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For Fox Sake, Stop Hunting! (from the archives)

Submitted by Janine on 12 February 2022 at 12:48

A recently-unearthed article by eighteen-year-old Janine, from Jamming! issue 26 (February 1985), back in the days when fox hunting was still legal.

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Fox-hunting is part of a die-hard British tradition. As the art of sabotage becomes more cunning, the hunt means confrontation. Janine Booth travels to Aylesbury to assess the rights and wrongs.

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1984 saw the first major media coverage of the rights and wrongs of the art of sabotage, as applied to the ritual of fox-hunting. The season is in full swing, the redcoats are out on their horses, the saboteurs are out in their vans, and the foxes are out in the cold.

The hunting of foxes is an English countryside tradition, continued through the ages, surrounded by an image of ladies, gentlemen, leisure and sparkling wine, attended by an army of foot followers, land-owners and aptly named hostelries. Yet, beneath the Christmas-card exterior lies the truth of the hunt – it is a cruel and unnecessary pastime, practised by depraved sadists whose great joy in life is to cause an animal revolting pain and suffering.

So, one chill Saturday morning, I joined around ten members of Cambridge Hunt Saboteurs’ Association in a trek to Aylesbury, there to join up with other HAS groups, to disrupt the activities of the Vale of Aylesbury Foxhounds. Armed with wellies, Thermos flasks, maps, binoculars, garlic water and anti-mate sprays, we set off in the ‘Sabmobile’ – a self-drive hire van.

The hunting fraternity would have you believe that a van-load of saboteurs is a crack team of highly-trained commandos, in the employment of the Kremlin, bent on causing as much hassle as possible, merely because they get their thrills from getting up the noses of the upper classes.

Also, sabs are ‘townies’, who do not understand the ways of the country, and do not appreciate a food day’s ‘sport’. I always thought that ‘sport’ was a contest between two willing opponents, roughly evenly matched, not harmful in their intentions. Y’know, Liverpool versus Spurs, that sort of thing. How a pack of over-excited hounds, followed by charging horses, carrying yelling and horn-blowing huntsmen, versus one small fox, can be construed as ‘sport’ is beyond me.

Anyway, I digress … The Vale of Aylesbury has a rather nasty reputation for being more than a little on the violent side, so sab Shaun gave me a thorough briefing on what to expect:

“Trouble from the hunt usually comes from one of two sources: the foot followers, who go out to see the hunt in action, and hopefully to be in at the kill; and also from the terrier men

“Terrier men are usually people who are attached to the hunt formally. Their job is this: if the hunt hasn’t flushed a fox by ‘normal’ methods, the terrier men will find a fox’s earth, dig it out, and release it front of the hounds. They’re a particularly nasty piece of work, who will even go so far as to get the fox and cut its pads to slow it down, to make sure there’s a kill …”

… Or leave it is a sack for a few days to make it nice and smelly; or soak it in strong-smelling liquid, or cut off the tip of the tail to get the scent glands working overtime; or cut the tendons in the fox’s legs, so all it can do is stumble round in circles.

Back to Shaun: “This sometimes happens when the hunt has an important visiting guest with them – like Prince Charles – and they want to ensure that they have what they call ‘a good day’s sport’, with a kill at the end.

“So the violence comes from the foot followers and the terrier men. At the very least, their tactics are to disrupt the saboteurs’ vehicles by letting down the tyres, putting sugar in the petrol tanks, smashing windscreens or using their own vehicles to block us in, and make sure we can’t follow the hunt. At worst, they’ll in fact not be too reluctant to bring out a couple of pickaxe handles and set about us.”

As you can imagine, I was feeling very comfortable and secure as we pulled up outside the Cock and Rabbit, scene of the meet. Unfortunately, horses, riders, hounds and followers had already moved off, and we had missed that traditional country scene of milling dogs, snorting horses, and the drinking of the stirrup cup. More importantly, the chance to delay the start of the hunt had been missed.

We leapt back into the van and shot off down the road, knowing that we weren’t far behind the hunt. Sure enough, we caught up with them on their way to drawing the first covert.

The hunt reached a small wood, known to be the site of several foxes’ earths, and sent in the hounds, in an attempt to drive a fox from its earth. Unfortunately they succeeded, and a fox was ‘put up’.

Now was the time for our intrepid bunch to spring into action! We drove round to the far side, and intercepted the hounds about half a mile down wind of the covert. The pack was ‘speaking’ well, meaning that the dogs were obviously on a strong scent, and were making a lot of noise about it.

Sabs blessed with the rare skill of being able to use a hunting horn well, blew the right calls and behold! The hounds immediately stopped hunting, and came rushing towards us.

Foxhounds are specially-bred slow-runners, designed for stamina rather than speed: they are thus the ideal breed to prolong the chase, and give the horses a good gallop. Thousands of health hounds are killed every year by hunts – either as puppies with ‘unsuitable markings’, or as middle-aged dogs, too old to keep up with the hunt.

