My First Hunt Sab

fox hunting

Sarah tells us how she came to be a Hunt Saboteur and what it means to her.

“It was something I had always wanted to do – join the Hunt Sabs and help to sabotage a Fox hunt. But life gets in the way of our good intentions and I needed something to give me a final push, that something happened whilst on holiday in Somerset during the summer of 2015 when I saw a Fox hunt for the very first time.

Given the time of year, what I had actually stumbled upon was a cub hunt – where the hunt take the new hounds and train them to go against their instincts and kill baby Foxes. By doing this they are preparing them for the new Fox hunting season and also training the Fox cubs to run and not go straight to ground; in order to maximise the enjoyment of the hunt followers who like to get their money’s worth out of a day’s hunting.

What took me by surprise initially was the number of hunt supporters, lining the road eager to gain a sighting of the poor Fox cub as it tried to escape, so they could tip off the huntsman. I saw the terriermen on their quad bikes, I didn’t know at this stage that they would be called if the Fox cub went to ground, in order to send in their poor, abused Terriers to flush the Fox out for the hounds.

Finally we saw the hunt followers and the huntsman. It was clear they felt themselves to be something quite special as they glanced in my direction, no doubt expecting me to be impressed at the spectacle they were creating. The emotions I felt at this stage were overwhelming anger and frustration that I was unable to do a thing to stop them. It was during the Badger cull of 2015 and so I telephoned my contact to see if there were any Sabs in the area but they were all busy with the cull. Not knowing what else to do as I hadn’t actually seen the Fox, I had to leave him or her to their own devices and hope that it escaped.

I made up my mind there and then that I would join the Hunt Saboteurs as soon as I returned from my holiday and that’s what I did.

At the start of the new season I arrived with the Hunt Sabs to find a huge hunt – much larger than the one I had seen in the summer, there were hundreds of riders. I had chosen the busiest day of the year (next to Boxing Day) for my first ever sab!

I was part of a small foot group and it was our job to track and monitor the hunt. It involved a lot of running across very muddy ground. I was told everything I needed to know and learnt quickly. We used citronella spray to cover a Fox’s tracks that crossed our path, we took footage of the hounds chasing Foxes, I filmed an assault on a fellow Sab by one of their hired thugs… it was a long, tough day but they didn’t get to kill and that made every moment worthwhile. Since then I have sabbed as many hunts as possible and will continue to do so. Nothing gives me the same sense of satisfaction of knowing that my actions have helped to save an innocent life. For anyone wanting to get involved with the Hunt Saboteurs, my advice is – do it! You could not meet a nicer group of people; people who will give everything they have to save the life of an animal. Plus there is usually vegan cake!”

Find out more about how you can help at www.huntsabs.org.uk

Image: Daily Express

Jo, Sea Shepherd Volunteer ‘On Campaign In The Faroes’

faroe islands sea shepherd campaign

This moving account of the cruel Faroese custom of killing whales and dolphins comes from Jo; a Sea Shepherd UK volunteer and details her time spent on campaign in the Faroe Islands. 

“In July 2014 I was grateful to be a member of the Grindstop 2014 crew. A Sea Shepherd campaign in the Faroe Islands. We were there to try to stop the annual killings of entire pods of wild pilot whales.

On arrival at Stansted airport in the UK I was aware of the hostilities towards Sea Shepherd by some Faroese. Lining up to check into my flight a woman bashed her trolley into my legs then grabbed her child turning her away from me. I’ve never before experienced such behaviour towards myself and was wondering what was to come! In contrast later a stranger came up and hugged me saying thank you Sea Shepherd!

Having arrived and being met by team leader Guiga Pirá, I was happy to be with like-minded kind passionate and genuine people, all there for the same reason to try to stop the barbaric killing of entire wild pods of pilot whales.

The campaign itself had both land crew and sea crew. The job of the land crew was to keep watch over the surrounding seas for pods of whales and to keep the boat crews updated. Whilst I was there the crews managed to herd some pods back out to sea preventing their certain death.

