Guest Blog: Fox Hunt off Malvern Hills

Fox Hunts finally off the Malvern Hills?

The recent ‘Hankinson verdict’ was a fantastic outcome alone, but also had the knock-on effect of encouraging organisations to suspend hunting licences on their land. What these organisations mostly have in common, however, is existing pressure on them to do so, from locals speaking out to full-on campaigns working to highlight hunt activities. The Malvern Hills Trust (MHT) are one example. Formerly the Malvern Hills Conservators, they are a registered charity managing 3,000 acres of common land in Malvern, Worcestershire. The Croome and West Warwickshire (CWWH) use some of the land for hound exercise in the late summer months, but it was the Ledbury Hunt which would frequent the area several times a season. Will, from Fox Hunt off Malvern Hills, explains how the campaign to stop fox hunts using the land began…

“When I first started sabbing & monitoring in 2013 with Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs, I was amazed to find that the MHT had been allowing the Ledbury Hunt to use their land, presumably since their creation in 1884 and through the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004. I found the hunting shocking as it seemed in complete contradiction with both the Trust’s principles of wildlife and landscape conservation and quotes from their own website: ‘We strive to manage this land for the benefit of wildlife, the commoners, the local community and the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Hills each year’. I’d compare it, in my view, to a regional wildlife trust letting the hunt use their land – a very different situation from a woodland or heritage organisation doing so.”

In August 2016 Three Counties Sabs contacted the MHT regarding the Ledbury Hunt’s recent activities: terriermen (who were not permitted on the land) found at badger setts, horses ridden on paths with clear “No Horse Riding” signs, hounds running loose on historic monuments. We were brushed off…

“Early responses from the Trust regarding the hunt’s activities on the land were dismissive, suggesting simply that we report any illegalities to the police – or questioning whether we as a group were allowed on the land without applying for an event licence ourselves. This was infuriating given how obvious and obnoxious the hunt’s activities were, breaking multiple byelaws during every visit. As we were present fairly regularly, we soon realised there were many unhappy locals & wildlife enthusiasts. This inspired me to start a campaign about the local issue, uploading photographs to a facebook page specifically of hunting – and associated bad behaviour – on the common land and private land close around. This inspired a higher volume of people to take interest in the single issue and to contact the Trust about their concerns. I realised the power that good photographs held as suggestive evidence and raising public awareness with likes, comments and shares online.

We looked into the MHT byelaws and tried to evidence when the hunt was breaching them (which was frequently as they were absolutely cocky) which helped our cause. Examples of these include:

– hounds out of control or unaccompanied

– hounds disrupting wildlife or grazing animals (both when under control and out of control)

– foxes running from the hounds

– quad bikes on the land

– terriermen being present

– the hunt using areas of hills and woodland they weren’t allowed in

– the hunt clearly not following trails

– bad parking of vehicles and damage caused

– hunt riders using footpaths and tracks off-limits to horses

Three Counties Sabs were good at gathering and releasing evidence, but they also covered many hunts and locations… whereas my page was locally focused and harder to ignore.”

By May 2017 the MHT were writing to Fox Hunt off Malvern Hills, Three Counties Sabs, LACS, CWWH, the Ledbury Hunt and a bloodhound pack, with a proposed ‘Hunting Statement and Trail-Hunting Policy’. We made various comments regarding the efficacy of proposals, which were taken on board, and the Ledbury Hunt were incredibly opinionated about the effect such a policy would have on them. Highlights included being adamant that they had not used quadbikes or terriermen in the previous season (the MHT responding that they had gathered contradicting evidence of this themselves), arguing that the only time byelaws would be breached was if hunt staff intentionally allowed hounds to hunt (imagine telling on yourselves like that!) and suggesting that it was not necessary for MHT wardens to monitor hunt meets…

The policy, in essence, outlined requiring prior permission to hold a meet, not loitering in coverts where wildlife could be disturbed and submitting a route of where a trail would be laid in advance – hardly unreasonable! The policy was authorised by the Trust in October 2017.