As the dogs swarmed around us, out came the tools of the saboteurs’ trade – spray bottles – and the dogs found themselves doused with garlic water. Contrary to huntsmen’s claims, this tactic causes no harm to the hounds – garlic water acts to temporarily impair their sense of smell, and prevents them recognising the trail of a fox.

Meanwhile, anti-mate was sprayed over the scent of the fox, disguising the trail, and making it impossible to follow. Sigh of relief. One fox saved.

The first tactical battle had been won by the saboteurs, and in the chess game of sabotage, we had taken the upper hand. The initiative was with us, and a quick conference decided that the next move would be an attempt to out-manoeuvre the hunt. However, we succeeded only in getting lost, and as we sped round frantically, there was time to reflect …

During a previous sab, I had asked a huntsman to justify the manner in which he passes his Saturdays. The man, a tweed-jacketed, retired-colonel type, replied by turning the question, demanding our justification for spoiling his fun. When I suggested that it’s quite easy to justify saving the lives of innocent animals, he replied that there weren’t any innocent animals in the locality. “The fox is a lamb and poultry-killing pest.”

This is a belief that has long held back people opposing foxhunting – the acceptance of the images of the fox as a conniving, bloodthirsty rascal. An image that it does not deserve.

Foxes, nocturnal animals about the size of domestic cats, live on a staple diet of rats, mice, voles, carrion and other such mouth-watering morsels, and control their own population to a level of around four adults per thousand acres.

Many farmers find lamb remains outside foxes’ earths, and blame the death on the jaws of the fox. However, survey after survey has shown that, in the vast majority of cases, the land had been either dead or dying when taken by the fox. In fact, the Ministry of Agriculture does not even bother to keep statistics of lamb losses to foxes, whereas they do tot up killings by dogs (including foxhounds).

It is reckoned that a mere 3% of lamb deaths are attributable to predators, and the term ‘predators’ covers dogs, crows, snakes, birds of prey and others, as well as foxes. The other 97% die from disease, under nourishment, exposure, abandonment or birth complications – with all those dead littering the hillsides, what fox needs to kill one for food?!

The farmer who tends his flock well, and knows the ways of foxes, will feel no concern at seeing a fox prowling near lambing ewes – he knows that the fox is waiting to make a meal of a still-born or sickly lamb, or to enjoy the treasured delicacy of afterbirth!

Much publicity goes to the odd ‘rogue’ fox that takes the occasional healthy lamb or chicken, but it has been shown that such a fox is often in an emotionally-disturbed state, having narrowly escaped the hunt, or having lost its mate or cubs to the hunt.

Consider the situation … Sheep in this country are kept on hillsides or in open fields, with no protection from predators – if foxes were really inveterate lamb-killers, there wouldn’t be any sheep left! And of the few chickens that are still kept free-range, all would be safe only so long as the farmer kept the gate shut!

And tell me this – if huntsmen are so concerned about controlling the fox population, then why do they openly admit to encouraging foxes to breed, protecting their coverts and rearing cubs in artificial earths?

The ‘pest control’ line has been shown up as a myth – a tale propagated over the years in an attempt to justify foxhunting. A myth made so convincing that even people who ride with the hunt believe the lies.

Back to Buckinghamshire, where we rediscovered the hunt as it was in the process of drawing a large wood. Jumping out of the van, we found ourselves being approached by a group of hunt supporters, rolling their sleeves up! Being the brave, fearless people that we undoubtedly are, we sped round to the downwind side of the covert, where the fox should break.

Once again, the horns came out, and, accompanied by a great deal of shouting, the blowers succeeded in persuading about half of the hounds to abandon their gruesome pursuit, and come rushing, and come rushing out of the wood towards us, tails wagging, followed by a somewhat angry-looking huntsman. Quite some time passed as he attempted to round up the dogs.

This amusing incident was to be the last of the day’s action. For the remainder of the afternoon, we followed the hunt, as it wandered around aimlessly, with seemingly little idea of where it was going or what it was doing.

At about 3pm, the fog descended, visibility fell to about ten metres, it became impossible to hunt, and the Vale of Aylesbury Foxhounds boxed up. They had killed no foxes, which represented a successful sabotage – not the greatest of days, but an effective exercise which achieved success with the minimum of effort and the maximum of enjoyment.

The justification for sabotage lies in a principle lauded by the great Martin Luther King – that it is valid to commit small crimes to prevent a greater evil. That obstructing the legally-permitted crimes of unnecessary cruelty, assault and murder justifies the trivial offences of trespass and ‘anti-social behaviour’.

While some of the human race treats animals despicably, it is good indeed to see others doing their bit to protect our fellow creatures. And while some work at the painful necessities of campaigning, educating and lobbying, that one day this barbaric pursuit may at last be criminalised, the hunt saboteurs are saving foxes NOW.