Here comes the hunt,in Land Rovers
|Even the grouse join in the celebration as hounds miss prey.|
A weekly appreciation of nature.
I've just been on the hill above Bleak House with a group
of boys from Tameside and two colleagues, after promising them a sighting
of red grouse and white hares before Christmas.
And even though it was pouring with rain, I had every confidence that we would secure our quarry. In fact, because it was raining the hares and the grouse were likely to be laying low and waiting for a break in the weather before venturing out for food making them even easier to find.
I said to the boys: "We'll probably be able to walk right up to them."
This is especially true of hare, as their white camouflage is rendered as useless as a chocolate fireguard when the snow has melted.
However things turned out a little differently than I expected. As we rounded the hill and approached Hey Edge, several groups of red grouse flew over us making a complete liar of me.
Thankfully, the boys' wet clothing and fast approaching low cloud occupied their minds and 'Wood on the Wildside's' reputation was still intact.
I thought perhaps a fox could have disturbed the grouse but said nothing and insisted that we would see the hares very soon.
For the first time ever - and I'm talking 20 years here there was not a hare to be found. But then carried on the wind, I heard the reason for the variety of wildlife, a baying pack of hounds rolling across the terrain like a billowing ribbon.
There were no huntsmen to be seen anywhere, obviously miles behind their charges, oblivious to the fact we were sharing the same hill.
Actually, it's my back garden and I don't like them in it.
As the boys were spread out down the hillside in front of me and the hounds were heading in their direction I had visions of nightmare headlines and shouted to them all to stand still. Then with perfect timing the biggest dog fox you ever saw sped in between the boys, who watched in amazement, while the hounds closed in.
As I shouted 'fox', making sure they all saw it, the fox stopped in his tracks and then shot off into the dark recesses of a crumbled old wall.
The boys stood still and the hounds passed by. The fox stayed here he was too and although one wily hound hung around for a minute or two he soon joined the unruly pack, off in the opposite direction.
The hounds were last seen racing back up the hill towards Moses Quarry and it was only then that we saw sign of their masters. They were all in Land Rovers, crawling up the stone track to the quarry. They probably kicked the hounds out on the Holmfirth road and followed them around until they could gain 'easy access' to the hillside.
Three cheers for the fox I say and long may he reign .As if to emphasise the point,a cock grouse broke the skyline and cackled in time with my broad smile. Foxes 1 hunters 0.
Sir - Re the letter from Mr Baxter who commented upon my
anti-hunting stance (Readers' views 25/3/99). I welcome readers' letters,
even those which contain reasoned criticism. Mr Baxter's letter unfortunately
contains none of that.
Unnatural position in food chain
SIR - Re: Anti-hunting letter (Readers' views 1/4199). I read
with amazement Sean Wood's statement that he 'would leave foxes alone'. It
seems a rather naive and idealistic opinion.
Still learning - about nature
SIR - Re: Countryman's letter - (Readers' views 22/4199). I
am still learning about country matters. However, after over 20 years of
writing about the natural world, both nationally and locally, and over 30
years of living in the countryside I feel reasonably qualified to respond
to your comments.
We have - a moral obligation
SIR - Re: 'unnatural position in food chain' (Readers' views
2914199). The correspondent is one of those with the misguided idea that
only country folk truly understand the ways of the country, and 'townies'
should keep their noses out.
Why not ask how we feel?
Lambs are killed for pleasure
SIR - I have been reading with interest the letters concerning
fox hunting. If the misinformed people who are writing would at least get
their facts correct they would find that the hunt in question is a 'foot
pack' and no horses or horsemen are in attendance. The hunt do a very important
job and in lambing time you can call them night or day to deal with a lamb
killer. The huntsmen will turn out at first light, often alone to deal with
the problem. As a sheep breeder, it isn't a pretty sight to walk onto the
field to find new born lambs with their heads off and left - as this is all
the fox does; Believe me, he does this for pleasure. Far from being a cute,
furry animal, the fox is a wanton killer whose numbers are increasing, mostly
in urban areas or areas where they cannot be hunted.
