During the infamous webinars organised by the ‘Hunting Office’ and leaked across the internet by the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Mark Hankinson, Director of the MFHA (who is due in court this September to answer criminal charges off the back of these webinars) discussed terrier-men. he acknowledged that their presence on hunts that are supposed to be following an artificial scent trail as problematic: “it does flag up a bit of a marker to everyone, you know why do you as trail hunting, do you need them there?”
Terrier men are the thuggish ‘enforcers’ of the hunting world, revelling in their reputations as intimidators of peaceful, law-abiding hunt monitors. Their ‘job’ is to send terriers down holes to flush out foxes so that hunts can continue the chase. They also go out in advance of the hunts
to beat people up (sorry, that would be libellous) to illegally block up badger setts so that foxes can’t get away (so that hunts etc etc). Little wonder that Hankinson pointed out that having these people on a ‘trail hunt’ does wave the biggest and reddest of big red flags that the hunt is quite happy to break the law (‘screw the Hunting Act we’re here to kill foxes’).
The sordid world of the terrier man has rarely been uncovered for public view. but in yet another blow for the hunt lobbyists who perpetuate ‘trail hunt lies’, two of the brotherhood of badger diggers and dog fighters have appeared in court. And everyone from the BBC to local media have learned a little bit more about a ‘job’ that needs to go the way of the bear baiter and the vivisectionist.
Seward Folland, 75, and Nathan Bowes, 26, of the Eggesford Hunt were filmed by Devon County Hunt Saboteurs (DCHS) as they blocked entrances to badger setts at Chulmleigh, Devon, in November 2019. Video proved they were trying to flush out a fox and the footage showed them blocking the entrance to the setts with earth, debris and nets.They were found guilty of unlawfully interfering with a badger sett. The best excuse they could come up with for breaking the law was that they thought that the sett wasn’t active, an astonishing piece of fiction from someone (Folland) who is not only a parish councillor but a licensed badger cull contractor! Should someone with a new criminal conviction for interfering with a badger sett be licensed by Natural England to cull badgers? Obviously the answer is, No.
A spokesperson for Devon County Hunt Saboteurs stated: “We are delighted with today’s verdict. However this conviction is just the tip of the iceberg. This trial centred on the issue of whether a badger sett showed signs of current use, which goes to show the many loopholes that exist in the foxhunting ban. Bowes and Folland admitted to digging out foxes 2-3 times a week for the Eggesford Hunt, and it’s clear for all to see that the foxhunting ban is inadequate, and not properly policed. We are pleased to see the truth exposed in this case and justice being done, and we are calling on the police to take heed of this conviction and take allegations of hunting crimes seriously.“
There is more to a case like this that a news report doesn’t cover, of course. It takes immense courage to face up to violent criminals like Folland and Bowes. The DCH Sabs who captured the footage that led to this conviction will be volunteers, just like the thousands of other sabs and monitors who are on the front line of preventing wildlife crime, and they will face threats of violence and intimidation every time they go out.
They shouldn’t have to. The behaviour they are routinely subjected to wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere. So a relevant question to ask is where were the police while this event took place? Monitoring nearby for public order offences, apparently – which could be interpreted as ‘watching the sabs on behalf of the hunt’. A very pertinent blog on Wild Mammal Persecution UK (which is written by a team of law enforcement professionals) pulls no punches: “We believe that there was a police presence at the hunt on the day in question and are surprised that it was left to DCHS to deal with this incident in which at least one of the perpetrators had a firearm. Shaun Sawyer the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and Alison Hernandez the Police and Crime Commissioner for the area need to consider carefully why on this occasion members of the public were left to confront armed men committing an offence. They also need to review the policy for policing hunts...Leaving the public to tackle armed criminals [is] no way to win public support or to convince them that wildlife crime is a priority.”
Most of us – and we include ourselves in this – want to support the police. The police do a job most of us couldn’t or wouldn’t, putting themselves in danger almost every day. But while public support was perhaps an expectation many years ago, there have been far too many scandals, far too many instances of wilful blindness – and in the wildlife sphere far too many claims of collusion, of working with wildlife criminals rather than bringing the law down on them – for that to be a given anymore.
And the police need to recognise – from today – that it is NOT the people who are protecting wildlife from the hunts that need monitoring, it is the hunts themselves.