Sadly these reports are just the tip of the iceberg. We estimate that thousands of animals are still being killed every year, with more than 300 hunts on the British mainland still in existence and actively targeting wildlife.
Hunts are routinely breaking the law and their packs of hounds are still literally tearing to pieces British wildlife, according to the League Against Cruel Sports.
The animal welfare charity reports that it has received a total of 550 reports of illegal hunting activity and hunt havoc since the beginning of the hunting season last autumn.
This new set of figures reveals the extent to which hunts are illegally chasing - and in many cases, killing - foxes, hares and deer and causing disruption in the British countryside.
Tip of the iceberg
Chris Luffingham, the director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Despite hunting being banned 13 years ago, it seems very little has changed, with hunts targeting and killing animals and deceiving the British public about their activities with excuses like ‘trail’ hunting.
“Sadly these reports are just the tip of the iceberg. We estimate that thousands of animals are still being killed every year, with more than 300 hunts on the British mainland still in existence and actively targeting wildlife.”
A total of 405 reports of illegal hunting activity were received by the league over the course of the hunting season which began at the start of November and is currently drawing to a close.
A further 145 reports came in of ‘hunt havoc’ - which consists of incidents such as packs of hounds killing domestic pets, trespassing through people’s gardens and allotments and running onto busy roads and railway lines.
The majority of reports covered the four and a half months between November 2017 and the middle of March 2018. Reports of the hunting of young fox cubs which take place in early autumn were also included.
In total, the League received 550 reports, which came in from concerned members of the British public who contacted the League’s Animal Crimewatch team, league investigators who monitor the activities of the hunts, and independent hunt monitor and saboteur groups.
Mr Luffingham said: “A new term entered the English language after the hunting ban of 2004 – ‘trail’ hunting.
"This was touted by the hunts as a new pastime which involved following an animal-based scent rather than live quarry, but which mimicked traditional hunting as much as possible.
"In fact, it so closely mimics hunting; it has become clear it is a deception and cover-up for illegal hunting activity.
He added: “Hunts rarely lay a trail and even when they do it is a sham to mask their illegal hunting. Why are hunts routinely seen crossing railway lines, on busy roads or in people’s gardens if they are laying a trail? Why are they regularly being seen chasing wildlife? Why are there so many reports of animal deaths at the hands of the hunts?
“The public - more than 85 per cent of whom opposes hunting - would be horrified if they knew what was really going on in the British countryside and the cruelty and dreadful death toll the hunts are inflicting on wildlife.
“We are calling on landowners to ban hunts from their land and we need to strengthen the Hunting Act and bring in tougher sentencing to act as a deterrent.”
The League Against Cruel Sports cites the following examples of what they say is illegal hunting activity and so -called hunt havoc.
Illegal hunting activity
On January 9, 2018, the League claims one hunt chased a deer and a fox into the Celia Hammond Greenacres cat sanctuary near Hastings. They claim the hounds rampaged across the 80 acre sanctuary and initially 60 cats fled. Sadly five never returned and are feared dead.
The league also said the figures include 42 cases of cub hunting when the hunts blood their hounds in early autumn by surrounding known fox habitats in small woods. The practice involves driving the hounds through the woods so that they learn to kill.
The League said there have been 12 cases this year alone of a single hunt chasing foxes and causing hunt havoc, including the hunt being witnessed hunting on busy A-roads and next to a motorway, which it says presents a very real risk to the public and the hunt’s hounds, and points towards illegal hunting rather than following a genuine trail.
And the League says many hunts have been seen with terrier men, who accompany hunts and encourage their dogs to find, fight and flush out foxes that have gone underground, often in badger setts.
The involvement of terrier men with ‘trail’ hunts raises a serious question about their activities. The league claims the answer can only be that the hunts are still targeting and killing animals despite the fox hunting ban of 2004 and that trail hunting is a lie being used to cover their activities.
Mr Luffingham concluded: “The good news is the world is changing – advances in smart phone video cameras, new monitoring groups on Facebook, and the development of our Animal Crimewatch team, mean the public can report the hunts’ activities and we can go about bringing them to task.
"It’s time to get the hunts, not animals, on the run. The hunts are living on borrowed time.”
Catherine Harte is a contributing editor to The Ecologist. This story is based on a news release from the League Against Cruel Sports. The League is encouraging members of the public to sign their petition titled ‘stop the killing of animals by hunts in the UK’. Full details can be found here. The league also asks the public to report illegal hunting activity by contacting the League’s Animal Crimewatch Team via its website. Alternatively a confidential phone line is available on 01483 361 108 or they can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.