Fine the hunters
Terrier men are cruel
SIR - The baiting of bears and bulls was outlawed in this country
over 150 years ago, in 1835, yet in 1999 the hunting of animals with dogs
continues. Many people do not realise that though the actual hunting of the
fox is a cruel act in itself, it is the work of the-'terrier men' that involves
the most cruelty.
Stop fox 'murder' now
SIR - I would just like to say how horrified I am, and disgusted,
Why is it that we have to have murderers riding around our local countryside,
ripping beautiful foxes to bits simply for their perverted thrills. - Like
the majority of people, I am an animal lover and it really upsets me to think
people actually enjoy killing foxes. They're such lovely animals. We should
be caring and looking after our wildlife, otherwise, if everyone went around
killing our wildlife, we would end up with absolutely nothing. Fox hunting
or fox murder, as I call it, should be stopped now.
We have a choice
SIR - Re: 'Stop fox 'murder' now' (Readers' views 3/12/98).
The foxes have to be controlled, they may look lovely and nice but they do
considerable damage if, you have poultry.
Disgust at fox-hunters
SIR - My friend Diana Ingham and myself were absolutely horrified
when we went to Brushes reservoir for our usual weekend walk with our dogs,
to be met by the so-called men who murder foxes. The Pennine foxhounds pack
were parked in a public place unloading their dogs. As an animal-lover involved
in rescue, it never ceases to amaze me how cruel some people are.
Track down the humans
SIR - When the hunters have finally been convinced that there
is no place for killing animals for sport in a civilised society, they may
find themselves and their hounds at a loss.
The debate rages on over fox hunting in our countryside
It did not take long for the telephone to ring
after last week's article about foxhounds at Woodhead.
And I'm pleased to say most readers who took the time to call or write were right behind my strongly held views - that hunting foxes with dogs for fun is fundamentally wrong.
However, the first caller could not have disagreed more, he was a follower of the hounds in question and one could tell by his tone that he was up for an argument.
"Can I ask you a few questions?" he said.
"Certainly," I replied, "fire away."
"Firstly I'd like to know how you knew it was a dog fox because I don't know anyone who can distinguish the sexes in the field," he asked.
He was right, it is almost impossible to tell the difference, but he knew what I meant about having a 'feel' for these things after years of watching.
I pointed out that it was fairly conclusive also when I spotted the light brown fur on his scrotum. The hunt follower then went on to complain about biased coverage, even though last week's letters page had both correspondence for and against the hunting of animals. This fact did not seem to appease him, but I was calm and polite and even offered to print, word for word, his views in this week's Advertiser.
Unfortunately, as I write, these offerings have not been forthcoming, but true to my word, here is a quick rundown of his concerns.
He objected to my comment about dogs being 'kicked out' in Holmfirth Road. I explained that was a figure of speech - he explained huntsmen love their dogs and even went as far to say 'they eat and sleep with them' and they would never kick them out.
He was upset I said there were no huntsmen in sight. Well, I'm
sorry but that was true - I could see for approximately one mile and there
was no one except myself and my party on the hill.
The Land Rovers which appeared on the road to Moses Quarry
apparently contained 'elderly hunt followers who cannot follow on foot any
When I complained about the lack of notification of a hunt taking place, he asked if I had told anyone I was going for a walk!
I listened patiently and offered: "Let's face it, we are not going to agree, but surely that is no reason to fall out?"
I even told him that, unlike most wildlife writers, or indeed anti-hunt lobbyists, I had spent two years living at the Quorn Hunt Stables where my mother was the cook and could, therefore, understand both sides of the debate.
On a more positive note, John C Byle, of Hyde, responded to last week's mention of the white hares and he has sent me some of his father's notes on blue hares from 1937 which I will pass on to readers in the New Year. Mr Byle also mentioned the large numbers of lapwings wintering on the site of the old James North factory, in Market Street, Hyde.
|Death : A gibbet outside a gamekeepers cottage|
DURING the past couple of years I have received many letters
from the hunting fraternity, in which they have attempted to justify their
activities by sniping at my views on the subject.
