Guest blog – FC and hunts by Jack Riggall

Jack Riggall is an independent hunt monitor and anti-hunting campaigner.

Fox hunting, in the last few years, seems to be an activity of increasing interest to the media as well as social media which has helped voluntary activists to document the reality for the wider public to see. In the midst of all this, the National Trust has seen its fair share of criticism; their support of hunting has been highlighted regularly in local & national media, both in the run up to their AGM in 2017 (in which they rallied their members to close down an anti-hunt resolution) and beyond. But focusing on the National Trust perhaps lets other large landowners ‘off the hook’, such as the Forestry Commission (FC) and National Park Authorities, and perhaps even County Councils that own farmland*, given that they all have agreements which allow access to a number of fox hunts.

The FC licenses a small number of legitimate drag hunts and many more so-called ‘trail hunts’ that claim to be following pre-laid scents rather than live quarry. The terms ‘drag hunting’ and ‘trail hunting’ are very similar, which is no doubt on purpose, as the claim of ‘trail hunting’ is presented by the Countryside Alliance at any given chance so that they can confuse the public and allow fox hunters to continue killing.

Fortunately, a comprehensive report by Jordi Casamitjana/International Fund for Animal Welfare explains the differences as well as how ‘trail hunting’ works as an effective cover for criminal bloodsports. The hunts that the FC licences are sometimes the same hunts that the National Trust supports, for example the United Pack (filmed trespassing on National Trust land by Shropshire Monitors on 11th December 2018 ) and the Portman Hunt (on 2nd January 2019, the aftermath of a fox allegedly killed by this hunt was documented by North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs). Others aren’t licensed by the National Trust, only the FC. The Kimblewick Hunt, for example, were recently exposed by the Hunt Saboteurs Association for allegedly hunting a captive fox on New Year’s Day (footage here) and yet, according to the FC’s own spreadsheet of dates for so-called ‘trail hunting’, they went on to use public land just two weeks later. They have other agreed dates in February & March. That these hunts should be afforded access by a government department pretending they are genuine is absurd; the FC’s own documents seem to use ‘trail hunting’ and drag hunting interchangeably.

DEFRA’s response to my petition calling for an end to trail hunting licences conflates the two terms despite the fact that the petition isn’t targeting licences agreed with the Master of Draghounds & Bloodhounds Association, which governs drag hunts; it only seeks a ban on the ‘trail hunts’ who gain licences under agreements with the Master of Foxhounds Association or the Association of Masters of Harriers & Beagles.

But what really highlights how the FC are largely content with trail hunting is that even when hunts repeatedly trespass on FC land or hunt staff are convicted of wildlife crimes, they are still given licences. Two examples are the Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt and the Cottesmore Hunt. The Meynell & South Staffordshire Hunt were cubbing in Derbyshire on 22nd October 2011, and because they were filmed by Derby Hunt Saboteurs their huntsman and terrierman were both convicted under the Hunting Act 2004 in August 2012. The Cottesmore Hunt’s terrierman illegally blocked a badger sett in Leicestershire on 29th November 2014 and was convicted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 based on footage from League Against Cruel Sports. That individual is still believed to be the terrierman for the Cottesmore. Both of these hunts have been warned for trespass & potential trespass by the Forestry Commission in emails dated 18/02/2015, 24/11/2016 & 24/11/2018, and the Cottesmore Hunt were documented by Hertfordshire Hunt Saboteurs on FC land that they aren’t licensed for on 22/12/2018. The main reason for hunt trespass is because they are chasing foxes wherever they go, rather than following organised trails. 

Perhaps this ‘turn a blind eye’ stance is because the FC haven’t yet realised how the country is turning against increasingly weak hunts. The Quorn Hunt (licensed by the FC) are one of the oldest fox hunts in the world, but face financial collapse according to a recent article (The Telegraph, 22/12/2018) and on a regular basis hunts are being banned thanks to the campaigning of grassroots anti-hunt activists — whether from Council land or events, nature reserves or pubs, the message is the same. Land managed by the FC belongs to the public, and so management should reflect this and protect the wildlife that lives there not allow it to be slaughtered for sport. Other organisations such as Shropshire Wildlife Trust are having to contend with hunt trespass from FC-licensed hunts, and they show no sign of being deceived by so-called ‘trail hunting’ – so why should the FC? Especially given that the FC record licensed hunts killing foxes on their land themselves, such as the New Forest Hounds who killed a fox on 21/11/2017 according to a FC log of incidents.

