Sheffield hunt saboteurs lift lid on their campaigns: "I have been ridden at, trampled, verbally abused"
Members of a hunt saboteur group in Sheffield have taken the unusual step of speaking out about how and why they disrupt hunts in the region.
Zeb Dee, aged 51, from north Sheffield, has been involved with Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs, a group which disrupts trail hunts in the region, for 15 years.
While fox hunting is illegal, trail hunting – where hounds follow a scent rather than a fox – is not, but Zeb believes that some groups use trail hunts as a smokescreen.
The saboteurs are also concerned that even when trail hunting is taking place, they are often organised in areas where foxes are known to live and hounds will break away and follow foxes when they catch their scent.
Zeb said: "There was no such thing as trail hunting until the hunt ban came in.
"The only real way of a hunt not killing animals would be drag hunting (where bloodhounds follow a human runner).
"Unless you have seen them out in all their rigmarole you just can’t imagine, photographs don’t really do it justice, how alien and medieval the hunt is.
"It’s something that should have died out a long time ago. A lot of country places say that jobs are reliant on it.
"It’s just rubbish really, they just want to get out and kill things.”
Zeb became firmly involved with the group after coming across an artificial breeding ground for foxes in the woodland which had been covered with a slab of stone.
When Zeb and her friends lifted the stone they found blood and the stone was scratched underneath where an animal had broken its claws trying to get out.
Zeb said: “That shocked me. That was a catalyst, it gave me a lot of resolve to keep going for a long time.”
The Hunting Act came into force in 2005 and banned the hunting of wild animals with dogs in England and Wales, making traditional hunts a crime, but keeping trail and drag hunting legal.
Intercepting and disrupting a hunt can often involve trespassing on land, which is a civil offence, but Zeb says the group is only doing this in order to enforce criminal law.
She added: “We are trespassing to try and prevent an illegal activity.
"The Hunting Act is very hard to enforce. They will say they’re trailing and we know they’re not.”
Another member of the saboteur group, who did not want to be named, said: “It would be very easy for a police force that wanted to clamp down on illegal hunting to clamp down on it.
"When hunting was legal and sabbing hunts was illegal they always seemed to find enough police to turn up and either arrest sabbs or hold sabbs up while the hunt got away.
“Suddenly when hunting became illegal and the sabbs were enforcing the law the police seemed short of person power to turn up.
"I had a lot of faith in the police when I started, I assumed when the hunt ban came in the police would enforce it.
"My faith in the police has gone down as I got older which is probably an unusual thing.”
Sabotaging a hunt is quite an organised operation – Zeb explained that they usually have two people in a car, a driver and a navigator, and a team in the field.
She said: “You try and do the opposite of what the huntsman does.
"If he uses his hunting horn to hunt the hounds on, we will use the same sort of hunting horn to try and bring the hounds to us. We use whips to make a cracking noise to try and turn the pack.
“It can be dangerous as obviously they are not very happy that we are there.
"I have been ridden at, I’ve been trampled, verbally abused, I have been driving sab vehicles when they’ve been throwing rocks at the windows trying to get us to crash. I have had vehicles round, I’ve been attacked by maces.
"As a woman you can be quite targeted, it is mainly men who come at you like that.”
The saboteurs group has roughly 30 members, with a minimum joining age of 18 (a 15 year-old boy died at a sabotage event in 1993), and the oldest members are in their 60s.
Zeb said that they do not sabotage hunts which operate within the law.
She also explained that the group is involved in other campaigns including badger protection.
She said: “Traps are extremely cruel, they do not even kill the animal they hold them until the line is checked or it slowly dies of dehydration or starvation. "Snares are a similar matter, they can get twisted around an animal’s neck and it will die slowly.
"We are focusing on the suffering and the cruelty.”
Snares and traps are legal in the UK, although their intentional use against certain animals, including badgers, is illegal.
If you see someone engaged in badger digging or badger baiting, contact South Yorkshire Badger Group.
Additionally, Sheffield Hunt Saboteurs have a confidential tip-off line for information about illegal hunts or animal cruelty: which is on 07395631162.
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “Fox hunting with dogs is an offence and we will continue to monitor and review any evidence.
"We would encourage anyone with concerns about this type of crime to report to our officers so that we can investigate. Reports of this nature are treated seriously and investigated thoroughly.
"If you have any information please contact 101 or report online.”