BY SARAH GREENWOOD
The recent cartoon, ‘Trail of Lies’, produced by Keep The Ban group, is as slick a piece of marketing as you would expect from a one man band who founded an ‘organisation’ dedicated to bigging up its profile, and intent on making a name for itself by the judicious use of visual and word content to create its own smokescreen, or myth, regarding hunting.
This alternative ‘smokescreen’ created by hunt saboteurs, deflects attention away from the various semi–terrorist, intimidatory and illegal activities of hunt saboteur groups. It is created, like all the best stories, by creating a compelling ‘myth’, as marketing people call it, that captures public attention and directs us to empathise with the characters within it, using psychological tactics to direct us to what they want us to believe.
‘Trail of Lies’ creates simple to follow ‘hooks’, that focus on ‘good versus evil’, ‘victim versus predator’ and poor underdog (aka fox) versus rich (‘toffs’). The storyline follows a narrow path, shown literally in the cartoon, that creates tension, and, hopefully for KTB, leaves the viewer wanting to identify as the ‘rescuer’ to save the ‘underdog’ in the form of the fox by throwing money into KTB coffers. It’s a sales technique straight out of Harvard Business School, and researched by Professor Paul J Zak. (https://hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling – Paul J Zak – 28 October 2014. https://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445577/- Feb 15 2015 – Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React – Paul J Zak)
Zak uses the phrase ‘Founding Myth’, to identify and create a marketing strategy for an organisation. This is the ‘story’ of how the founder came up with the idea, what motivated it and how they keep the organisation going. Marketing executives have to stress the importance of why it needs to keep going and what barriers have to be overcome to enable this. This is exactly how Keep The Ban’s Head of Marketing ‘sells’ their founding premise. They’ve kept strictly to the Zak guidelines about the passion of the founder and how far he and his ‘team’ are prepared to go to keep his vision afloat, and donations to do this will be gratefully accepted.
Zak used the word ‘myth’, the definition of which is a story, made up to explain events or justify actions and beliefs. He explains that human brains are hardwired to like stories, so we are programmed to react to them, and this is how Content Marketing works. It’s the content that matters not the context or other facts that might interfere with the story, so are left out of the narrative. It’s what’s left in that creates the story, not what’s left out, and this makes all the difference. Some might say this is lying by omission.
Ben Sinclair, the creator of the cartoon explains his techniques in creating the myth that he and Keep the Ban want to ‘sell’ to the viewer. The basis of the myth is the word ‘smokescreen’, coined during the infiltrated Hunting Office webinar, that, allegedly, enables ‘fox hunting’ to continue unabated, and that rural traditions are terrorist activities destructive to wildlife. He says he tried to make every second as emotive as possible and says that animation has the power to really ‘help’ people ‘understand’ certain issues. He used a ‘surreal style’ to show hunting people, as gigantic, towering figures over the countryside’ and ‘real quotes’ from the webinar to express the ‘absurd power and domination’ of hunting organisations over the law and ‘our sacred wildlife’. This is the ‘founding myth’ of Trail of Lies, compounded throughout with use of words and phrases like ‘cruel and destructive’, ‘subjugate it to terror’, ‘gore and graphic details’, ‘brutality’, ‘torture’, along with negative statements and insinuations, in fact all the hunt saboteur clichés about hunts and hunting people are included. The one that comes across throughout the narrative is that only ‘toffs’ hunt. They don’t show any of the ‘working class’, who are the mainstay of all hunts, and come from across the demographic spectrum.
The tone was set in Chris Packham’s opening attempt at gravitas quoting the claim by ‘monitors’ that ‘only 1% of so-called trail hunts lay a potentially genuine trail’. ‘So-called trail hunts’? This is clearly a loaded statement. What follows during this cartoon is a litany of disinformation ‘selling’ the viewer a story about 21st century hunting, and in doing so abuses the human right to freedom of information upon which to make an informed opinion.
