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Waveney & Norfolk Harriers

How hunts are using trail hunting as a smokescreen

We all know that hunts across the country deliberately chase animals. You may also know that hunts say that they are trail hunting – that is, following scent trails laid in advance of a hunt – when they are doing no such thing. But 2023 saw a new trend: some hunts actually started laying trails. Now, you might think this is a good thing. But as we explore in this article, trail hunting really is just a smokescreen to chase and murder mammals.

The Hunting Act 2004 was meant to ban hunting with hounds, but it’s full of loopholes: the one taken advantage of most is ‘trail hunting’. Since the law came into force in 2005, hunts have continued to terrorise wildlife as normal, and if caught they use the excuse that they were actually trail hunting, but that their hounds accidentally caught the scent of a mammal.

As the then Director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, Mark Hankinson, told a webinar leaked by the Hunt Saboteurs Association in 2020 ‘plausible’ trail hunting can be used as ‘smokescreen’ for illegal hunting, and hunts have usually got away with this tactic. But over the last couple of years – and particularly in 2023 – we have seen a number of hunting-related prosecutions, indicating that the tide is turning – at least a little – on hunting staff.

At the same time, we’ve seen some hunts beginning to lay and follow trails, presumably to try and cover their backs where the law is concerned. But what does this apparent shift in tactic mean for wildlife?

Protect the Wild spoke to South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs to find out.

Chasing deer despite a trail being laid

We spoke to the sabs after they caught and filmed the Waveney and Norfolk Harriers chasing deer on Boxing Day 2023.

Just days previously, on 23 December, the sab group had filmed a quadbike laying a trail, The video then showed that the hounds had zero interest in following that exact same trail, despite it being pungent.

 

the waveney and norfolk harriers lay a trail
Waveney and Norfolk Harriers lays a trail. But this doesn’t stop their hounds from terrorising a deer. Video still by South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs

 

Then, on Boxing Day, further footage showed the hounds chasing a deer while in the act of ‘trail hunting’. This is despite huntsman Chris McDaniel having said the hounds were following a trail all day. These two videos together showed how despite openly ‘trail hunting’, the Waveney and Norfolk Harriers’ hounds were still more interested in chasing wildlife.

A spokesperson for the sabs told us:

“We’d followed the Waveney and Norfolk Harriers after their Boxing Day parade because they still had hounds with them. They followed one trail earlier in the day, but this incident occurred as they were heading back to the meet. Our previous experiences with the hounds had shown them to be quiet when following an artificially-laid trail, so when they went into full cry we continued filming because we suspected they might be onto the scent of a live animal – and it looks like we were right.

This was reinforced by the behaviour of the hunt’s supporters, who immediately blocked us in on the road just after the filming ends. That sort of behaviour has never happened during previous legitimate trail hunt meets.”

Indeed, a second video posted by the sabs on Facebook showed the hounds chasing a deer across a field, while huntsmen Chris McDaniel and Luke Newton did absolutely nothing to stop them.

 

Waveney and Norfolk Harriers hounds chase a deer
Waveney and Norfolk Harriers hounds chase a deer, despite a trail being laid. Video still by South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs

 

At the end of the day, the sabs told hunt stalwart Becky Baker that they’d got footage of the hounds chasing the deer. She replied:

“That’s fine. It wasn’t deliberate, was it?”

She then shouted:

“It’s not illegal hunting!”

Baker was obviously referring to the fact that under the Hunting Act, a prosecutor would have to prove that the hunt intended to chase an animal. Laying their trail – conveniently next to coverts where deer rest – gave the hunt a perfect excuse that they were abiding by the rules, and that the deer chase was purely accidental.

 

Becky Baker - Waveney and Norfolk Harriers
Waveney and Norfolk Harriers’ Becky Baker. Photo by South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs

Trail hunting is a ‘danger to wildlife’

The hunt sabs were keen to highlight how trail hunting is the perfect smokescreen, as it actually trains hounds to follow the scent of an animal. The sabs explained:

“We’ve watched the Waveney and Norfolk Harriers’ hounds follow trails before, so we know they can do it. However, this video shows how trail hunting presents a danger to wildlife. Because the trail mixture used by the hunt is of animal-origin, the hunt is still essentially training hounds to hunt animals. A similar video was filmed by Norfolk/Suffolk Hunt Saboteurs just a few days later, on New Year’s Day. It shows the West Norfolk Foxhounds’ pack rioting after two deer whilst trail hunting.”

The other video they are referring to was shot on 1 January 2024. The video clearly showed hounds chasing deer: if the dogs had initially been following a trail, they certainly didn’t stick to it. Norfolk/Suffolk Sabs stated that huntsman Bell had lost complete control of the hounds, and that hunt staff and riders had known beforehand that he was incapable of controlling the dogs.

They stated:

“The hounds pay no attention to [Bell and other staff] and continue to chase the terrified deer for a prolonged amount of time, enough to induce shock in the deer which is often fatal.”

The sabs continued:

“So, was this an accident? Deer may not be their target quarry, but this is not the first time we’ve filmed them chasing (and killing) deer. It’s certainly reckless to rampage around the countryside with a pack of dogs used to chasing and killing wildlife when you are clearly incapable of keeping them under control.”

We urgently need a change of law

South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs told Protect the Wild:

“Hunts across Norfolk and Suffolk have made a show of their attempts at trail hunting this season. However, the two incidents are a reminder that trail hunting IS the smokescreen – it’s just that hunts never even bothered pretending in the past. Trail hunting is not a sufficient alternative and we won’t stop until the hunts have shut down completely.”

Hunt saboteurs on the ground are mammals’ first line of defence against these criminal gangs of hunters. But for those of you who can’t get out in the fields, you can also protect animals against trail hunting. Protect the Wild is campaigning for the Hunting Act to be scrapped, and replaced with better legislation: the Hunting of Mammals Bill. If our proposed Bill were enacted, trail hunting would immediately be made illegal. On top of this, a reckless clause would be added into the legislation. This would mean that any ‘accidental’ chases – such as the deer hunt Becky Baker admitted to – would be illegal, and hunters (and the hunt itself) would be liable for prosecution.

 

More than 52,000 people have already signed our petition to the government to replace the Hunting Act with the Hunting of Mammals Bill. Please add your signature and make your voice heard. Together we can consign this brutal blood sport to the past, once and for all.

 

  • Sign our petition for a proper ban on hunting here.
  • Header image Waveney and Norfolk Harriers by South Norfolk Hunt sabs. Donate to South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs here and help protect East Anglia’s wildlife.