“After some pressure and raised awareness, the Trust sent out staff to monitor the hunt whenever they used the land, even when they turned up without prior warning, to the outrage of farmers and dog-walkers. This may have been the beginning of the path towards suspending permissions as staff and management saw for themselves the lack of trail and evidence of actual fox hunting – amongst other issues. They also saw that we weren’t crazy extremists causing chaos – and began to take us and our activities more seriously – becoming aware that hundreds of local people supported the cause. We don’t know what was going on before this, total denial maybe? See nothing, hear nothing? How many foxes were severely disturbed and killed on that common land before any action began? I don’t like to think.

The Trust temporarily suspended hunting after the MFHA webinar leak. With the result of the Hankinson trial and National Trust vote the MHT suspended all hunting permissions indefinitely – I’m sure we would have got there eventually, but those events were great catalysts in bringing about this decision”.

Pre-Christmas update…

*** Croome and West Warwickshire cancel Christmas town centre meets due to Covid * Cotswold hunt sabbed and sabs attacked as blocked setts found ***

A quick round up of the last 2 days:

The Croome and West Warwickshire were at Spitten Farm on 21st December and hunting around the Lenches, a sab was keeping an eye on them for a while and checked some nearby setts, none were tampered with and were active. Sadly, we expect this to become a new cull zone next year which should be the last year of new licences. This hunt were due to meet at Upton on Christmas Eve, Pershore on Boxing Day and Alcester New Year’s day, all big meets with big crowds. They have decided to cancel these meets due to the rise of Omicron and have been responsible in that regard, we hope that other hunts follow their example. They may well meet nearby in each area and hunt though, so please keep alert if you live in those areas. last year they met near Broughton on Boxing Day.

Yesterday, 22nd December, we met up with Mendip Hunt Sabs Bristol Hunt Saboteurs and Cirencester Illegal Hunt Watch to sab the Cotswold Hunt in Laurie Lee country Jones Slad farm. The hunt did very little until 15.00 either huntsman Guy Fitzearle drawing blank or seeing sabs well positioned and then going elsewhere, as the field stood around chatting…..lots!

This all changed when they drew some unnamed coverts just north of Giants Stone. Sabs stopped hounds on one fox but they picked up again and some of the field tried to grab cameras. Another sab was pushed away from one covert by 2 mounted followers who claimed to be the landowners, one tried riding into sabs and another grabbed a sab’s wrist turning the camera off. The reason for them being so annoyed might have been the fact that a few meters away there was a badger sett which had been freshly blocked.

At first the sett was though to be dead and blocked so many times that the badgers had died or moved away, however a clod of earth showed fresh roots and other clods were found down 2 sett entrances. Funnily enough the riders had referred to sett blocking as part of the badger cull even though sett blocking is not part of the licence to cull and without a licence it remains an offence (imprisonable for up to 6 months) to interfere with a badger sett without a licence. Also the culling period for this area, Gloucestershire 29, is over. The licence has expired for this year. They need to work better on their excuses!

17th December ’21 – Ledbury Hunt

With Mendip Hunt Sabs.

Gloucestershire police were out for most of the day. First was the extended breakfast meet with “esteemed guests” apparently. David Redvers, joint master, gave a speech which was interesting. He was not happy that the police were present to monitor both sides, nor was he happy about the campaign to stop the Ledbury hunt meeting in Ledbury town centre on Boxing Day. A “tiny minority” are going to ruin things for them so they all had to be on their best behaviour he said. Anyone Holloa’ing a fox would be sent home forthwith! … apparently.

The “esteemed guests” were up from the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale in Dorset, a hunt regularly filmed breaching the Hunting Act. Anyway, things deteriorated as the day went on.

First port of call was Rudford where they drew bank and then on to Tweenhills so the field could jump very high jumps very fast. Hounds were put into Carter’s Grove with one lot staying in covert and the other heading towards Corse End. There may well have been a brace of foxes. One came past sabs, his line sprayed with citronella running south towards Hartpury college.