The cartoon presents the countryside as an idyllic haven of sylvan loveliness. This haven is described as ‘peaceful’ and animals are indicated to live in a state of Disneyfied harmony; Chris Packham then punctures the idyl by saying ‘the countryside, which should have been maintained in a state of peace since the ban of 2004……… [but peace] is not certain for some animals, namely the fox’. There is then a description of trail hunting ending with Packham saying in a sepulchral tone, ‘How do we know what really goes on in these hunts’, accompanied by a cartoony cloud of smoke into which the cartoony hunting characters disappear. He then justifies hunt saboteur activities and refers to a report by ‘hunt monitors’ that claims that ‘only 1% of ‘so-called trail hunts lay a potentially genuine trail’ and that if they do ‘as a cruelty free alternative it’s inherently flawed’. Next there is a description of young hounds being ‘brainwashed’ into hunting fox scent and intones that they will automatically deviate from following a trail scent to following a fox; He then goes on to make sneering allegations that hunts will ‘claim that hunting foxes is accidental’ and ‘know it will happen’. Pouf! Another cartoony cloud of smoke to illustrate his next pronouncement that ‘with the smokescreen of trail hunting behind them they know they can get away with a real kill’. The cartoon then continues showing a fox, drawn with the human characteristics of fear, running down a narrow path, pretty much like the garden path the viewer is being led up, chased by an menacingly drawn hound, then Packham claims that ‘the fox’s only hope is to find refuge underground’, neatly leading him to the sabs’ other favourite ‘baddie’ character, the ‘terrierman’.
He pronounces that accompanying terriermen show that ‘they [the hunts] never intended to hunt a trail!’, Packham then goes on to trot out that ‘heroic efforts by hunt saboteurs’ who ‘film this brutality’ and show all their films to the police, but ‘the smokescreen of trail hunting lets them [the hunts] get away with it in the courts’.
To finish and demonstrate that supporting ‘Keep The Ban’ virtue signals to the viewers that they are proactive animal lovers (and who doesn’t want to show that from a marketing point of view?) there follows quotes and claims taken from the infiltrated Hunting Office Zoom meeting and released into the mainstream media, to show that Keep The Ban is on the money and hunting really does happen as portrayed by Trail of Lies.
Only it doesn’t.
So, let’s examine the Trail of Lies claims versus the FACTS.
The beginning of the cartoon shows the countryside portrayed silent with nothing happening. In reality this is far from the case. The countryside is filled with the activity of creatures, birds and insects going about their daily business. This includes predators and the predated, the fox being the top predator, rivalled only by raptors, badgers and weasels. These creatures spend their lives trying to find and kill their food. Nature is red in tooth and claw and prey creatures die an unpleasant and prolonged death but, as these deaths aren’t usually witnessed by the passing public, it’s easy to ignore the morbid fact, so the cartoon’s claim is short-cut straightforward to accept.
The public quite often take dogs out with them for exercise, and often these dogs are let off the lead and can run where they like with the possibility of disturbing not only ground nesting birds and deer, but farm livestock. According to an article in British Veterinary Association there were in the region of 18,500 incidents where vets had been called out to treat stock that had been worried by loose pet dogs, and this doesn’t include stock that had been killed in the attacks. More worryingly, only 38% of farmers report attacks to the police, mainly due to lack of police action against the owners. Only 7% of reported incidents reported to the police led to attempted prosecution. This is why dogs are required to be kept on leads, a requirement that many dog owners ignore. (www.gov.scot – 6 Dec 2019 – Sheep attacks and harassment: research. www.vethelpdirect.com – What Is Sheep Worrying, And Why Is It Increasing? – Claire Turner MRCVS, May 23 2021)
Roads run through countryside, this is how the general public go about their daily business, bringing death to wildlife on a regular basis even in the quietest of locations. Project Splatter, an organisation that studies the science of roadkill to try and put forward mitigating ways to prevent it, has a reported number of over 6000 deaths in 2021 of all species. (https://projectsplatter.co.uk/– maps)
UK’s wild rare breed ponies are also killed by the general public out in the forests or on the moors in motor accidents, mainly as a result of speeding. (www.planetroadio.co.uk – 17 Jan 2022 – ‘44 animals died on New Forest roads last year’. www.devon-cornwall.police.uk – Update 20/01/2022)
So, these examples show that the countryside isn’t quite as peaceful in reality as it is described in this cartoon, and it’s the general public who create more bloodshed with out-of-control pets or vehicles than trail and drag hunts.
i)- Assertion no 1, that only 1% of hunts lay trails.
