Sunday 15 March 2015
"Hunts flaunt the fact that they can still kill foxes," said Bev as she pulled a black snoodie up over her mouth and nose so only her eyes could be seen.
The council worker from Angus is a hunt saboteur with Perthshire Hunt Sabs and the group allowed the Sunday Herald to join them – on condition of anonymity – as they monitored the actions of Fife Foxhounds on a blustery day in the countryside. The day began with a stakeout at a farm with dog kennels near the village of Ceres, in order to find out where the hunt would start. Dressed in combat trousers and black hoodies, nine sabs in four vehicles sought to tail a van carrying hounds and horses to the hunt’s meeting point.
"Some hunts keep their meets secret so the aim is to follow the hound van or horse boxes. But they sometimes send decoys and block roads so we can’t follow them so it’s all a bit of a game. But why bother to go to all this trouble if they are hunting legally?" said Bev who was joined by an offshore oil worker called Colin sporting an Animal Liberation Front hat, and activists from Grampian Hunt Sabs and Glasgow Hunt Sabs.
This is their first season ‘sabbing’ in response to allegations – denied by hunts – that the law was being broken, with foxes being torn apart by dogs rather than shot by hunters as the law permits, and they were well organised deploying maps, mobile phones, camcorders and walkie-talkies. They also had a list of car registration numbers of hunt members’ vehicles and some carried diluted citronella (an essential oil) in plastic bottles to spray on the ground to mask a fox’s scent.
Around 9am, the hound van was seen leaving the farm so the sabs set off in pursuit. They tailed in four vehicles and for the next hour we witnessed a chase through Ceres, Craigrothie and Springfield as Fife Foxhounds tried to lose them. The sabs’ presence obviously irked Fife Foxhounds because at one point a huntsman stopped the van, jumped out and banged on the windows of a Ford Corsa behind him owned by the sabs. Eventually we arrived at Letham and the sabs split up to cover the hunt’s route. We accompanied Colin and Bev who climbed a hill overlooking Balmeadow Wood and Cunnoquie West Hill Wood.
Bev said: "The idea is to monitor and to save foxes. If the fox goes to ground we cover the hole so the hunt can’t send terriers down. If they deliberately set hounds after a fox, and have no intention of shooting it, then that’s breaking the law. But their get out of jail free card is by saying hounds can accidentally kill a fox, when they don’t want them to."
Both Colin and Bev wear snoodies to conceal their identities because of a Facebook page called Ban Hunt Saboteurs where photos and personal details of people are posted. Bev said: "The hunters are getting quite aggressive about the face covering at the moment. But often you see terrier men masking up and putting snoods on as well. We want to protect our IDs as the people who enjoy killing animals, and watching animals being killed, are not usually the nicest people. We’ve personally not had anything but people down south suffer intimidation, property damage and even pets getting killed. Things like dead foxes being left on their doorsteps. We don’t want to face reprisals for what we are doing."
Just after noon we heard the sound of a hunting horn and Fife Foxhounds appeared in the distance, led by a rider wearing a red hunting coat. We watch for around 40 minutes and followed on foot and saw no gunmen. Although a fox was chased at one point later it went to ground and the sabs prevented terrier men sending down dogs. Fife Foxhounds said it acts within the law at all times. Bev and Colin said the Protection of Wild Mammals Act is useless. They also claimed that Police Scotland has little interest in investigating and that officers often seem to act as a "private security force" for hunts. Shortly afterwards Colin’s car was stopped by police in Letham who demanded our personal details while citing a "potential breach of the peace". This was after the Sunday Herald photographed the hunt on its return to the village.
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ManchesterHuntSabs
Direct Action Against All Forms of bloodsports