The method of killing these wonderful sentient beings is barbaric. The Faroese call it a grindadráp. The pods are herded into killing bays by the Faroese on boats, they bang poles and make noises which frighten and confuse the whales. The hunt itself is extremely stressful for these animals. Once at the shore they are jumped on by a rowdy group of men, who use hooks attached to ropes rammed into the whales blow holes. Their spinal cords are then severed and throats cut. Many whales take minutes to die. They scream out loud thrash about in agony, then the surrounding sea turns crimson red filled with their blood.

Whilst I was there no whales were killed so I did not have to witness this dreadful event, but every second it was at the back of everyone’s mind that a grindadráp may occur at any minute. We were primed and ready to do whatever we could to defend the whales. Many other crew members did witness the killings and some like Magdalena Gschnitzer, Sergio Torbio Sánchez, Rosie Kunneke and Rudy de Kieviet were arrested whilst trying to stop a pod being killed, they were treated like criminals and three policemen held Rosie face down in the sand.

The Faroe Islands are exceptionally beautiful; healthy glorious landscapes and blue seas surrounding them. The islanders have a high standard of living and contrary to popular belief their supermarkets are full of all kinds of food, just like most western countries. They have no need whatsoever to eat pilot whales.

Studies have shown that pilot whales, being top of the food chain, have high levels of mercury, PCB’s and DDT derivatives in their blubber and meat. The Faroese chief medical officers Pál Weihe and Høgni Debes Joensen have announced these facts to the Faroese. Some have taken heed, especially pregnant women, but many choose to ignore this and continue to eat toxic whale meat in the belief it’s their right to do so as it’s their tradition.

No-one disputes that in bygone centuries this barbaric practice helped sustain the local human population, but in the 21st century it is not only totally unnecessary, it is a dreadful and horrific event which causes unbelievable suffering and death to entire pods of sentient whales.

One retired whaler I spoke to, whom I initially met whilst on watch with him shouting abuse at us from his car, was clearly very passionate about their right to kill whales, telling me they were sent from God and theirs to kill and eat. The pollution aspect was however one that made him think, when I suggested his grand-children may not fair so well with a diet of proven toxicity.

This practice must end, it’s time to move on.”

Re-Homing Ex-Battery Hens

Tiny Hen and Roxy Hen

Caring people find homes for thousands of commercial laying hens destined for slaughter each year. Here our guest blogger Julie tells her moving story about rescuing these gentle, friendly creatures, otherwise known as ‘The Broiler Babies’:

“As of today there are 20 chickens living in our house and garden. I include the house because ailing birds are brought indoors to the “hospital wing”. 66 pigeons also inhabit the pigeon house, disabled annexe and 2 indoor houses in the loft, where the show pen for poorlie chickens is also to be found. But how did I get here? This mad chicken lady has been a long time developing, about 30 years in fact.

In the mid 1980’s I lived in Weston Super Mare and rode a motorcycle up the M5 every day to work in the transport department of a chemical company based in Avonmouth, near Bristol. The day that changed my life was a cold, grey late winter morning. Sleet was blowing across the carriageway almost horizontally. It was a morning to wrap a scarf over your face, pull your visor down, hunch over the handlebars and go for it.

I was tanking down the middle lane at about 80mph (sorry officer, I was young and reckless on an Italian V twin in those days) when I drew up to a flatbed truck. It was packed with poultry crates about 6 high. As I passed it I slowed to match the driver’s speed, 70mph. I looked in horror into the little faces, pushed out through the plastic mesh of the crates, blinking in the wind rush of icy sleet as it slammed into their featherless bodies. Wings and even legs stuck out through the mesh. I tried to imagine the suffering of these poor birds and felt a rush of rage. I was now level with the driver and gave him a selection of my best “Italian style hand signals”. You won’t find them in the Highway Code, but he got my meaning, I’m sure. I also memorised the name of the company and the vehicle registration. As soon as I arrived at work I phoned the RSPCA, gave them the details and explained the breaches in animal transport regulations I had witnessed.

A couple of hours later an RSCPA inspector rang me back, thanking me for the information and explaining that the birds I had seen were end-of-lay battery hens. As they were, “worth less than a bottle of pop”, they were treated with less care than a bottle of cheap lemonade on that last horrific journey to their slaughter. Most people don’t care about them the inspector told me. I felt sick but didn’t know what I could do to help.

