In a new series of articles, the Heckler will be interviewing activists from a number of organisations and campaigns. In the first of the series, we are interviewing an anti-hunting activist from Bristol Hunt Saboteurs, who operate across the south west region, including Herefordshire.
Heckler: Could you explain in a couple of sentences what a hunt saboteur is and what you aim to achieve?
Saboteur: A hunt sab is, to put it simply, someone who sabotages hunting. The aim is to use direct action to save the hunted animal, usually a fox, from death at the hands of the hunt. Ideally we aim to stop the animal from being chased at all, but that can be a fair bit harder. It’s 2012 and unfortunately a small section of the population still takes pleasure in chasing and killing wild animals. We think it’s wrong that animals are killed to satisfy their blood lust, and we do what we do because very often it prevents this from happening.
Heckler: What tactics do you use to do this?
Sab: I could talk about tactics for ages, but some of the main ones are using horn and voice calls – mimicking the huntsman – to encourage the hounds away from any scents or prevent them from picking one up, spraying a mixture of essential oils and water over any scent trails to cover them up, and cracking whips to stop the hounds when they are following an animal. Since the ban, there’s been the addition of filming. Although most hunts have enough money and ‘friends in high places’ to ignore the law, sometimes they will refrain from hunting as long as you are close by with a video camera.
Heckler: How is your group organised? Is there a national organisation that calls the shots?
Sab: There is a national organisation – the Hunt Saboteurs Association – but all our decisions are made as a local group, they mainly just do media stuff and funding. We try to avoid hierarchy in our organising, and although we don’t always succeed, we keep trying, and hope that members feel comfortable enough to participate equally and to point out any problems that they notice.
Heckler: Is there much of a history behind hunt sabotage?
Sab: Well, my dad was a hunt sab, and I’ve met a lot of sabs who’ve been in the field for decades, so it’s been going on for a long time… the H.S.A started in 1963, so it’s about to have its 50th anniversary. Things such as tactics have changed greatly over the years, but the principle has remained the same and we’ve saved huge numbers of lives in that time. I’ve heard a few tales from times gone, of long tensions resulting in weekly brawls at certain hunts, but I don’t know how much is true.
Heckler: What areas do you operate in? Your Facebook page indicates that you’ve visited a number of hunts in and around the Herefordshire area in the past.
Sab: We have been up in your area many a time, as well as Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds, because the hunts we go to most frequently hunt in that area. We sometimes team up with other groups, which means we also go to Worcestershire, areas of Wales and even as far as the Isle of Wight, wherever we’re needed really!
Heckler: A number of pro-hunting sources claim that you receive support from the Labour Party and other political groups. Is this true, and how does your group receive it’s funding?
Sab: Is it fuck. We have to do all the work ourselves! We organise benefit gigs for a large portion of our funding, and we get money from donations and from the H.S.A, as well as sabs paying out of their own pocket of course. Apparently, Linda McCartney pays us…but we’ve never seen any of this money, so I think the hunts might have got their information mixed up. Much like their favourite story of us getting paid with a packed lunch and £20 for going out sabbing.
Heckler: What about the accusation that by wearing masks you are going out intending to cause trouble? Does violence play a part in your activities?
Sab: Of course violence comes into it, but that’s because we’re dealing with violent people. They take pleasure of out chasing and killing a wild animal, and they don’t know how to deal with people telling them no and so they lash out. This has lead to some pretty serious injuries, and even a couple of deaths in the past. We don’t encounter violence that often. When we do, we’re not just going to sit there and take it, of course we’re going to defend ourselves, but we don’t go out starting things because that’s not what we’re there for. It just gives the hunt chance to fuck off and kill wildlife while we’re held up with their “boys.”
Likewise with the masks – we’re dealing with violent people. It’s not unheard of that hunts and their support seek revenge for us disrupting their ‘fun’ and they’ve targeted anti-hunting activists with violence and intimidation in the past. It’s simply a case of protecting our identities, especially if some of our sabs are from rural communities.
Heckler: What’s your relationship like with the police? Are they generally on side because you are out to stop an illegal activity or do they target you in the way they have targeted other animal rights groups?
Sab: In honesty, it varies from cop to cop. Some are reasonable, some make stupid arrests for nothing. This season there was actually a case of a hunt master being arrested for racially abusing a sab who was out with us. That was the Ross Harriers actually, so it’s in your area. I know some sab groups like to work with the police, but we kind of have a policy of avoiding dealing with them as much as possible. If I had a choice I’d not deal with them at all, but I don’t really like police in general…
Heckler: Many people believe that the Hunting Act of 2005 put an end to hunting with dogs, but it would appear that you continue to operate in the same way you did before the ban. How effective do you think the ban has been, and how has your role changed since then?
Sab: Hunts are still hunting, and we are still sabbing. I said before that the video camera has become a useful tool for us, but other than this the ban hasn’t changed an awful lot. Hunts are more or less immune from the law, and very few prosecutions have been made under the act, so it’s a bit of a joke really. But I guess that’s what you get when you put your faith in parliamentary politics…
Heckler: David Cameron has indicated that he intends to overturn the ban. How likely do you think this is and how will it change things for you and for the wildlife of this country?
Sab: I would hope it’s not that likely, but nothing would surprise me from him. It won’t change a lot for us, we’ll keep on as ever, maybe we’ll get arrested a bit more often, but you just have to weigh up if a foxes life is worth more than a few hours in a police cell – I’d say it is, so the risk’s worth it. For the wildlife it won’t change much, because the ban didn’t change anything in the first place.
Heckler: So do you see hunt sabotage continuing for another 50 years?
Sab: Well hopefully hunting is dead and buried long before then, but we’ll keep on doing what we do as long as hunts are killing animals.
Heckler: Finally, how can people get involved or help out? Are there things that they can do if they don’t want to go out into the field with you?
Sab: It would be great to get some new people out sabbing, all of us start somewhere and we’re welcoming to newcomers! If anybody wants to then contact us at our email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the H.S.A website. We always need help with other things too, so if people can’t come out they could do some fundraising, help with info stalls, help with equipment and so on. All of it is helping to stop animals getting killed and it’s all really appreciated.
-There are plenty of websites online relating to hunt sabbing. Here are some relevant links.
Bristol Hunt Saboteurs – hunt saboteurs group operating across counties in the south west of England, including Herefordshire.
Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs – a newly formed hunt saboteurs group in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
Hunt Saboteurs Association – the national hunt saboteurs website. Including news, contacts, resources and information on hunting and hunt sabbing.
Real Countryside Alliance – a website with news and archives of the bad behaviour and violence of the pro-hunting lobby group, the Countryside Alliance, and hunts across the country.
*The views represented in this interview are those of the individual interviewed and not necessarily those of Bristol Hunt Saboteurs as a whole.*