Undercover investigation reveals fell hunt fox breeding programme
Farming community challenged over carcass disposal practices
The pest control claims of England’s ‘upland’ fell hunting packs are today exposed as fantasy after a major undercover investigation by the League Against Cruel Sports established that foxes are being bred and fed for hunting in Cumbria.
In a damning indictment of the country’s mountain based foxhunts and the practices of farmers who support them the League has uncovered a widespread programme of fox breeding and feeding within the territories of several Lake District hunts – including the prestigious Blencathra Foxhounds based at Keswick.
Breeding and feeding sites containing artificial earths (man made fox homes typically consisting of pipes sunken into the ground connected to a central brick built chamber), stick piles (temporary lying up area for foxes), and/or animal carcasses dumped as potential food for foxes have been located on land within the territories of the Blencathra Foxhounds, the Cumberland Farmers Hunt and the Ullswater Foxhounds.
The explosive findings make a mockery of claims that ‘upland’ fox hunt packs are concerned only with carrying out a pest control service for farmers and could now ensure that mountain fox hunts receive no concessions in the forthcoming bill to ban hunting, something ministers had previously hinted at. Animal health officials today confirmed that they are investigating claims of carcasses being dumped at several locations in the Keswick area of Cumbria.
And the revelations come as a substantial League report into upland hunting, Fun On The Fells, is made available to MPs and ministers. The report undertakes a forensic examination of mountain foxhunting and reveals a catalogue of evidence suggesting the pastime is cruel, ineffective and riddled with hypocrisy and misinformation.
Following a four month long probe, which saw undercover investigators infiltrate several Cumbrian hunts, the League located and secretly filmed animal carcasses dumped only yards from a man made fox breeding site (containing an artificial fox earth and stick pile) in woodland immediately behind a regular meet of the Blencathra Foxhounds in the village of Orthwaite, near Uldale, Cumbria.
Dozens of sheep, lamb and deer carcasses were filmed thrown into an uncovered pit adjacent to a wooded covert containing the artificial earth. Sheep were filmed dumped near to a stream and thrown over wire fences in an apparent attempt to create a ready supply of food for foxes. One half eaten carcass was filmed within spitting distance of the artificial earth entrance alongside dozens of animal bones – implying the dumping has been carried out over an extended period.
Investigators have established that the fox breeding site, known as Orthwaite Plantation, is owned by Jonathan Hope, a prominent supporter of the Blencathra Foxhounds and who last year had hundreds of animals, including cattle, sheep and a goat, slaughtered after foot and mouth disease ravaged the region. Mr Hope entertained Prince Charles at a private hunt with the Blencathra hounds at Orthwaite Hall Farm only weeks before FMD closed the countryside early in 2001. The farmer now faces the attention of animal health officials for a second time after the League confirmed that information had been passed to trading standards officers.
Under legislation drawn up in 1992 all animal carcasses must be rendered, buried or incinerated. Dead animals must be removed “without undue delay” and a failure to do so amounts to a criminal offence with a maximum £5000 fine for each carcass. The burial of animal carcasses is soon be outlawed altogether after the BSE and Foot and Mouth crises prompted ever tightening regulations relating to agricultural animal health issues.
Dozens of animal carcasses were also recently filmed dumped in woodland near to a second popular meet of the Blencathra Foxhounds – Causeway Foot Farm, just outside of Keswick. Fresh and rotting sheep carcasses had been placed in a small covert just yards from a busy road and surrounded by numerous bones and adult sheep skulls. Equally disturbingly, the League has been passed footage previously showing a large number of sheep and lamb carcasses dumped on land at Priests Crag – a mountain area within the territory of the Ullswater Foxhounds.
The investigation also saw the documenting of the largest and most elaborate artificial fox earth known to exist in England at Millbeck, a regular meet of the Blencathra hounds. The fox breeding complex – which the pro hunt lobby told the Government Inquiry into hunting had long been ruined – contains upwards of 120 meters of piping, has over 10 entrances and continues to be capable of holding many foxes. Footage obtained by the League shows the Blencathra hounds being cast through the site on two occasions.
Douglas Batchelor, League Chief Executive, today said: “The findings of this investigation blow apart claims that upland fell hunting is concerned with pest control. The breeding and feeding of foxes for hunting is hypocritical and immoral anywhere, but the fact that we’ve uncovered that it is taking place in upland areas where hunts have repeatedly claimed to be different exposes a grave deception on the part of the pro-hunt lobby in Cumbria.” He called on the Central Committee of Fell Packs to immediately suspend any hunt under suspicion of being involved in activities that are against their own rules of hunting or in breach of the law.
Mr Batchelor also challenged the upland farming community to immediately end practices that encourage a healthy fox population for hunting: “We believe that animal carcasses are being deliberately dumped as food for foxes in Cumbria by people connected to foxhunting. But we also believe that the careless practices of dozens of farmers are contributing to this situation. The shoddy – and often illegal – discarding of carcasses in open pits, in fields and woodland and on mountain crags is tantamount to laying on a fast food meal for foxes and not conducive to keeping fox numbers low.
“It is hypocritical and immoral that upland farmers carelessly dispose of their dead animals then claim that supposedly spiralling fox numbers require the ‘essential’ services of foxhunts. What we’re seeing in Cumbria is at best a farcical cycle of countryside mismanagement on the part of farmers and hunters and at worst a racket designed to ensure good hunting in the region.”