It took Jane Howarth, founder of the Battery Hen Welfare Trust (now British Hen Welfare Trust) a long time to be able to turn concern into action too. She watched a documentary about caged hens in 1978, was horrified, wrote to her MP and tried to make other people aware of the issue, but was only able to rescue hens in the 1990’s when she had a house with enough land. In 2005 she started her charity and shortly after I was able to take my first rescued ex-batts from a BHWT rescue. We had kept pet chickens before but it was only after we lost most of our little flock to Avian TB that I thought my son, who loves chickens, could cope with the inevitable sadness of giving a home to weak hens that a farmer had written off as fit only for killing.

Old girls and Dixie Chicks

Old girls and Dixie Chicks

The first group of 4 became known, inevitably, as The Old Girls. The smallest hen, Tiny Hen came to us with an injury with which I have become too familiar over the years, bruising and tendon damage to her leg caused by being grabbed by the legs and pulled out of her cage. Hens are then carried, dangling upside down, to the crates which will carry them to their deaths. A very tiny few, the hens who have won the lottery, are packed into crates which are loaded into vans or trailers which take them not to slaughter, but to a new life as hens in gardens and paddocks. Tiny Hen was lucky, after a few days in a pen on her own her leg healed and she joined the flock. She was a clever little hen and being only the size of a woodpigeon, knew she needed an ally to avoid being the hen-pecked bottom hen. Old Roxy, my son’s pet Rhode Island Red, was flock matriarch and hen in charge, so Tiny Hen attached herself to big, tough Roxy.

Although Roxy lived to the venerable age of 6, she had various ailments during her life, including arthritis in her legs which resulted in her spending time indoors with us, including one Christmas when we really did have Chicken for Christmas dinner, as Roxy joined us next to the dinner table and enjoyed treats from our vegetarian dinner. When the weather warmed up and she went back out to her flock, Tiny Hen raced to greet her and assumed the submissive pose of the hen to the cockerel. Roxy, fully recovered, then performed the flamenco style dance of the cockerel with one wing dropped and some fancy footwork around Tiny Hen. I’m not sure what the exact nature of their relationship was but they were inseparable until, after about 2 years of freedom, Tiny Hen died.”

Tiny Hen and Roxy Hen

Tiny Hen and Roxy Hen

If you would like to find out more about rescuing hens destined for slaughter, please go to www.bhwt.org.uk

Julie, Toad Patrolling

Common Toad

Julie speaks about her voluntary work protecting toads and frogs – often overlooked victims of modern day development.

Common No More

“I’m writing this before the feelings of anger and sadness fade. I often get like this at this time of year, on damp, mild nights. It’s caused by Toad Patrolling; something that sounds a bit jokey, a bit “Dad’s Army’ish”, the sort of thing those eccentric Brits get up to after, or before drinking warm beer. I wish it was like that. I’ve been Toad Patrolling for nearly 30 years, over half a lifetime of early Spring evenings spent trying to save migrating amphibians from the results of human technology.

I first patrolled a crossing at Kingsweston, a semi-rural enclave between the city of Bristol, a housing estate and the industrial sprawl of Severnside. It was the late 1980’s, I was an active volunteer with the local Wildlife Trust and it was easy enough to recruit a crew of colleagues, friends, even my hairdresser and the owner of the local riding stables. The frogs and toads migrated from surrounding woodland to spawn in a large pond, originally dug in the mid 18th century to provide water for horses at the stables belonging to Kingsweston Manor House. To reach the pond they had to cross a narrow lane, not a main road but a route known as a shortcut to locals and leading past the former stables and coach house which were then used as a Police College. Our job was to collect the animals in buckets to prevent them being killed by traffic on the lane before they could reach their breeding pond. When we had a full bucket of amphibians we gently tipped them into the water and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

Every damp evening from mid February to early April a group of us, on a rota, would help toads to cross the road. The lane may have been quiet but it only takes one vehicle to crush a generation into oblivion. The logical solution for this lane ought to have been to close the road to through traffic at night during the breeding season, but the local Council refused on the grounds of the administrative cost, it was just too much hassle, even though the Police College agreed with us that this was a good idea. So we carried on filling our buckets, on the busiest nights over 100 animals were helped and the Kingsweston Toad Patrol became a feature of my life for the next 4 or 5 years.

