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‘Hunt Havoc’ Wreaking Misery in the Countryside

A new report details the impact of fox hunts on local communities

Members of the Middleton Hunt riding through Malton town centre on the start of the Boxing Day Hunt fox hunt. Photo: Bailey-Cooper Photography/Alamy

‘Hunt Havoc’ Wreaking Misery in the Countryside

A new report details the impact of fox hunts on local communities

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Fox hunts frequently wreak havoc on local communities and animals by tearing across private and public land and letting their hounds run out of control, according to a new report

Hundreds of incidents of hunts disrupting people’s lives and causing distress have been reported to the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) by members of the public since 2018.

In its report, LACS documents seven categories of ‘hunt havoc’. The most common are ‘road interference’ – when hunts, their hounds, or their supporters obstruct and cause chaos on roads – and trespassing on private land. Other categories include livestock worrying and injuring or terrorising pets. 

“Whether incidents involve a breach of the law or not, they all negatively impact upon people either by causing people bodily or financial harm, fear, grief and/or inconvenience,” the report states.

It argues that the incidents are the result of illegal hunting of foxes, since legal ‘trail hunting’ – whereby hounds follow a pre-laid scent trail – would avoid crossing private property, roads, and railways. 

Adam Hawker, who runs a wildlife sanctuary near Truro in Cornwall, told Byline Times that he notifies the local hunt of the sanctuary’s location every year and that the hunt is not allowed on the property, but that he is ignored.

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“Year on year, they hold their horses on our perimeter and allow hounds in with a very lacklustre effort to call them back,” he said. “If [they] were laying a trail and knew our location, why would they do this?”

The LACS report is not the first time the impact of hunts on local communities has been brought to light. The Independent reported in 2017 on how hunts in the Lake District were making the lives of local residents miserable, with some describing how they felt trapped inside their homes when the hunts were out or had decided to move to get away from the stress of living in a hunting area. 

A number of individual incidents have also made the news over the years.

Last year, a cat called Mini was killed by hunting hounds and thrown over a fence by a hunt-master in Cornwall. On New Year’s Day in 2020, a hunt trespassed onto a railway line in Warwickshire, disrupting services and resulting in one hound being hit by a train. In 2019, drivers had to swerve and brake suddenly when a hunt spilled onto a busy A road in Dorset as the hounds chased a fox cub. 

While the hunt-master involved in the death of Mini the cat was convicted for being in charge of dangerously out of control dogs, such convictions “are the exception rather than the rule”, according to Nick Weston, head of campaigns at LACS.

“A lot of hunt havoc incidents are civil offences, which leaves victims to fend for themselves,” he said. “Sadly, those of them who feel able to stand up to the hunts often then become victims of harassment and intimidation.”

The LACS report documents some of the abuse that people have received from hunt members for asking them to leave their private property.

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The Hunt Saboteurs Association has also recorded several incidents of hunt members behaving aggressively and violently towards hunt saboteurs (commonly called ‘sabs’), including a very recent video which appears to show a hunt member deliberately knocking over a sab with their car, which is now being investigated by police.

In cases where hunts disturb other people and are seen illegally chasing foxes, Hawker believes the police give them too much leeway. “If it were a gang of teenagers would our police force still still turn a blind eye?” he asked.

The loophole in the Hunting Act that allows ‘trail hunting’ has long been decried by anti-hunt activists. In 2021, hunts were dealt a blow in this regard when a number of large landowners, including the National Trust, removed access to their land for trail hunting. But more still needs to be done to prevent hunts from causing chaos and distress in local communities.

“Hunt havoc is the result of being allowed to ride roughshod over the countryside due to loopholes and exemptions in the law,” said Weston. “Improvements in the law will bring an end to activities such as fox hunting, which should stop the problems of hunt havoc such as trespass, livestock worrying and pet deaths as hunts will no longer be pursuing foxes and deer.”

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