Fox running through a field in evening sunlight

Ten reasons why 2022 was a remarkable and historic year

As we reach the end of 2022, it’s a good time to look back on how far the movement against hunting has come in just 12 months.

This list looks at some of the most high profile moments from the past year and is ordered chronologically. Many more moments that are no less important have taken place, of course, but these perhaps give us the best perspective on why 2022 has been a seismic year for those of us that want the wild to thrive.

1. AXA Insurance UK stops underwriting the hunting industry

In January, insurance company AXA made a sudden change in tone. For months it had remained stubbornly silent following revelations that it underwrote insurance for the Hunting Office, the body that convened the hunting associations. This was first revealed on 2 April 2021 by whistleblowing website Hunting Leaks. And the information itself came from a 2020 Hunting Office newsletter that said AXA had provided this service since the 2014/2015 hunting season.

A subsequent campaign demanding AXA stop supporting hunting took place online and offline. And after months of silence, on 17 January 2022, AXA started replying to social media posts saying that it “does not provide insurance to the hunting industry”.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association described this turn of events as a “surprising fallout” of the conviction of Mark Hankinson three months previous. And it left the hunting industry apparently without a blanket insurance policy.

Nonetheless, hunts encourage – or in some cases require – its members to become members of the Countryside Alliance. Doing so provides insurance cover for that individual in equine activities including hunting. This insurance is provided by A-Plan Holdings whose parent company is chaired, as Protect the Wild highlighted, by a member of the Heythrop Hunt. Meanwhile, AXA remains an insurer of hunting activities elsewhere in the world via its US-based division AXA XL.

2. Ecotricity exposes one of the hunting industry’s hidden cruelties

On 2 February, ITV News published images and video from behind the scenes of hunt kennels. It showed hazardous and disgusting practices including people jumping on dead cow’s bodies and waste bins full of dead animals left exposed. These creatures were then incinerated and turned into meat and bone meal, which in turn is considered a renewable form of energy.

One of the most shocking practices this investigation caught on camera, though, was hunts shooting hounds. This included footage Will Pinkney, huntsman of the Carmarthenshire Hunt, shooting dead nine hounds in 40 minutes.

Hunts shoot hounds unfit for hunting. This had been an open secret for a long time but evidence of this practice rarely made it into the public. However, between Ecotricity’s exposé and an October 2021 Hunt Investigation Team exposé of the Beaufort Hunt shooting hounds, clear evidence finally made it into the public. Following these two cases, Protect the Wild published an overview of newly available evidence showing the scale of the practice.

3. The Scottish government introduces the Hunting With Dogs Bill

The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Holyrood on 24 February. While a de facto hunting ban already existed in Scottish law, hunts in the country have continued hunting live animals much like their English counterparts. The new bill specifically aimed to rectify what it described as “widespread concerns that foxes and other wild mammals are [still] being hunted (and killed)”.

The bill tightens existing loopholes by criminalising hunting wild mammals with one or more dogs. Some limited exemptions will apply, but none that will facilitate the hunting industry as it stands. It also makes trail hunting illegal. Glasgow Hunt Saboteurs described the bill as “monumental” and “a significant point in our history”. If it passes without drastic amendments, it will make Scotland the first nation in the UK to effectively outlaw completely.

At the end of 2022, the bill is in its third and final stage

4. Section 3 of the Hunting Act used to charge a hunt for the first time

Covert footage captured by the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) and supported by Protect the Wild showed alleged illegal hunting by the Vale of White Horse Hunt.

HIT published the investigation on 4 March. Its evidence included not only alleged illegal hunting but claims that landowners Duncan and Verity Drewett were involved with the “organised supply” of foxes for hunting on their land.

The evidence led Wiltshire Police to charge the Drewetts along with master Sophie Scruton with illegal hunting, or Section 1 of the Hunting Act. However, it was a second charge levelled at the Drewetts that was a real milestone. Wiltshire Police charged the husband and wife with Section 3 of the Hunting Act, which criminalises landowners for knowingly permitting illegal hunting on their property. This is the first known case of a Section 3 charge as it relates to hunting with hounds.

At the end of 2022, the CPS has dropped the charge against Scruton. However, the Drewetts are still facing both their charges. The case is planned to take place at Swindon Magistrates on 20 March 2023.

5. Lake District National Park Authority permanently suspends hunting

Following the charge and conviction of Mark Hankinson, former head of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, a raft of major landowners pulled their support for hunting. Public bodies such as Forestry England, Natural Resources Wales and the National Trust announced they’d permanently stop licensing hunting. A few such bodies held out, though, despite public pressure.

The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) was one of these few. Its owns 3.5% of land in the Lake District. But these were particularly notable because many of the UK’s fell packs – fox hunts conducted on foot – relied on large amounts of LDNPA land. The authority had initially announced a suspension of licensing in 2020 in the immediate aftermath of the Hunting Office webinars. Then, on 31 May, the LDNPA announced that it would “suspend trail hunting licences indefinitely”. This meant nearly every major public landowner had now chosen to stop supporting hunting.

The last such landowner is the Ministry of Defence. At the end of 2022, though, the movement to end hunting on MOD land is starting to heat up.

Check out Protect the Wild’s #NoDefence campaign page for more information.

6. Covert footage lands terrierman Paul O’Shea with a jail sentence

North London Hunt Saboteurs filmed Paul O’Shea torturing a fox in a wood near Coggeshall, Essex. Publicly released shows O’Shea, who served as terrierman for the East Essex Hunt, first pulling a fox from an artificial earth before attacking them repeatedly with a garden fork.