We have a very simple policy that we don’t allow hunts on our land because of the disturbance it causes to wildlife and in the past we’ve written to all the hunts to make this clear. We’ve bought our nature reserves with public donations to protect wildlife, not destroy it and it shows huge contempt for our supporters when a hunt chooses not to follow our wishes.” – Jan McKelvey, Conservation Manager for Shropshire Wildlife Trust [Shropshire Star, 19/01/2019] in response to hunts [including the FC-licensed Ludlow Hunt] trespassing on nature reserves.   

Those who want to see fox (and hare) hunt licences revoked for Forestry Commission land can sign my petition: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/227405.

The FC’s current agreement with the Master of Foxhounds Association states in Clause 19 that they will monitor the hunts they licence. Wonder what they’ve seen when they’ve been out (if they’ve monitored any hunts at all)?

Finally, in the interests of fairness, it has to be said that in some areas the FC are taking genuinely positive steps to stamp out what is clearly illegal hunting. For example, in Somerset, stag hunts were banned from FC land in 1997 due to the Bateson Report.

* – Note for all anti-hunt campaigners – you can get maps of Council farmland via Freedom of Information requests.

Note from Mark: Forestry Commission England were shown a draft of this blog and were asked to comment on it. They did comment and some passages have been changed slightly as a result. I have also offered FCE a right of reply and they have said they will send me something soon.

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45 Replies to “Guest blog – FC and hunts by Jack Riggall”

  1. I live in a suburban area but it didn’t take long to understand the clear differences between trail and drag. Yet the FC persists in referring to a blanket term.Will they explain why?
    Do the FC have a system for dealing with complaints from the public when illegal fox hunting is seen by the public?
    What steps are they taking as responsible landlords to stop illegal activity?
    I look forward to their answers.

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  2. It's worth bearing in mind that like NE, FC is not a free agent - but unlike NCC/EN/NE has never been under any illusion about where power lies - and at present it is with that frequent presence on this blog, Dr Therese Coffey. So whilst FC is clearly policing hunts to an extent, were it to get too enthusiastic no doubt there would be a tweak on the reins. Look no further, I'd suggest, to understand why licenses aren't revoked.

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    1. Hi Roderick, you might be interested to see that earlier today, the Forestry Commission's acting chief executive (Ian Gambles) responded to my blog and stated that the FC has the right to refuse or revoke permissions for hunts. It's the one thing I'm likely to agree with him on; saying otherwise just lets them off the hook!

      His response here: https://markavery.info/2019/03/07/guest-blog-forestry-commission-response-on-hunting-by-ian-gambles/.

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  3. To be fair to National Trust members, the majority who voted supported the anti-hunting motion, however the chair used proxy votes to block it. Because of the way the vote was conducted I resigned from the NT.

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    1. Lyn - because of that and other things, so did I. I now am a happy member of the NTS using my membership card to get into NT properties cheaper. See https://markavery.info/2018/01/18/dear-national-trust/

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    2. Personally I'm retaining my membership of the National Trust as, despite their attempts at blocking anti-hunt resolutions, I feel it's important we retain the right to vote.

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  4. There are several National Nature Reserves on the Solway plain in North Cumbria. In the past I have seen foxhounds hunting in these protected sites. Natural England seems to dissaprove of dog walkers allowing their dogs to run free in these Nature Reserves but doesnt stop organised foxhunts being carried out ! When i challenged the foxhunters on one occasion they said in a very smug way that they were simply exercising their hounds

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    1. Lancashire Hunt Saboteurs can be contacted in confidence regarding any illegal fox hunting you see in Cumbria: https://www.facebook.com/lancashire.huntsabs/.

