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Watching the red coats: patrolling the countryside with Scotland's hunt sabs
Sunday 15 March 2015
"Hunts flaunt the fact that they can still kill foxes," said Bev as she pulled a
black snoodie up over her mouth and nose so only her eyes could be seen.
The council worker from Angus is a hunt saboteur with Perthshire Hunt Sabs
and the group allowed the Sunday Herald to join them - on condition of anonymity
- as they monitored the actions of Fife Foxhounds on a blustery day in the
countryside. The day began with a stakeout at a farm with dog kennels near the
village of Ceres, in order to find out where the hunt would start. Dressed in
combat trousers and black hoodies, nine sabs in four vehicles sought to tail a
van carrying hounds and horses to the hunt's meeting point.
"Some hunts keep their meets secret so the aim is to follow the hound van or
horse boxes. But they sometimes send decoys and block roads so we can't follow
them so it's all a bit of a game. But why bother to go to all this trouble if
they are hunting legally?" said Bev who was joined by an offshore oil worker
called Colin sporting an Animal Liberation Front hat, and activists from
Grampian Hunt Sabs and Glasgow Hunt Sabs.
This is their first season 'sabbing' in response to allegations - denied by
hunts - that the law was being broken, with foxes being torn apart by dogs
rather than shot by hunters as the law permits, and they were well organised
deploying maps, mobile phones, camcorders and walkie-talkies. They also had a
list of car registration numbers of hunt members' vehicles and some carried
diluted citronella (an essential oil) in plastic bottles to spray on the ground
to mask a fox's scent.
Around 9am, the hound van was seen leaving the farm so the sabs set off in
pursuit. They tailed in four vehicles and for the next hour we witnessed a chase
through Ceres, Craigrothie and Springfield as Fife Foxhounds tried to lose them.
The sabs' presence obviously irked Fife Foxhounds because at one point a
huntsman stopped the van, jumped out and banged on the windows of a Ford Corsa
behind him owned by the sabs. Eventually we arrived at Letham and the sabs split
up to cover the hunt's route. We accompanied Colin and Bev who climbed a hill
overlooking Balmeadow Wood and Cunnoquie West Hill Wood.
Bev said: "The idea is to monitor and to save foxes. If the fox goes to ground
we cover the hole so the hunt can't send terriers down. If they deliberately set
hounds after a fox, and have no intention of shooting it, then that's breaking
the law. But their get out of jail free card is by saying hounds can
accidentally kill a fox, when they don't want them to."
Both Colin and Bev wear snoodies to conceal their identities because of a
Facebook page called Ban Hunt Saboteurs where photos and personal details of
people are posted. Bev said: "The hunters are getting quite aggressive about the
face covering at the moment. But often you see terrier men masking up and
putting snoods on as well. We want to protect our IDs as the people who enjoy
killing animals, and watching animals being killed, are not usually the nicest
people. We've personally not had anything but people down south suffer
intimidation, property damage and even pets getting killed. Things like dead
foxes being left on their doorsteps. We don't want to face reprisals for what we
Just after noon we heard the sound of a hunting horn and Fife Foxhounds appeared
in the distance, led by a rider wearing a red hunting coat. We watch for around
40 minutes and followed on foot and saw no gunmen. Although a fox was chased at
one point later it went to ground and the sabs prevented terrier men sending
down dogs. Fife Foxhounds said it acts within the law at all times. Bev and
Colin said the Protection of Wild Mammals Act is useless. They also claimed that
Police Scotland has little interest in investigating and that officers often
seem to act as a "private security force" for hunts. Shortly afterwards Colin's
car was stopped by police in Letham who demanded our personal details while
citing a "potential breach of the peace". This was after the Sunday Herald
photographed the hunt on its return to the village.