'It still happens': In the field with north London's fox hunt saboteurs

North London Hunt Saboteurs at the East Essex Hunt

North London Hunt Saboteurs at the East Essex Hunt - Credit: Rhys Giles

It may be illegal but fox hunts continue to operate – and so do saboteur groups, who take to the woods and fields to protect the animals.

Rhys Giles, from Primrose Hill, trades his day job as an IT consultant to chase down fox hunters in the countryside at weekends.

On August 6, from 6pm to 9pm, his group, the North London Hunt Saboteurs, is hosting its Fantastic Fox Fundraising Feast at Manna, in Erskine Road.

On its outings, the group uses distraction techniques to confuse the hounds, giving the foxes time to get away.

North London Hunt Saboteurs generally travel to hunts in Buckingham, Hertfordshire and Essex

North London Hunt Saboteurs generally travel to hunts in Buckingham, Hertfordshire and Essex - Credit: North London Hunt Saboteurs

The Hunting Act 2004 banned chasing wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales – meaning fox hunting, deer hunting, hare hunting, hare coursing and mink hunting are all illegal. 

Rhys said he usually meets the group, from different corners of London, at a station or carpark, to discuss their plans.

"We normally get a tip off from the member of the public as to where the hunt are meeting that day. Normally they'll go to farmyard or farmer they know. They'll bring their horses and their hounds, and we'll set up in positions we expect them to move into," said Rhys.

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They look for signs of a fox, keep an eye out on deer breaking cover, birds taking flight but Rhys said locating the hounds is key.

A hunt saboteur walks with the dog pack from a Boxing Day Hunt near Husthwaite, North Yorkshire. Box

A hunt saboteur walks with the dog pack from a Boxing Day Hunt near Husthwaite, North Yorkshire. - Credit: PA

Distraction techniques include learning the hunting cries, for instance shouting "get off" or "come back". They take out hunting horns to confuse the hounds.

The 30-year-old said: "If you see a fox and you see in the direction they are heading and can get between the fox and the hounds, we spray citronella spray, we have bottles of it, to mask the scent of the fox and hounds confused what direction to go'."

They also carry "gizmos", like miniature boom boxes, which play audio of hounds in cry, to redirect the hounds.

A hunt saboteur, in North Yorkshire, uses a drone to search for people participating in Boxing Day H

A hunt saboteur, in North Yorkshire, uses a drone to search for people participating in Boxing Day Hunts. - Credit: PA

"Typically, they will get away from us, that is why we have multiple groups around, because the hunters are on horseback and we are on foot," said Rhys.

"We spread out, we work out where they are likely to go, stay ahead of them. We are filming the whole time so if anything illegal happens we've got it on film.

"We've had arrests and potential convictions. We'd rather have a living fox than a hunter in prison but you've got to take what you can get."

Sometimes hunts pack up as soon as they see them.

"Sometimes they get very aggravated by our presence but if they've nothing to hide, they've nothing to fear," said Rhys.

The practice does involve trespassing but he said that is not a crime, it is a civil dispute which "resolves very quickly as we get off the land as soon as we get on to it – we're just walking across a field".

North London Hunt Saboteurs keeping track of potential fox hunters

North London Hunt Saboteurs keeping track of potential fox hunters - Credit: Rhys Giles

"Personally, I believe in a right to roam and think people should be able to walk across land as long as they are not destroying property or making a nuisance of themselves, and realistically what we're doing is trying to stop the illegal action of fox hunting." 

Giles added: "We've just had someone convicted of offences under the animal cruelty act from evidence we took who's being sentenced on August 1, so it still happens and we still manage to catch people doing it." 

Fundraiser tickets cost £25, which includes a vegan meal with wine and live music. Proceeds go towards transport costs and citronella spray.

Raffle prizes include a signed print by local award-winning playwright Alan Bennett and tickets to Stewart Lee's comedy show in the autumn.

Posters for the event have recently been torn down in Primrose Hill and Rhys said:  "You could have someone who doesn't like foxes because they think they are killing cats or birds, but at the same time the process of fox hunting is not taking place in Primrose Hill. 

"You're not going to get people with a pack of hounds riding down Chalcot Road.

"Hunting foxes on horseback and taking all day to potentially kill one fox is an incredibly inefficient form of pest control, and the other thing for London: foxes hunt mice and rats.

"I'd rather have a fox in my garden than a garden full of rats."

To buy a ticket visit foxfeast.eventbrite.com