Sixteen years after fox hunting with dogs was effectively banned in Scotland, shocking footage shows the brutal reality of hunts is still active.
The Protection of Wild Mammals Act (Scotland) 2002 was brought in banning fox hunting, although dogs are still allowed to be used to flush out foxes for pest control or to protect livestock and ground-nesting birds.
Since then campaigners have been calling for a total ban on fox hunting in Scotland claiming the act is insufficient providing loopholes which allows illegal hunts to continue without punishment.
Kevin Newell is a campaigner from the Grampian Hunt Saboteurs who goes to hunts with other activists to ensure they stay within the law.
He explained to UNILAD why he stands by this cause:
It still traumatises me today, it never leaves you. I remember seeing two cubs run out of the woodland and the mother ran behind them on this hill and she turned to face the hounds and as they came she just curled down and they ripped her to pieces.
It was horrific and that was nearly 15 years ago and it still hurts. It was the first time I saw a fox die.
The worry is if they repeal the act and make fox hunting legal again, it will just give fox hunters the green light to murder.
We are just everyday people who are sick and tired of those people getting away with it so we put ourselves, our liberty and our lives every weekend on the line to try and save these animals from these murdering psychopaths.
During her 2017 General Election campaign, British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was in favour of hunting and allowed a vote in parliament which would allow politicians to make a decision.
However, after the Conservatives were unable to secure their predicted parliamentary majority, the policy was dropped after being considered too controversial.
It brought the controversial activity back into discussion.
Many hunters support legalisation claiming the practice is essential to pest control and how they make a living.
This is certainly the case for one hunter who spoke anonymously to UNILAD.
He did admit though he enjoys the adrenaline rush of hunting:
What do we get out of it? A complete sense of freedom. It is unparalleled by anything else. We are countryside adrenaline junkies.
If a fox gets shot, I am not going to go have a whiskey on that, get a kick out of it. A fox is the most incredible animal.
People who come out hunting on the horses pay for it. They pay for a subscription. My job is to deal with the farmers, speak to them, make sure we have access, build fences and organise the day. That’s how I make my living.
You still have a generation of people so deeply invested in it, it’s in our blood and DNA. The tradition aspect would be making sure it is still there.
Unfortunately that fox is going to die whether it be us, a gamekeeper, a guy with a rifle, a lurcher.
If you have foxes undisturbed, they will just breed and breed and never run out of food. So you constantly just have to take the top of the fox population down.
Strictly against completely outlawing the practice, this hunter believes this is the worst decision as it will only ‘drive it underground’, arguing ‘you are not going to stop people’ from participating.
Joining Kevin as he tracks down several hunts, UNILAD discovered a fierce battle rages on in the countryside every day between huntsmen and activists as the debate continues.
On one occasion when Kevin tells the masters of the hunt it is illegal because they have no guns in place they don’t seem bothered; foxes must be shot to make it legal.
Soon a terrierman called Adam comes forward claiming they are within the law but the saboteurs are dangerously interfering being in the line of fire.
Kevin emphasises he is a member of the public and has a right to be there. He is in the line of fire because Adam has brought a firearm with him.
You can watch the full video here:
Eventually the hunt is called off, a success in Kevin’s eyes.
The events only reaffirm to him a complete ban is the only way forward:
They are getting away with it still. If you went to Edinburgh, lunged at someone with a loaded shotgun, you’ll be looking at seven to 15 years in prison if that.
Do it in the countryside, its absolutely fine. They get away with things here that wouldn’t be tolerated in towns and cities. I do think they think they are above the law and they act like they are.
Police admitted to us last year they have no idea how to enforce the law and if they were breaking the law the police would allow them to continue. They wouldn’t stop it.
We know what they are doing is nothing but a cover to their sick story of murdering a fox.
Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, disagrees saying ‘what we do in Scotland without contradiction, is pest control’.
Although he doesn’t ‘take the death of an animal lightly’, he claims the foxes are humanely killed by huntsmen in a practice where ‘there is no sporting element’.
Stewart believes some activists twist events for their own purposes stating:
I think something people need to understand is the law allows the control of wild mammals. This isn’t something done without legislation.
They have either a lack of understanding of the act or are making a deliberate attempt to influence politics.
The 2002 act requires certain things by law. It doesn’t require the master of the huntsmen to report to police in Scotland but they do so. So if anybody has any concern, if they phone up Police Scotland they are already aware the activity is ongoing.
They can within minutes be at the location. We have highly edited subjective narratives in the media which suggest illegal hunting but when investigated it turns out it’s compliant with legislation.
Saying fox hunting is only about pest control is a controversial statement perhaps the main point people disagree on.
While many say it’s necessary to keep foxes under control, others say it’s done for fun.
Chris Luffingham, Director of Policy, Communications and Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, agrees with the latter:
A fox kill could take any time, on some occasions it could be instant but more often than not it takes quite a few minutes which doesn’t include the chase itself which could take hours.
Whether the fox is killed or not, the impact is severe on its wellbeing. You are effectually terrorising an animal. You achieve nothing by doing it. So why do it?
The only reason you can possibly come up with why people maintain this practice is because they enjoy fox hunting. They enjoy chasing it and seeing it being killed at the end. There is no other reason.
We have seen evidence of the kill of the fox being covered up as they don’t want it to be known they are killing foxes. They will let the dogs feed on it because they starve the dogs before a hunt so they are hungry.
If you believe foxes are a pest and they have to be controlled, could you think of a more uneconomical method of controlling a pest than getting a load of people on horseback, a pack of hounds and rampaging across the countryside to get a single fox. It makes no sense whichever way you look at it.
Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean to say it should be continued.
The statistics speak for themselves. Luffingham told UNILAD the population of foxes hasn’t gone down since the hunting ban as they are self-regulating.
Out of the little research which has been done, a study in 2000 suggested only one percent of animal kills could be attributed to foxes.
So you do have to question what is the purpose of fox hunting. Do you believe it should be made legal?
A total of 550 reports of illegal hunting activity and hunt havoc have been received by the League Against Cruel Sports since the beginning of the hunting season last autumn.
The figures indicate that hunts are routinely breaking the law and their packs of hounds are still literally tearing to pieces British wildlife.
If you have a story to tell, contact UNILAD via [email protected]
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.