In this guest editorial Ivan Massow MFH describes the birth pains of a new Club supporting Trail laying.
There will be few hunting enthusiasts who didn’t wake up in a cold sweat, the morning news broke of the MFHAs terrible “smokescreen” gaffe during their now infamous Zoom conference. It was not what was said in the video conference but the way it was said, any impartial observer was left with the impression that there was something to hide. Less inflammatory phrases such as ‘best endeavours’ or ‘all reasonable efforts’ could and should have been used – but weren’t, the phrase used was ‘smoke screen’ a phrase that immediately suggests that something is being concealed.
Masters and field followers alike, who have been hunting within the law, laying trails for the last 15 years, could hardly believe their ears. For many of us involved in putting on a day’s trail-hunting in country nestled between trendy, increasingly urban cities, and the countless suburban districts that pepper-pot our dog-walker dominated landscape, it’s not like we’ve ever had the option to break the law. In order to keep our traditions alive and prevent our community of farmers, equine enthusiasts and country folk, from being overrun by urbanites who have been told by various pressure group that they have the inalienable right to use someone’s else land as their own. Trail hunting has never been a “smokescreen”, it’s been a real part of everyday life and what’s more, an increasing number of people have grown to love it.
And what’s not to love? Stunning winter days spent with friends, in wonderful countryside, watching skilled hounds pursue an even more skilfully laid scent.
Sadly, all of this is threatened by the failure of a handful of people to take responsibility as they allow the situation to limp on in the hope that COVID paralysis will divert attention and save the day. It is no longer enough to hope that things will simply blow over during lockdown, measures must be taken to demonstrate to a largely alienated critical audience that there we have nothing to hide. Hunting today is not the blatant pursuance of foxes in breach of the law, it is a maintaining of tradition and the hunting community within the law. The exemptions within the Act are not ‘loopholes’ but are essential on the grounds of utility and welfare.
Of course, this isn’t just about the Hunting Office’s perceived failure to take swift decisive mitigating action, which in any other environment would begin with the obvious; suspending the individuals who, let’s face it, messed-up royally. Or, likewise, taking a robust line with hunts who serially do the same; their antics filling the papers and the 10 o’clock news. It’s that, long before “smokescreen-gate” (cries of ‘smokescreen’ now the mantra of every balaclava-wearing student), the MFHA failed to mention, until very recently let alone celebrate, Trail Hunting anywhere on their website despite having 15 years to do so.
For those who take on a Mastership, they quickly discover that it’s almost a full-time job, or should be if they’re doing it right. Most have built their people and organisational skills running businesses, handling publicity and using it to turn disasters into triumph. Our Chairman is one such individual and in the face of the emerging PR disaster, he was swift to put together a team that could create a positive response to the crisis.
It took a small team less than 24 hours to conceptualise and build trail layers club (www.trail-layers.org). The brief was simple; to create an open, upbeat celebration of our beloved pastime supported by a Facebook page where people can upload trail videos and images. To be clear, this is not and never was a political move or a bid to create a rival organisation. The trail layers club is just there to celebrate what we do and help those beleaguered lobbyists in our magnificent organisations like the Countryside Alliance, explain to, growingly impatient, Members of Parliament, why they shouldn’t simply make hunting with hounds, even trail hunting, totally illegal once and for all.
Unfortunately, the road to politics is paved with good intentions and unintentionally the trail layers club landed in the thick of it. For reasons still unknown the principal players, moved to frustrate and silence all other voices and offers of help. A reasonable observer would be forgiven for believing that the trail layers club, rather than the perpetrators of this mess, were the problem!
The day the site went live, calls were received from no fewer than three of the most senior MFHA officers. These calls culminating in a request that the entire site was taken down pending a committee investigation and subsequent decision some two weeks later.
After four weeks with no further communication, whilst being continuously bombarded with letters of encouragement and offers of donations from people eager to support a fresh approach celebrating our way of life, notification was sent to the hunting office that the site would be reinstated and asking them to sign off on a nothing more than a simple link to their website- a link that envisages and promotes a positive future for hunting with hounds.
Finally, finally, the closest thing to support or even receiving their blessing arrived. A page of text for us to include on the site. Unfortunately, however, that was the last helpful gesture we received. For example, we wrote to a master featured in the wonderful video on the Countryside Alliance website to ask his permission to showcase this video on our new website trail-layers.org. How could he possibly object?
It is impossible not to acknowledge the irony of having to ask his permission to use a video promoting trail laying on a website specifically designed to create positive messaging about Trail hunting. The individual’s own hunt has become a regular fixture on the ITV News for both allegations of animal cruelty and illegal foxhunting over the last two seasons (along with the one he mentors). Depressingly, but not surprisingly, the answer, copied into the Hunting Office, of course, came back as ‘NO!’.
At the present time, COVID has put hunting largely out of action and allowed things to quieten down, hopefully for long enough for MPs to allow us to put the case for our amazing lifestyle, hunting with hounds has always adapted to fundamental changes, e.g. railways, wire, motorways and increasing urbanization, but we need to provide a route map to enable the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and the other Parks and landowners to reconsider their decisions to ban trail hunting from their land. If those that ‘govern’ the direction of hunting refuse to countenance change then it’s hard to see all of this land returning to us, if any. Whatever happens, inactivity on our part is not, and in fact never was, a viable option if we want to run hounds over it in the future. We all need to start making lots of noise about Trail-hunting and what it means to our communities – and surely the Hunting Office at the very least, should be seen to be helping and encouraging those people who are willing to dedicate their time and resources to making this happen.
NB www.trail-layers.org is chaired by Ivan Massow MFH and their Patron is The Countess of Denbigh & Desmond
Image of the Border Beagles courtesy Daryl Owen 2020