Written by Chloë Lund
A wild fox, disturbed in her home, flees for her life
On Monday 30 September 2019, 8.30am, myself and a group of 6 other walkers witnessed what we have cause to believe was an illegal hunt on Cleeve Common, Gloucestershire.
We were alerted by the sounds of horns and hunt cries, soon after we saw about 10 people on horses, several wearing the classic red hunting jackets, and around fifty hounds. We saw the hounds scour the land, including private property and the Commons, where the bylaws state that no dogs are allowed to run off lead. We saw a fox running out of the private woodland, and a case of guns attached to the hunt buggy. Observations of the hounds' behaviour suggests that they were not following a scent trail.*
We contacted the ranger. He told us he was unaware of the hunt. This is surprising as we'd seen him drive up through the common minutes before we heard the first calls. Later, he told us that whether any hunt had permission was 'above him'.
We alerted the police who sent two officers down to meet us. They were patient and diplomatic and asked us to email them any video evidence, which we did. They spoke to the ranger, who deflected from the issue by wrongly accusing us of camping on the common. Then, a member of the golf club, Mr New, approached us as we spoke to the police. He said 'You haven't got a problem with my hounds have you?' He then asked us to mind our bags on the green, remarking 'I love my golf almost as much as I love my hunting.'
Over the following weeks I repeatedly contacted the police, quoting our crime number, and was told the rural and environmental crime officer would return my call. He never did. I eventually got through to him via his extension number. He passed me back over to the police who said that no action had been taken, citing the fact that they apparently hadn't received the video footage from us as the reason for this.
The Commons’ authorities also denied having granted permission for the hunt to take place that morning. Initially, they replied to my enquiries with the ominous statement: “We have no knowledge of hunting activity on the Common.” They later backtracked, saying that as Cleeve Common - a designated SSSI – is in fact privately owned, the owners were at liberty to decide what activities could take place there. However, hunting wild foxes with a pack of dogs is illegal, regardless of permission a landowner. Cleeve Common Trust refused to disclose the names or contact details of its owners.
The North Cotswold Hunt denied any association with this hunt party. The Cotswold Hunt refused to comment.
* Firstly, that the dogs spent so much time in the private woodland where the owners had not given permission for the hunt (or scent) to pass through. Secondly, we saw the hounds circling and disappearing for over 10 minutes in a small copse on an adjacent farm. When we called the owner of this farm, they had no knowledge of a trail being laid, or indeed any hunt on their land. Input from people with direct expertise on /experience of trails hunt welcome.
I am not an advocate for the philosophy behind private land, so it felt strange to be getting all up on who has permission to be where. But I do believe in accountability. And I’ve seen crimes with much less frivolous and cruel motives, crimes with less blood spilt, that have been chased and followed up and pursued and prosecuted by the police.
It's hard not to see the resonance with the wider issues of accountability and inequality we have in our society. Where in general, the more comfortable you are, the more you are permitted to mistreat others and break the law.
The hunt was quite a remarkable thing to see. It called to mind history of king's men on horses, of battles, of our long history of hunting. It also brought up fear of people who want to hold onto a history of glorified violence and oppression, and who use the way things have been as a justification for the way things should be now. I personally look forward to the day when we look back on our exploitation of non-human creatures as barbaric. ("Run little fox!")
The Cotswolds is painted as this quaint picture book place. Well I’ve never seen so many guns in all my life as I did there. Just sayin!