Sabs gave the fox time to get away and then went in to cover the scent. Fortunately, hounds didn’t pick up on it. At this point sabs were greeted by Taunton Vale terrierman Paul Martin, who told them to “stick to the footpaths and that’s all I’m going to say the rest of the f***ing day”. Shame he didn’t keep his promise.
The hunt crossed the river and headed west towards one of our foot teams. From quite a distance they witnessed hounds enter the bushes by the river where it later turned out they had marked to ground at a fox earth. Huntsman Guy Landau got off his horse, made a phonecall and was joined shortly after by Paul and his mates on their quadbike. Landau called the hounds out of the bushes and moved them on along the river while the terriermen got a terrier and spade from the boxes on their quadbike and made their way to the earth.
Several foot sab teams were mobilised to converge on the location. When they got there the terriermen had filled all but one entrance hole with soil and one of them had begun digging. There were fresh hound scratch marks at one of the entrances, where hounds had marked to ground. Sabs got in between the earth and the spade and signalled to the other teams in the area to call the police. With 8 foot sabs at the earth the terriermen were outnumbered and forced to abandon the dig.
Paul insisted his terrier was still underground and that he needed to dig her out. Sabs encouraged him to get his transmitter to locate the terrier and extract her, but he refused. Instead he made a phonecall to one of the Masters and, like a petulant child, whined about the fact we were trespassing, claimed we were being violent and preventing him from getting his terrier out! Sabs were peaceful throughout and Paul’s lies and complaints look rather silly on the video footage (watch this space).
By now the hounds had been entered into a covert to the south. One of our teams left to keep an eye on them while the standoff at the earth continued. Eventually the terriermen gave up and sped off. On their way out Paul shouted “by the way you’re all too late, that one’s already dead”. He had earlier stated his intentions to bolt the fox into a net and kill it. Terrierwork is legal only under very limited circumstances, which were not met in this instance. Firstly, flushing a fox from an earth can only take place with the purpose of preventing serious damage to birds that are being kept or preserved for shooting. There was no evidence of this, nor did Paul carry the requisite written permission from the landowner. Secondly, the law requires that when a fox is flushed from an earth it is shot immediately. There were no guns present, nor any shots heard prior to sabs arriving at the earth. If Paul’s claim that the fox had already been killed was true then it would mean he had killed the fox illegally. There was no blood or evidence of a kill.
Away from the earth sabs alerted one of the Masters to what had just gone on. His response: “I’ve spoken to Paul. It was a false mark” (i.e. no fox found at the earth). This whole episode highlights the farce that is ‘trail-hunting’. There was no evidence of trails being laid during the day, but several foxes were seen running from hounds. Hounds don’t mark a trail to ground…! The fact hounds so often mark to ground proves that they are following the scent of live foxes. More importantly: the fact that terriermen are called when they mark proves that the terriermen are not just accidental accompaniments to the hunt, as they so often claim, but rather an integral part of their operations. Here we had a Master of the hunt admitting on camera that hounds had marked the earth and that the terriermen had been called in to deal with it.
Nevertheless, the Master didn’t look too pleased when we told him about Paul’s boasting and pointed to the four police cars that had by now arrived on the road. With a stern face he went over to whisper something to the huntsman, whose expression dropped. Paul was pulled aside and – we think – encouraged to head to Lower Burnt House Farm to speak to the landowner and ask him to print off the written permission for digging to take place on his land, should the police demand it! Our suspicions were confirmed when we spotted Paul’s quadbike leaving the farm half an hour later. He produced an envelope from his pocket containing a fresh printout signed by the landowner, Mr Chidley, and claimed that he had one for every landowner in the area. Funny that he only had one envelope on him though…!
By this point hounds were in cry again north of Dommett, where they crossed the road right in front of our vehicles. A foot team to the south called them off the scent. The pack ended up scattered all over the Dommett Moor Nature Reserve. However, half the pack then continued to follow the scent onto a very busy road. Luckily sabs were already there to stop them from spilling out into the traffic. When the huntsman finally arrived to join in, he called hounds back ACROSS the road, causing chaos and frustration amongst the red coats who by now were arguing amongst themselves. A bus and other traffic was forced to come to a standstill while the entire hunt took their time riding north on the busy road.
The hunt entered the area north of Hare Lane, where hounds picked up another scent. Sabs did their best to call them off and hounds appeared to lose the scent as they entered an area of brambles close to a stream. Much to the sabs’ horror, a fox then jumped out of the brambles right in front of the hounds. They chased the fox along a hedge and it looked like they had caught it as there was a lot of frantic milling around beside the hedge. Sabs were desperately trying to get to them and call them off. Other teams in the area received the distressing message over the radio to say the fox had probably been killed. However, when sabs got to the location there was no sign of blood or fur, but rather a very fortunately located badger sett which – we hope – was where the fox had taken refuge! Sure enough, hounds were marking at the sett and desperately trying to claw their way in. The huntsman, who had made no efforts until this point to call the hounds off, must have realised sabs had witnessed the whole thing and quickly took the hounds away.
They drew a few more coverts on their way back to the meet but whenever hounds went into cry they were loudly rated by hunt members, who appeared increasingly nervous about our cameras and the police presence in the area. Some sabs made the wise decision to stay behind to quietly guard the area around the badger sett until the hunt packed up. Just as well, as the terriermen ‘mysteriously’ turned up near the sett a while later. Paul had strangely changed his clothes and seemed surprised to see sabs. Another fox that might have been dug out and killed if sabs hadn’t been there. Not to mention the badgers at the sett who would have also been targeted.
The hunt packed up shortly before 5pm, their frustration clearly showing as they drove away from the meet. A day we had hoped would be an easy one due to the mild weather turned out to be rather more eventful than we had anticipated. At this time of year many foxes will be heavily pregnant. Others are nursing young cubs. What kind of sick person thinks it’s OK to not only chase and kill pregnant vixen but also dig into earths that could be harbouring cubs?… Although this was the Taunton Vale’s final meet of the season, we will be out until our other hunts finish. Get in touch to join us or donate via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org