A mystery to resolve in the English countryside

It should be quite simple.

If hunts in England are hunting within the law, it should be very easy to prove.

Go where they meet, observe what they do, and record them engaged in activities where wild animals are not chased by their hounds.

However, if you try to do that you will get a surprise.

You will find that, in most places, you cannot prove it, because the hunts and their supporters seem determined to prevent you doing just that.

Why?

Well, either because you cannot prove something that does not happen, or because, somehow, legal hunters are terribly embarrassed by hunting within the law, and do not want anyone seeing them doing it – which does not make much sense, to be honest.

Since 2005, it has been illegal to chase foxes with a pack of dogs in England and Wales, but the hunts decided that they would continue dressing up and meeting with their horses and hounds.

That is fine, nothing illegal or wrong with that. The only thing they needed to do was ensure that whatever they did, wild mammals were not hunted by their hounds.

For instance, they could choose to do “drag hunting”, which is a long established sport where instead of chasing animals the hounds chase an aniseed-based trail laid in a known area where everything is controlled and no “accidental” hunting may occur if a fox happens to turn up by chance.

However, the immense majority of the hunts chose not to do that.

They decided that overt, safe and non-cruel legal hunting was not for them. They chose instead to invent a new mysterious “activity” they called “trail hunting”, which on the face of it seems to be going to places where foxes tend to be, ensuring that hounds do not lose the ability to follow their scent, and trying to hide from anyone that wants to watch what they do there with their hounds.

International Fund for Animal Welfare Wildlife Crime Investigators have been going out week after week monitoring hunts in the Dorset countryside for over nine years to check they are not breaking the law, and despite the fact almost every day they go out they find the hunt, they are yet to see the so called “trail hunting”.

How is that possible?

How it is that hunts say that they go following artificial scents every week that they go out from September to March, and every hunt monitor that has been deployed to witness it has been unable to record a single “trail hunting” event?

People laying a trail should be quite easy to record. There should be evidence of it all over the place. And yet, what the monitors have been recording is the hunt and their supporters behaving very suspiciously indeed.

What has been happening when the hunt discovers that they are being monitored is not what you would expect from people that are just engaging in legal activities.

Instead, exposed monitors face constant intimidation by masked hunt supporters, verbal harassment, “tailing” and “boxing in” of their vehicles, their access blocked with vehicles or horses, the hunt hiding in private land out of sight, criminal damage of the monitor’s surveillance equipment and even assault. It has happened every year, but during the 2012-13 seasons we decided to compile a short video with some examples, to show it to others (the police, MPs, the general public) with the hope that this mysterious behaviour can be properly explained.

You can watch the video on Youtube above.

Can you explain what is happening?

Can you explain why our hunt monitors, some of whom are professional investigators and ex-police officers with lots of experience in surveillance, have been unable to record any activity so far that can definitively be identified as legal “trail hunting”?

Can you explain the behaviour of the hunts and hunt supporters you can see in the video when they find a hunt monitor trying to collect evidence of “trail hunting”?

Many hunts claim they do not break the law and yet if you try to prove this they won’t let you.

Why?

Perhaps it can be easily explained; perhaps it is actually quite simple.

-- JC

Watch the video above to learn more about this mystery that you may be able to help us solve.

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Experts

Jordi Casamitjana, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK