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Mark Harris Spooners

GUILTY: Terrierman convicted under Protection of Badgers Act

On 27 January 2023, Devon County Hunt Saboteurs (DCHS) announced that sabs had secured yet another conviction.

Spooners and West Dartmoor Hunt terrierman Mark Harris was found guilty under the Protection of Badgers Act after sabs caught terriermen digging out a badger sett.

DCHS said:

“Sabs’ actions on the day not only saved the fox’s life, but also provided the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] with enough evidence to prosecute in a notoriously challenging area of the law.”

They continued:

“Mark submitted that on that day hounds under control of the huntsman Guy Morlock chased a fox to ground and that he was instructed to flush and kill that fox. Mark said he knew there was a litter of foxes in the area on that day.”

The incident happened on 27 November 2021. The sabs’ report explained exactly what happened:

“Around midday we discovered a dig-out in progress at a badger sett. The terriermen stopped what they were doing as soon as we showed up but they hung around in the vicinity of the sett for long enough for us to realise they must still be looking for one of their terriers who was still in the badger sett. After a long wait, the terrier resurfaced from the sett and the terriermen scarpered. The rest of the hunt had long since packed up.”

Landowners must act

Under the Protection of Badgers Act it is an offence to:

  • Wilfully kill, injure or take a badger (or attempt to do so)
  • Cruelly ill-treat a badger
  • Dig for a badger
  • Intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy a badger sett, or obstruct access to it
  • Cause a dog to enter a badger sett
  • Disturb a badger when it is occupying a sett

Like all hunt staff who have been convicted before him, Harris was given a measly fine. He must pay a £1000, plus costs of £900, and a victim surcharge of £100.

Despite this pitiful penalty, Harris’s conviction is a win for those of us who want to see hunting abolished. Every conviction means that hunts are likely to lose supporters, and possibly even lose land to hunt on. Take the Saltersgate Farmers Hunt, for example. The North Yorkshire Moors National Park Authority recently banned hunting on the Levisham Estate after hunt saboteurs caught terriermen digging out a badger sett on the property. DCHS are calling for landowners to take the same stance, and ban the Spooners and West Dartmoor Hunt, too. The sabs said:

“We encourage landowners to refuse permission for Spooners hunt, whose registered terrierman is now a convicted wildlife criminal. Tavistock Town Council, the Ministry of Defence, Duchy of Cornwall, Dartmoor National Park Authority and several other major landowners now have no excuse not to ban this hunt from using their land.”

 

mark harris spooners

‘The soft underbelly’

Harris’s conviction comes just days after police carried out mass raids and arrests across England, seizing ten terriers and lurchers in the process. West Kent Hunt Saboteurs stated that one of the raids took place at the house of “a key terrierman” of the East Kent with West Street Hunt. The hunt had been caught killing a fox just days before.

DCHS said:

“Hunters acknowledge that terrier work is “the soft underbelly of hunting” [a phrase used by former Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association Mark Hankinson during the ‘smokescreen webinars‘]; it’s also when some of their most egregious breaches of law and decency are carried out. That this ruling came down in the same week that police raided several terriermen’s properties across the country, seizing dogs and equipment, shows just how vulnerable this underbelly is.”

Of course, hunts across England continue to say that they’re trail hunting (following an artificially-laid scent) when they’re really killing foxes. But their use of terriermen is evidence of their illegal activity: because terriermen are never needed for trail hunting. They are employed by a hunt to block up badger setts and fox earths prior to a meet, and to send their terriers to bolt a fox if she goes to ground. Or they’ll use their terriers to hold the poor fox at bay while they dig out a sett she is hiding in.

And so where there are terriermen on a hunt, there is also sure to be illegal hunting. As hunt saboteurs provide more and more evidence of blocked setts and terriermen at work, landowners can not continue to plead ignorance. They must follow the example of North Yorkshire Moors National Park Authority, as well as major landowners such as the National Trust and Forestry England, and ban hunting completely.

 

Protect the Wild is calling for major landowners to stand up to the hunts and ensure they no longer use their land. Sign our letter here.

Donate to Devon County Hunt Sabs here. You can also send them tip-offs via Facebook or text to 07717473305.

Featured images via Devon County Hunt Sabs.