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  5. Do not think it is a complete allowance of foxhunting on council farms.
    More likely the tenants have a say in each case although hunts probably apply pressure which could be ignored by tenants.
    That is my opinion from admittedly experience 17 years ago but of course foxhunting is now less liked than then.

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  6. It's perfectly acceptable to break the hunting act as long as you do it in a humane manner and are open about it. People break all sorts of laws all the time and the police turn a blind eye. The system relies on laws not being enforced. I've carried on flouting the Hunting Act for the last 15 years and there is absolutely nothing wrong with my doing so

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    1. Only someone who is morally bankrupt would make such an absurd and weak rationalisation for animal abuse. You are utterly vile.

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      1. How is refusing to kill wildlife thereby potentially saving huge amounts of pain morally bankrupt.

        Isn't that what the hunt sabs do?

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      2. "Animal rights human rights one struggle one fight"

        Giles Bradshaw's campaign for the right not to senselessly kill animals is entirely compatible with animal's right not to be senselessly killed.

        This isn't an absurd and weak argument it is an extremely string argument.

        We can't just say that all those deer must die in agony "because Hunting Act" - that is totally ridiculous.

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          1. He's my hero Mark!

            I've pointed out before that I will not reveal my identity to someone who would no doubt report me to the police as a fellow hunt criminal

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        1. Setting up sock accounts to back yourself up. This is the type of bizarre and desperate behaviour which lead to your eventual conviction.

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    2. Presumably, then, you'd have to agree that its "perfectly acceptable to break" the game laws and destroy snares etc which would certainly be more humane than any form of hunting. If, as you claim, you're doing so openly then it's a clear dereliction of duty by the police, something that I doubt you'd be happy with if applied to someone burgling your house. The only time it may be "perfectly acceptable to break" the law is when it's done for the greater good (e.g. Suffragettes & Kinder Scout mass trespass) and to address a gross injustice neither of which applies here. That you see "absolutely nothing wrong" in doing so reflects the overweening sense of entitlement displayed by many in the hunting community and goes some way to explain why raptors continue to be illegally persecuted.

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  7. I think everyone who regularly reads this blog realises that the Hunting Act as applied to Giles' activities is a complete shambles - no one could possibly expect him to comply with it.

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  8. It's a pity the article didn't actually define drag and trail hunting. I had to look up the distinction.

    I've been involved in major event management and when we organised parades we had to advertise the route, ensure the traffic was not disrupted and that safety for the parade, pedestrians and traffic was top priority. We had to advertise routes and plan out emergency scenarios involving police, fire and ambulance services. After each event we had to report back to the safety team involving the police, fire, ambulance, council and other land owners. Any breaches of safety regulations or allegations of, for example, assault or theft were picked over and recommendations to the event times, locations, size, activities etc were made in the light of any issues.

    How come trail hunts can charge around the countryside, causing traffic chaos, sometimes damaging property like fences, definitely churning up land, sometimes public land, and causing fear and distress to livestock, pets, children or, indeed, adults when the whole roadshow trespasses on land.

    If these people were following genuine trails they would advertise the route in advance. They would liaise with police and traffic management officials as well as land owners and agree specified routes where travel by members of the public would not be interrupted or put at risk. They would hold safety meetings with the ambulance services to ensure felled riders and horses could be recovered safely. They would want members of the public to know the route, park up at safe park up spots and enjoy watching the challenging event. They could plan a safe, interesting event. They would want a mixture of exciting, safe rides for the mounted support and good, safe vantage points for vehicle support. They would want to minimise the risks to livestock, pets and other road, path or bridleway users. If routes were advertised, vehicle support would be able to alert red coats where hounds were heading when the hunt lost control of the hounds and the hounds were following the wrong line of scent. There would be absolutely no need for terriermen.

    When hunts are barred from using animal By-Products as scent then their claims to not want or be encouraging animal hunting will be strengthened and the threats of disease transmission from a bad batch of scent will be prevented.

    Breaches of the law would be clear.

    Hunts - advertise your routes in advance! Prove your claims that you only follow man-made scent lines!

