Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt suspended after drone footage shows a fox being killed, sparking investigation and debate on hunting practices
The Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt has been suspended by its governing body after the release of drone footage which shows a pack of hounds killing a fox.
The footage, captured by North Dorset Hunt Saboteurs, was taken on 4th December and released to the hunt’s governing body, the British Hound Sporting Association (BHSA), and Channel 4 News last Thursday (25th January) – Click play on the video below to watch the full news report.
Before the footage was released to the public, the BHSA had announced its decision to suspend the hunt group. The Association’s statement says:
‘The BHSA are aware of the content of footage taken on 4th December. As a consequence, the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt and all BHSA members within the hunt were suspended from all hunting activities on the 24th January pending further investigation.
‘The incident has been referred to the Hound Sports Regulatory Authority who will open a disciplinary inquiry.’
One of the North Dorset Sabs, who was in attendance when the drone footage was taken, told the BV:
‘Although we are very pleased with the suspension and police investigation, we had really hoped that the presence of the drone would have stopped the hunt killing the fox.
‘Unfortunately, it seemed they were making so much noise and were so engrossed in chasing the fox that they didn’t notice it until it was too late. It’s a sickening insight into what goes on and very upsetting for us all that we couldn’t save this fox.’
First hand experience
Since the 2004 Hunting Act, it has been illegal to knowingly chase live animals with dogs; guilty parties found breaking this law can be issued a £5,000 fine. The BV contacted Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner, David Sidwick for comment on the case but were told that he ‘would not make comment on what is a current and ongoing police investigation.’
A report released last year by the League Against Cruel Sports collated ’621 cases of hunt havoc and 361 incidents of hunts being involved in suspected illegal hunting’. It found that the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt was the second-worst offending hunt in the country, with the South Dorset Hunt being the worst.
(Although the League Against Cruel Sports is an independent charity, its data is collated by the public and saboteurs, and results could be exaggerated or even falsified.)
However, The BV has spoken with one Sturminster Newton farmer who has first-hand experience of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt trespassing on his land and worrying his animals over many years.
Terence Fox had previously allowed the hunt to pass through his land until an incident in 1996. He said: ‘They [the hunt] stampeded our entire herd of dairy cattle across a narrow bridge and up to the farm, half a kilometre. These [were] pregnant animals, and animals in milk – our livelihood.
‘They were half a mile away and I called them back. The men came back and they surrounded me on horseback. It felt threatening.
‘That was really the beginning of the end.’
Since that moment, the 60-year-old farmer says that the hunt has been ‘antagonistic and destructive’ towards both himself and his farm. ‘We were advised to put a number of cameras around because of their behaviour, which we’ve now done.’
Mr Fox prides himself on the biodiversity of his farm. He added: ‘It’s very distressing, when you have a wildlife-friendly farm, to have a whole pack of hounds killing.’
He went on to explain how a wild animal was killed during a period of two hours the hunt spent on his land:
‘We heard it die that day. It screamed like a baby.’
After seeing the North Dorset Sab’s drone footage of the incident for which the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt has been suspended, Mr Fox said that it was, in his opinion, ‘appalling’.
He added: ‘I hope they get brought to book for it. And it’s about time these people were brought into line.
‘The Hunting Act might be ambiguous, but threatening behaviour, anti-social behaviour, aggravated trespass, criminal damage and killing wildlife with dogs are all illegal – and they’re not in the least ambiguous.’
A critical moment
The BV has approached the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt and various members for comment, but they have been advised not to comment during the ongoing investigation.
One organisation that did speak to The BV was the Countryside Alliance, which works alongside hunts and the BHSA as an external public relations firm.
A spokesperson for the Alliance said that ‘there have been just a handful of hunts prosecuted since the Hunting Act came into force almost 19 years ago’. They added: ‘It is estimated that around 12,000 days of lawful hunting activities take place across the country each season … demonstrating that the majority of hunting days are conducted within the law.’
Hunts are lawfully allowed to go out on what are known as trail hunts. This is the practice of using a pack of hounds to follow a scent of animal urine, typically fox, that is laid in advance – the trail.
‘If hounds accidentally deviate from the trail that has been laid for them and start following the scent of a live quarry, it is the responsibility of the huntsman and hunt staff (those assisting the huntsman), to stop the hounds immediately.’
The Alliance stressed that the General Election due to take place this year marks a dangerous time for the future of hunting. They said: ’There is political change in the air and Labour are currently hot favourites to win.
‘This represents a critical moment for hunting. So now, more than ever, it is crucial that hunts are able to openly demonstrate that their lawful hunting activities are legitimate and that they are operating to the highest standards at all times.
‘Throughout the festive period there was incredible coverage nationwide … as ever with the media, however, bad news always spreads faster than good news.’
When the 2004 Hunting Act came into force, hunts moved over to trail hunting to ensure that hunts such as the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale could continue. The Alliance says that ’the trail hunting community across Dorset and beyond is still thriving.
‘Trail hunting has enabled hunts that were impacted by the Hunting Act to adapt their practices while still retaining their infrastructure, ensuring a future for their hounds and horses as well as careers for the hunt staff. The continuation of trail hunting also ensures that other, related, businesses – such as farriers, horse breeders, feed merchants and horsebox manufacturers – will still benefit too.
‘Trail hunting plays an important role within communities, bringing together people from all walks of life and of all ages who enjoy following hounds. Whether following on horse or on foot, hunt supporters benefit widely from the positive physical and mental well-being that hunting generates. Social interaction plays a key role too, particularly for those who are from isolated or remote rural areas.’