Artificial Earths and Fox Feeding

“… it is hard to reconcile any use of artificial earths by the hunts with the argument that foxes are a pest and that their numbers need to be controlled through hunting.”
The Burns Inquiry (excerpt from para 9.26)

Artificial breeding dens are built to encourage foxes to remain in a desired hunting area. There are usually two entrances with a chamber set between them as a living area. The chamber is often brick-built with a lid of paving stone. The entrances are typical tunnels made of piping or building brick.

The hunt lobby claim that, “Artificial earths are very much a legacy of the past but they were useful in countries where there is a lot of shooting as it encourages foxes to lie up in areas where they are more welcome.” However, small areas of woodland and fox coverts have been planted by hunts to boost fox numbers for good hunting.

In recent times there have been numerous reports, especially in shooting areas, of foxes being carried around in the boxes on the terriermen quad bikes, and if the hunt has failed to find a fox, the terrierman will head to the next wood and release the fox as the huntsman approaches.

Where do hunts get their fox cubs?

As described by Roger Lovegrove in Silent Fields, “To ensure an adequate supply of Foxes for the hunt a major trade in Foxes imported from France developed between 1815 and 1914, through markets in London, notably Leadenhall. Reflecting the trade, Graham Smith (pers com) has shown through DNA analysis that Foxes in the south of England are much more closely related to French Foxes than those in the north.”

Not that the north is any better, “…the fox is still to be found in great numbers in the Highlands of Scotland, many cubs being dug out and sent to hunting districts every year… fox cubs are in many cases a considerable source of income to the keeper…” The Keeper’s Book by P. Jeffrey Mackie, 1910

The practice is still going strong today, not just from Scotland but all over the country. A former terrierman for the Sinnington Hunt told Mike Huskisson in 2000 (see below), that gamekeepers in North Yorkshire would kill a vixen but then feed the fox cubs every day so there would be foxes for the hunt. 

In 2015, 16 fox cubs were rescued from a barn next to the Middleton Hunt’s kennels at Birdsall. Four different litters of fox cubs were identified by DNA testing. Not a single vixen was alive. The Middleton Hunt is a neighbouring hunt to the Sinnington Hunt.

Sinnington Hunt’s Artificial Earth 1998
Yorkshire Foxhunter digging for cubs 1983

In 2000, Mike Huskisson of the Animal Cruelty Investigation Group reported:

Bryan Robinson came over to chat to me and I took the opportunity to discuss with him his days at the Sinnington Foxhounds. Apparently he worked for 18 months at the Sinnington Foxhounds as terrierman. Having seen a pair of cubs incarcerated in an artificial earth, with a tiny cage on one end, in a wood owned by the Sinnington Foxhounds I was keen to ask him about the treatment of foxes and in particular the movement of cubs in that part of the country. The following conversation took place between Bryan Robinson (BR) and Mike Huskisson (MH):

BR: There was a policy in Yorkshire with the (game) keepers, rather than shoot all the foxes, because they’ve obviously got to look after their pheasants,
MH: Right.
BR: What they do is they’ll find a litter of cubs, they’ll know for example in that wood there is a litter of cubs
MH: Right.
BR: So they’ll go out and shoot the vixen,…Oh! that’s bloody horrible,….they’ve shot the….howl the poor cubs…
MH: Right.
BR: Then they’ll go there every day and feed the cubs, they leave chickens and stuff out for them…
MH: Oh right.
BR: Cos they then…they can control then whereabouts on their patch the foxes are…
MH: Right.
BR: Yea?
MH: Right.
BR: So it’s a way of ensuring that there’s foxes there for the people to hunt when they go hunting but also a way for the keeper being able to dictate where on his patch the foxes are.
MH: Right.
BR: Yea. Do you follow what I’m saying?
MH: Yea.
BR: So it’s common practice. They’ll shoot them, shoot the mother once the cubs are big enough to be sort of on on solid flesh…
MH: Right.
BR: Shoot the mother and they will then to all intents and purposes rear the cubs.
MH: Right.
BR: But all they actually do is go and feed them.
MH: Right.
BR: And they are then able to keep track of where the foxes are on their patch which at the end of the day every good keeper wants to know where his foxes are, doesn’t he?

Bryan Robinson is an experienced gamekeeper, terrierman and Huntsman. His description, for the Inquiry team, portrays the reality of how foxes are treated for sporting purposes. It makes a mockery of any claim that foxes are hunted in their wild and natural state. The relationship between a vixen and her cubs is intimate and vital. The vixen teaches her offspring how to hunt and how to survive in the wild. If, in the interest of the sport of men and women, she is killed and the cubs fed from the moment they are weaned by man (and on chickens!) what is the exact measure of harm caused to those cubs? They will find it hard indeed to fend for themselves in the wild and until they fall victim to the “sport” for which they were spared will doubtless fulfil the jaundiced view of some by being the very threat to human farming interests for which their species is damned.