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  9. "And how do you go about flouting the Hunting Act in a 'humane' manner? Please expand"

    By taking my dog out on foot - and then not killing any of the wildlife we flush out. It's very simple.

    No extended chase - no death - humane.

    There is a simple humane non lethal alternative to complying with the Hunting Act

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    1. Come to think about it - I break the Hunting Act on a regular basis with my two cocker spaniels. I wonder how many other people do this? Complying with the law would be a complete and utter drag for me and I don't see why I should have to. I find it hard to understand in whose interests gunning my down wildlife my dogs encounter would serve. Just break the law! It's the kinder more civilized option.

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        1. No Mark but having just admitted breaking the Hunting Act I am hardly likely to give you my real identity or email address. I think what Giles Bradshaw says makes perfect sense and he should be supported. I'm largely "anti hunt" I just think the law needs to be reformed because it simply doesn't work.

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  10. I too switched to National Trust Scotland family membership because of the anti-hunting debacle. A few times now the card checkers at NT properties have been shocked that the NT allow hunting when I've explained why I'm presenting an NTS card down South.

    Need to correct the mistaken assumption that National Park Authorities actually own any/much land in their areas though. They don't. Nor do they have much control on issues like hunting as it isn't a planning consideration (their powers are limited to being the Planning Authority).

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    1. The reference regarding the National Park Authorities was specifically a link to a petition regarding the Lake District National Park Authority, who do actually licence a number of fox hunts such as the Coniston Foxhounds. I'm not sure how much land they own, but then again I didn't make any assumption on that point.

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  11. The problem with the Hunting Act is that it doesn't define 'hunting' so the courts have to fall back on the ordinary meaning of the word 'hunting' - not does it just apply to hunts - it applies to anyone with a dog or dogs.

    The lack of clarity in the law is in fact deliberate - Parliament discussed this and decided not to define it.

    'hunting' is not just traditional fox hunting - the word has several ordinary meanings.

    'hunting' is not necessarily cruel and it does not necessarily involve killing.

    The police and others need to look at each case of law breaking and they need to decide in each individual case whether they agree with the law in that case.

    Where they don't agree with the law they should allow people to break it.

    The idea of banning 'flushing from cover' unless the flushed animals are then killed is especially absurd and conflicts with people's human rights.

    Both hunts and individuals are and should be free to break that part of the law. I specifically prohibit anybody from complying with it - including the hunts.

    The law needs to be tightened up to restrict it to banning only those activities that people think it is cruel.

    It is perfectly obvious that when I and others flush wildlife it can often be cruel to shoot them and humane not to.

    It is practically impossible not to flush wildlife if you take a dog out in the countryside - in actual fact it's impossible not to flush it even without a dog.

    My dog is an elderly collie - she couldn't hurt a flushed deer or chase it very far even if she wanted to.

    On that basis it is absurd that I shoot the deer I flush - and therefore I won't.

    By dispersing deer I reduce damage they cause to woodland that has been freshly coppiced.

    This is a badly thought out law - it doesn't stop hunting and it makes activities illegal which should not be. My local stag hunts uses two dogs to flush herds of deer which they then gun down -they are complying with the law when they do this. It's bonkers that this should be legal while what I do is illegal.

    I manage my small holding as far as possible in a completely non lethal manner - I can't see what is wrong with my doing that. I have no gun and I see no justification for having to use one when I flush deer.

    There is nothing about what I do which is in any way related to 'blood sports' and nothing about what I am saying that is 'pro hunt'

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  12. (not sure if threading is working - replying to toms' comment above)

    what is or isn't cruel cruel about 'hunting' is not related to whether an activity does or doesn't comply with the debatable semantics of the word 'hunt'

    it depends on the effect that the activity has on animals

    that therefore is what the legality or illegality of an action should depend on

    i'm not being cruel therefore what I do should not be banned by the hunting act

    it's a badly framed law - people should not comply with it where doing so would result in animal suffering

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    1. This is why people like you are so dangerous, because your own selfish enjoyment (let’s be clear, you enjoy seeing a fox being killed) comes before any type of animal welfare. You’ve proved time and time again what a thoroughly nasty piece of work you; it only takes one google search for people to find out.

