The most wonderful sound

Today in Cheshire, the Cheshire Forest Hunt, hunting on the land around a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. The irony. Two types of humans. Those that spend their lives caring for and mending wildlife. Those that find it fun to destroy wildlife.

Sounds of the day: buzzards mewing nearby; song thrush, robin and great tit singing their hearts out in the trees; five early skylark singing above us; horse hooves as the hunt moved down a road; hounds baying (for blood) in the distance; and the most wonderful sound of the calls and shouts of Hunt Sabs as they did their upmost to disrupt the hunt.

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“Go home to your council houses!”

Incredibly, this Boxing Day I visited my first ever Fox Hunt. And on New Year’s Day my second.

“But they are illegal!” I hear you say.  Yes they are.  The Hunting Act 2004 bans the hunting of mammals with dogs. The law it seems has too many loop-holes though, and so the hunters carry on regardless.

‘Trail’ Hunting is what they will tell you they are doing. ‘Trail’ Hunting “purports to mimic traditional hunting by following an animal-based scent trail (using fox urine, according to the hunters)“. But this is my favorite bit – they lay the scents in areas where foxes are likely to be. Now how does a pack of hounds know which scent to follow?  The scent of an actual fox, or the scent of real fox urine? Erm.

So if a real fox happens to be out and about in the area of the ‘Trail’ Hunt, undoubtedly the hounds will pick up the scent and chase. And this is where the law lets us (and the foxes) down drastically. Weekly, all over our countryside, foxes are being chased to exhaustion and then torn to pieces. ALIVE. Still. As the law stands, if the hounds choose to follow the fox, and the Hunters ‘lose’ control of the hounds, they have not broken a law. It’s an incredibly common occurence. They seem to have very little control over their dear hounds.

Now let’s consider a fox’s habits. Foxes are actually crepuscular (they come out at dusk). So what the devil are all these foxes doing out and about in the middle of the day, when the hounds just ‘happen’ to be passing?  Well this where these empathy-lacking folk are breaking the law.  This, and many other ways. Witnesses see them do dreadful things, such as release a fox in to the area of the ‘Trail’ Hunt.  The fox doesn’t know where it is, or where to hide. It doesn’t stand a bloody chance.

So back to my first ever visit to a Hunt.  I went along to a peaceful banner protest. Knowing the Sabs were out there doing their thing, trying to save our wildlife from horrible deaths, we hoped to attract the attention of locals and passers by. Maybe give them courage to join us in our polite peaceful battle.

I was shocked and horrified at how many people turned up to support the Hunt. There was champagne and much tally ho’ing. Do they all believe that ‘Trail’ Hunting is innocent?  Do they not realise that it is just a huge cover up in order to blatantly get away with continuing to hunt with dogs?  Or do they all genuinely not give a damn? It hurt, it really hurt, to see so many people who in 2017 think this is OK.  It is not humane. They can dress it up however they like with excuses of pest control, etc. It is and forever will be, barbaric.

Once they’d had a few beverages they began to get a little courageous. Attempting to taunt us with:

“Enjoy your turkey lunch?” News: Not all people who think this farce of a hobby is cruel happen to be vegan.

“Get a life.” My response: “save a life!”

“Go home to your council houses!” And the irony is that the hunting fraternity accuse the anti-hunting fraternity time and again of being classist.  They state that it’s not that we care about wildlife, oh no, it’s that we hate the privileged. So really, who’s classist?

The old classic “Foxes are evil.”  For goodness sake. They are wild animals with instincts to survive and multiply. They do NOT wake up each day and plot which evil deed they will carry out that day.

And my favorite, the hand gestures.  Always women interestingly. Well dressed, well spoken, usually 50+, giving us the bird. Yep. That pretty much sums them up to me.

Their main excuse is that there are too many foxes, that this is a form of pest control. So why not trap and shoot the foxes?  Why all the pomp and ceremony? Anyhow, pre the ban, it was proven statistically that hunting had no valuable effect as a form of pest control. And anyway, there wouldn’t be so many foxes if over 30 million naive and daft pheasant youngsters were not released in to the environment each year, so giving even weak or aged foxes a good chance of surviving and breeding, and totally mucking up the whole ‘survival of the fittest’ cycle of life.

Or, “it’s our tradition, culture, god given right.” Nope. I’m not having it. In some countries it is still tradition to circumcise women.

These people probably use Ecover and buy organic produce, but you may as well bang their heads against a brick wall all day long – they just won’t show any logic when it comes to all of the reasons why they shouldn’t hunt with dogs.

What can we do?  Keep turning up and ruining their day? Support the Hunt Sabateurs and Monitors who are fantastically dedicated people? Pressure MPs – the law needs strengthening, the loop-holes closing. Pressure the police to do more. Not-for-profit organisations are out there in the field gathering evidence of wildlife crimes (Sabs, Monitors, H.I.T, L.A.C.S., RSPB, RSPCA), the police should be doing their utmost to support them. Talk to people, tell them fox hunting is very much still alive and hideous.