Then on to Limbury Hill, a couple of hounds were rated off of one fox and we went to Blackwell’s End in the car. One hound was left behind and nearly got run over by a white van and we were in a bit of gridlock. It was then that we noted huntsman, Mark Melladay, come past us. Then his whipper in. As for the entire pack… nowhere to be seen for nearly half and hour we followed them on the road as they tried to find the pack. Eventually they did but kept calling for stragglers for some time. This is terrible because the hounds only think of one thing, hunting a fox. They are not savvy about big roads and could get into all sorts of trouble upsetting animals in fields, villagers, causing accidents, getting hurt or killed themselves. It was a relief when at 14.50 we saw that they had managed to find most of the hounds.

The land at the back of Limbury is impassable on a horse or quad due to wire, a river and other obstacles. They then went through Water’s Meet, Foscombe and Wickridge Lane, boxing up in the dark at Stonebow Farm Ashleworth.

A few setts were also checked in the dark what with this being Gloucestershire badger cull zone one and the Ledbury being known to block setts.

3rd December ’21 – Ledbury Hunt

Ledbury Town Council made the decision on Thursday night to allow the Ledbury to continue with their Boxing day meet. This morning one of us was on BBC Hereford and Worcester as were Ledbury Anti Fox Hunt. From the hunt Joint Master Edward Phillipson Stow tried to gaslight everyone by saying that they were following a trail, that they employed several “professional trail layers” and so forth… (not that we have ever seen). Bizarrely there were concerns that if there was no hunt that every shop in Ledbury would go bankrupt as well as “tradition”.

Well, fox hunting traditions stem from the Norman invasion in 1066 and have been enjoyed by generations of those who have crapped all over human rights, been slavers and oppressors. Maybe it is time for a much older tradition, one that goes much further back, one where we view our own species as one of many, part of the natural world with responsibilities and obligations to one another and all living beings. To not regard other sentients as something to use, abuse, discard and obliterate.

To our knowledge no one is protesting about drag and clean boot hunts so maybe the Ledbury should have a think about that…

The meet in Forthampton was confirmed and a sab checked a sett that is always blocked and indeed it was once again with fresh bootprints and spade marks. The hunt were found drinking port which probs helped them to listen to Edward’s speech about sticking together, about being under pressure and instilling the horror of no hunt meet in Ledbury for them. Spooked indeed due to a local campaign and fb page something to be noted by anyone else who wants to do something to stop hunts getting away with fox hunting.

There was some too’ing and fro’ing in the fields before they moved on to Chaceley Hole where a fox ran past a sab. The hunt went elsewhere ending up messing about in the wood pile at Town Street farm yet again. An early finish at 15.30. Two local activists read about the hunt on fb and came out to help. Another local person was also out filming.

1st December ’21 – NCH

They were first up Meon Hill. Now very often there are questions regarding how we tell the difference between fox hunting and trail hunting. Trail hunting simply does not exist. Drag hunting and clean boot hunting do. Drag is where hounds hunt a smelly thing dragged from a horse / quad / whatever / whoever. Clean boot is hunting a consenting human being with hounds, usually bloodhounds.

The North Cotswold Hunt do use this smokescreen for illegal fox hunting in the form of a man on a motorised bike with faux fox ears. Not believed for the following reasons :

  1. The hounds show no interest in where he has been at all.
  2. As can be seen from the picture he didn’t get a trail in that gorse or on that steep incline. Nor should he have done. The huntsman should not be encouraging them into gorse or any other thick covert.
  3. The NCH block badger setts, much less than they did but we are still finding them.
  4. They also hunt and kill foxes. They dig them out, bolt them from drains and artificial earths, chase them into badger setts and earths.
  5. Stalkers. If they were following a trail we would observe it a few times, do spot undercover checks and then leave them to it. So why have they got a rota of people to follow sabs and monitors wearing hi viz, making noise and in communication with hunt staff?

The “trail layer” did show the sab’ out today the substance used, but he did not know what it was… They went into Kiftsgate Court, back to Meon and then back to Kiftsgate. Last time we were this way they boxed up at Hidcote Manor owned by the National Trust but not today!

19th November ’21 – Ledbury Hunt

As this is Gloucestershire cull zone one, a few setts were checked for blocking and cull activity. A suspected bait point was found and some historical spade marks around old setts that are now rabbit warrens but also some setts surviving in this the 9th year of culling.

