Whose Territory is it Anyway?
1. The Crawley and Horsham Hunt in West Sussex, with the backing of a group of 84 landowners, is attempting to ban saboteurs from almost every piece of open land and countryside in West Sussex. They aim at winning a common law injunction against trespassing and harassment by activists from the West Sussex Wildlife Protection Group and its two main organisers, Simon and Jaine Wilde, under the Protection and Harassment Act 1997. If an injunction is awarded – and a slight delay has occurred owing to a choice of judge – the activists will be banned from 10,000 acres of land, ie nearly the whole of the county, except for large public estates, footpaths, and public highways.
2. The same legal procedure could then be applied against militants who disrupt shooting and interfere with the rearing of game birds, for which the killing began on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. This is said to be the first time that such a large group of farmers and landowners has joined forces with a hunt to tackle animal rights protesters. The case is being partly funded by the Countryside Alliance and the Masters of Foxhounds Association, but the biggest share is coming from the Crawley and Horsham Hunt and the landowners, who have claimed to have recorded 269 incidents of trespass and harassment caused by the Wildes and their associates during the past two years over about 10,000 acres of land.
3. Since the ban on hunting was introduced in February 2005, 184 foxhound packs have adapted to legal forms of the sport by following a false scent, hunting with a bird of prey or organizing hound exercise trails, which are allowed under the Hunting Act. Although hunting is said to have attracted many supporters to sustain the tradition, only Crawley and Horsham remains under constant scrutiny by protesters and it is seeking an injunction to take effect from 1 September 2008. Anyone in breach of such an injunction is liable to be prosecuted for contempt of court and police have the power of arrest in the event of any breaches.
4. At present, every time that the hunt goes out police are informed that it is involved in illegal practices. Each time officers have investigated an allegation, however, no action has been taken. Anthony Sandeman, who is both a farmer and joint master of the Crawley and Horsham Hunt, has moved into action against the protesters, of whom there are up to 20 at any one time. It is claimed that these activists frequently wear balaclavas to conceal their faces and spray citronella on the ground to confuse the dogs into following a false scent. Huntsmen say they are concerned that, unless the activity is stopped, an accident will occur. The Times contacted the Wildes in vain for their comment.
5. Mr Sandeman said (The Times, 14 July 2008): “We can’t and won’t stop legitimate monitoring of the hunt from the public highways and rights of way. What we are seeking is a ban to stop the filming of hunt supporters, children and old people, who follow us on foot. There has been considerable intimidation of these people in an attempt to stop them supporting the hunt. Some of the children get very disturbed when cameras are put in front of them.” He said that “harassment on this scale is tiresome and it also wastes police time, with nine or ten officers turning out to police the hunt opponents.”
6. The lawyer acting for the hunt, Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, has obtained injunctions against activists in a number of prominent cases, including the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory and the Newchurch guinea-pig farm where a family grave was desecrated. He said: “It is important in this case that the claimants are not trying to stop anything that is lawful. The focus is on unlawful activity.”
7. The application calls for a no-trespass injunction on landowners’ property and an exclusion zone to protect the hunt kennels at West Grinstead, which is home to 80 hounds. Use of land in southeast England covers many activities involving animals that go beyond farming and horticulture and the effects of diversification and land prices, tourism, and leisure activities. Some farmers are keeping small collections of animals in zoo-like conditions and as petting livestock and others are running profitable shoots, in which gamekeepers annoy organizations such as the RSPB. “Gamekeepers are wiping out hen harriers on grouse moors to protect estate incomes,” a scientific study for the RSPB claims (The Times, 28 July 2008). The harriers, which eat the chicks of red grouse, are being shot routinely and poisoned, says the report. Similar depletion of raptors to protect other birds for sacrifice to the predators and persecutors of the human kind for leisure and “sport”, with some return for the “pot”, worry the RSPB’s officials. The Society states that 34 birds of prey were shot and 49 were poisoned in the UK last year. The Horsham area is home to the HQs of animal welfare organizations such as the RSPCA, Born Free, and Zoo Check.
8. Things are different for townie foxes and their status in urban areas. The fox sunning himself a few days ago wide to the world on the roof of the shed of one of VEGA’s neighbours is content to be photographed by the children unmasked. The Times (23 July 2008) described a turn of events reported when the author “knew it was time to act when an urban fox reduced our dog to a whimpering wreck. And it wasn't just any dog – it was our dog, being driven out of our garden.” As this owner of the disputed habitats and territories lamented of the incident: “As she bolted through the door, taking most of the dog flap with her, the fox turned imperiously, skipped away behind the shed and was gone.” The whimpering dog became a nervous, incontinent wreck but she was cared for.
9. The best estimates suggest that there are some 33,000 foxes in British cities out of a total of 258,000. Like some other rural denizens fleeing from rural threats from farming and hunting and shooting, there is a drift from field and woods to gardens and parks in towns. About 425,000 cubs are born every year, which means that overcrowding is severe. In the wilds of Scotland a fox's territory ranges up to 40 sq km (15.4 sq miles), but in towns it can be as little as 0.2 sq km - that's about 240 square yards. They can be a noisy and smelly lot, especially at some times of the year and at night, and are undeterred by the average town dog. Many town foxes are mangy and may pass the infestation on to domestic animals. Efforts at catching them and getting them treated usually fail. The RSPCA may help by trying to catch them in a “humane” cage, but what then? Some homeowners have them shot or killed by needle, or they may undergo treatment at a veterinary hospital and be released into the wild, where they will be unlikely to cope and will suffer an unkind death. The fate of the urban grey squirrel may be similar, except that release into the wild is much more restricted and a number may be shot with airguns or trapped in a humane cage and then, illegally, drowned. And there’s always with such species the risk of road-kill.
10. Council pest control offices usually have no policy on the “controversial” challenges presented by urban foxes and many of the incomers live with (and live off) human occupiers and other urban species and providers harmoniously (and they may even take out pests and vermin – the less equal animals – such as rats and squirrels, but their depredations on bird life are hardly likely to equal the kills achieved by the domesticated moggie).
11. Calls about urban foxes are likely to be passed to Defra and thence to Natural England's website, which offers a range of deterrents, some of limited practicability (eg electrified fencing). Repeated filling of dens with soft earth may eventually deter a fox. The den may be concreted in after two weeks with no disturbances prove that it has been vacated. Foxes are not a protected species, although their welfare is covered by the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act of 2006. It rules that although you can kill a fox, you cannot be cruel to it. You can trap it, but not with a leg-hold trap. You can shoot it, but you cannot poison or gas it. Nor, since the Hunting Act of 2004, can you call in a friend's pair of lurchers to chase it away. Evicting one family of foxes is often of temporary effect: another family moves in. Mike Batt, of Guildford in Surrey offers householders services with cages and shooting of the trapped animal at £140 a kill. Farmers and landowners may resort to methods such as poisoning, ferreting and snaring for specific wildlife and commensals such as rats, mink, deer, badgers, and even otters, legally and illegally or they may live with foxes on their free range poultry units by shooting (lamping), with “one left for the hunts”, or by accepting wastage for the fox as a cost less than electrified fencing; or they will deal with these interactions of wild and domestic animals by increased resort to confinement “out of harm’s way” of the livestock, which may have the effect of large-scale outbreaks of stress and disease.