The last Spring the woods looked different, instead of a tangle of underbrush there was a clear vista through the trees and some of them were missing too. That year no toads or frogs showed up to be carried across the lane and joyfully celebrate the arrival of another year in the cycle of so many years by croaking, cheeping (the sound a male toad makes to serenade his lady love), writhing and spawning in an ecstasy of new life. They had gone, no warning, no alarms to frantic attempts to save this population which had been there for centuries.

I walked the woods in daylight and then it became clear. The woodland had been tidied, trees felled, undergrowth removed using machinery and tracked vehicles. I contacted the Wildlife Trust, they contacted the Council who replied to us all. Yes, they had carried out forestry operations the previous winter and no, they hadn’t thought about the effect this might have on overwintering frogs and toads. Some male frogs will hibernate in the soft mud at the bottom of ponds but females and toads hibernate in dark damp places like log piles. They were all gone.

Not long after my life changed and I moved away to semi-rural Gloucestershire. Our at the bottom of our garden we half buried and filled with rain water, an old sink which my young son watched for animal activity with avid concentration. One day, aged 4, he brought me a drawing he had made. I was amazed; it looked like a male smooth newt in breeding colours of bright madder red stripes along his flanks. I had to check this out, and sure enough, there was the male newt, basking in the mini-pond.

The mini-pond didn’t only attract newts, soon a pair of frogs had spawned and the sink was full. An old tin bath (“normal” people use them for bathing muddy dogs) was drafted into action and spawn was reverently placed in it and cared for until the tadpoles transformed into tiny froglets and climbed out along wooden batons, expressly made for the purpose, to make their way in the world. Their route into the woods above the house was unimpeded by roads but they needed a bigger pond. Once, before people farmed this land marshy pools would have lined the spring-line at the foot of the hills and in later times farmers dug dew ponds to water their stock, modern water troughs do not provide such a forgiving habitat for wildlife. Frogs, toads and newts are now mostly dependant on garden ponds and the whims of the humans who own them. Fortunately for this population our neighbour dug a magnificent garden pond, didn’t use pesticides and was fascinated by the wildlife. We moved on feeling hopeful.

Our current house has a pond which we dug for wildlife. Apart from the areas cleared by rescued chickens, it is a tangle of jungle to give cover to animals. Other gardens also had ponds and a neighbour who has lived here since the 1970’s recalls the carnage of dead frogs and toads on the lane every Spring.

For the first few years the boys and I went out with buckets on Spring evenings and collected amphibians. Part of the challenge was working out which pond they were heading for. Gradually people tired of trimming hedges and installed solid fencing on concrete footings. They had no time for mowing lawns but gravel and decking were fashionable and then the ponds started to be filled in. There are 3 ponds left in the area, each with its isolated group of amphibians hanging on. The main toad crossing near me is now about a mile away. Frogs and toads move out of the hedges surrounding fields of improved pasture and head for a small ornamental lake. The owner of the house has assured me that it was only dug in the last decade, but in that time animals have chosen it in preference to 2 other smaller ponds nearby.

The only problem is the lane. It’s a quiet lane, not a main road but a route known as a shortcut to locals and leading to the lake. It only takes one vehicle to devastate a generation. Now the patrol is often 1 or 2 people, one year there were more, but there are not enough toads to occupy many more helpers. On the busiest nights of the migration we can help over 20 animals but the mortality rate is always about 40%; the unlucky ones who don’t make it across the lane before a car comes. Most drivers don’t see the animals. A male toad will often wait on a patch of open ground for the larger females to arrive. When a female creeps past the small male hitches a ride and clasps his front legs around her belly in a grip known as “amplexus”. There are always fewer females than males and amorous males have been known to so overwhelm a poor female that she has been drowned and crushed by their attempts to mate with her. Prising off a male toad while causing no hurt to either party is a delicate operation and usually results in the thwarted male embarking on a brief affair with the hand of the interfering human. Sadly what may appear to a male toad to be the ideal open space to wait for females is often the road. There they sit up on their haunches, bright-eyed and expectant. You catch the gold glint of their eyes in the torch light and sometimes you can’t reach them before the car does.