I always reply, but in the end the letters contain two sets of opposing views without much concrete evidence. My protagonists probably believe what they say is true. But, I do think they turn a blind eye to the real evidence and indeed some of their number often flout the law in pursuit of old habits.
Where are my facts? Read on, for a random selection of the last 12 months abuse of our native fauna. In November last year a gamekeeper/falconer in Herefordshire, was fined £500 with £40 costs. This was for the illegal possession of two goshawks and the illegal possession of two barn owls.
When pressed the man claimed he had trapped the birds to reduce predation on his pheasants and that he planned to release them.
In January, two gamekeepers from Worksop pleaded guilty to the use of a trap baited with a live pigeon to trap birds of prey. Both men were fined a total of £2,000. In mitigation it was claimed the trap was to catch buzzards and sparrowhawks to reduce predation of pheasants.
All of these men are employed by wealthy landowners, who must surely know what their workers are doing on their behalf .
My protagonists would claim the gamekeepers were providing a service to the countryside. Oh yes...releasing hand reared pheasants into wild areas to be shot within months! One hardly needs to be a mastermind to understand that many landowners and their lackies have no intention of ever changing their outmoded methods at the behest of some, 'Johnny- come-lately conservationist.'
This photograph was taken outside a local gamekeeper's cottage within the last 10 years. It is a gibbet and used to demonstrate to the 'Master' that his orders were being obeyed. Evidence is available request, both location and a dated transparency, just in case anyone doubts my word.
You have your say on fox - hunting debate
Live and let live
|SIR - I find it odd that 'Country lover' compares himself
or herself with lions and other predators which kill to eat, or domestic
cats which still retain their instinct to kill in order to survive.
Indeed, he or she takes pleasure in exploiting this instinct in dogs to hunt for food, but he/she is not hunting for food. Foxes and mink are not eaten, and I doubt whether hares are either after the dogs have killed them. I have heard the argument that foxes are pests. That may or may not be true. I must say that I live fairly near countryside and I enjoy walking, yet I have never seen a fox running wild, so I find it difficult to believe that foxes are the problem that they are made out to be.
I also think that if a farmer has a problem with a fox, he can find an easier way of dealing with it than inviting the local hunt to search for it and kill it. Mink may be a problem in some areas, but hares? Surely this shy little animal is a threat to no-one. Why not hunt rabbits or rats? Of course it might be difficult to follow the dogs on horses, were they chasing rabbits or rats, and so I think that the joy of fox hunting perhaps has more to do with the joy of following hounds, on horseback.
Mrs Gwen Cooper, Spring Street, Hollingworth.
SIR - How absurd the comparison between fox-hunting and domestic cats killing birds and small mammals. For one thing, cat owners do not release live mice or birds among a - large group of cats which have been worked up into a frenzy, and then stand by and watch while they are worked up into a frenzy.
Secondly I do not call it a quick and humane way for a fox to die when it is chased to exhaustion, and then torn to shreds by a pack of snarling dogs. If foxes were a genuine nuisance to the countryside, then I'm sure Country Lover could find a more suitable way to provide this 'caring, free service' to landowners, instead of spending the vast amounts of money it takes to run a hunt.
L Costelloe, Danwood Close, Haughton Green, Denton.
SIR - Re: Country Lover (Readers' views 10/12/98). Has this self-acclaimed country lover ever been to, seen, or read about hare coursing? This 'sport' is where dogs are encouraged to chase a hare and, upon capture, tear it apart. Hardly the very quick kill he would have us believe - it inflicts a great deal of pain, terror and suffering for the hares.
I shall not comment on the ridiculous notion of the millions of small animals killed yearly by the cat population of this country, as this is just silly and irrelevant to the debate.
Regarding lions and wildebeest - to suggest that this is a 'ritual disembowelling' is preposterous. Wild animals do not perform ritual killings - this is a human invention, like foxhunting. One cannot equate the killing of one wild animal by another with the ritual of fox-hunting, whether or not the hunt ends with a death.
