Don't be fooled by Boxing Day trail hunts – they're just as cruel as illegal animal hunting

When ‘lethal’ hunting was banned, trail hunting was invented, which still allows foxes to be slaughtered but claims it's an accident

Eduardo Goncalves
Monday 25 December 2017 17:47
Comments
If they had wanted to hunt legally, they should have stuck to drag hunting
If they had wanted to hunt legally, they should have stuck to drag hunting

Today Boxing Day hunts around the country will parade in towns and villages, as they have done for centuries. Claims will be made that the number of people turning out to watch them means that “hunts are still popular”, and thus that “hunting should be made legal again”. However, also today, new polling figures show that opposition to making fox hunting legal again is at it highest ever figure – 85 per cent. There’s a discrepancy here that needs to be unravelled.

The issue is that most people know that hunting is banned in Great Britain, so when they see hunts going out, the natural assumption is that they must be hunting legally. This is reinforced by the hunts calling their sport ‘trail’ hunting which suggests that they are following a trail, not chasing animals. But this is where it gets murky.

Prior to the Hunting Act in 2005, there were effectively two types of hunting – lethal and non-lethal. The non-lethal version is called “drag” hunting, a sport which looks pretty much the same in terms of the uniforms, horses and dogs, which has been around since the early 1800s and involves the hounds being trained to follow an artificial scent such as aniseed. There are rarely incidents of animals being killed by drag hunts, and no one is trying to ban drag hunting.

When “lethal” hunting was banned, if those hunts had wanted to hunt legally, they could have switched to drag hunting, but they didn’t. Instead, they invented trail hunting. This looks similar to drag hunting, but there are key differences, including the fact that hounds are still trained to follow an animal-based scent. This means that when the trail hunts go out, their hounds often pick up the scent of a real animal, chase it and kill it – then the hunts claim that it was an “accident”. It also makes it difficult to actually prosecute hunts for illegal hunting because the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that it wasn’t an accident.

Corbyn on fox hunting: 'My government would not tolerate this kind of barbarity'

There’s a list of other evidence and incidents that cast a huge shadow over the credibility of trail hunting. Reports by monitors from more than 10 years watching every hunt in the country suggest that hunts don’t bother to even pretend to lay a trail other than on rare occasions. So what are they doing out there?

Trail hunts are always supported by people on quad bikes. These are generally “terrier men”, who traditionally accompanied hunts with their dogs. These dogs were used to follow a fox if it had bolted down a hole in the ground, often leading to a fight and the fox being dug up and killed. If the hunts are now only following a trail, why do they need terrier men?

There are regularly stories of hunt hounds running across busy roads and railway lines, and causing havoc on private land, chasing and sometimes killing livestock and pets. If they are following a trail, why is this happening?

Even more damning, there have been well publicised cases of foxes being kept and raised by trail hunts – a traditional practice to ensure that there is always an animal to hunt on prestigious hunt days. Shockingly, footage last year showed two fox cubs being taken into the kennels of the South Herefordshire hunt (a trail hunt), and then being brought out, dead. This strongly suggests that the cubs were being used to give the hounds the taste of fox blood.

All this evidence – plus regular videos appearing online showing potential illegal hunting activity – makes the case against trail hunting.

It has been a tough year for hunting. Prior to the general election, there was an expectation from the hunts that a pro-hunting majority would be elected to Parliament for the first time since the hunting ban. But that didn’t happen. In fact a poll carried out by The Independent showed that only one in 10 people supported the pledge to repeal the Hunting Act.

We then had the attempt to ban trail hunting on National Trust land. While the attempt failed narrowly, we believe this was only because people (including perhaps the National Trust themselves) didn’t understand the reality of trail hunting.

The world is shifting when it comes to animal cruelty, as was shown by Michael Gove’s recent announcement that sentencing for animal abuse would be increased, and that “animal sentience” would be taken into account in any new legislation. Anyone wishing to chase and kill animals for ‘sport’ must be feeling increasingly uncomfortable.

On Boxing Day, the hunts will parade, as they have always done. But if they continue to chase and kill animals, as they have always done, then the parades will take place under an increasingly dark cloud.

Eduardo Goncalves is the chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in