Saving Wildlife with Direct Action
The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) was formed in 1963 by members of the League Against Cruel Sports who, according to HSA founder John Prestige, felt that "the League didn't seem to be doing anything." The early HSA was supported by the League. The first sabotage of a hunt was on Boxing Day 1963 on the South Devon Foxhounds at Torquay. Hunt saboteurs blew horns, blockaded roads, sprayed aniseed and tipped meat in front of the hounds.
The sabotage was so successful that the hunt was cancelled. Within weeks, more groups were founded in the Southwest and after the first year there had been about 120 sabotage actions. Hunt sabotage continued to grow until its peak in the 1980s where regional hits could involve hundreds of sabs. Its political profile changed during this development as the radical animal rights movement also grew and sabbing became an attractive activity for up-for-it anarchists. The state began a concerted crackdown in the early 1990s with the Criminal Justice Act which brought in the Aggravated Trespass laws aimed specifically against sabs, ravers and road protestors. Hundreds of arrests were made and over-the-top policing became a regular feature of sabbing.
The tactics of a sab group nowadays have been developed to provide the most effective forms of intervention to disrupt the activity of the hunt and to give a fox a chance to escape. While hounds are searching for a scent, horn and voice calls are used to draw them away from the huntsman. When a fox breaks from cover, sabs will interpose ourselves between the fox and the hounds after the fox has passed. We attempt to prevent the hounds following the fox by covering its trail with scentmasking sprays made from citronella essence and by cracking home-made whips, a signal for the hounds to stop and turn. Often the mere presence of a sab group at a regularly sabbed hunt is enough to prevent them from hunting, as they spend the whole day riding around trying to avoid sabs. Sabbing is a highly skilled activity learnt over many years but everyone has something to contribute and anyone can be in the right place at the right time to make a crucial intervention.
The aim of sabotaging a hunt is primarily to save the lives of individual animals. Where many direct actions and political campaigns are based around abstractions or form part of an intractably large whole, direct action in animal rights, and particularly hunt sabotage, focuses on the life and experience of the individual sentient being as the unit of value. This can make a refreshing change from some campaigns which may seem like a drop in the ocean. It is an exhilarating experience to see a beautiful wild animal escape its persecutors as a result of our intervention. There are few things more satisfying than a successful set-piece sabotage. Sabbing also affects the hunts economically as a successfully sabotaged hunt is a frustrating experience for the riders who finance it. During the last 20 years of hunt saboteur activity, attendance of hunts has declined and many have been forced to 'amalgamate' - meaning that one of the hunts effectively ceases to exist in all but name.
There is an element of class conflict in the confrontation between the hunt and the sabs. Hunters and their supporters are as a rule the rural land-owning class, a bizarre sect who are almost completely separated from the rest of society and yet have great influence over political and economic affairs. As they say themselves, "We are the bloody Establishment!" It is most satisfying to have the opportunity to ridicule them at one of their important social functions.
As hunt saboteurs we are witnesses to the all-out war against wildlife which seems to be the main activity in the so-called countryside. Open country is the playground of the rich, and a few patches of scrubby woods remain only because they are managed for hunting and shooting. These copses and areas of scrub are not of sufficient size or quality to maintain a great diversity of plant and animal life. Whatever animals do manage to survive are terrorised, poisoned, trapped and shot by gamekeepers, terrier men, blethering aristocrats and various other professional or amateur sadists. While crossing the countryside to sabotage a foxhunt we will usually find much evidence of other wildlife abuse - shooting pens, snares, larsen-traps and often active shooters. I have seen a pair of rifle-shooters halfway through the day surrounded by the corpses of at least fifty wood-pigeons and a crow. Without our intervention they would have killed another fifty birds in the rest of the day. Walking, cycling or driving through country lanes it is all too easy to believe that the countryside is an idyllic refuge for nature, but looking a little deeper it appears more like an enormous factory of waste, pollution and animal abuse. Even the massacre of wildlife does not compare to the stinking farmyards, littered with dead machinery, where millions of sick and suffering animals are raised on antibiotics, hormones and cash-crop concentrates to feed up the next generation of European heart-attack victims who occasionally trundle past in their 4x4s. An irate farmer once said to a sab, "What would happen if I wasn't here managing this land? The trees would grow and the birds would come back! There'd be little birds everywhere! And then what would you do?" This fear and hatred of wild plants and animals is typical of the alienation from nature that agro-industrial workers suffer. As usual, hatred justifies abuse.
Being part of a hunt sab group has indirect advantages at least as important as its direct aims. A sab group is a classic example of the affinity group form of organisation. The co-operation of two or more autonomous sab groups is a glorious illustration of successful chaos in action. Sabbing requires quick thinking on your feet and absolute trust of one's fellow sabs in situations which may be physically or legally risky. It builds useful skills of navigation, observation, listening, spatial awareness, taking opportunities and perceiving risks, and dealing with confrontation and the police.
Sabbing is an activity in which there is almost certain to be a conflict with the forces of the state. The policing of hunts is ridiculously over the top. There have been incidents of over a hundred police officers for a sab group of five and sabbing is considered to be the biggest public order problem on the south coast during the hunting season. It is difficult to imagine that anyone could take part in the sabotage of a hunt and still maintain any naive sympathies for the police when hunt supporters who seriously assault sabs are not prosecuted and yet sabs are often arrested, prosecuted and fined for the most trivial trespass offences like "not leaving the land quickly enough when ordered to do so by a police officer". We can reliably presume that top police officers are in the same social circles as hunt supporters. Sussex Police were recently discovered sitting down at long tables in a barn for a full English breakfast with the South Downs and Eridge hunt.
Spending one or two days a week running around outdoors helps keep our bodies healthy and minds sharp, as does most sabs' vegan diet. And sabbing can even be fun - classic moments from the past couple of years include: three sab groups leaning against their vans and subjecting bloated Tory MP Nicholas Soames to a volley of abuse as his poor horse struggled along the road; gaining so much control over South Downs and Eridge hounds that they had to be dragged away on leads with a terrier man pushing from behind; the huntsman from the Crawley and Horsham hunt foolishly going out on foot due to frozen conditions and having his horn stolen; and all the foxes that we saw running away to survive after a successful intervention..
For details of your local hunt sab group get in touch with:
Hunt Saboteurs Association
PO Box 5254
Northampton NN1 3ZA
Tel: 0845 450 0727
South Devon Animal Rights and Plymouth Hunt Saboteurs present
Under the Camouflage
A collection of environmental nudes
Yes, it really exists! The almost mythical naked hunt sabs calendar! Twelve or so naked (although disappointingly rather coy) sabs pose against the backdrop of Dartmoor National Park (with a few rather tactically placed horns and whips). Can you possibly live throughout the rest of the year without your own copy? Send a bargain £3.00 (including postage) to: Plymouth Hunt Saboteurs, PO Box 129, Plymouth, Devon PL1 1RY, England.