There is no corroborated source for this figure. The figure comes from the 2015 ‘Trail of Lies’ report commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and written by J Casamitjana, a self-confessed anti hunt campaigner, so highly unlikely to be impartial. (www.huntingact.org – Uncovering the Trail of Lies)
I have not been able to find any peer reviewed critiques of the document, so we only have the flawed and anecdotal evidence of hunt saboteurs and ‘monitors’, who are not impartial or recruited by a recognized, credible, or independent body. Neither do they have appropriate training, rules or recognized methods for monitoring. The whole self-admitted point of hunt ‘monitors’ is to prevent and disrupt any hunting taking place and the only training they are given is how to use the equipment given to them to do this. There is no evidence on any hunt monitor pages or websites about working and monitoring in an impartial fashion or about evidence gathering in a credible or professional way.
There are 367 registered packs of hounds in England, Scotland and Wales. This figure includes 11 packs of draghounds. (www.bailyshuntingdirectory.com)
Only a small percentage of these hunts are pestered by sabs and ‘monitors’, all of whom have an agenda to end hunting for myriads of ideological or political reasons. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that their allegations of hunting a scent laid by live quarry during the course of its daily travels lacks authenticity, mainly because they do not know which land the hunts are likely to be traversing so will not have been on site to verify any trail laying happening. Not seeing trail- laying happening does not mean that it has not happened.
Furthermore, if a hunt turns up on land from the meet, and hounds are laid on to work over where the trails have been laid, but these have been foiled by sabs spraying citronella, which they regularly boast about doing, it’s entirely possible that in the meantime a fox or two can pass over the land and create its own trail, which the hounds could follow. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for the sabs who can then claim that foxes are hunted and video this ‘evidence’. What they don’t video are hunt staff working to get hounds off the line, fortunately there are occasionally foot followers who are able to video this, which is one of the reasons that staff aren’t prosecuted.
Claims made in the cartoon about the National Trust vote to ban trail hunting on its land is not put in context, therefore leading the viewer to believe that all NT members were against hunting as opposed to the 98% who didn’t vote. The figures come from the NT web pages. (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) There were in the region of 5.95 million NT members eligible to vote, but only 133,047 voted, of whom 76,816 voted for a ban, 38,047 voted against a ban, and 18,047 abstained. Hardly the overwhelming decision glibly trotted out by Mr Packham.
A number of Local Authorities have banned hunting on their land, thus virtue signaling to the public about their actions, but in reality council owned land would not be hunted as it’s urban and covers no land suitable to ride over.
Another reason for disputing the 1% figure is that only a small percentage of hunts sabbed is due to ‘lack of feet on the ground’. Despite the ‘smokescreen’ of social media, indicating that sab groups are hundreds strong, this is not the case, and they regularly group together to go sabbing to create an effect. Their social media reports record this and which groups amalgamated. The reality is that sab groups range from one person to maybe a couple of dozen for the big ones. Countrywide, this is not enough to cover all the hunts that go out once or twice weekly. Therefore, even assuming they tell the truth, they cannot know exactly how many hunts lay trails.
Given that times and demographics change and many hunt members and supporters are young people, often girls who do not want to hunt live quarry, it is reasonable to assume that live quarry hunting is not practiced because hunts are dependent on income from membership, and if members do not want to hunt live quarry the only way forward for hunts to continue is to trail hunt within the law.
The image in the video of a bit of rag attached to a stick is used to plant the idea that this is an amateurish attempt to mislead the viewer but does not show that other methods of trail laying are employed i.e. a narrow pipe dripping scent from a container attached to the trail layer, as demonstrated by the Border Beagle Hound Club ( Border Beagle Hound Club, Facebook page posted Jan 5th 2022) Having said that, the trail layer of the drag pack near me uses a bit of rag on a string, so it a common way to trail lay. Hunt sabs seem to have no problem with drag packs laying lines this way, but this is not alluded to.
ii)- Assertion no. 2, that hound pups are ‘brainwashed’ from a young age to hunt foxes.
