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Archive for July, 2013

Jamie Foster is a Partner in the solicitors firm of Clarke Willmott. He is a Solicitor-Advocate with Higher Rights of Audience in all courts. He specialises in regulatory law, advising and representing clients involved in environmental prosecutions, health and safety prosecutions and animal welfare cases.

Here, Jamie writes about an extraordinary incident and a case of double standards.

In March this year Joe Duckworth, the Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, declared that there was a “war in the countryside”. The people whom he had declared war on, the law abiding hunting community, found this statement to be an entirely irresponsible and inflammatory one, but really the hyperbole was his way of announcing that he had spent £1m of the money donated to his organisation on covert surveillance designed to show that the Hunting Act was being regularly flouted by registered hunts. So far this money has proved to have been entirely wasted.

In April I was the advocate at the trial of George Milton, the Huntsman of the Weston and Banwell Harriers.  This case was to be the opening battle in Joe Duckworth’s war and he lost it spectacularly. This was the first case that had been brought to court on League evidence for two whole seasons. It was the product of the covert surveillance that Joe had spent so much money on and the court threw the case out at half time finding that George had no case to answer. The court recognised that there was no credible evidence that George Milton had committed any offence.

Shortly after this another League allegation, that George had committed an offence under the Badger Act, was withdrawn by the CPS. Then last month the League’s case against Brian Palmer of the Quantock Staghounds, which was due to go to court in September, was again discontinued because the CPS recognised there was no credible evidence that Brian had been illegally hunting. Joe Duckworth was losing the war that he had declared in grand style.

As is often the case an organisation can begin to show its true colours in the ignominy of defeat and the League is no exception. It did something which indicated that as an organisation it had lost a grip on its own moral compass. A League monitor filmed a three year old girl, the daughter of a follower of the Quantock Staghounds and, without the parents’ permission, posted the child’s image on their website to make a rather petty point about stag hunting. Using a small child in this way marked a new low even for the League.

On behalf of the child’s mother I wrote to Joe Duckworth asking that the child’s image was removed. I received a letter back the following day from the League’s solicitor informing me that the League did not feel it needed permission to film a small child and stating that the image would not be removed.

I asked the mother’s MP, Jeremy Browne, to write to Joe Duckworth and invite him to take the image down. Mr Browne kindly did. Joe Duckworth replied to Mr Browne that he had no idea a film had been taken without permission and claimed that he had never heard of me.  As I had already received a letter from his solicitor concerning the matter, and had won a number of important court cases involving the League, I found Mr Duckworth’s response rather extraordinary.

I also wrote to the Avon and Somerset Police, informing them that in my view the League were causing the child’s mother harassment, alarm and distress, and thereby committing an offence under the Harassment Act, by continuing to display the child’s image on their website. The police refused to even record the fact that an allegation had been made.

While I was doing this, a Devon landowner called Giles Bradshaw began complaining on Twitter that Joe Duckworth, and the President of the League Against Cruel Sports John Cooper QC, were behaving appallingly by running an organisation that treated the child and her mother so callously. Interestingly John Cooper is a Human Rights barrister who regularly opines on freedom of speech. Mr Cooper employed the Leagues solicitors to write to Mr Bradshaw and inform him that suggesting that Mr Cooper was in any way connected to the covert filming of the child was libellous. Mr Bradshaw was not put off by this threat and continued tweeting. This weekend he received a letter from Surrey Police warning him that he may be harassing Mr Cooper and Mr Duckworth.

Let that thought sink in for a minute. One police force is warning Mr Bradshaw that his complaining about the actions of Mr Cooper and Mr Duckworth may be causing them harassment alarm or distress, but another police force would not even record a complaint about their organisation using a three year old child as a pawn in Mr Duckworth’s private war.

At the moment a formal complaint is being considered by the Information Commissioner about the misuse of the child’s image by the League and it will be interesting to see what the Commissioner makes of the case. I will continue to represent the mother in this case and to do all I can to defend the honest and law abiding members of the hunting community who come to me for assistance.

Be under no illusions. We may be winning this “war in the countryside.” The hunting community may be conducting themselves in a completely lawful manner, but there will always remain those who would do everything in their power to cause mischief and mayhem. I will endeavour to keep you updated on how successful they turn out to be.

This article first appeared in Countryman’s Weekly http://www.countrymansweekly.com/

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For the campaign against hunting to succeed it was always necessary to demonise those in the hunting world, as can be seen from language used by anti-hunting  groups and some politicians. The idea that hunting people could possibly care about their quarry is beyond the comprehension of some of those people. 

So this guest blog is not for them. It is written for those who, at the very least, are prepared to open their minds a little and possibly see things in a different way.

Martin Scott has hunted with numerous packs since the tender age of three, both in the UK and Ireland. He is a former Master of the Tiverton Foxhounds and Vale of White Horse Foxhounds.  He remains a breeder of hounds.

Here, in an article first published in 2003, Martin talks of his experiences with the fox – an insightful look into the hunting mind-set and the realities of life in the wild.

 

HOW long can a red fox live? I believe that the ripest old age a tame fox might achieve is 12. A wild country fox could reach about eight. The governing factor, of course, apart from predators, is the fox’s teeth. No teeth, no food, no energy, and the end will be near, perhaps by scavenging dog or internal parasite—a death neither quick nor noble, and without Nature’s own equivalent of the National Health Service.When I was hunting the Tiverton in Devon, the oldest fox caught by my hounds was aged six, according to that great naturalist Sir Newton Rycroft. It was the Tiverton’s first hunt in the New Forest, in 1975, and the fox’s incisors were long, very curved and extremely dark—which prompted the discussion. The   longer and more curved the teeth, the older the fox. Bob Street, who had disappeared into a bog during the excitement of the run, said that in 40 years’ hunting it was one of the oldest he had seen hounds catch.Red fox 

A survey showed that 25% of foxes hunted in the 2003 season in England and Wales were dispatched, 100% of them killed outright, since hounds never wound. Their age varied from country to country, but on average one-third were between nine and 18 months of age, when virtually full-grown. Those which get away then are likely to live considerably longer, since they have already begun to use their wits and test their physiques. These, the strong, healthy, clever ones, will therefore live to breed, thus perpetuating the best genes.