While the incident happened in December 2021, Essex Police charged O’Shea on 14 June this year and he plead guilty just a couple of weeks later. On 1 August, it was reported that a judge had given O’Shea an 18-week suspended sentence as well as fines and orders not to care for or keep animals. The cruelty and horror of the incident led to widespread news coverage and went a long way to exposing hunting’s ugly truth to the general public.

7. Anonymous cameraperson films the release of a bagged fox

On 26 August, just as the cubbing season was getting underway, ITV News published footage of something that is almost never seen publicly: the release of a bagged fox. The video featured Ben Hood, huntsman for the Seavington Hunt, as well as several terriermen. They dump a fox from a sack before Hood encourages the hounds to chase after the fox.

The incident is said to have happened “earlier in the year [2022]” but otherwise details remain publicly unknown. That includes the cameraperson, who remains unnamed. Nonetheless, it led to Hood pleading guilty to a charge of illegal hunting and his firing from the hunt. A charge of animal cruelty was allegedly dropped. It also led to the Master of Foxhounds Association suspending the Seavington Hunt.

Bagged foxes are a big part of hunting’s history. However, public evidence of the practice is incredibly rare. Therefore this footage likely marks the first time video of a bagged fox release has been made available to the public.

Read more about bagged foxes here.

8. Police find a trove of damning messages on huntsman’s phone

News of an arrest of Ollie Finnegan first appeared via ITV News reporter Rupert Evelyn in January. He said on Twitter that an officer of Leicester Police was “assaulted” and received a “bloody nose” during an investigation of the Quorn Hunt.

This investigation led to a charge of illegal hunting against Finnegan. However, Cheshire Animal Rights Campaigns said this charge was dropped in June after a judge saw no case to answer. And that appeared to bring an end to the case against Finnegan, who’d escaped conviction for a second time.

Until 6 December, when ITV News revealed that Finnegan had that day plead guilty to illegal hunting at Cheltenham Magistrates. The plea came after Leicestershire Police had found a cache of messages between Finnegan and anonymous masters on the huntsman’s phone. Publicly released messages included discussions of hunting foxes, acquiring the creatures specifically for hunting, artificial earths, and cubbing.

Unfortunately Finnegan’s penalty only amounted to fines and costs amounting to a little over £1200. However, Finnegan was employed as huntsman for the Quorn Hunt at the time of the messages. The Quorn Hunt is one of the UK’s most famous and powerful packs. Thus, as Evelyn pointed out in his report, the most significant impact of the case is that it “once again raises profound questions about what really goes on” in the hunting industry.

9. Warwickshire Police stop hunt using roads without prior notice in a nationwide first

Warwickshire Police issued the Warwickshire Hunt with a Community Protection Notice (CPN) in December. The move came after West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs documented more than 50 incidents of hunt havoc on the county’s road network over the past few years.

The notice means the hunt will have to provide police advance warning of any road crossings it intends to undertake during hunting. This may effectively cripple the hunt’s ability to operate. West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs noted on 22 December that the Warwickshire Hunt hadn’t held a meet for two weeks since the notice was issued.

It’s the first time police are known to have issued such an order to a hunt. But it couldn’t have come soon enough. Hunts have caused chaos on roads for as long as they’ve used them. Sab and monitor groups across the country have documented countless cases of vehicles striking hounds or animals that hounds are chasing. Countless more instances of hunts blocking roads and holding up traffic must have gone unreported.

The Warwickshire Hunt have since “vowed” to fight the CPN. But Warwickshire Rural Crime Team’s decision to pursue a CPN sets a new precedent for holding hunts to account.

10. There’s been a raft of Hunting Act charges this year

This year has seen a particularly high number of Hunting Act charges brought against hunt staff and masters. The reasons for this are many but largely rest on the Hunt Saboteurs Association’s publication of Hunting Office webinars in 2020. These videos ultimately led to the conviction of Hankinson. Although his conviction this was ultimately overturned, it appeared to embolden police forces across the country to take firmer action against the hunting industry.

As a result, roughly 20 charges were made in 2022. Some of these led to successful convictions such as the aforementioned cases against O’Shea and Finnegan. Others, including two cases against huntsman for the Wynnstay Hunt, Chris Woodward, led to not guilty verdicts. And in one outrageous instance, charges against Chris Carter of the Royal Artillery Hunt were dropped due to authorities missing a filing date by just one day. Meanwhile, this wave will roll into next year as other charges had their trials adjourned until 2023.

royal artillery hunt salisbury plain
A fox runs from Charles Carter, huntsman of the Royal Artillery Hunt, via Salisbury Plain Monitors.

The eight-day stretch between 20 and 28 March next year will see people of three different hunts go to trial: the Drewetts for a three-day trial beginning 20 March, three members of the Dunston Harriers on 23 March, and William Hanson of the Fernie Hunt on 28 March.

A complete table of prosecutions managed by Protect Our Wild Animals reaching back to 2005 shows that past years have seen just four or five charges per year at most. 2022, then, has represented a real change. And it’s a sign that the hunting industry may finally be on its knees.

However, nothing is done until it is done. As we go into 2023, its essential that everyone taking action against hunting both in and out of the field continues holding hunts accountable while fighting the hunting industry on all fronts.

Become a Protect the Wild supporter to help us continue holding the hunting industry to account into 2023.