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Muntjac deer killed by Essex and Suffolk Hunt

Hunt kills deer and uses ‘falconry exemption’ to hunt illegally

On 25 September Suffolk Action For Wildlife (SAFW) posted a distressing video online. The footage showed a deer who had just been murdered by the Essex and Suffolk Hunt. Protect the Wild spoke to SAFW about the events of that day, and about a little-known loophole in the Hunting Act that hunts are using as cover for illegal hunting.

The video shows a murdered deer lying on the ground, with the hunt’s whipper-in hovering around the body. A monitor from SAW explained that the hunt had trouble keeping the hounds under control, and had already lost the pack twice. She said:

“We were on the public footpath until we heard an animal cry. I ran into the woods to find whipper-in Jamie Price carrying a muntjac deer by her legs. When he saw me he dropped her on the floor. I then started videoing on my phone and asked him what they had just killed and he said it was just a little accident. I informed him that the deer wasn’t even dead yet as he stepped over the body. He then rounded up the last of the hounds and left the woods but kept saying it was just a little accident. I stayed with the deer until she died.”

But that wasn’t all. The hunt continued, seemingly confident it would get away with murdering more than one animal that day. Another monitor said:

“Just 30 minutes after the deer was killed we saw several riders lined up and on point around Dench Wood. Huntsman Jack Henty was encouraging the hounds, flushing them through for about 15 minutes…

A big beautiful fox broke cover, out into the field and paused for a few seconds, saw the horse riders on point and darted back in. At this same moment the hounds were just a few metres behind. They noticed the fox and started going into full cry. We sprang into action and repetitively asked Price to call the hounds off; he did not. Bridget Chamberlain, one of the masters, and Gillie Cranfield approached one of our monitors who was on the phone to 999, reporting a wildlife crime in progress. Bridget was screaming at us they had the bird of prey out, but as usual the bird was nowhere to be seen, not even in the same field. The hounds were eventually rounded up and collected.”

 

Whipper-in Jamie Price
Essex and Suffolk Hunt whipper-in Jamie Price. Photo via SAFW

The ‘Falconry Exemption’

The Hunting Act bans the hunting of wild mammals (including deer) with dogs, but most hunts use the well-known ‘trail hunting’ loophole to get away with murdering wildlife. Trail hunting is a smokescreen where hunts say that their hounds are following an artificially-laid trail, and that any kills are purely accidental. Long after senior hunting officials were caught on camera admitting that ‘trail hunting’ was a ‘smokescreen’ for fox hunting, the same excuse is made by hunts week after week.

The ‘falconry exemption’ is another loophole in the Hunting Act that hunts use as cover for hunting illegally. Originally meant to ensure falconers did not get prosecuted if their birds killed a mammal that had been flushed out of cover by dogs, the loophole has been routinely abused by hunts. A SAW monitor explained:

“A hunt is legally allowed to flush an animal using a pack of dogs if it is flushed to the eagle. But note that nobody has ever seen the Essex and Suffolk Hunt eagle fly, or for the bird to be anywhere near to the hunt or any animal that has previously been flushed. The bird has a hood on 24/7.”

Any number of dogs can be used to flush a wild animal for a bird of prey to hunt.

The monitor continued:

“The hunt can’t decide whether it is using the trail hunting excuse or the bird of prey excuse.”

When the Hunting Act came into force in 2005, pro-hunting campaigners openly admitted that the ‘falconry exemption’ was a loophole that would come in handy to hunts. At the time, a spokesperson for the Masters of Foxhounds Association told Horse & Hound:

“Our lawyers are quite clear that the exemption is perfectly valid. We have no objection to hunts going out with birds of prey provided that the welfare of the bird takes priority…we didn’t draft [The Hunting Act 2004] and this loophole was bound to be made use of.”

As we state on our Protectors of the Wild page on Birds of Prey and the Law, though, the loophole is not as wide open as some hunts believe:

“Defra warned as long ago as 2005 that hunts were using birds of prey (including Golden Eagles, Steppe Eagles, and Eagle Owls) to flout the ban, so issued a clarification:

“Employing (whether or not released to hunt) a bird of prey which does not ordinarily hunt that particular wild mammal [would be illegal], because, in our view, it suggests that the flushing was not for the purpose of enabling the bird of prey to hunt the mammal.”

They also said that the falconry exemption allowed dogs to flush out wild mammals for the birds to hunt but not for the dogs to “run after, chase or pursue the wild mammal after it has been flushed out. Nor does the exemption allow the dog(s) to kill the wild mammal.“

Additionally:

  • Hunts can only carry a bird if they have the correct licences and any behaviour that abuses or causes suffering to the bird of prey should be reported to the police.
  • Hunts must be able to prove that the bird was not taken from the wild and be able to properly care for the bird when not out with the hunt.”

 

In 2019 George Adams, a former huntsman with the Fitzwilliam Hunt, was found guilty in what was called ‘a landmark decision’ of illegally chasing and killing a fox, despite trying to use the ‘falconry exemption’ as an excuse. Evidence for the prosecution had come from the Beds and Bucks Hunt Saboteurs, who said afterwards, “Other hunts which use this loophole will now have to reconsider their options as they will no longer be considered to be taking part in exempt hunting just by having someone with a bird of prey present. The use of birds of prey alongside hunting with hounds is not, and never was falconry.’

 

 

The Essex and Suffolk Hunt's hooded eagle
The Essex and Suffolk Hunt’s hooded eagle. Photo via SAFW

We need a proper hunting ban

We asked SAW how often the Essex and Suffolk Hunt hunts wildlife. They told us:

“Pretty much every meet. This wasn’t a one-off. They bolted a fox on Boxing Day. Each week something new happens, whether this be a kill, an assault, or something else.”

It’s been almost two decades since the Hunting Act was passed, yet nothing has changed, and hunts seem to get away with killing with almost total impunity. In the last couple of years we have seen more cases brought against hunt staff by the police and CPS, but it is difficult to secure a conviction because the CPS has to prove that the hunter had an intention to kill. And even when people are convicted, the penalty is a meagre fine.

Protect the Wild argues that the loopholes and exemptions that hunts use need to be removed entirely, not argued about for years to come. So we have commissioned Advocates for Animals to help us campaign for a new law – The Hunting of Mammals Bill, which removes all loopholes. Like Scotland – which has properly banned hunting by passing a new law – this bill would effectively outlaw hunting with hounds.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether the police will take this latest evidence against the Essex and Suffolk Hunt seriously, and hold hunt staff accountable for illegal hunting.

 

  • Suffolk’s foxes need protecting, and it’s people on the ground who are their first defence. You can donate to Suffolk Action For Wildlife here. If you’re local to Suffolk, and would like to volunteer with the group, visit their Facebook page here.