Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron tried to repeal the Hunting Act, once again making it legal to hunt with packs of dogs in England. This move was heavily contested by the public and was eventually dropped after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the SNP would oppose it.
The public seem to be in favour of supporting wildlife. Last year a poll from Ipsos MORI found that 83 per cent of people believed foxhunting should remain illegal, compared with 15 per cent calling for it to be reinstated; an all time high for hunting opposition.
However, there are still those who, despite the ban, continue to hunt foxes in the traditional way. And there are those who will do everything they can to stop them.
I went into the field with the Croydon Hunt Saboteurs, one chapter of the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), who attempt to disrupt hunts and save animals. We travelled to Hartfield, East Sussex for this season’s final meet of the Old Surrey Burstow & West Kent Hunt.
According to the group’s website, they no longer participate in illegal hunting: “To comply with the requirements of the act, the Old Surrey Burstow & West Kent Hunt use trail laying with a fox based scent to simulate a days hunting.”
The saboteurs have had contact with the Burstow Hunt on numerous occasions and according to one of the “sabs,” who went by the name Alfie Moon for safety reasons, violence between them and the hunters seems to be commonplace.
“I’ve been kicked, punched and had people threatening me more times than I can remember” he said.
“But this has just fueled me further – the most committed saboteurs are usually the ones who have had these experiences.”
This set an uneasy tone as we arrived in Hartfield – the natural beauty of the countryside was masked with an air of foreboding.
The saboteurs showed me the various tools they used to disrupt the hunt – including an audio device they called a “gizmo”, that projects the sound the hounds make when they’ve located a fox, in an attempt to distract them. They also use a pungent lemon spray to throw off the scent of the foxes.
“It’s all about being tactically ahead of them,” Moon told me.
After conferring with the Brighton and Hastings Saboteurs, they managed to coordinate where the hunt was. We drove to the location before being blocked by a local farmer’s tractor, who refused to move, claiming: “The way you [saboteurs] operate is the wrong way.”
Two hunters soon approached the jeep, eager for the saboteurs to leave the area. I spoke to one of them, curious to see their point of view on the work the saboteurs do – especially considering the violence that has occurred between the two groups.
“I feel with everything in life, there are two sides,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to form an opinion until I had looked into both sides.
“On some of the incidents there has been bad behaviour on both sides. I can say nothing more than that.”
Eventually we were forced to reroute to catch up with the hunt. But even the best tactics employed by the saboteurs are often not enough.
Our encounter with the local farmer was not the last – the same farmer was seen to ram his tractor into the saboteurs’ jeep, whilst one sab filmed the incident.
It was a day that seemed full of tragedy for the group, as soon after this incident the group managed to relocate the hunt and found a severely wounded male fox that showed signs of being attacked by hounds.
Moon and another saboteur attempted to rescue the animal. As they lifted it up we were faced by the true horror of fox hunting; the fox had huge lacerations all over the left side of it’s body, bone protruding from the wounds and was barely able to breathe.
“These wounds are definitely from hounds; there’s no question of it,” Moon muttered, clearly distraught.
They carried the fox towards the Brighton sabs’ jeep, whilst on the phone to a local vet. However, the fox didn’t make it, and died in the arms of a saboteur. Still clutching onto him after, the saboteur was unable to stop the tears streaming down her face.
“Make sure you show everyone the reality of foxhunting,” she told me, her words still muffled behind tears.
Moon called the police to report the suspected illegal hunting, but no officers responded to their complaints.
I contacted Sussex Police to find out why the incident was not dealt with, to which their reply was: “We’re aware of this incident and are investigating.”
It became clear that illegal hunting does still continue today. According to the HSA, there are currently 190 registered hunts in England, Scotland & Wales, and approximately 100+ unregistered hunts. Many of these hunts claim that they do not engage in illegal hunting, but after spending time with the Croydon Hunt Saboteurs, can we be sure this is true?