Categorically this does not happen. A hound pup, like many other breeds, has a hunting instinct and will follow a scent because that is what it innately has in its genes. To state that only fox scent is hunted is untrue and many ‘recipes’ are used for trails and those scents are what the pups are trained with. ( Described above in the Border Beagle Hound Club post of Jan 5th 2022) They are also encouraged not to hunt certain animals when out in the field and are exposed to non-quarry livestock at kennels as pups to teach them these animals are ‘friends’ and not to be chased, for example, llamas and sheep.
There is no legal requirement for what goes into a trail scent, but according to Cheshire Police Rural Crime Team fox urine is no longer available to buy in UK though it is not illegal to use. If a fox crossed a laid trail and hounds deviated onto it, this bears no proof of intent to hunt a fox, and it would not be illegal unless no attempt to stop hounds following it were made. As it’s likely that any member of the public, whether anti or not, could come across the hunt at any point and witness a deliberate attempt to hunt live quarry, this predisposes hunts to use video evidence to prove their lack of guilt. There is a legal requirement that they should provide evidence of trail laying if any allegations progress to court (Cheshire Police RCT), so it’s in the hunt’s own interest to be able to verify their innocence due to it being an open-air pursuit and capable of being witnessed by the general public, most of whom would not want to see live quarry hunting. (www.somersetlive.co.uk – Huntsman found not guilty of illegally hunting foxes with hounds, 22 January 2020)
iii)- Assertion 3. Hunts Use Terriermen.
Trail of Lies alleges that they are used by all hunts for illegal reasons, ignoring the fact that terriermen don’t accompany foot packs or most mounted packs, and never did.
‘Countrymen’ as they are referred to by the hunts that do use them, are useful to mounted packs as quad followers to undertake work in the field, for example, carrying trail laying equipment, mending fences, opening and closing gates, repairing wire, catching loose horses and generally supervising the country.
Terrier work, in fact, is a legal activity if it is done within prescribed rules. The National Working Terrier Federation (NWTF) has a list of aims and objectives, which include promoting the best, most humane practices in relation to working terriers for pest control purposes for the purpose of protecting game or wild birds and quarry should be shot. The terrier worker must carry written permission by the landowner and intend to shoot the mammal after it is flushed. Nets can be used over entry and exit holes during flushing. The hunting of rats and rabbits is exempt from this legislation.
Therefore, if a fox is seen going to ground in the vicinity of a trail hunt and on a shoot property it is legal for it to be accounted for by terrier work if a couple of hounds can’t flush it to a waiting gun for dispatch. This must be done at the landowner’s request and permission.
iv) – Assertion 4. That hunts get away with live quarry kills and lack of police action due to the ‘smokescreen’ of trail hunting’ despite the ‘heroic efforts’ of hunt saboteurs’.
Hunt saboteurs regularly provide footage of alleged hunting of live quarry, including pictures of dead foxes or foxes being attacked by hounds. Most of this footage or photographs have been found to be edited, it has been ‘cut’ with images of hunting in the US, where live quarry hunting is legal, or pre ban footage, and in some cases images of coyotes are used instead of foxes. (Keep The Ban, 3rd January 2018, cited and corrected by Countryside Matters 5th January 2018 on their Facebook page. Hunting for Truth Facebook page highlighting Devon County Hunt Saboteurs post about a fox allegedly killed by hounds but with no sign of injury, 7th November 2021. ).
An example reported by the BBC of a case of live quarry hunting brought by the League Against Cruel Sports. The case folded early because LACS witnesses had to admit that, despite their best efforts at trying to pull the wool over the court’s eyes, their video showed no hunting of foxes took place, so there was no prospect of a conviction. (www.bbc.co.uk – Quorn Hunt members cleared of breaching fox-hunting ban, 21st August 2021.)