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      1. I can see why you would find the idea that Hunts should follow his example and not kill wildlife so dangerous.

        Imagine if the hunts stopped killing wildlife too.

        It's actually a highly subversive concept - just not killing things.

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        1. If that we’re the case, why did Giles have such strong links with the Countryside Alliance, who are firm advocates of hunting with hounds? Shouldn’t he be protesting against them, if he really does believe that? Nobody believes a single word that comes out of this consistent liar’s mouth. The fact that you go along with it says everything about your motives, too.

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  13. G - You'll be pleased to know you are not breaking the law if your dog flushes out a wild animal and you do not encourage, direct or participate in that activity.

    Your belief is wrong that "The problem with the Hunting Act is that it doesn't define 'hunting' so the courts have to fall back on the ordinary meaning of the word 'hunting' - not does it just apply to hunts - it applies to anyone with a dog or dogs."

    Hunting Act 2004, Part 3 S11(2) "For the purposes of this Act a reference to a person hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular, any case where—

    (a)a person engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal, and

    (b)one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit (whether or not by him and whether or not under his control or direction)."

    Your dog flushing out an animal would not breach the Hunting Act 2004. You encouraging or instructing your dog or blocking the animal's path or another action demonstrating your participation in the act of hunting would be a breach.

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    1. Do you have a source for that? I just want to make sure you are not making it up. And what do you mean by 'encouraging'? My dogs don't need a lot of encouragement - I just take them into woods where there are deer/foxes/badgers etc with the knowledge that they'll flush them. That's sufficient encouragement to get the flushing done.

      Does this also apply to hunts? Can they flush deer and other wildlife in order to relocate it?

      I'm quite interested in this - I even went as far as phoning 101 - the police say that both flushing out and stalking have to be performed under strict conditions in order to be exempt.

      It would be most interesting if this wasn't true.

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  14. According to the HSA..

    What Activities Does the HA Outlaw?
    The HA is simple in principle; it makes it illegal to hunt a wild mammal
    with a dog. No problem then, you might think. The trouble comes in
    two main areas. Firstly, hunting is not fully defined in the HA, which
    merely states that hunting includes (but by implication is not limited to)
    engaging in the pursuit of a wild mammal with a dog. This means that
    it’s up to the courts to determine the full definition of hunting through
    case law, and in doing so they must apply the ordinary English meaning
    of the word “hunting”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “hunt” as
    follows:
    “hunt verb. 1 chase and kill a wild animal for sport or food. 2
    try to find by thorough searching. 3 chase and capture
    someone.”

    So you MAY be right - it doesn't mention flushing and stalking - maybe they are not Hunting as defined by the law. So it could be that the Hunts CAN flush and stalk wild mammals.

    However - the courts ruled that Searching - which is clearly within the ordinary meaning of the word "hunting" ISN'T hunting. So we now know that not only is the term not fully defined but also that it does NOT include ALL the ordinary meanings of the word 'hunting'. Quite which ones it does and doesn't include is at least to some extent a matter of guesswork.

    To complicate matters further the Act itself also states that Flushing out of cover and stalking are exempt hunting - now it's very hard to see how they can be exempt hunting if they aren't hunting. If the Act said that paicking your nose in a public place was exempt hunting we'd have to conclude that as far as the law was concerned it was hunting and moreover that the definition in the law wasn't just the Ordinary English Meaning.

    Driving out/away IS defined in some dictionaries as Hunting - this is what the Government used in the Human Rights case (which they 'won') to argue that I was hunting and therefore would have to shoot all the flushed animals to exempt my activity. However seeing as the Police are extremely loathe for pretty obvious reasons to take any action whatsoever on this matter it is extremely unlikely that we will ever know for sure.

    The upshot of all this is that I can openly and deliberately:
    search for
    stalk
    flush
    flush out
    chase
    pursue
    chase away
    drive out
    drive away
    shoo away
    cajole,
    harass
    scare

    as many wild mammals with as many dogs as I like and there is nothing whatsoever that can be done about it.