The female toads and frogs walk, hop and creep on towards the ponds. A pair of toads in amplexus will move slower than an unencumbered female. The saddest sights are the pairs of lost lovers, crushed before they could spawn. Each small body on the road is a tale of tragic heroism. Frogs and toads can walk up to 2km from their hibernation areas to their breeding ponds. When the road where they are killed is only 200m from the breeding pool the loss is so poignant. For millions of years, rana temporaria, the common or European frog and bufo bufo, the common or European toad have co-evolved with their natural predators and proved themselves to be adaptable generalists able to withstand previous mass extinction events and serious climate change. But we have pushed them literally into the corners, fragmented habitats, facing loss of breeding and overwintering areas and beset by diseases which humans have introduced. My now adult biologist son tells me that chytrid fungus was released into wild populations from bullfrogs used in laboratory experiments.

What population of any species can withstand this rate of attrition? Like many of our wild species frogs and toads are living shorter lives than even 30 years ago. I recall many of those animals we collected in the 1980’s being as large as the palm of my hand, with plenty of venerable female toads the size of a saucer. Now they are maybe half that size and age when I see them for their last migration. Tonight I only identified a female toad when the 4 cm long male clasped his slightly larger mate in a passionate embrace in the bottom of my bucket. I wished them well as I gently tipped them into the pool. There is plenty of spawn this year, but there are too many new enemies.”

My Time In Taiji – A Personal Account Oct 2014

sea shepherd cove guardians

I was fortunate enough to spend time in Taiji, Japan with the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians in October 2014. Here is my personal account of my time there.

Nothing can prepare you for the horrors of Taiji. What strikes you first are the ‘sea pens’, which are visible as you approach the town by train. Like floating prisons, the tiny cells appear in rows with a number of dolphins in each. They barely have enough room to swim, these magnificent, super intelligent creatures who have been known to swim up to 100 miles in one day. There are a mixture of species being held, including Bottlenose and White Sided dolphins and False Killer Whales. Some may have been in there for two years.

Those imprisoned in the harbour have to endure hearing the banger boats go out every morning. They must remember that sound from their own capture, when their families were slaughtered. If the killers have had a successful hunt, the captives will hear their fellow dolphins being mercilessly driven into the killing cove and will smell their blood as their dead or dying bodies are dragged past their pens. Visiting the pens, sometimes you will notice a curious eye looking at you and you imagine the dolphin is asking ‘why has this happened to me?’ The intelligence of dolphins is staggering, their brains are larger than humans and they are more emotionally intelligent. You can only begin to imagine how much they suffer.

The Cove Guardians frequently check on the captive dolphins – sadly their captors don’t. If they are lucky they will be thrown fish twice per day, sometimes they’re not fed at all. A number of dolphins have their ribs showing. If they are of no interest to the killers or ‘trainers’ then why can’t they be released back into the ocean?

The drive itself you can never forget. Mothers trying to protect their babies, only to be ripped apart from them and brutally murdered. The way the pod will fight so hard to try to escape. The absolute lack of any compassion from the killers. The babies and juveniles, sometimes injured, will often be driven back out to sea in the same way they were driven into the cove. Before they were with their families; now they are alone. They have to be driven out as they do not want to leave the place that they last saw their family. The killers don’t want to waste their quota on the small dolphins, as they don’t yield as much meat. However these babies have seen horrors that we would only imagine in our worst nightmares, and their chance of survival back out in the ocean is slim to none without their family pod. Sometimes they won’t even make it back out of the harbour alive.

If you didn’t know better, you would think that the locals revere whales and dolphins, as their images appear all over the town. There is a huge statue of a beautiful mother and baby whale, along with an actual hunting vessel; which has killed so many of these beautiful animals in the past.

I am proud to be here with Sea Shepherd, an organisation that is on the ground every single day of the hunting season, year after year, exposing the horrors that take place in Taiji. I represent a huge and ever growing movement of compassionate people around the world, who will not stand by while these intelligent, sentient creatures are brutalised, stolen from their families for a lifetime of pain and misery or cruelly murdered in front of each other.