A wild animal does not have the freedom of choice that we human animals enjoy.[Really? -LB] Once again the idea that the fox is a pest and the huntsmen are a form of pest control is trotted out. This is just propaganda for the hunt. If hunting is an effective form of pest control, why is it taking so long to eradicate the pest?
Many huntsmen now admit in public that they hunt because they enjoy it. Perhaps 'Country lover' should acquaint himself with a copy of Wildlife Guardian, a paper put out by the League Against Cruel Sports. Just because something is classified as 'tradition' does not make it right - bear baiting and cock fighting were once socially acceptable.
I wonder if 'country lover finds bull fighting and the Fire Bull Festival of Spain acceptable? Surely we should accept that we share this planet with thousands of other creatures, who deserve the compassion and support of humans.
J Evans, Address supplied.
Sir - It seems quite a shaky plea is being put forward in favour of fox-hunting. To call hunting by lions 'ritual,' causing 'torturous' death is just as bad a case of anthropomorphism as to go emotionally overboard in empathising with the poor fox (a hunter himself).
I think the writer misses two points here:
We, on the other hand, do not have to eat fox at all. And while
I can vaguely sympathise with a farmer needing to shoot the foxes who kill
his fowl, this hunting for pleasure seems a typical 'human' trait.
|NATURAL selection: A golden eagle with a red fox|
Let me set the scene. Across the room from each other sit two
committees of diametrically opposed people: two posses of supporters for
one particular point of view: two gangs with not much sympathy for the philosophy
of the other. So what am I talking about? West Side Story? Dodge City? Kabul?
No, it is none of these, but rather the red and the blue corner of the fox
There is a threeday hearing on the subject in London for the minister, Alan Michaels, to hear both sides of the story and perhaps come up with some common ground. Some hope - no solution could ever please all sides and Mr Michaels may wish he was still in the Welsh Assembly when he contemplates the opening salvo from each group.
The pro-hunting lobby will claim that during the year when hunting was banned because of foot-and-mouth disease, the fox population doubled in some places.
The anti-hunting lobby will look to research by Bristol University which was comrnissioned by the RSPCA. The research was carried out in 150 locations during the same period and found that the fox population stayed the same.
Was it Bill? Or was it Ben?
I have always maintained that foxes expand when they can and decrease when they cannot; that urban foxes have always been with us and that the hunters often talk rubbish.
Their claim that the fox population has doubled beggars belief.
If this were the case, you would see foxes at traffic lights offering to clean our windows for the price of a day-old chick. Come on guys, get real.
Their arguments are tenuous enough as it is, but please! Doubled!
I hope this lengthy run-in will soon be concluded with a permanent ban., but don't hold your breath - the anti-hunt lobby has been knocked back at nearly every turn since 1949 when two private member's bills to ban or restrict hunting were rejected.
Since then the timetable of frustration wns as follows:
1992 A private member's bill by Labour's,Kevin McNamara to outlaw hunting with dogs fails.
1993 MP Banks fails to get Tony MPs to pass his abolition bill.
1995 MP John McFall's bill also fails.
1998 MP Michael Foster's bill runs out of time in the House of Commons.
2001 Lords reject a ban by 317 votes to 68.
I am not a cynic at all but when I mentioned the boxing metaphor of blue and red corners, I could of course have been talking about the Labour and Conservative parties, because that is where the divide is.
And it is no use, as the Countryside Alliance will do, denying this and pointing to the amount of gamekeepers, hunt workers and so on who are perhaps working class. They are.. not going to argue with their bosses, are they? And let us not forget that their bosses' in one form or another including the likes of Prince Charles, own most of the countryside in the United Kingdom.
This debate has kept me busy for over 20 years and just to annoy the 'other side' I will repeat my experience of understanding both sides, because for two years my mother was the cook at the famous Quorn Hunt Stables in Leicestershire.
Fox hunting is useless as a means of controlling foxes. However, when they do catch up with a fox, it meets a cruel death. Fact.[The Advertiser Sep19 2002]
Councillor glories in hunting ban
by Barbara Canning