Ethan Shone 8th November 2018
Dozens of dogs die every year on train lines or in traffic, due to “illegal” fox hunting.
Reports that seven dogs, thought to be hunting dogs, were killed by a train last month in Devon have once again called into question the safety of so-called “trail hunting”.
Police are still appealing for witnesses after the dogs were struck by a train between Eggesford and Lapford at about 1pm on Saturday 29 October, causing delays and leaving many witnesses — including train staff — upset by the experience.
Devon and Cornwall British Transport Police have not yet confirmed why the dogs were on the track or who they belonged to. However, a number of posts on social media have suggested that they belonged to local fox-hunting group Eggesford Hunt.
The Overtake reached out to Eggesford Hunt for a comment but received no response.
Railway workers had attempted to console the train driver as the dead hounds were moved off the line, according to social media posts reported by Devon Live.
British Transport Police confirmed an incident took place but said Network Rail found no remaining evidence of the dogs.
Witnesses alleged that members or associates of Eggesford Hunt removed evidence of the incident before Network Rail staff arrived.
The Overtake spoke to Devon County Hunt Saboteurs, an organisation that works to disrupt illegal fox hunting in the area. The group said it received reports of the incident almost immediately.
A spokesperson for Devon County Hunt Saboteurs said the fact Eggesford Hunt has not denied being involved was “particularly telling”.
“If hunts acted within the law, terrible incidents like this wouldn’t happen. Nobody in their right mind would lay a trail across a busy railway line, so the hounds must have been pursuing a live animal. This is something we witness every week during the hunting season, and Devon and Cornwall Police are yet to step up their efforts to stop it.”
A number of similar incidents have occurred in recent years. A train killed six hounds belonging to the Dartmoor Hunt in 2014. An unconfirmed number died on a train line near Waterford, Ireland the same year. Seven hounds died in an incident in the Peak District in 2017, in which the train driver had to use the horn to warn hunters who were also on the tracks.
Man’s best friend is just collateral damage in the pursuit of blood-lust
Hunting dogs have also been involved in a number of car traffic accidents, both during hunts and when taken out on roads for exercise. In 2017, distraught activists released a video showing multiple hounds belonging to the Middleton Hunt dying by the roadside after being hit by a car.
Two similar incidents have also occurred within the past six months. Ten hounds died near Oakham, Leicestershire in an accident that also left a driver and one hunt staff member injured, and several hounds died in a two-car incident on a 60mph A-road in Cheshire, which was described by a witness as “absolute carnage”.
Nick Weston, head of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “This sad incident is the perfect example of how ‘trail’ hunting is a total fabrication. Who in their right mind would lay a hunting trail across a busy railway line? Unless, of course, there is no trail being laid.
“It also reflects the sad lack of compassion that hunts show towards dogs. Hunting hounds have repeatedly been killed on rail lines and roads while out with the hunts. Man’s best friend is just collateral damage in the pursuit of blood-lust.”
Critics are also concerned about the danger posed to train drivers, witnesses and road users placed in unsafe and upsetting situations due to careless trail hunting. Fortunately, there have been no human casualties yet.
Trial hunting is still allowed under the 2004 Hunting Act. It was designed to simulate live quarry hunting and involves the laying of artificial trails. However, real animals should not be pursued.
Many have argued that these kinds of accidents raise questions about the true nature of trail hunting and the wider safety issues relating to practices of hunts.
Earlier this year, after spending a day following an illegal fox hunt, The Overtake reported that most hounds die before the age of seven — many are killed when they become ill or are unwilling to hunt, and a great number die from hunting injuries or have to be put down.
Ethan Shone 8th November 2018