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”.

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