We caught up with the hunt at Dobshill farm and then they went into Gadbury Bank, an old hill fort. Hounds hunted from there across the B4208 and were seen in some gardens. The huntsman Mark Melladay tried to find the fox in some hedgerows but to no avail before taking hounds back up the B4208 and to Eldersfield.

They finished up at Pigeon House Farm in the fading light trying to find a fox first in a small covert full of brambles and then in an old shed full of brambles, they failed and went into the farm.

16th November ’21 – CVFH

*** Hounds hunt a fox into an active badger sett * Gloucestershire police attend and monitor the hunt ***

There was the usual speech at the meet about “trails”, yet within 10 minutes a fox had been found, hunted and gone to ground in a well known active badger sett. “Marking” is when the fox has escaped down a hole and the hounds cannot get to him. They usually make a lot of noise about it and try and dig the fox out themselves. Not that they would have any chance here, far too big. However, terriers and spades can and often do dig foxes out and badgers also die. The quad was a few feet from the sett with the terrier man masked up.

Matthew Vatter, huntsman, and Alice, whipper in, did the right thing and called the hounds out. The terrier man waved and followed them. If a sab’ had not been present there is a possibility that the sett would have been interfered with. This is in Gloucestershire badger cull zone one currently in the 9th year of culling. Hounds rioted on deer shortly afterwards but were gathered up and spent the rest of the day in big woods. Gloucestershire police were infirmed regarding the illegal hunting and attended shortly afterwards and stayed in the area monitoring the hunt. Some time was spent on May Hill, managed by the National Trust.

Last seen they were in Newent woods with some hounds doing their own thing…

13th November ’21 – NCH

*** North Cotswold Hunt chase fox, kill Muntjac and block a badger sett ***

They met at Springhill and drew blank around the meet. They then ran to the quarries where the hunted a fox around there and on to Toad Corner.

At Hornsleasow a fox ran past one sab’ despite a stalker trying to head him away from the camera. The pack was stopped by the sab cracking their whip and rating them back, but they were encouraged on by hunt chairman Jamie Smith. They hunted through the farm and the fox ran a circle and was subsequently believed killed in a field at Kitehill as hounds were displaying typical behaviour upon our arrival.

The whipper-in ran in and whipped the hounds off the corpse; he threw the body over a wire fence before clambering over himself and running away. After looking the footage it is believed that the corpse is in fact Muntjac deer – at what point the hounds fully lost the scent of the fox and picked up on the poor deer’s line, we do not know. But it is yet another example of a hunt either failing in being able to control their hounds, or intentionally hunting – which is it NCH? Intentional hunting or dangerous lack of control?

One badger sett was found freshly blocked, yet another sign that someone wanted to prevent foxes from escaping during the hunt. This is in a Gloucestershire badger cull zone.

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11th November ’21 – Ledbury Hunt

*** 5 blocked badger setts * One dug out sett * Loose horses and road chaos ***

We were joined today by Mendip Hunt Sabs. The first hour before the meet was spent sett checking. Some setts looked active, healthy and not tampered with, but 2 others were filled in with soil and the tell-tale fresh spade marks.

As they drew bank towards Upton we found that a sett had been dug out but it looked like it had been done a few weeks ago. Badger baiters or hunt, we don’t know.

We ended up in a nearby landlocked area with the owner, a happy chap called Mark, not too happy with us being there. Well, with 3 freshly blocked setts on his land, an illegal fox hunt in progress, 2 loose horses having the time of their lives galloping round after getting rid of their riders and sabs filming it all he simply had to call the police.

But what was the number? What could it be?

Telling the police that if we were male that we would get a beating probably was not the most clever thing to say. And the Badger Act 1992 applies in cull zones so it’s up to 6 months in prison for those who dig out setts or block them… Mark didn’t know this so we were glad to be of service. Bless! They hunted a fox away and a Mendip sab’ stopped hounds on another fox.

Then it was onto the B4211 with huntsman Mark Melladay actually trying to pick up the fox in the dusk, holding up cars as quads raced past on blind bends…