A few weeks ago Councillors at Cheshire West and Chester Council backed a motion that paved the way for a ban on so-called ‘trail hunting’ (why do we use that particular phrase: see Language Matters | Smokescreen/Trail Hunting), voting to devise a new policy reflecting the “damage” it causes.
As we wrote at the time, the wording of the Council motion was very interesting. It said that:
“With a continual threat to the environment and on wild and domestic animals; to prevent potential illegal activity in breach of the Hunting Act 2004 and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and to prevent damage to other flora and fauna by hunts, their hounds, followers and objectors, this council asks cabinet to consider and develop a policy to clearly reflect this position with regard to trail hunting on council-owned land.”Cheshire West and Chester Council, 10 Dec 2020
This is a wide-ranging condemnation of the damage that hunts, their hounds, and followers (most notably here this will mean thuggish terrier men) cause. So the council was not just showing an awareness of illegal hunting, but a recognition of the numerous reports of hunts routinely (and illegally) blocking badger setts and their quad bikes causing damage to SSSis (as well as driving quad bikes and other vehicles on restricted byways and footpaths used regularly by the public).
Now the Council has announced plans to set up a cross-party group to examine ‘trail hunting’ in detail. The move has been heavily criticised by a number of Conservatives on the group (apparently because they appear to think their colleagues are only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time, however a quick look at the Council’s Twitter feed shows they are taking the Covid-19 pandemic extremely seriously indeed), but – reaching for the pro-hunt lobbyist playbook – has been welcomed by the pro-hunt lobby group ‘Countryside Alliance’: they are quoted in the report below saying that, “the local rural and trail hunting communities would hope to be able to provide input for this group to maintain balance and ensure it is not driven by prejudice“.
Prejudice? That would be the disgust that more than 80% of the country feel towards illegal fox hunting, then…
The CA are evidently trying to appear ‘reasonable’ (a bit difficult after 15 years of slamming the Hunting Act and denigrating the many pro-wildlife members of those same rural communities). They may think that’s the clever option, but as they may learn, once statements have been put on the record they can come back and bite you. If “the local rural and trail hunting communities” were to detail exactly what they do (or more importantly list exactly what they know that they can and can’t do under the Hunting Act), it would be extremely hard to defend themselves if they were then subsequently caught out hunting again. The CA may just be giving local hunts enough rope to hang themselves with…
Of course, if the local hunts (and there are several notorious hunts in the region) have now recognised the damage caused by November’s leaked Hunting Office ‘smokescreen’ webinars, the strong public opposition, and the circling of councils around them, and are indeed keeping to the law and not killing foxes (because they finally understand they won’t survive otherwise), that would be a major win for wildlife and for monitors.
Under the latest national lockdown restrictions it may be that fox hunting is over until the disgusting abuse of fox cubs starts up again in the autumn (see – Cubbing | An Autumn Sickness). THAT is something the council should see taking place for themselves because it’s a racing certainty they would shut down the whole bloody hunting business the next day.
Time will tell, but – and call us cynical if you want – it’s hard to believe that hunts have ‘seen the light’, especially as this a region that has witnessed huge amounts of wildlife crime (a March 2019 article in The Canary highlighted how “On 15 November 2018, Cheshire Monitors said they caught the Cheshire Hunt killing a fox. This was the first in a run of foxes allegedly killed by the hunt that spread across several months. On 4 December 2018, Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs caught the same hunt allegedly killing another fox. The same thing happened again on 5 January, 8 January and 5 February 2019.”)
However, if the council forces its local hunts to open up – insists on monitors being allowed to witness trails being laid, for example, or ensures that its own representatives stay with the hunt at all times – that would effectively end the law-breaking anyway. Here’s hoping the Council follows through this excellent initiative and finally ends the illegal persecution of wildlife in Cheshire’s countryside.
TRAIL hunting in Cheshire West is to be put under the microscope as the council looks to put together a cross-party group to examine the controversial activity.
Next week’s cabinet meeting (Wednesday, January 13) sees a proposal to establish the group — which will be chaired by deputy leader Cllr Karen Shore and feature two additional Labour members, and one councillor each from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Independent groups — following full-council approval to look into trail hunting in December.
At the whole council summit, representatives backed Cllr Matt Bryan’s motion to ‘develop a policy’ on the issue.
At the meeting, Cllr Bryan said: “We have a duty as a council to enforce protection on our land but also the flora and fauna on it.
“Recently we have seen videos of the national hunt advising hunt masters to use the legal loophole of trail hunting to go about their hunting business.
“In the last season locally, Cheshire monitors collated 21 reports of suspected illegal activity within Cheshire West… and included a report of a pet labrador being attacked by 30 beagles.”
However, the motion was opposed by a number of Conservatives, who argued that the authority’s time was better spent on other matters during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cllr Hugo Deynhem, who represents Sandstone, said: “I cannot see any logical or practical reason to tie up cabinet in such meaningless work on developing policy on a matter we don’t even have evidence of.
“I should hardly need to remind Labour members that we are in the middle of a pandemic.”
A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance added: “ We welcome the news that the Labour group on Cheshire West & Chester council have called for a balanced, cross-party working group, despite the rather unusual u-turn after voting against it at the last council meeting.
“The local rural and trail hunting communities would hope to be able to provide input for this group to maintain balance and ensure it is not driven by prejudice.
“It still begs the question, why on earth are the Council spending valuable time and resources attempting to curtail a legal activity, when all focus should clearly be on the global pandemic?”.
The cabinet motion will therefore begin the process of ‘confirming the terms of reference, considering the evidence and legal position, [and] to inform the development of a policy’.
It is hoped that the group will report back to cabinet by ‘Spring 2021’.
CWAC’s cabinet will meet online at 10am on Wednesday, January 13.Ethan Davies (Local Democracy reporter), The Northwich Guardian, 08 Jan 21