    That's just the way it is I am afraid - if you don't like it suck it up.

    Don't worry too much though - I'm a good judge of what is and isn't cruel and I'm not cruel.

    Whether you, the Government, MPs or anyone else thinks I am cruel or not is completely irrelevant.

    I hope that fully clarifies the situation.

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    1. Nobody would ‘trust the judgement’ of someone convicted of stalking and sustained harassment over a number of years, who, even after being warned numerous times, persisted with it. The only person you’re trying to convince here is yourself. You really should seek help.

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  15. I've found that HSA article Giles

    It says..

    Exemption 1: Stalking and Flushing Out
    This exemption allows people to use dogs to stalk or flush wild
    mammals out of cover in order to shoot them.

    They don't make it clear if you can flush out in order NOT to shoot them.

    Looking up the actual law - it says:

    Stalking a wild mammal, or flushing it out of cover, is exempt hunting if the conditions in this paragraph are satisfied.

    It's quite clear from the above that if the conditions are not satisfied (including that the deer are shot) then stalking and flushing out are not exempt hunting.

    However I can see that this could be interpreted as saying that if the conditions aren't met then stalking and flushing out isn't exempt hunting.

    This would mean that you could perfectly legally stalk and flush out deer with a full pack of hounds. It wouldn't NEED exemption for the simple reason that it isn't hunting.

    That would seem a slightly crazy way of interpreting the law.

    You'd really have to apply the same logic to all the exemptions if you did that - in which case you'd have basically trashed the entire law.

    Or maybe the conditions are to be applied in different ways. So for example if you don;t meet condition 5 (shooting all the deer) then you wouldn't have to meet any of the other conditions because it's not hunting - but if you DO meet condition 5 then you must meet all the other conditions.

    It's a very badly drafted piece of legislation. It really beggars belief that it is so appallingly bad.

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  16. Shooting the deer clearly would be a gross injustice so it’s clearly justified for me not to shoot them.

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  17. “If that we’re the case, why did Giles have such strong links with the Countryside Alliance” I don’t have strong links with the countryside alliance I am friendly with one person there who agrees that I should no have to shoot the Deer I use my pet dog to flush

    Breaking the hunting act is my human right

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  18. 99% of the messages I posted we’re challenging the hunting act. I was the subject of a hit job by a high profile person and his dodgy contacts in Herts police.

    They hate me flouting the hunting act but they know they can’t stop me doing that.

    Lies were spouted from the witness stand. That is a far worse crime .

    Breaking the hunting act openly helps fight insistent bigoted fascists at the heart of the legal system.

    @&£& them and £)&@ their tawdry bigoted law. I will never comply with the hunting act.

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  19. No police officer would dream of prosecuting me for breaking the hunting act so just forget it

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  20. Excellent.

    The principle difference between drag hunting and trail hunting, is that hounds trained for drag hunting won't follow Fox or other animal trails, because the scent is no an animal scent, but something like aniseed. Whereas so called "trail hunts" use animal urine trails such as Fox urine, so that if they pick up the trail of an actual Fox, they will follow that. This is quite deliberate. The hunts know that if they trained their hounds only to follow non-animal scents, that they wouldn't follow Foxes and would soon become useless for Fox hunting/

    Trail hunting is purely a legalistic contrivance to hunt illegally. Most of those taking part in hunts don't pretend otherwise. It's only to the FC, NT, the police etc, that they use this contrivance. It is highly likely in many, or perhaps most cases, that the hunt have not actually laid down a trail, they just say they have to justify and legalize what they're doing.

    In other words, it is highly likely that "trail hunting" is not really a thing at all. In other words, no hunt who is pretending to go trail hunting is in fact trying to follow a trail, and their aim is to hunt Foxes. They will then claim that they didn't know the hounds were following a real Fox, and didn't notice when their hounds caught and killed a Fox until too late. In other words, the whole contrivance is disingenuous. It was like those so called legal high drugs which used to be sold in shops with the warning "not for human consumption", when the shops knew very well that the people buying them were intending to use them. However, as long as they could pretend to the contrary the law was circumvented.

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