There is an opportunity for those involved in these drive hunts to stop the bloodshed and live captures and instead offer boat trips to tourists, to see the dolphins where they should be – swimming freely in the ocean. The drive hunts aren’t traditional; they only started using motor boats in the 1970s. Instead they are purely motivated by financial gain. There is no mistaking the relationship between dolphins in captivity and these brutal drive hunts. Without the huge sums gained from selling dolphins into captivity – up to $300,000 for a trained dolphin – then the hunts simply wouldn’t be financially viable. The ‘dolphin trainers’ play their part at the end of the hunt; choosing which dolphins will live and which will die.

You can do your bit to stop them from taking place by never buying a ticket to see a dolphin show and by spreading the word – tell your families, friend and work colleagues. Sign petitions and go along to protests – make your voice heard. For the dolphins.

 

Dave, Badger Cull Saboteur

Badger Cull Activist

“1st June 2013…. aged 63….. never been on a demo, or any kind of protest, in my life….. Heading to the ‘London Demo Against The Badger Cull’ – on the train, wondering what I had let myself in for but knowing I felt passionate about how wrong, cruel and unnecessary this imminent cull was. I needn’t have worried. When I saw another guy with a black and white beard on the same train, I knew I had met a kindred spirit and indeed he has proved to be a fellow anti-cull activist and hopefully lifelong friend.

Inspired by the likes of Brian May and Virginia McKenna speaking at the demo, there was no turning back and the summer of 2013 found me in the cull zone in Somerset. Walking across the Exmoor countryside at night, brilliant stars, balmy summer evenings, freezing cold autumnal evenings, torrential rain, mist, I was never alone as old and young walked the walk to save our badgers.

Bedfordshire Badger Action group was formed to see how best we could support the anti-cull, using peaceful means, and we started fundraising and drawing up a list of how we could assist those in the zones. Some of us couldn’t leave it at that though, and so I found myself in the Somerset zone six times plus three visits to the Gloucestershire zone. Facebook proved an invaluable tool for information and communication as I rapidly built up a friends’ list of individuals and groups sympathetic to the cause.

I started out walking with Somerset Badger Patrol, walking footpaths at night in high viz jackets, blowing whistles, flashing torches where necessary, whatever it took to disrupt the callous shooters from decimating our innocent badgers. I found a great bunch of people on these walks, many of whom had put their lives on hold for this six weeks (subsequently extended over further weeks) in order to save the badgers. Our very presence, along with all the patrols night after night, was enough to halt shooting as cullers are not allowed to shoot when members of the public are present. One night, we heard shots fired near us and dashed off in the direction from where they came, flashing torches and making a lot of noise. I think we definitely saved lives that night. Later the same evening, stopped by the police and asked for our details, we naively gave them, even though we were not driving at the time, or committing an offence. It has been a sharp learning curve and we know better now!

Weeks of driving to and from the cull zone, patrolling in the night, at times cold, wet and exhausted, but always buoyed on by the mutual desire to save the badgers, took their toll both mentally and physically. People were followed by private security guards, harassed by police, falsely accused by farmers, verbally abused by local yobs and shouted at by various people driving past in cars. Cars have been vandalised, dead rabbits left on windscreens, graffiti daubed on bonnets. Some people even had cars driven at them in anger. A lone local lady was chased for over ten miles before she could shake off her menacing pursuers. Reports to police were generally ignored. Although sadly we could not prevent all badgers from being shot, action in the field meant that the shooters did not reach their target number of badgers in 2013.

And so again, this year, we find ourselves facing the same situation of having to defend Britain’s badgers, made the scape goat of the NFU and their shoddy practices. Again, I have returned to the killing fields of Somerset, but this year, rather than walk with the patrols, I have been out with the local “pixies” (spirits who creep about both during the day and the hours of darkness, righting the wrongs of the evil cullers). Direct action is saving lives, saving some badgers from being shot, or trapped in a cage for the night to be shot at dawn the next day. It can be scary, heart stopping at times, boring as you sit on guard at others, but always exhilarating and rewarding. Night after night, Britain’s Badger Army is out in the countryside saving our wildlife and will not cease until this barbarism is stopped.”

SAVE OUR BADGERS! STOP THE CULL!

You can support the badger cull saboteurs by donating here gogetfunding.com

You can also follow these groups on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/pages/Somerset-Badger-Patrol

www.facebook.com/GloucesterAgainstBadgerShooting