Artificial earths and foxhunting
These are homes for foxes that were built by hunt supporters to ensure that they had foxes to chase and kill for fun. Even after the Hunting Ban they still litter our countryside and woods. They are below ground structures that usually consist of at least two tunnels and a central chamber. The tunnels can be constructed of 9" diameter glazed pipes, concrete pipes, or building blocks. In some parts of the country, particularly Cumbria, the tunnels are commonly made of corrugated iron bent into an inverted V shape. The chamber can be built of bricks, building blocks, logs or similar. They will usually be sited so as to be dry.
The roof of the chamber is usually two or more paving slabs, or steel plate or corrugated iron. This roof is then covered with soil, branches or turf for concealment. There will usually be something to hand to facilitate quick blocking of the tunnel entrances. This might be a building block, a large log or a steel grid.
Near to the artificial earth it was not unusual to find a water bowl or a feeding site. At the latter hunt supporters would put our dead chickens, lambs, meat or offal to feed "their" foxes.
Foxhunting enthusiasts and experts made it clear why they build artificial earths as this quote demonstrates:- “In countries where earths are scarce it is sometimes found necessary to make artificial earths, to provide somewhere for local foxes to have their cubs : in other words, for breeding purposes. Another advantage of artificial earths is that in grass countries where the coverts tend to be small and scattered it is useful to have snug earths judiciously placed at regular intervals, thus persuading foxes to take a good line. An additional advantage is that if an artificial earth is left open, it will only take a few minutes to bolt a fox. Also if it is a blank day, one knows where to go with some certainty of finding a fox.........In this book I only wish to touch on the subject, and to tell you what my grandfather had to say. He felt that artificial earths should be primarily intended as breeding establishments, and so among the chief points to be borne in mind should be the aspect, position, soil, drainage and materials used for their construction.” (Fox-Hunting. The Duke of Beaufort. Pub. David & Charles. 1980. Page 141)
Artificial earths are by no means confined to the lowland shire areas. The largest that is known exists in the heart of the Lake District. This is in an area hunted by the Blencathra Foxhounds, the leading Fell pack. Hunt supporters revealed its existence in the following report of a hunt meet there:- "Barry drew again down Lansdale Fell, found, and hunted over to Mill Beck, marking to ground in “Porter’s Parlour”. Now I would have attempted the short climb to where they were digging, but a very interesting Mr John Gregg came and spoke to me and told me the history of "Porters Parlour". It is the largest man-made borran ever known, built about 30 years ago by Ronnie Porter. A maze of pipes and entrances exists..........The fox in Porters Parlour was accounted for, making a total of four foxes that day. On returning to the kennels, they were a terrier short, so went back to Porters Parlour, where a terrier was heard baying. It was then dug to, and the fifth fox of the day was added to the tally” (Article by The Gaffer, “Spring Hunting In the Cumbrian Fells” Hounds magazine. Vol. 10 No. 1. November 1993. Page 28. [Refers to meet of the Blencathra Foxhounds, a Fell pack, Huntsman Barry Todhunter] )
One of the tunnels in Porter's Parlour
Another tunnel in Porter's Parlour
Porter's Parlour on right of picture
If you are wondering whether your local hunt had artificial earths consider the following quote:- “.....there are artificial earths in almost every hunting county in England.” (Jeffrey Olstead, British Field Sports Society spokesman for Cumberland Foxhounds, in the ‘Sunday News & Star’, Carlisle. 17/3/1996)
Artificial earths are NOT relics of the past. Some have been built very recently indeed. Other are renovated and repaired by hunt supporters and this has continued even after the Hunting Ban took effect in 2005..
INTRODUCING CUBS TO ARTIFICIAL EARTHS
Of course hunt supporters could build artificial earths and make them as warm and cosy as possible. They could put out food and water for foxes but what if, for all these efforts, no foxes took up residence? Then the hunters would have had nothing for their hounds to chase and kill. No ride, no gallop, no return on their investment of a great deal of money and many hours work. To overcome this problem some hunt supporters took the final step of putting fox cubs into the artificial earths themselves. They blocked them in, fed and nurtured them with the intention of releasing them for hunting at a suitable time. Some hunt supporters, under the mistaken impression that their pastime is "sporting" were shocked to find out about such goings on and tipped us off. One such case occurred at the Sinnington Foxhounds in Yorkshire in 1998.
A young cub looks out of the caged pipe exit of its "home". 23/6/1998
Cub in tiny, muddy cage placed at exit from artificial earth. 23/6/1998
Here is some video of the scene:-
What about the other entrance to the artificial earth? Here was the scene:-
A dead chicken had been pushed up the pipe as food for the cubs and held in place by a steel grid secured by building blocks.
Here is some more video of this artificial earth:-
There were two cubs in this artificial earth. They were forced by hunt supporters to live in stinking filthy conditions. They were in a pitiful state.
Captive cub looks out of artificial earth. 23/6/1998
As soon as their poor condition was observed we contacted the RSPCA and the cubs were rescued. They were provided with much needed veterinary care, were rehabilitated and later released into the wild in an area where there is no hunting.
The wood containing this artificial earth was owned by the Sinnington Hunt. It is but a short distance from the hunt kennels. The hunt denied all knowledge of the incident.
Hunt supporters would put out a variety of food for foxes. They put out dead chickens:-
Pile of dead chickens near artificial earth. Thurlow Foxhounds. 4/1/1995
They put out bacon rinds in boxes:-
Found in a wood that is a favourite hunting area for the Quorn Foxhounds.
And they put out dead sheep:-
Found in a wood that is a favourite hunting area for the Quorn foxhounds. 15/8/1998
The dumping of animals in woods, or anywhere else, as food for foxes in this fashion was a breach of the Animal By-Products Order. This was an Order that was brought in to try and prevent the spread of disease in our Countryside.
If you know about any continued use of artificial earths or the feeding of foxes by hunt supporters please let us know. If you wish to remain anonymous because of fear of reprisal from the hunting fraternity please just send us the location of the site(s) with a grid reference. Thank you