It’s time for change and for hunting laws to be strengthened to end fox hunting once and for all.
Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame has been criticised as his brewing company continues to sponsor the Cocklebarrow Races in Gloucestershire despite staff at organisers Heythrop Hunt being snared in criminal prosecutions.
The Heythrop Hunt held an important point-to-point fundraiser on Sunday 21st January and continues to employ a huntsman with a string of hunting convictions to his name.
Huntsman Chris Woodward was convicted three times last year for offences linked to hunting, including allowing his hounds to chase and kill a fox.
Jeremy Clarkson, the former BBC television presenter, produces Hawkstone Larger, which is among the sponsors of the Cocklebarrow Races in Gloucestershire, which directly funds the hunt’s continuing operations. He has also previously been photographed attending the annual event.
Emma Judd, head of campaigns at national animal charity the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “The veneer of respectability accorded to this fundraising event by hunt supporters masks a world of criminality and animal cruelty.
“The vast majority of the public are appalled by the brutal world of fox hunting and the attempts by fox hunts to deceive the public about their cruel activities are increasingly being exposed.”
Heythrop huntsman Woodward was convicted in October last year of hunting a wild mammal with dogs. The magistrate’s chairman, Nigel Gilkes, told Woodward he was an experienced huntsman who knew his pack and had "deliberately allowed them to pursue the fox" while he was in charge of the Wynnstay Hunt.
He was fined £525 and ordered to pay costs and a surcharge – a total of £1,375 for the incident which took place last January. Woodward, 39, was also convicted in 2023 for blocking a badger sett, a practice which is used to prevent foxes fleeing underground so they can be hunted and which can result in badgers suffocating. He received a £500 fine plus £200 victim surcharge and £85 costs.
And he also admitted riding his horse at a hunt monitor and threatening to kill him, which resulted in him receiving 200 hours of community service, being fined and losing his firearms licence.
Chief superintendent Matt Longman, England’s most senior police officer in charge of fox hunting crime, has described illegal fox hunting as “prolific” and says the law needs “revisiting”. He highlighted that the excuse of ‘trail’ hunting used by hunts is a “smokescreen” for the continued illegal persecution of animals.
Ms Judd added: “Whether it be senior police officers or animal welfare charities the message is the same – it’s time for change and for hunting laws to be strengthened to end fox hunting once and for all.
The Hunting Act 2004 came into force in England and Wales in February 2005, and outlawed hunting with hounds. However, its many loopholes and the invention of so-called ‘trail’ hunting, described by the police as a smokescreen for illegal hunting, means it needs to be strengthened or replaced with more robust legislation.
In 2021, Mark Hankinson, director of the Masters of Foxhound Association, was found guilty of an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007. He tells a private webinar that 'plausible' trail hunting can be used as a 'smokescreen' for illegal hunting of foxes. Read the full story here.
Emma concluded: “Strengthening the Hunting Act 2004 and tougher penalties for convicted fox hunters needs to be a priority for the next government.”
A spokesperson for Hawkstone told The Ecologist: "We will not be making a comment at this time."
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is in part based on a press release from the League Against Cruel Sports.