Another old fox I have hunted was a bob-tailed vixen living in Flisteridge Wood, a good covert owned by Mrs Pitman in the VWH country. This wily fox escaped capture by running round the covert until hounds changed on to one of her siblings, or, later, her nephews and nieces (family loyalty was not a strong point). This usually occurred when I was hunting the mixed pack.

I recall the Prince of Wales seeing her cross a ride and remarking that she resembled a member of his family’s dogs. That was a day when she got away again. When at last she was caught (by the mixed pack) we were all rather sad. Locals said she was at least six, perhaps seven, and she had lost most of her teeth, so we saved her from a winter of hardship. Sidney Bailey, the country’s longest-serving professional huntsman, who retired at the end of last season, says that only 1% of foxes caught by the VWH hounds reached this age, and some still had a tooth or two, though they were in poor condition.

Cuthbert Bradley, in his book ‘The Foxhound of the Twentieth Century’, mentions a seven-year-old fox with half its teeth missing and ‘the grey hairs of experience’. I remember this fox well. It was caught in 1913 during the North Cotswold Mastership of Mr C T Scott, my great-uncle. He had the mounted mask hung in one of his rooms at Buckland.

Martin Letts, who hunted the College Valley hounds for 40 seasons, says they caught fewer old foxes in recent years. ‘One of the reasons there were better hunts in yesteryear is that the modern ration of seasoned foxes in full prime is lower today because of culling other than hunting.’ According to Letts, fox numbers increase by 400% in spring (during the then close season for hunting, but not, of course, for other control methods). This number is then reduced by road traffic accidents, lack of food, shooting and snaring, and, when the   season reopened in autumn, by hunting, so that in the following spring the numbers were back to what they were.

Spring is traditionally also ‘lamb call’ time, when hard-pressed farmers call in the Hunt to save their young stock from rogue foxes. A ‘rogue’ is one which preys on farm stock, not only for food but also, it seems, for pleasure; what other explanation can there be when only tails, ears and noses are chewed off, and the lamb is left otherwise whole? Most rogue foxes are not born, but made, undergoing a change in character after injury—generally by road accidents, or after being shot. At first, they probably need the easy meat offered by lambs. That seems to give them a taste for the sport.

Lamb call is a serious business. Tensions rise as farmers become incensed by their losses, and huntsmen are up before dawn with a few seasoned hounds, trying to find and kill the culprits. The Tiverton’s then huntsman Tony Holdsworth (now at the Duke of Beaufort’s) recalls one particularly bad spring for rogues. Hounds killed 17 of them, and only two had been fit and well. The rest were carrying injuries ranging from broken bones in road accidents, to shotgun wounds, new and old.

When wounded, most foxes go straight to ground, there to recover or die, which is why they are seldom seen in the countryside. This was well illustrated in Lucy Whaley’s article in Hunting Magazine on the infamous new anti-hunting laws in Scotland, when the Berwickshire Hunt reported a fox being shot, bowled over, shot again, and then disappearing down a badger sett, presumably to die, eventually, from its wounds.

Martin Letts believes hunting accounted for 15% of the annual reduction in the fox population. It differs from the other forms of control in being selective, and producing no injured foxes (and of course no ‘rogues’). This also contributes to the genetic quality of the fox species—survival of the fittest—which other forms of control fail to do. The Burns Inquiry into   hunting approved of ‘lamping’ foxes in the dark, but it seems to me that many more pregnant and mothering vixens are shot—and many more cubs are left to die—from this (pregnant vixens, carrying no scent, are left alone by foxhounds). Lamping is non-selective, and not always fatal.

A fox which was hunted by the Tiverton near Creacombe illustrates this. It soon went to ground, was dug out, and humanely destroyed. It transpired that this fox had been shot by rifle through its stomach, and maggots were living off it. For this to occur, it must have been injured several weeks earlier. A gamekeeper who witnessed it could hardly believe that the fox was still alive.

Rodney Ellis, Master and huntsman at the Tedworth, caught a six-year-old fox at the West Norfolk which had only a few teeth left, all down one side of its jaw. A big, rangy fox, it was very lean, for obvious reasons, and would have starved if hounds had not caught it. Ellis says most foxes caught by hounds are aged between 18 months and two years. On average, four foxes caught each season by his hounds had been shot by rifle, and had suffered for up to two weeks.

Roger Bigland, a hunting countryman for 39 years in the Cotswold Hills, knows his subject so well that Dr David MacDonald invited him to help with his fox surveys for Oxford University. Bigland says that rural foxes can live to eight, but seldom do so. He agrees with Martin Letts that fewer good strong foxes are around today, because of traffic kills and increased culling by methods other than hunting. He recalls an incident in late-spring, when he had been told of a fox killed by a car, and he went to tidy up the mess.

He found the dead vixen in a council gutter by the road, with her cubs still trying to suckle. He picked her up, and the cubs ran back under a wall. Having put the carcass in his van, he returned to see what else could be done, and saw in his torch beam the dog fox in the field just over the wall. Next morning he returned, to discover that the dog fox had taken his   seven-week cubs to the Hunt covert nearby. They survived, and he watched them grow up. It is often said by hunting people that they are the ones who care most about the welfare of foxes; it happens to be true.

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