Think fox hunting, which was banned by the Hunting Act 2004, is a ‘thing of the past’? Think again. Hunts have been breaking the law since the Act was passed – helped by sympathetic landowners who issue licences despite a wealth of material proving the terms of those licences are being routinely broken. Jack Riggall, an independent hunt monitor and anti-hunting campaigner, is writing a series of posts for us on fox hunts and Forestry England, the government department responsible for managing and promoting the nation’s forests. Jack has written other guest posts and recorded a number of podcasts with us. Search Jack Riggall.
By way of introduction, I’m an independent anti-hunting campaigner with a focus on what so-called ‘trail hunts’ are doing on public land owned and managed by government authorities. Of these, Forestry England (FE) and their policy of licensing hunting as one of the largest landowners in the UK is the most important (in my view). I’m posting a series of brief blogs here on The War on Wildlife Project throughout the current hunting season on what’s happening with Forestry England & fox hunting.
For those who aren’t aware, Forestry England allows a number of criminal fox hunts to use publicly funded forests for wildlife crime. They do this under the guise of licensing ‘trail hunting’ [a copy of their licence agreement with the Master of Foxhounds Association [MFHA] can be seen here], a false alibi for illegal hunting, with the documents created for this fake activity worth as much to Forestry England and fox hunters as the Hunting Act 2004 itself. In expecting us to believe that wildlife isn’t harmed on these so-called ‘trail hunts’, this government department expects us to ignore footage and public condemnation of the hunts in question.
Over in Shropshire, Forestry England has been licencing the United Pack. The United Pack are a hunt I’ve encountered on National Trust land [see header image of United Pack on Long Mynd] when they had a ‘trail hunting’ licence for the site, but because myself and others documented the hunt’s terriermen on the site in December 2018 (the image below is captured from a video I took at the time), the licence was revoked.
The National Trust rightly banned terriermen coming on to their land across England and Wales in August 2017, stating in their FAQs that ‘Terrier men have no place on a trail hunt and are explicitly prohibited under our licence conditions’. That the United Pack still have terriermen whilst describing themselves as a ‘trail hunt’, as they do on their website, should give away the real intentions of the hunt to anyone who looks.
After the United Pack lost their National Trust licence, they continued to illegally hunt across Long Mynd on a number of occasions up to the end of the 2019-20 hunting season. I don’t think they will stop doing so during the current hunting season, but I hope I’m wrong.
On top of their regular trespass across National Trust land, information requests have revealed that the United Pack regularly hunt across Forestry England’s land without permission too, often enough for the government department to threaten the use of solicitors and then write to the Master of Foxhounds Association [MFHA] requesting that they get the United Pack to behave [basically].
Here’s an overview of what’s happened:
18th February 2017: The United Pack hunted across Walcot Wood, a live forestry site, and were
recorded between 11:28-16:31 on CCTV after ignoring safety/hazard signs in order to get into the
wood. Forestry Commission workers were forced to stop their work for safety reasons.
25th January 2018: The United Pack huntsman, hounds and vehicle followers were filmed on CCTV piling through a live forestry site at Black Hill with the hounds after a fox. The Forestry Commission had to warn them about the severe injuries to people that could have occurred. Forestry staff at the time may have been happy with the hunt’s explanation of ‘our hounds picked up the scent of a fox accidentally, honest’ but that deceitful excuse was incredibly worn out even then. Unfortunately, the CCTV footage for this incident and for 18/02/2017 no longer exists.
27th November 2019: Forestry England staff found that hunt jumps had been installed to allow hunting access on to their land at Long Mynd, and though there’s no conclusive proof that the United Pack were responsible, Forestry England did write to the hunt to warn them about the possible safety implications of entering live forestry sites without letting anyone know in advance.
24th January 2020: The United Pack were seen by two witnesses hunting at Black Hill. They, along with the police, reported this to Forestry England. FE then wrote to the hunt on 10th February saying there would be no more warnings and further correspondence would be via solicitors, additionally CC’ing in the MFHA & the Hunting Office for the first time [as best I can tell]. The hunt’s response [almost a month later, after being warned by the MFHA] was full of excuses and finished up by asking for the use of one of the Forestry car parks for a further meet.
10th February 2020: Forestry England wrote to a letter to the MFHA in which they suggested that the United Pack were deliberately trespassing and ignoring Forestry England’s warnings. I’m currently waiting to hear what the MFHA said in response, but it’s clear that the MFHA did write to the United Pack at some point after this.
20th February 2020: The United Pack trespassed [again] on Forestry England’s land, with staff then suggesting the hunt should not meet anywhere near Forestry land in the future.
I’m not writing this post to criticise Forestry England or to suggest they can do more (on this occasion at least). They seem to be doing what they can with this specific hunt. I do wonder, though, if the experiences with the United Pack – which is obviously entering land without permission in the illegal pursuit of foxes – inspires any reflection within Forestry England on what the hunts are doing elsewhere, and if so, when they will ditch their endorsement of so-called ‘trail hunting’.
The United Pack are clearly angering major landowners in Shropshire like the National Trust and Forestry England – is the hunt antagonising other landowners and farmers in the area too? My money is on yes, despite fox hunters wanting to claim that they are unanimously supported in the countryside.
Letters/emails gathered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 & Environmental Information
Regulations 2004, references 008_19 & 063_20. Forestry England refused twice to release all the
messages between themselves and the United Pack but were eventually told by the Information
Commissioner’s Office [ICO] that they couldn’t rely on the exemption they used; see the ICO
decision notice here. It took a year to get this information.
If you would like to contribute to anti-hunt campaigning efforts, please consider joining League Against Cruel Sports as a member: league.org.uk/join-the-league.