Several police forces have put out statements regarding their need for unedited footage of alleged illegal hunting if a case is to be prosecuted, as the footage they have been presented with has been found to have been tampered with and cannot be used to uphold a case. Similarly, the alleged witnesses of these alleged events aren’t available to report what they have allegedly seen. Many alleged incidents of hunting foxes reported on social media have not been reported to the police so they cannot be followed up. (www.cheshire.police.uk – Illegal Hunting Frequently Asked Questions. www.warwickshire.police.uk – Fox Hunting. Derbyshire Rural Crime Team, 4th February, 2019 – Facebook. Derby RCT 14th March 2019 – Facebook.
These examples show why, in many cases, the police take no action.
v) – Allegation that animals are tortured for sport.
Not true or correct in any sense.
Partly because the majority of hunts now trail or drag hunt so live quarry is not hunted.
And partly because, pre ban when live quarry was hunted, research showed that 85% of hunted foxes evaded capture by hounds. Those who were caught were thought to be physiologically stressed during the final couple of minutes prior to death but no more so that an extended human athlete or racehorse, and the kill was found to be an instantaneous procedure of mainly cervical fracture or dislocation, or by massive thoracic and abdominal trauma. The centrally released endorphins and encephalins generated by hunting will provide a powerful analgesic effect and will mitigate or eliminate any pain. (www.vawm.co.uk – A veterinary opinion on hunting with hounds, July 2022)
There is no evidence to support the notion that a fox ‘knows’ that it might be killed or be stressed by the initial chase. The fox is in its own country and exerts a degree of control in its evasive tactics, many of which are carried out at a leisurely pace after the initial flight. They state the animal is not run to exhaustion.
The most recent figures for Ministry of Justice prosecutions under the Hunting with Dogs Act that apply to hunts registered with the Council of Hunting Association is 5. There were no guilty verdicts. This is despite the Hankinson trial and guilty verdict at that trial, where the alleged ‘smokescreen’ about hunting was created. It shows that even if the Hunting Office was prepared to turn a blind eye to hunting live quarry, the Masters, Staff and hunt members all over the UK did not follow their lead.
These figures and evidence show that the ‘smokescreen’ surrounding fox hunting is nothing more than a myth, created by using hard sell marketing methods and the psychology of presentation.
- General tone of the cartoon falls into the dissemination of disinformation category.
- According to the Resist Counterinformation Tool Kit published by the [UK] Government Communication Service, Disinformation is the deliberate creation and dissemination of false or manipulated information intended to deceive and mislead for purposes of harm, or political, personal or financial gain. (www.gcs.civilservice.gov.uk)
- In this case the disinformation is about influence and leading the general public away from making an informed choice by leaving out context and mitigating facts.
- That there are no facts or information put forward in the cartoon to offer a balanced view of what happens, and is ‘fronted’ by a well-known public figure known for his programmes on wild life, shows that there is a degree of manipulation involved as the viewer is led to believe that what is put forward is factual. This is a calculated misrepresentation by the makers of the cartoon to provoke an emotional response to influence and preclude the viewer from making a better, informed choice.
- This cartoon film is subversive and manipulative throughout and bears little resemblance to the reality. So what is the motivation of the people behind it? It all smacks of ego, social currency and a platform to generate crowdfunded money!
As a footnote to the above, let me draw your attention to the Sunday Telegraph’s expose of Keep The Ban’s ‘fundraising’ campaign for a ‘fox hospital on Sunday 1st May 2022, http://www.pressreader.comanti-hunt-group-criticised-over-appeal-for’cruel’-fox-hospital , which aimed to raise £300,000 for a ‘mobile clinic’ to be run by a sanctuary deemed as ‘cruel’ and ‘with no veterinary experience’ by rival anti hunting group, ‘Foxhunting Evidence UK’. The person running the ‘hospital’ said he was being subjected to a ‘vendetta’. The whole situation exposes the dwindling resources being fought over by rival animal rights groups and smacks of the Monty Python “Judean Peoples Front’ and ‘Peoples Front of Judea’ rivalry in ‘Life of Brian’. So it all comes down to who tells the best story and provides the best entertainment!
Sarah Greenwood has farmed in Yorkshire all her life, has a general interest in fieldsports, but particularly in hunting. She runs Phoenix Aid working in Bosnia and Kosovo.