And attempt to make these people see the errors of their ways …

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Fingerless

Autumn.
Cold toes and finger tips. One can’t wear gloves when one is carrying out a lugworm sperm survey. Writing, counting, photographing.

Nor can one wear gloves when one is carrying out a WeBS (wetland bird survey). Binocularing, writing, photographing…

Having experienced a Kingfisher perched three metres from me, looking at me. At that moment I couldn’t have cared if my fingers fell off!

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ha ha ha ha ha

Brave enough to look?  Or too chicken?

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Happy horrid halloween …

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Win wins

“Mission 500, to get a 1969 Fiat 500 from Tuscany to Cheshire whilst saving the lives of 500 migratory birds”

So how did we do?  Well we got the Fiat 500 all the way, though I’m yet to learn what state she is in…  The highs and lows of Oom’s journey will come in another blog.  But Oom related problems along the way obviously affected other aspects of the mission.

The birds?  Much of the time it felt more like lows than highs, but who ever said that working with animals was easy huh?  Right, no one.  The weather has been incredibly pleasant.  This does mean that many birds will be migrating later on.  Just a few days ago, I saw Swallows in France.  Swallows in October!  Many hunters/poachers are good at what they do.  They’re not going to waste time and effort putting traps out until there is an abundance of birds arriving on migration.

Oom was not ready/with us for a trip to Lucca, where we had hoped to show her off in her bunting, driving her around the wall and attracting lots of attention to our project.  Fail.

Thanks to the wonderful Catia, of Oasi Smeraldino (Rozzano), our mission made it into two Milan newspapers.  The girl power features are sure to have raised some awareness and compassion amongst Milanese.  Win.

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We were due to help run the LAC stall at the Milan Vegan Festival.  This was another opportunity to take bunting and leaflets and help the LAC team to raise awareness of wildlife crime in Italy.  Due to some paperwork not being completed on time, and ridiculous Italian bureaucracy, the whole massive event was cancelled!  Fail.

I have mixed feelings on our effort at the CABS Brescia Protection Camp.  Fiona and Ruth got to experience what the Brescia volunteers do, how they find evidence of wildlife crime, and how hard it is.  It takes years of experience to become proficient in the skills required at this camp.  Having newbies along for the trip can jeopardise an investigation.  So we helped out by searching areas that have a history of poaching, but are no longer of high risk.

Our effort meant that these locations could be crossed off the list for this autumn, so giving the more experienced volunteers more time to target the high risk sites.  In a round-about twisted way, by giving the other volunteers more space to achieve great things, we did actually help to save birds.  The Brescia team have so far helped the police to catch six different poachers in the act (of poaching).  So obviously we did something worthwhile.  But I had really hoped that we could have come across a live trapping site, so that we could have shared the horrors with our mission 500 followers.  There is nothing like seeing the real thing for yourself.  Win?

Due to a variety of unforeseen mechanical issues, we towed Oom all the way from Brescia to the Ardennes.  So, again, we missed many opportunities to dress her up in bunting and raise awareness.  Also though, not knowing the French (like I know the Italians – being half one myself), we were unsure of what reaction this would have brought from people along our route.  We felt we ought to be a little cautious.  Fail.

We arrived in the Ardennes area armed with excellent descriptions of the ‘perfect’ habitat for horse-hair snares, along with probable locations from two different sources.  We searched both recommended areas, finding the habitats much changed since when the snares had been observed.  Myself, I would have kept roaming around the countryside, searching every tiddly bit of woodland for days.  Alas, my team-mates out-voted me and we headed back to England.  We may not have found any snares, but this evidence of none is just as important as finding something.  These locations, which now have farmland or forestry in place of the old native woodland, do not ever have to be searched again.  From our findings (or lack of!), we can better understand that this hideous tradition is almost probably dying out (along with the old men who carried the atrocities out).  Win?

Many people joined us on this adventure, through this blog, through our facebook page, through Twitter, and via many publications (both print and on-line).  We have certainly raised awareness.  And thanks to Oom, we’ve hopefully preached to quite a few not-already-converteds!  Thank you, all of you.  We really appreciate all the shares and comments of support.  This too all counts as saving birds.  Win.

Ruth is busy putting together a short docu-video of our mission for youtube, watch this space… The video will also tell you more about a real life wildlife heroine, our fabulous Catia.  The type of person you sometimes read about, and I am so proud and happy to know here and have her as a friend.  Win.

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Fun Italian Guys

I’ve received a complaint of ‘too many fungus photos’…  So I’ve withdrawn all fungi from the Italy part of the trip blogs and popped them all beautifully here together – so you can take them or leave them …

 

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Joy or despair

Well, after another day of searching sites known to have horsehair snares two years ago and finding that the woodland areas have altogether vanished, we didn’t know whether to feel joy or despair.

Joy for there not being hideous strangling death traps everywhere. Despair as so much native woodland has been lost to farmland and/or non-native sterile forestry.

We’re now on our way to Calais.

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