HSA news release 30th June 2003

Putting the CON in Conservation

Same bloodsport, different package - Hunt Saboteurs Association highlights attempt to mislead Parliament

The Hunt Saboteurs Association has revealed that the bloodsports fraternity are trying to dress up hunting as conservation in what it believes is an attempt to mislead members of the House of Lords when they consider the Hunting Bill currently making (very slow) progress through Parliament. A newsletter published by the Council of Hunting Associations (CHA) in April 2003 has revealed that the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AMHB) now requires each of its hunts to appoint a 'Conservation Officer'.

Harriers and beagles hunt hares, a species that has suffered population decline to the extent that it has its own Species Action Plan as part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan to increase numbers. Numbers, however, are still in decline and as the Wildlife Trusts submission to the Burns Inquiry revealed: "There is no conservation reason for controlling hares in mainland Britain. In fact, precisely the opposite is true."

The Hunt Saboteurs Association believes that AMHB is concerned with the survival of their sport, not conservation, and this move has been made in an attempt to deceive members of the House of Lords and convince them that hare hunting is a matter of preservation rather than persecution. This could be dismissed as conjecture, but we feel an editorial in the December 2002 edition of Hounds magazine reveals the true motive behind the appointment of 'Conservation Officers': "..perhaps their lordships might give greater thought to the debate if the staghound title was left out and the Exmoor Deer Management Group could be based at Exford, the Quantock Deer Management Group at West Bagborough and the Mid-Devon Deer Management Group at Worlington. The Taw Vale Hare Conservation Group are getting listened to in a completely different way to the Taw Vale Beagles, through just a name change."

The move to appoint 'Conservation Officers' and repackage hare hunting came 4 months after this article appeared.

The Taw Vale Beagles were established as a hare hunt in 1962 when they were founded by a Master of the Dartmoor Otterhounds. However, between the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 editions of Baily’s Hunting Directory their name had been changed to 'Taw Vale Beagles & Conservation Group'. The hare hunt had changed its name in order to repackage itself as a conservation body. However, its principle activity is still that of hunting hares. It is interesting to note that it was founded by a Master of Otterhounds, whose activities contributed to the demise of so many Otters at a time when the Otter population was under extreme pressure. Otter hunting ceased at about the same time they were afforded protected status to prevent their disappearance from the British countryside. An internal Countryside Alliance communication has been intercepted confirming that the Lords is where the hunting fraternity will focus their attention. Published on the day that the Commons vote was announced it states: "There will also be a campaign of letter writing to the House of Lords - all hunts, groups and clubs have had preliminary instructions".

The attempts to dress up hunting as conservation do not only apply to hare hunts. The CHA or the Countryside Alliance may point to a recent study published by the University of Kent that claims to show that there are links between fox hunting and conservation. However, the study was funded by an organisation whose directors are prominent supporters of the Heythrop Hunt which casts a considerable shadow of doubt over the findings.

It is no secret that fox hunts maintain 'coverts'. Dotted about the British countryside are many small woods that are maintained by hunts, many of which are complete with man-made underground chambers designed to encourage foxes to breed. The existence of 'artificial earths', as they are known, is an undisputed fact. In June 1998 two fox cubs were found encaged in an artificial earth with food scraps left for them in a wood belonging to the Sinnington Hunt. In June 2000 an employee of the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt was filmed leaving food for foxes at an artificial earth.

In recent days, it has been revealed how earlier this year an employee of the Cottesmore hunt had placed fox cubs into a recently constructed artificial earth in a covert 'conveniently situated' for the hunt’s Opening Meet.

HSA Spokesperson Nathan Brown said "Dressing up hunting as a conservation activity is laughable. Even if the level of conservation carried out by hunts could be shown to be significant, such activities cannot be used as a justification for animal cruelty. Would dog fighting or badger baiting be allowed if the participants went out and planted a few trees? Of course not! So why should people who hunt foxes, hares, deer and mink be allowed to carry out acts of animal cruelty in exchange for maintaining woodland? True conservationists, such as the Wildlife Trusts and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, carry out their work through a genuine desire to conserve wildlife areas, not in return for the right to torture and kill the wildlife that lives within those areas."

The hunting fraternity are also implicated in environmental damage. For example, the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt was responsible for killing 10,000 crayfish when chemicals used to treat mange on their foxhounds polluted a river.

A gallery of artificial earths is available on the HSA website.